Hakka tombstones may have to go

The Ying Fo Fui Kun memorial hall (left), seen in the distance from the cemetery in Commonwealth Lane. The mosaic-clad tombstones (right) stand in 65 uniform rows in the middle of a Housing Board estate. The Hakka clan association that owns the patch
The Ying Fo Fui Kun memorial hall (left), seen in the distance from the cemetery in Commonwealth Lane. The mosaic-clad tombstones (right) stand in 65 uniform rows in the middle of a Housing Board estate. The Hakka clan association that owns the patch that the Shuang Long Shan cemetery shares with the memorial hall plans to re-house the graves in a pagoda. It is open to good ideas on usage of the land that takes into account the historical significance of the site. Assistant secretary Loh Kwan Ling (centre), 85, enjoying a quiet moment at the Ying Fo Fui Kun Ancestral Temple and koi pond.ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG
The Ying Fo Fui Kun memorial hall (left), seen in the distance from the cemetery in Commonwealth Lane. The mosaic-clad tombstones (right) stand in 65 uniform rows in the middle of a Housing Board estate. The Hakka clan association that owns the patch
The Ying Fo Fui Kun memorial hall (left), seen in the distance from the cemetery in Commonwealth Lane. The mosaic-clad tombstones (right) stand in 65 uniform rows in the middle of a Housing Board estate. The Hakka clan association that owns the patch that the Shuang Long Shan cemetery shares with the memorial hall plans to re-house the graves in a pagoda. It is open to good ideas on usage of the land that takes into account the historical significance of the site. Assistant secretary Loh Kwan Ling (centre), 85, enjoying a quiet moment at the Ying Fo Fui Kun Ancestral Temple and koi pond.ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG
The Ying Fo Fui Kun memorial hall (left), seen in the distance from the cemetery in Commonwealth Lane. The mosaic-clad tombstones (right) stand in 65 uniform rows in the middle of a Housing Board estate. The Hakka clan association that owns the patch
The Ying Fo Fui Kun memorial hall (left), seen in the distance from the cemetery in Commonwealth Lane. The mosaic-clad tombstones (right) stand in 65 uniform rows in the middle of a Housing Board estate. The Hakka clan association that owns the patch that the Shuang Long Shan cemetery shares with the memorial hall plans to re-house the graves in a pagoda. It is open to good ideas on usage of the land that takes into account the historical significance of the site. Assistant secretary Loh Kwan Ling (centre), 85, enjoying a quiet moment at the Ying Fo Fui Kun Ancestral Temple and koi pond.ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG

Clan association may re-house graves in order to free up space in Holland Close plot

Some 2,700 mosaic-clad tombstones stand in 65 uniform rows in the middle of a Housing Board estate.

The Shuang Long Shan cemetery has been a prominent feature in Holland Close since it was built in the 1960s.

But it could soon become a thing of the past as the Hakka clan association that owns the patch - about the size of 21/2 football pitches - is considering to re-house the graves in a pagoda.

The idea is to free up space for buildings such as a cultural and social hall for its 2,000 members and the local community.

A memorial hall built in the 1980s also sits on the 1.8ha plot.

Ying Fo Fui Kun president Chin Sit Yeong said: "We want to serve our members and the community and blend in better with the surrounding physical environment."

The association has about half of its 99-year Housing Board lease left for the land. In the past, it considered renting out part of the space to a kindergarten and clinic but did not go through with either.

Mr Chin said there are no concrete plans at the moment, adding that it will need the consent of members whose ancestors lie there.

"We are open to good ideas on usage of the land, taking into account the site's history as well," he said.

The association will ensure that their historic ancestral hall from 1887, fronted by a half-moon pond and built in the traditional Chinese architectural style, remains untouched.

Property analyst Nicholas Mak of SLP International said the Commonwealth Lane 9 compound is an "attractive suburban site", as it is located between Buona Vista and Commonwealth MRT stations and near new condominium projects such as Commonwealth Towers.

He said the area is going through a gradual redevelopment process.

But the plan to save just one feature of the historic site does not sit well with some.

Urban historian and architect Lai Chee Kien said the tombstones symbolise the tussle for space in land-scarce Singapore.

The Ying Fo Fui Kun once owned 40ha of land in the area. In the 1960s, the state began acquiring Chinese clan burial grounds for redevelopment but the clan managed to wrestle back its current patch.

The tombs were then built by the Housing Board in 1965, to rehouse the bones from the exhumed graves.

Mr Kwek Li Yong, founder of civic group My Community which has been championing the conservation of historically and socially significant sites in Queenstown, said: "They serve as a reminder to Queenstown residents that much of the estate was Hakka burial land that was sacrificed for the construction of modern flats and homes."

Dr Lai said the unique method of tomb transfer and cemetery reconfiguration represented a compromise between the state and the clan. Because of this, it is considered unconventional and he understands why Ying Fo Fui Kun would be willing to develop the land.

"However, keeping the tombstones will allow association members to remember its place in history and to continue traditional rituals such as Qing Ming in front of their ancestors' tombs," he added.

Clan member and housewife Madam N.H. Soong agreed. She hopes the site stays as it is for it represents the cultural norms and values of the Hakkas. "Eight of my ancestors are buried in the tombs," she said.

The association's assistant secretary and site supervisor, Mr Loh Kwan Ling, 85, is also for preserving the compound which is popular with both clan members and the public. It also attracts the occasional tourist.

Mr Loh said: "Some people swing by to read a book on our stone chairs, enjoying the breeze under our coconut trees. Although we are near the road and a busy housing estate, sound is filtered out.

"The space is a respite in a built-up city like ours."

Mr Loh believes the compound can be beautified and transformed into a park - just like Arlington National Cemetery in the United States where the country's former leaders, such as president John F. Kennedy, rest.

Mr Chin said that whatever the association decides, it will "always keep the needs of its 2,000 members in mind".

"We will respect the land our forefathers fought to keep," he said.

melodyz@sph.com.sg