A crestfallen ghost of the past

7 11 2014

In a part in Singapore that is haunted by many of its ghosts of the past, is one that is quite a visible reminder of a time we may have forgotten. The area, temporarily a haven for trees and the winged creatures that find joy in their branches, is one in which a huge transformation will very soon be in the works, a change that will see most of its ghosts displaced.

The wooded oasis that is now the grounds of the former Bidadari Muslim Cemetery.

The wooded oasis that is now the grounds of the former Bidadari Muslim Cemetery.

The visible ghost of the past is an emblem that connects us with the post-war days when Singapore first found itself separated from the Peninsula states. The emblem, a coat of arms, granted to the Municipal Commission by the College of Heralds in April 1948, is one of several left from the era (one can also be found on Mount Emily), lying in front of a house standing stop a small slope.

The house on the mound.

The house on the mound.

The Coat of Arms.

The Coat of Arms.

A description (blazon) of the coat of arms provided by a site on heraldry, http://www.hubert-herald.nl/:

Arms: Gules, a tower Argent, on its battlements a lion passant guardant Or, and a chief embattled Or a pair of wings between two anchors Azure their ropes Argent.

Crest: On a helmet to the dexter lambrequined Argent and Azure, a lion passant Or before a palm-tree proper.

Motto: MAJULAH SINGAPURA (Onward Singapore).

A view of the front of the house with the Coat of Arms on the ground at its front.

A view of the front of the house with the Coat of Arms on the ground at its front.

Interestingly, an article in the 25 September 1951 edition of The Straits Times, tells us of a mistake made in the 1948 warrant that was issued to the Municipal Commission referring to the municipality as the “City of Singapore”. Singapore was only proclaimed a city on City Day, 22 September 1951.

Evidence of works being carried out in the area.

Evidence of works being carried out in the area.

The area where the Coat of Arms and the building, which has the appearance of possibly dwelling of the past, is where the future Bidadari estate will soon come up. It is not known what will become of the building and the emblem standing where the boundary of the area’s Muslim and Hindu cemetery once had been. In the part where the pond is depicted in plans for the area (see an artist’s impression of it here), in all likelihood, it, as with the many ghosts inhabiting the area before it, will very soon have to go.

A last look at the wild green space?

A last look at the wild green space?





Temporarily eternal

16 11 2013

Long a quiet and peaceful corner in Singapore on a plot of land adjoining the former Bidadari Cemetery, is an area of Mount Vernon which once hosted Singapore’s first public crematorium. The crematorium which started in October 1962, ceased operations in June 2004 and the plot of land now plays host to a columbarium which dates back to 1978 as well as privately run funeral parlours of more recent times.

The sun streams through the trees of a green and tranquil part of Mount Vernon.

The sun streams through the trees of a green and tranquil part of Mount Vernon.

It will not be long before this green oasis of calm goes. Along with the parkland which the former cemetery has been turned into, it will be redeveloped as part of Bidadari public housing estate. The estate’s development will  see some reminders of the area’s past being incorporated into it. However, the area on which the columbarium, which besides the beautiful park like setting it finds itself in, is also known for its pagoda columbarium which has become a landmark in the area, sits will be built over.

An artist’s overview of the proposed Bidadari development from the HDB as posted on http://www.todayonline.com

The pagoda along with a two-storey building which also houses columbarium niches, was the columbarium’s most recent addition which was completed in December 1987 – adding some 13230  niches to the 10392 niches which were added over the years starting with 3000 when it opened in late 1978. Extensions were also made in 1982 and 1985 adding 5280 and 2112 niches respectively, coming at a time when with pressure on land-usage increasing, cremating the dead was encouraged as an alternative to burials.

The nine-storey pagoda which was completed in 1987.

The nine-storey pagoda which was completed in 1987.

The columbarium is quite distinct in its setting compared to other publicly run ones with the older free standing structures in the garden like setting – a beautiful and respectful space for dead which like the fast disappearing beautiful spaces for the living, Singapore, has no more room to accommodate.

The two-storey building containing niches which was added at the same time as the pagoda.

The two-storey building containing niches which was added at the same time as the pagoda.

A privately run funeral parlour.

A privately run funeral parlour.





The green, green grass, disappearing from home

8 11 2013

In a Singapore inundated with the clutter that urbanisation brings, open spaces – wild, and green, however transient, are always ones to be celebrated. Open spaces such as this one on which a former cemetery, Bidadari once stood, are fast being lost to the tide of steel, glass and concrete from which they had served as a respite from  – sanctuaries where a much needed sense of space otherwise missing in the clutter and crowds, can be found.

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The cemetery was one of Singapore’s largest and with burials taking place over six and the half decades from 1907 to 1972, contained as many as 147,000 graves of members across the communities. Converted into a temporary park after the completion of exhumation in 2006, the grounds, even in its days in which the resting places of the departed decorated the landscape, has been a place to find peace in.

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With its days now numbered – a recent announcement by the HDB on plans for its redevelopment as a housing estate has the first developments taking place by 2015, there is not much time before the joy it now provides will be lost to the urban world it has for so long resisted.

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The plans put forward by the HDB do show some sensitivity to what the place might once have been or represented, with the cemetery and the greenery it provided not completely forgotten.

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Besides the preservation of some of the cemetery’s heritage, one promise that the development of the 93 ha. site holds is that of a 10 ha. green space which will incorporate a man-made lake – said to be inspired by the famous lake which belong to the Alkaff Lake Gardens we now only see photographs of.

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While that does create a very pleasant environment to live and play in, it will not provide what the space now provides, that escape I find myself seeking more and more of from the overly cluttered and crowded world our many of our urban spaces have become.

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Other disappearing or already vanished open and green places:

Some newly found, existing or reclaimed spaces: