Oct 31, 2011
Posted by Icemoon
With the recent public surge of interest in Bukit Brown, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit some of the old cemeteries here in Singapore. Like old buildings, they are fast disappearing sights to make way for land development; because land is scarce, the younger generation - me included - did not have the chance to see the more traditional cemeteries where, unlike those at Choa Chu Kang, these graves had good fengshui and not located cheek by jowl with one another. One such example is an (ex)-cemetery at the upper-class district of Bukit Timah. Boy, you don't know how much I had to "climb" to reach this one!
Next time you pass by empty land especially those that sits on undulating terrain, pause and think what could have stood on it before the land became empty.
I'm not sure when the plot of land opposite Fifth Ave Condo became a cemetery. I can imagine that, before First to Sixth Avenue was designated as a GCB (good class bungalow) area, the tombs would have stood on good vantage position, commanding a view of Bukit Timah Road and beyond, to the nature reserve. Resting on the grassy slope of Fifth Ave, they would have enjoyed pretty good fengshui. In fact the contours here are quite steep and gave me, a first time visitor, a surprise after the bend at Guthrie House. Fifth Avenue is not connected to and visible from Bukit Timah Road; and judging from the relatively flat Sixth Avenue at junction with Bukit Timah Road I didn't expect Fifth Avenue to be that steep.
The steep slope up Fifth Avenue. Note the traffic sign for slope on the lamp-post.
What sparkled my interest was a 1992 photo of the cemetery showing a lone "omega-tomb" below the fence of #11 Fifth Avenue. Since it is not often you have house for the dead and house for the living in one single frame, this is good opportunity for a "second shot". However I do not know much about this cemetery, or this lone tomb, from what I have gathered so far; other than appearing in a 1973 news article on a list of cemeteries closed to future burials, it does not appear in my maps or street directories. As the plot is quite small, could it have been private burial ground for some rich family? Or was the cemetery larger, possibly including the houses around it, in the past? In any case, I don't think the lone tomb was the only tomb in the cemetery, others could have been exhumed before 1992.
The cemetery opposite Fifth Ave Condo (background) sits on a slope and is under SLA today. I suspect it was private land but (forcefully) acquired by the government.
What is interesting and also obvious is the big hole left after the tomb was exhumed. With some imagination, you can even make out the omega outline cut on the slope and pretend the tomb is still there. Be careful, don't fall into the hole. There is a hole in front of the tomb which had me frozen in my tracks for a while - could this be the position of the coffin? Sometimes ignorance is bliss and this has to be one of those instances. I reassured myself by imagining an alternative position - it could be behind the tombstone, below the mound like those tombs in Bukit Brown. Except this has no mound behind since it is cut on a slope and I do not know the coffin position in Bukit Brown either.
Can you make out the omega outline from this angle? Here is another angle, it is hard to visualize 3D from a 2D photo; you have to be physically there to appreciate the scale and depth.
Eventually ... heck it, I took the plunge. You can see my panorama taken inside the pit. I also found stone remnants inside the pit, perhaps what's left of the tomb or its base. I have not witnessed an exhumation before, but I can imagine when they tore down the house of the dead, some of the rubble could have been littered around and not cleared, even as they exhumed the remains and cremated it to be re-interred elsewhere.
For good measure, I also went up to where would be the mound. This would be the fengshui as experienced by the tomb in its heydays; you can see the position commanded quite a good view of what is below, the Bukit Timah environs, if both tree and house do not exist today.
Would that omega tomb be the only one in the cemetery? Though the 1992 photo seems to indicate so, I doubt it. Today even when the plot is not as nicely manicured and actual ground level obscured by tall grass, I could still make out other depressions, not as deep, but nonetheless hint of other tombs in the cemetery.
Here is another one and closer to the road, its depression is visible from this angle. Some depressions are also misleading, like this one, I'm not sure what to make out of it.
Are you an old resident in the area who have more information regarding this cemetery? Do leave a comment! Old photos are also much appreciated. Before the land is sold and redeveloped for residential, let us pause for a moment and remember, as we pass by the place, that this was once a cemetery in a GCB area.