PICTURES

Singaporeans unfazed by Bidadari's cemetery past for planned HDB estate

An artist's impression of Bidadari/Linear Park along Bidadari park drive. -- FILE PHOTO: HDB
An artist's impression of Bidadari/Linear Park along Bidadari park drive. -- FILE PHOTO: HDB
An artist's impression of Bidadari estate, one of HDB's three upcoming heartlands of the future. -- FILE PHOTO: HDB
An artist's impression of Bidadari estate, one of HDB's three upcoming heartlands of the future. -- FILE PHOTO: HDB
Bidadari cemetary will have to make way for new HDB flats. -- ST FILE PHOTO: STEPHANIE YEOW
Bidadari cemetary will have to make way for new HDB flats. -- ST FILE PHOTO: STEPHANIE YEOW
More than a graveyard, Bidadari is also rich in history, and is a place of beauty and a symbol of religious and racial harmony. -- ST FILE PHOTO: STEPHANIE YEOW
More than a graveyard, Bidadari is also rich in history, and is a place of beauty and a symbol of religious and racial harmony. -- ST FILE PHOTO: STEPHANIE YEOW
Bidadari cemetery will have to make way for new HDB flats. -- ST FILE PHOTO: STEPHANIE YEOW
Bidadari cemetery will have to make way for new HDB flats. -- ST FILE PHOTO: STEPHANIE YEOW
Statues that adorn almost every tombstone at the Bidadari Christian Cemetery. Some of these are brought in from Italy and cost between $2,000 and $7,000. -- NP FILE PHOTO: DOMINIC YING
Statues that adorn almost every tombstone at the Bidadari Christian Cemetery. Some of these are brought in from Italy and cost between $2,000 and $7,000. -- NP FILE PHOTO: DOMINIC YING
Bidadari Christian Cemetery stirs to life in the evening when joggers turn the place into a park of sorts, and maids from nearby houses bring their wards for an after-dinner walk. -- ST FILE PHOTO: GEORGE GASCON
Bidadari Christian Cemetery stirs to life in the evening when joggers turn the place into a park of sorts, and maids from nearby houses bring their wards for an after-dinner walk. -- ST FILE PHOTO: GEORGE GASCON
The tranquil and serene surroundings of Bidadari Cemetery is a favourite with joggers. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ALPHONSO CHAN
The tranquil and serene surroundings of Bidadari Cemetery is a favourite with joggers. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ALPHONSO CHAN
THE FUTURE: An artist's impression of the new Bidadari estate. It will have a park one-tenth of its size and a cycling path to serve 11,000 new flats. -- PHOTO: HDB
THE FUTURE: An artist's impression of the new Bidadari estate. It will have a park one-tenth of its size and a cycling path to serve 11,000 new flats. -- PHOTO: HDB
NOW: The former burial site is popular with joggers, and is also home to rare animals such as the variable squirrel. -- ST FILE PHOTO
NOW: The former burial site is popular with joggers, and is also home to rare animals such as the variable squirrel. -- ST FILE PHOTO
THEN: Bidadari ' meaning 'angel' or 'fairy' in Malay ' had sections for Muslims, Hindus, Singhalese and Christians but burials ended there in 1972. -- ST FILE PHOTO
THEN: Bidadari ' meaning 'angel' or 'fairy' in Malay ' had sections for Muslims, Hindus, Singhalese and Christians but burials ended there in 1972. -- ST FILE PHOTO

Most feel that planned HDB estate, which was formerly a cemetery, should retain its name

Would you be comfortable living on top of someone's final resting place?

Once the largest grave site in Singapore, the 18ha Bidadari Cemetery is making way for a new Housing Board town and private estates.

However, many young Singaporeans are not aware of its history.

From a group of around 20 people in their 20s and 30s that The Sunday Times spoke to, only half knew it was a burial ground.

Asked if she knew what Bidadari used to be, 22-year-old Melissa Lim gave a typical response for her age group: "Nope. Oh dear, I think my local geography is really bad."

The Sunday Times also quizzed the online community on what they thought of the new developments and if the estate's name should be changed.

Of those who did know its past, most felt its name should be retained and honoured.

"It's our history, our heritage," 37-year-old property agent Irene Gilene Goh wrote on Facebook. "Locals will still know it's Bidadari, even if the name is changed.

Another Facebook user, Mr Joey Neo, posted: "I have been living in this neighbourhood for 30 years. It's more peaceful than a non-cemetery estate.

"Almost everywhere in Singapore had graves you may not know about which have already been replaced by new estates."

Mr Gan Ying Kiat, 30, was looking to move to the Bidadari area with his wife. "I'm not bothered by its cemetery history," he said. "I'm aware that other housing areas like Bishan were also cemeteries.

"We were keen on the proximity to the city and its potential for capital appreciation."

Bidadari - meaning "angel" or "fairy" in Malay - had sections for Muslims, Hindus, Singhalese and Christians but burials ended there in 1972.

Towns such as Bishan, Toa Payoh and parts of Bukit Timah were also cemeteries.

"The name (Bidadari) is already distinctive to many people and hence easily recognisable for its locality," said Mr Siyang Teo, 30, a public servant and nature lover who frequents the area.

When developments are complete, Bidadari will have a park one-tenth of its size and a cycling path to serve 11,000 new flats.

Some locals are worried that the natural beauty of Bidadari will be destroyed. Its parks are home to rare animals such as the variable squirrel.

Others, like 32-year-old graduate Carolyn Lek, are resigned to losing green space. "Singapore's short of land, so I guess eventually nearly everything will be developed," she said.

Businesswoman Eunice Tan believes it will take a lot of incentives to entice people to live on a former graveyard.

The 60-year-old said: "Frankly, I wouldn't like to live on such burial grounds unless the prices and amenities are extremely attractive, especially for first-time buyers."

She even proposed alternative names for the new development - including "Happy Estate" and "Sunshine Estate".

Ms Sitifazilah Perey had similar sentiments. She wrote on Facebook: "Since there are a significant number of superstitious Singaporeans, it is better to change the name."

rmytan@sph.com.sg