Sunday, November 6, 2016


Tong Meng Hui (TMH)

The Tongmenghui aka the Chinese United League was a secret society and underground resistance movement organized by Sun Yat-sen in Tokyo, Japan, on August 20,1905. Its aim was to overthrow the Manchu Dynasty and to establish a Chinese republic. In 1906, a branch was formed in Singapore, following Sun's visit here and it was known as the Nanyang branch covering South-East Asia. The Singapore Nanyang branch Tongmenghui had only 250 members and my great grand-father Chew Joo Chiat was one of them.

Chew Joo Chiat's family suffered hardship in China. He came to Singapore to find wealth, to better the lives of his family back home. He was a patriot and supported the society, hoping the Qing Dynasty would collapsed and China would be restored to the Chinese. In1908 Chew had a ship chandler business which supplied provisions and hardwares to ships that called at Singapore port. His shipping business was probably used by the society to ship provisions and firearms to the resistance forces in China.

Chew was a man who kept a very low profile. It was a personal secret and nobody in the family knew his membership in the TMH. In 2013 a relative who visited the exhibition at San Yat Sen Memorial Hall at Tai Gin Road found out his TMH membership. He prompted me. By the time I went there, the exhibits had been removed. Later, Raymond Goh, gave me a copy. The list had his name in both Chinese and English as indicated by a red arrow..

                           Name list of Tongmenghui memebers

On Saturday 5 November 2016 evening, I attended the opening ceremony of Wan Qing Culture Fest 2016 at San Yat Sen Memorial Hall, at Tai Gin Road. Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean was the guest of honour. I met him at the reception hall and I had a picture taken with him.

On that evening there was also exhibits of “One Night In Wuchang” 1911 Revolution and Nanyang. My purpose of attending the function was actually to see the TMH name list. Secondly, I hope to find Chew Joo Chiat's picture among the group photo. As he kept a very low profile, it was unlikely I would succeed.

While other guests were busy on the ground floor, I went upstairs to check the name list of TMH. Instead I found another name list written in Chinese. Red arrow pointed to Chew Joo Chiat's name. As for the photo I had search in vain.

                                                        TMH name list in Chinese

                                                   With Dy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean

A Chew Joo Chiat's secret had been discovered. Has he another secret we do not know? Watch out for my next posting.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Lost Grave 120 Years Old

                                       Grave of Lim Heon Neo, wife of Chew Joo Chiat

The above grave is 120 years (1896) old. It belongs to Lim Heon Neo, Chew Joo Chiat’s first wife. She is also my great grand-mother. In 2010  I was building Chew Joo Chiat’s family tree, I did not know her name and date of death. As I was just starting the family tree, it did not matter to me then..

Search No 1..In 2011 the Singapore Government announced the construction of an 8 lanes dual carriageway cutting through Bukit Brown Cemetery (BBC) and works would begin in 2013. Searching for my great grand-mother’s grave had become urgent. No living relatives knew her for they were not born then. I went on line browsing through the Ministry of the Environment BBC death registry, hoping to get a lead. It was like looking for a pin in the hay stack. It was a useless attempt and I soon gave up.

Search No 2  Raymond and Charles Goh were Heritage Guide at Bukit Brown Cemetery. They had been documenting graves affected by the proposed carriageways. I was afraid Joo Chiat first wife’s grave might be affected and I sought their help to look for it.
The reply was almost immediate. Raymond  said that he had found Mrs Chew Joo Chiat’s grave nearby the proposed carriageway. On 10 December 2011 he brought me to the site. The tomb stone showed that the grave belonged to Chew Joo Chiat’s second wife Tan Quan Neo. She died on 19th April 1927. I was disappointed at first that it was not my great grandmother's grave.. But on hind sight I was glad that Tan Quan Neo's resting place was discovered.

Search No 3. In mid 2012 there was an announcement by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in The Straits Times that all the graves affected by the construction of the new carriageway at Bukit Brown Cemetery would be properly documented together with photograph of each grave. Works would be completed by the end of the 2013. The news gave me hope to find her grave as it could be affected.

On 5th December 2012 I wrote to LTA telling them the possibility of my great grandmother's grave being affected by the proposed new carriageway. I also stated that I was prepared to search through the photographs of the all affected graves.
My request was granted in early January 2013. I was mentally prepared on the strategy of going through the photo of each tomb stone. First I would be on the look out for the tombstone of a woman that showed Her San 和山 as her home village where my root originated. Next was to check for Chew door 周门 which would be below the name of the deceased. A  Chinese woman, when  married to a man with the surname Chew, it means she entered the door of Chew (her husband). The tombstone would indicate her name followed by her husband's surname. Her surname would be after周门. The final stage would be to check the deceased' s children/grand-children' s name on the tombstone. Once their names tally with those on Chew Joo Chiat's tombstone then I could safely say that the tomb on the photo belongs to Chew Joo Chiat's first wife.

At the LTA Hampshire Road Office, I browsed  through 36 photo albums. Each album had 108 photos. Altogether  I browsed through 3888 photos of tombstones documented. My search for Chew Joo Chiat's first wife's grave from the photos was in vain. However, I was glad that her grave was not affected by the construction of the dual carriageway. It means that I still have hope of finding her grave in Bukit Brown Cemetery. 

Break Through

Raymond Goh remembered that I sought his help to search for Chew Joo Chiat’s first wife's grave. On 21st May 2016 he sent me a message and we chatted:

Raymond: Managed to find Mrs Chew Joo Chiat (first wife) at the Hokkien Cemetery next to Bukit Brown. She passed away in 1896
Me: Hi Raymond, finding Joo Chiat's first wife's grave is the greatest news. Thank you so much. Now I can complete my family tree. Can you please show me her grave? Thank you once again.
RaymondSure, can bring you on weekends
Me: I am free on weekends. Please fix an appointment to meet at Bukit Brown Cemetery.
Raymond: Ok let u know, should be next Sunday 9 am
Me: Where shall we meet on Sunday 29 May ?
Raymond: Bukit brown Blk 1 just after the gates
Me: . See you then.
Raymond: Ok see u then

                                               Lim Heon Neo's tomb 

On Sunday 29th May 2016, I and my friend Ogawa Konamoto met Raymond at Bukit Brown Cemetery. Raymond drove us to the site which was at another Hokien cemetery hill, abutting Bukit Brown Cemetery. The cemetery ground was like a jungle with dense vegetation. There was no foot path or trial to follow. It was an uphill climb, stepping onto abandoned graves, up-shoot roots, vines and undergrowth.  At last we arrived at the site and I saw my great grandmother’s grave for the first time.

 Visibility was poor due to obstruction by vines, twigs, plants and leaves. Only the 3-piece tombstone and the front altar stood out. Behind the headstone, the shape of the tomb could not be figure out as it had blended with its surroundings. I had the tombstones and the altar cleaned. Raymond applied some white powder into the grooves of the Chinese characters to make them more visible to read.

The tombstone showed Joo Chiat first wife’s name was Lim Heon Neo 林香娘 
She had 3 sons Chew Cheng Liam , Chew Cheng Swee, Chew Cheng Hao, and 3 daughters Chew Sian Nian ,Chew Lan Nian  and Chew Sit Nian周舌 Her date of death was based on  the reign of Qing Dynasty Emperor. According Raymond she died in 1896. A friend said she died on the third lunar month.

Finally I am able to fill up Chew Joo Chiat's family tree with his six children's names instead of four as shown on his tombstone. It is assumed that two of his children Chew Cheng Hao, 浩 and Chew Cheng Sit周清舌 died before him.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Chew Joo Chiat's second legacy

Joo Chiat, Singapore’s  First Heritage Town is fast becoming a tourist spot. There is a walking trail guide and map known as The Secret of Joo Chiat launched recently and supported by Singapore Tourism Board.

Joo Chiat a living legacy is the title of  a book by Lily Kong published in 2001. Many road names such as Joo Chiat Road, Joo Chiat Terrace, Joo Chiat Place,  Joo Chiat Lane, Joo Chiat Walk and Joo Chiat Avenue  are named after the late Chew Joo Chiat. In fact, he had the most roads named after him in Singapore. Buildings named after him were Joo Chiat Market, Joo Chiat Post Office and Joo Chiat Police Station. Joo Chiat Market had been demolished and replaced by Joo Chiat Complex. Joo Chiat Post Office site is now a drive way connecting Joo Chiat Road to a car park. Joo Chiat Police Station has ceased functioning. It will be a hotel soon but the building will be restored to its past glory.

The boundary of Joo Chiat District was reported in the Straits Times on 8 October 1948. It stretches  from Changi Road/Geylang Serai  junction to  Joo Chiat Road, Marine Parade Road, Telok Kurau Road, Changi Road and back to Geylang Serai to form a square.  Katong has no district then and  now. It encroached into Joo Chiat after the death of Chew Joo Chiat in 1926. 

Mangala Vihara Buddhist Temple at Jalan Eunos is another legacy of Chew Joo Chiat. He owned most of the land at Kampong Eunos which was then a coconut plantation. His two coconut plantations at Joo Chiat and Kampong Eunos were adjoining, separated only by a narrow Changi Road in the early 1920s. After his death in 1926, the land at Kampong  Eunos was  divided among  his children. Chew Quee Neo, his youngest daughter inherited a parcel of  land facing Jalan Eunos MRT. 

In 1959 she donated her land to the Venerable Mahaweera, a young Buddhist monk to build a Buddhist temple. It was to fulfill her vow made earlier. In 1960 Mangala Vihara Buddhist Temple was born with a humble beginning. A single storey worship hall was built and officially opened on 31st March 1961. 

In 1981 the temple started to erect a three storeys extension building. It was completed in 1983. 

                      Opening ceremony by Mr Devan Nair 

In July 1991 an old building was demolished to make way for a new shrine hall. It was completed in 1994.

                     Opening ceremony officiated by Dr Wee Kim Wee

Bangala Vihara Buddhist Temple had the honour of two former Presidents of Singapore to grace the two separate ceremonies. First was for the extension building on 23rd November 1983. Former President of Singapore Mr Devan Nair was the Guest of Honour who unveiled the Opening Commemorative Plaque. Next was the opening of the New Shrine Hall Building on 11th July 1999 by former Singapore President Dr Wee Kim Wee who unveiled the plaque.

Chew Joo Chiat second legacy through his daughter Chew Quee Neo has come a long way from its humble beginning. Today the temple has full facilities. There is a Shrine Hall, a multi-purpose Chew Quee Neo Hall, an administrative office, Rooms for
Sunday school,  kitchen cum dinning area, living quarters for monks, library etc. 

Mangala Vihara Buddhist Temple has a colourful history. It celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2010 and it is looking forward for another 50 good years.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Ancestor land

厦门 Xiamen China

Last month my wife and I went on a free and easy holidays with my youngest son to 厦门Xiamen China. Hersan 禾山 village nearby  Xiamen was where my great grandfather Chew Joo Chiat was born in 1855. During his growing up years, China was ruled by the Qing Dynasty. Below is an old city map of 厦门Xiamen. The fortified walls had gates opening to the  north, south, east and west . 禾山Heshan village is not on the map as it is to the north of the city.

                                                                Picture credit to Ho San Kong Hoey Singapore.

Silk Air flight time to Xiamen was about 4 hours

Day 1
                                               Xiamen Swiss International Hotel

We arrived at Xiamen late in the afternoon and checked in at Xiamen Swiss International Hotel. It is directly opposite the tourists’ island 鼓浪屿 (Gulangyu). We took a cab to a hilltop restaurant overlooking the beach. The weather was hot like Singapore and the beach was very crowded.

Yummy food

Beach at Xiamen

We had dinner at the restaurant overlooking the beach

Day 2
We thought of going to Gulang Yu but could not get ferry tickets. The cruise centre was very crowded with tourists and school children on holidays. Since we had no fixed itinerary, I suggested to visit Heshan Road, hoping to find my great grandfather Chew Joo Chiat’s home village.

                                            Picture from Google Earth

My visit to Xiamen was partly to trace my family history in China. I was not prepared then but simply hope something would materialise. I was totally wrong. Chew Joo Chiat’s birth place,  禾山(Heshan) has been merged with Xiamen city. The place is now criss-cross by highways and multi-storey buildings. Searching for Chew Joo Chiat’s birth place was like looking for a pin in a haystack. Heshan village is not as before and after about an hour’s walk, we gave up.

                                                        禾山路Heshan Road 

                                                          Another view of Heshan Road

Mary needed rest to ease off the pain in her leg. A cab took us to SM City Plaza, a shopping mall nearby. 

                                               SM City Plaza Xiamen

The cab driver stopped us on the wrong side of the shopping mall. We had to walk a short distance to the building.     

                                           Mary could not walk and rested outside a restaurant.                

                                                         Mary could walk again

Day 3

We visited the Overseas Chinese Museum as it was near the hotel. See map 

 Entrance gate to the Overseas Chinese Museum

The Overseas Chinese Museum contains exhibits mainly from overseas Chinese. It show-case the story of Chinese migrant workers to south-east Asia during the Qing Dynasty. At the museum, I was hoping to find clues or pictures of my great grandfather Chew Joo Chiat but in vain. Majority  of the overseas Chinese then had no education. They worked hard as manual workers  such  as cooks barbers, tailors, dealers, hawkers and various other jobs. Some succeeded to be employers, teachers, doctors and lawyers, traders  etc. Many  entrepreneurs had made a name for themselves such as Tan Tock Seng, Lim Nee Soon, Tan Kah Kee, Chew Joo Chiat, Dr Lim Boon Keng and  others.

                                        Chinese migrant workers on board a Chinese junk

Zhongshan Road is the main commercial area in Xiamen. A large section of the road is now a pedestrian mall. We went hunting for souvenir and gifts for friends. As it was dinner time we had our meal at a seafood restaurant.

                                                   Dinner at a seafood restaurant

Day 4

We booked a ferry ticket in advance from the hotel for Wed 19 August 2015. Mary had problem walking and was given priority to jump queue. Although inside the barrier she could not move due to the pain and had to wait for the pain to go off.

                                            Passengers queue up to go to the ferry

Gulang Yu island is a tourist spot. It was once an international settlement in China beside Shanghai. Hence, there are many colonial buildings of Victorian era. We covered less than one percent of the island and returned to Xiamen due to Mary's condition. 

                                                  Gulang Yu Islang


                                            Anglo Chinese College Xiamen in 1898. 

                                                      Yang Villa built in 1935

                                                       Roadside artist

                                             Mary on wheel chair at Cruise Centre

Day 5
Home Sweet Home

                                                View from our hotel room

                                 Good bye Xiamen. Hope to see you again

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Rediffusion Talk Show SG50

Rediffusion on its SG50 celebration will film a collection of 25 stories shared by the nation’s pioneers through  interviews at the talkshows. The program will be filmed at 7 community centres.  At each talkshow pioneers would share their personal stories during the last 50 years.

 On Saturday 14 March 2015 the talkshow was held at Joo Chiat Community Centre Theatrette. The Theme -我最喜欢的广播员和节. I was one of the pioneer generation paticipants and also a past Joo Chiat residents.
It had an audience of about 80 people. The show started with a brief history of Rediffusion given by Ms Eeva Chang Mei Hsiang, a former Rediffusion DJ who bought over the Rediffusion.

                                                     Ms Eeva Chang Mei Hsiang

                                             Pioneer Generation Participants

                                             Interviewed by Ms Eeva Chang

                                                       Audience at the show

Each participant shared their nostalgic story. Some was quite emotional. The lighter part was singing old favourite in English as well as in Chinese such as “It’s Now Or Never” by Elvis Presley and a Hokien Song 望春風.

I talked  about the Rediffusion in Joo Chiat. In the 1950s  Rediffusion arrived in Joo Chiat. Most houses had a Rediffusion voice box including the attap huts kamong behind my house.  Rediffusion had only 2 radio channel. Turn the knob left or right for English or Chinese which included Chinese dialects. My uncle liked Chinese songs and I listened to English songs. Sometimes our timing clashed. But when it came to Ong Toh’s action packed story we had a common interest. The kungfu story was very captivating. Whenever it was Ong Toh story time, I took down the Rediffusion box hung on the wall to the table top for closer listening for I did not want to miss any part of his story. 

                               Listening to Rediffusion's Ong Toh's story

I also shared about the hawker food in Joo Chiat.
Tau Kua Pow The best ‘tau kua pow’ was not at Joo Chiat Road/East Coast Road junction coffee shop (now Alibaba). It was at a small coffee shop opposite Joo Chiat market (now Joo Chiat Complex). The secret for good ‘tua kua pow’ is in the sauce.

Katong Laksa  The hawker  who  was selling Katong laksa  known as ‘jangok’ because he had a few strands of hair on his chin. The name Katong laksa was not coined by him. His customer gave the name for easy reference. He was an intinerant hawker selling laksa in Joo Chiat, Marine Parade and finally he found a place on the 5 foot way of a coffee shop at the corner of East Coast Road/Ceylon Road. His customers loved his laksa and was referred by words of mouth as ‘Katong laksa’.  Jangok was a squatter on our land at Tembeling Road. He carried his laksa stall on a bamboo pole. On one side was a charcoal stove with a pot of laksa gravy on top. On the side was the cockery, laksa noodles, etc. In early 1970s The Ministry of the Environment wanted to clear all itinerant hawkers in Singapore.  His hawker stall was affected. The coffee shop owner saw the benefit of a popular laksa stall in his shop and rented a small space next to a pillar for him to continue his trade. Today Katong laksa is found in many parts of Singapore.

Objective of the project:

Commemorate 50 years of Singapore through the stories shared by the nation's pioneers.
Allow younger generations to rediscover the history and heritage of Singapore.
The Rediffusion Talk Show can be viewed at: