Why the fuss over Bukit Brown?

A poster urging Singaporeans to save Bukit Brown. (Photo courtesy of SOS Bukit Brown)

By SOS Bukit Brown

WONDERING what's the fuss about the 8-lane highway that the Government is planning to build through the historic Bukit Brown Cemetery? Here're 5 of the most frequently asked questions.

1. Isn't it a good thing to destroy a part of Bukit Brown for faster roads & a residential estate? After all, the dead don't mind & the living will benefit. How much new housing area can be created with the destruction of Bukit Brown?

Err, we're not sure the dead don't mind! But even if they don't, the enormous historical, cultural, environmental value of Bukit Brown far outweighs the benefits of a four-way road that seeks to " bring relief to the increasingly congested Lornie Road." (ST, 20 Nov 2011).

We believe that other creative solutions can be found to relieve traffic congestion. Furthermore, there are only 111 cars per 1,000 people* in Singapore. Why should Bukit Brown and so many other precious historical sites make way to serve this small proportion of the population? Destruction is forever.

As for the benefit of new housing, the government's plan is to build a "future estate that spans more than 200ha — bigger than Serangoon and slated to have a mix of private and public housing. Although this will be developed only in 30 to 40 years, the new road is necessary today to bring relief to the increasingly congested Lornie Road."

While this will benefit people, we feel that the government can choose to provide more housing area by first developing many other spaces that have much less historical & cultural value compared to Bukit Brown. (eg. golf courses)

In fact, the Final Report of the Focus Group on Land Allocation submitted to the Ministry of National Development in December 2000 already calls for the preservation of green spaces and building buildings taller to make land use more efficient. The Land Transport Authority's 2008 Land Transport Master Plan likewise advocates both making public transport, especially rail, the mode of choice for commuters and controlling vehicle population growth. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam reiterated these points in his recent 2012 Budget Speech. Preserving Bukit Brown is consistent with these goals.

* For official figures from the Department of Statistics, Singapore, see:
http://www.singstat.gov.sg/stats/keyind.html#socind (See under "Social Indicators")
http://www.singstat.gov.sg/pubn/reference/sif2011.pdf (See page 18)

2. The government has indicated that they will only destroy 5000 graves. That's only 5% of Bukit Brown. And they aren't the graves of "famous people". So isn't that OK?

Famous or ordinary, we want to symbolically honour them all as pioneers of Singapore. And we feel that this proposed destruction of 5% of Bukit Brown in 2012 is merely testing the waters of public opinion. If we do not speak up against it now, one day there will be the eventual & complete destruction of Bukit Brown, and with it, the great value of this shared historical space.

3. There is already some documentation work going on for the graves that will be destroyed. Isn't that adequate for preserving our memories?

We thank Dr Hui Yew-Foong & his team for doing this back-breaking work of documentation. This should go on even if Bukit Brown is preserved, as the gravestones will eventually become illegible due to wear & tear. However, we believe there is a huge intangible difference between reading about Bukit Brown's documentation in a book or museum, and having the actual sensory experience of walking in a physical space among the trees and quiet gravestones, reflecting on our shared history and culture. We want this for our children too.

4. Hardly anyone remembered Bukit Brown before the proposed destruction. Now suddenly there's all this hype. Surely this will all die down? (no pun intended..)

In our rush to study, work, earn & just keep up with this frantic pace of life, we have neglected so much of our history & culture. This wake-up call has made many Singaporeans take a trip to Bukit Brown to enjoy the scenary, & appreciate its great historical & cultural value. We want to preserve this not just for Singaporeans in 2011, but for generations to come.

5. How feasible is it to preserve Bukit Brown as a heritage park/ cemetary park?

We believe it is highly feasible. From Paris to Penang, London to Los Angeles, Montreal to Malacca, and many many more, cemeteries are integral to the living space of many metropolitan areas, serving as parks, heritage sites, and public spaces. Some have more than one cemetery park. If other cities can, why can't Singapore? Here are some links to cemetery parks in cities around the world:
- Yanaka Cemetery, Tokyo, Japan
- Aoyama Cemetery, Tokyo, Japan
- Bukit Cina, Melaka, Malaysia
- Protestant Cemetery, Penang, Malaysia
- Hong Kong (Happy Valley) Cemetery, Hong Kong
1.    http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&CRid=2177241
2.    https://www.flickr.com/photos/49694825@N08/4927332102/
3.    http://hongkongcemetery.blogspot.com/

  • Big potential for traditional food industry

    DUNGUN: There is a huge potential with the traditional Terengganu food industry, worth tens of million ringgits, if it is well marketed not only throughout the country but globally. Not only that, the success of the traditional food industries will help churn more entrepreneurs, supplement their income, provide job opportunities and boost the tourism industry. State entrepreneur, rural development, consumer and cooperative committee chairman Roslee Daud said that traditional food had come a long way since being sold as a small-scale business for decades and it was time to move on as both locals and visitors yearned to savour authentic fare which was a lucrative industry. Food like Tepung Bungkus, Tupat Sotong and Koleh Kacang are not extinct yet, he said. Roslee called on the village traders to work on the success of Keropok Lekor which had managed to become a state icon, producing many a millionaire. "If the Keropok Lekor traders can make it big, I am confident others trading in the various traditional food fares can also be success stories, provided they get themselves organised and work with the various government agencies," he said. Roslee added there were at least 32 government agencies like Tabung Ekonomi Kumpulan Usahawan Niaga (Tekun), SME Corporation, Malaysian Industrial Development Authority, Malaysian International Trade and Industry Ministry, Malaysian Agriculture Research and Development Institute, Serikandi Terengganu, Federal Agriculture Marketing Authority and other agro-based industries who were ever-willing to assist. "The district officers in the state, under the ambient of the Terengganu Entrepreneur Development Foundation, are also prepared to provide advice, suggestions and recommendations with the various Serikandi (women's organisations) to boost marketing of their food products. "We are doing all these not only to generate better income for the entrepreneurs but also to remind the younger generation not to forget our ‘jejak warisan’ (customs and traditions), which are our heritage," he said after launching the Terengganu Traditional Food Festival 2015 sat Dewan Arena Merdeka in Dungun. Roslee said that traditional food had come a long way since being sold as a small-scale business for decades and it was time to move on as both locals and visitors yearned to savour authentic fare which was a lucrative industry. "To be successful, we must not only ensure the food are tasty but maintain the quality, hygiene and customer service. You also have to ensure your products are affordable, well received and be creative to remain competitive," he said. Roslee added to date; only 30 per cent of food traders had attained the Bersih, Sihat dan Selamat (BeSS), or clean, healthy and safe, certification from the Health Ministry. The target, he said, was to have a minimum of 80 per cent traders to gain certification. "Likewise, we want all traders to obtain halal certification, whereas only 58 out of the over 1,000 of them who have done so. Just look at McDonald's Singapore which has attracted eight million customers a year, while Burger King and KFC have increased patronage by 20 per cent, after obtaining halal certification," he said. Meanwhile, the state is also involved in the Terengganu Thai Food Festival being held concurrently in Dungun. Organised by Syarikat Unik Warisan, the festival has attracted 70 stalls churning an estimated RM50,000 in total per day, said district social development department director Mohamad Adzahar Mohamad Zahari.

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  • Forestry dept to consider arming its officers

    KUALA LUMPUR: The Forestry Department is mulling a proposal to arm its officers working near international borders in efforts to assist security forces in patrolling the area. Its director-general Datuk Seri Dr Abd Rahman Abd Rahim said the proposal was to enhance border security, particularly near the Malaysia-Thailand border. “Currently, our staff are only equipped with machetes and compasses. They only wear trekking or jungle expedition attire. “We are considering having our staff who are placed near the porous borders to have suitable working gear and tools such as guns, combat boots and bulletproof vests, as a measure to aid security authorities guarding the international borders,” he told the New Straits Times yesterday. Rahman suggested that the international borders should be clearly marked, especially in the jungles. “Our borders should be clearly marked and fenced. “This way, security personnel can easily distinguish patrol areas and report suspicious activities occurring in these areas.” State department directors in Kedah, Perak, Perlis and Kelantan have also been alerted to work closely with the police and army as well as to start mapping state and international borders, said Rahman. He said even the Johor director had been told to have his men to be on alert at mangrove areas near the Malaysia-Singapore bor-der. The recent discovery of graves in Wang Kelian, near the Malaysia-Thailand border, had raised many unanswered questions relating to national security. Police were probing the possibility that enforcement officers, including rangers from the Forestry Department, were conspiring with human traffickers. On Wednesday, it was reported that the police had detained 37 people linked to human trafficking since early this year. The police believe that the perpetrators behind the migrant camps and mass graves in the deep jungles of Wang Kelian were among those detained. Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said that they did not discount the possibility of border enforcement and Forestry Department officers being involved. Rahman, however, stressed that border security was not the responsibility of his department and said they were ready to shoulder the responsibility together with the police and the army. “To date, no department staff had been called and none of them have been found to be in cahoots with human traffickers. “(Border security) is something new to us, but we are ready to commit and take on the responsibility together with the authorities,” he said. Meanwhile, Khalid said the department’s proposal for its staff to be armed when working near international borders could be considered, provided that the department provided sufficient justification for such a move. He urged all parties to stop pointing fingers at each other and not to find weaknesses and faults regarding the discovery of the graves. “When things happen and a discovery is made, everyone starts to point fingers and put the blame on each other, saying that this person did not take action and others are not doing their work,” he said. On claims by non-governmental organisations that the force had known about the Wang Kelian camp and graves, as family members of human trafficking victims had provided information years ago, Khalid said there had been no evidence to support the claims as police were not provided with locations. The camps and graves were only discovered after police launched an operation to search for possible camps for human trafficking victims following the discovery of mass graves and a large camp in Thailand, not far across the border from Wang Kelian.