This old Chinese Cemetery has been on my todo list for quite some time and I’m pleased I finally made some time to go there and explore. Pleased for a number of reasons, firstly because it was an absolutely beautiful setting. The aspect that surprised me the most were the big old trees. I’m sure many of these trees pre-date the opening of the cemetery in 1922. Now they have grown into large and beautiful sentries towering high over this green oasis, what a pleasant place to lay your ancestors to rest.
The second reason I am pleased to have gone is the realisation that I have never been to Chinese cemetery before. The graves were surrounded by little retaining walls, some so overgrown you could hardly see them. The majority were flanked by Chinese guardian lions, others by Taoist figures and I think I even saw Confucius represented. These elements would provide protection and perhaps in the case of Confucius guidance in the afterlife. Some inscriptions were in English, but the many were not, and the lettering always distinctive bright red. Whole families are buried together, often three generations in the same site, so that they are together in the afterlife.
Singapore has made a big deal this year about 50 years of independence, rightly so, but this cemetery casts a light onto the rich and varied history of a much longer period. Many philanthropists and influential Chinese are laid to rest here. I recently read a book based in Singapore before and during the Japanese occupation and I was shocked by what it revealed about life in Singapore for Chinese women during this time. Many of those women are buried here including those who fought for women’s rights. This may be a sleepy graveyard, now enjoyed by joggers and dog walkers, but it is also a window into the past of this intriguing and rising nation. I hope the National Heritage Board see the significance in retaining as much of this site as they can, how wonderful it would be if it was still here in another 100 years time.
Could this be Confucius?
The third and final reason I am pleased to have made this visit is that they are currently building a highway through the middle of this cemetery. The cemetery covers a large area in land scarce Singapore, 211 hectares, and part of this area has now been sacrificed to alleviate traffic congestion. So, the once peaceful corner is now surrounded by the noise of construction. I read around 5% of the graves are affected although I’m not sure how accurate this figure is.
It is too late to hope that this construction will not proceed but I can still hope that nothing further changes this beautiful spot and that they blend the road and the cemetery so that it remains a pleasant place to visit. The latter may happen, Singapore has an excellent record for combining busy roads with green space. The former however, may be a little too hopefully, as it surely won’t be long before there is a need for the remaining land is this small and fast developing nation.
PS – if you visit wear mosquito repellent!