Friends who know me somehow associate me with “Bukit Brown”. It is one of the many big “rocks” I hold close to my heart.
Bukit Brown is this huge, beautiful, abandoned place right in the heart of Singapore. It’s a cemetery – but it has long been closed and abandoned. Being right next to a nature reserve, nature came back, and nature lovers like bird watchers and plant lovers love to check out the place.
It is on a plant walk with Nature Society (Singapore) that I first decided to check out Bukit Brown. It was sometime in 2010. I knew of Bukit Brown for many years because of a NSS masterplan, but never went there because, well, it was a cemetery. The thought of heading to a cemetery to check out nature was quite beyond me. But one day, I decided to go. It was a really good walk led by Shawn, who’s the current president of NSS. Now, Shawn is a really good story teller, and a really passionate plant lover. If you ever go for his walk – you’re in for a treat. Unfortunately that day, there was a huge storm – so we had to cut short our walk and head home.
Some time after that, I decided to head to Bukit Brown again. There was more to see, and I wasn’t about to let the storm stop me from learning more about the place!
I’ve been to Bukit Brown many times now. How many, I don’t really know.
I was amazed to see many passionate & inspiring individuals from all walks of life at Bukit Brown. Many of these individuals are now my friends. At Bukit Brown, I met nature lovers, journalists, videographers, artists, architects, lawyers, librarians, tile experts, story tellers, spiritualists, “tomb whisperers”, people who trace family trees of individuals unrelated to them, and even people who would actually bring their own water and cloth to wipe clean the tombs of unrelated individuals! and there was this “tomb whisperer” who would disappear into the forest, and come out excited with his latest find of a historically important individual.
It’s amazing how “invisible” this place is. It’s near to two tourist attractions – MacRitchie Nature Reserve, and Botanic Gardens – and easily accessible from Thomson and Bukit Timah housing areas. Yet, when I tell my mum about Bukit Brown, she gives me a blank stare. Then, I try again using the colloquial name “Kopi Sua”. Oh yes, it rings a bell – my mum remembers it from the time she visited it as a very young child. But where was it? She has no idea.
I remember thinking that it was rather nice that it was “invisible”. It was like a secret garden – one that I can escape to, and no one else needs to know.
Then one day, I saw the news that stopped my heart momentarily. There was to be a 8-lane highway cutting across Bukit Brown. Oh yes, and there is already a MRT station built as part of Circle Line.
Shortly after, I joined an impromptu training by one of the “tomb whisperers” on how to read the tomb inscriptions, and learnt more about historically important persons buried in BB. The experience helped me to better understand how Singapore came to be what it is today, and inspired me to learn more of my own family’s history.
I started doing my own guided walks around Bukit Brown. My focus audience: family and friends. I believe in reaching out to more people, but for me – sharing this “secret garden” with my friends, and showing them what and why I’m passionate about the place has additional meaning for me.
I do these walks occasionally, as they require a lot of courage from me (public speaking is a big fear for me), and I am always so busy with many other equally important things.
Last Sunday, I decided I would do another walk. This time, only a couple came along for the walk. The lady is a Facebook acquaintance, and we have not met before. What a way to get to know one another! Anyway, I am really glad that they enjoyed their walk because it resulted in a lovely blog post :)
Do check this out: Kathy Xu’s “Bukit Brown and a nation's unwritten history”