Sunday, 16 February 2014

A Crazy Morning at Bukit Brown Cemetery

Coming off a late Saturday night dinner at Ku De Ta, Jason and I were looking forward to crossing one more thing off the "bucket list" and meandering around some of the 200,000 graves of Bukit Brown Cemetery in central Singapore.  Bukit Brown is the largest Chinese cemetery outside of China and takes up 213 lush acres and is a haven for nature lovers. Apparently, for stray dogs as well...

The path
Jason and I arrived by taxi and began to search for our friends, the Wihmans, who were meeting us there with our children (sleepover the night before!).  Having no idea where we were going, Jason and I headed down a path, thinking it would take us into the heart of the cemetery where we would eventually find our friends and family.  Well, we certainly were WRONG.  As we passed scores of graves, we thought we were headed in the right direction, until we passed a caretaker's abode and saw a pack of stray dogs ahead.  Jason rightly became wary and we decided to turn around.  Well wouldn't you know it, one of the dogs ran up and bit Jason on the back of his leg!  It broke the skin, drew blood and all I can say is thank God that rabies does not exist in Singapore.

A minute or so later, all six dogs chased and surrounded us. I have NEVER been scared of a dog in my life, and I admittedly was terrified.  The dogs were different breeds and sizes (med-large and relatively stocky) but all shared the same vicious attitude.  While they growled and barked incessantly, we just kept yelling at them and trying to back away.  Eventually, they decided to back down and we hesitantly started back down the path.  But the ringleader decided he wasn't done with us and ran right back for round two!  At this point I had a huge stick in my hand and I was ready to use it.  Once he realized that it was a losing situation, he finally retreated and we went on our way, bleeding and anxiety-ridden.

"Just a flesh wound"
As a huge dog-lover, it was extremely upsetting.  And I hope I never have to feel that way again.  But I have to admit, Jason went into full-on protector mode.  Funny what adrenaline does to you - he was my hero!  And thank goodness our kids were not there.  Those dogs wouldn't have stood a chance with either of us.

So eventually we found everyone and embarked on our walk around the dog-free main path of the cemetery.  Opened in 1922 and closed in the 1970's, it is named for its first owner, George Henry Brown (Bukit means "hill" in Malay).  It was passed into municipal hands in 1919 to be designated as a Chinese cemetery and by 1929 accounted for nearly 40% of all registered Chinese burials within municipal limits (thanks Wikipedia).

The Chinese burial practices are very interesting.  They believe that the next world (called the "Yang" world) is a continuation of this one (the "Yin world"), and try to provide their dead with things they will need.  Ancient burials would include tangible items, but now offerings are made in the form of paper.  Loved ones will burn paper money, cars, even paper mansions, believing they will be received on the other side.  My friend, Liisa, took me to a store on Joo Chiat Road that makes and sells these paper offerings - you wouldn't believe the size of some of these items - dead people demand luxury!
A paper mansion!

Most Chinese graves are in the shape of an armchair, as it is thought to symbolize wealth, comfort and dignity.  As would be expected, they come in various levels of opulence.  As you can see in the pictures, some are rather plain, others have beautiful tiles and even Indian guards!  (sadly, I guess they also believe their "servants" will be serving them in the Yang world as well...).

Overall, it was a really interesting experience and I would love to go back by myself and just wander around looking at the details of the graves and the pictures and wonder who all these people were.  Graveyards always bring a sense of mystery and wonder to me, and this one brought that feeling to a new level. 

Unfortunately, Singapore has limited space and the need to alleviate some traffic problems has prompted the government to put a huge highway through the cemetery.  On the positive side, they are making the highway a "flyover" meaning it will be built above the ground, like a bridge.  They made that decision in the wake of protests about disturbing the plant and animal nature of the vast land.  Apparently, disturbing the graves is less important than disturbing the animals.  About 4,000 graves must be exhumed and relocated.  The families had a time period to schedule a private exhumation or to register for the mass exhumation.

Graves marked for exhumation
Unclaimed graves will be exhumed, the contents cremated and if unclaimed after three years, will be disposed of at sea.  There is a movement to prevent this from happening, but considering the exhumations have begun and the government historically does what they want - I don't believe it can be stopped.  Cooper was very moved by this situation and appalled that this could be done to the families.  For an 8 year-old, he has such a strong sense of humanity and right and wrong, and it is a joy to behold.  Sometimes issues seem to weigh very heavily on his mind, but I still believe it is a very healthy attitude to have.

Love the decorative Peranakan tiles

The Indian guards have cute little dogs at their feet!
Lastly, on our walk around the grounds, we encountered a fire!  Singapore hasn't seen rain in over a MONTH and conditions are dry, dry, dry.  It is a perfect storm for a large-scale fire, and this particular fire did not look to be contained.  So Pete did his civic duty and called emergency services (995 here!) and we saw the police come then later heard what we think were (as Pete referred to them) the fire brigade.  For some reason, Jason envisions show tunes and fancy costumes when he hears "fire brigade".  I picture Joe Manganiello in Magic Mike (look it up, people).


Jason's idea of a fire brigade

My idea of a fire brigade

If you'd like more information, read Liisa's blog post on Bukit Brown!

Monday, 3 February 2014

The Crazy Lady in the Taxi Line

I lost it in public today.  Really, really lost it.  I was *that* woman. 

It all started when I arrived at my physical therapy appointment two hours early.  It was supposed to be at 1pm, I showed up at 11am.  Mistakes like this are in no way abnormal for me, so I laughed it off and decided to run some errands.  After finally getting around to canceling my yoga contract (boo!) and browsing the bookstore (a new Thai cookbook - yes!), I made my way to the Mount Elizabeth Medical Center to visit one of my best friends in the world, my orthopedic surgeon Dr. Raj.  I am pretty sure he spends more time with me than his kids.

So after 30 minutes with Dr. Raj, I was reeling from a BIG ASS injection in my knee, and having to hold a conversation that included the words "quality of life" and "possible knee replacement".  Oddly enough, I was able to hold back the tears (a nice change of pace for my dear doctor) but was not in the best mental state when I limped out of his office. 

Although I usually take the bus home when I can, I thoroughly deserved a cab ride home today (Dr. Raj made me cancel my PT appointment).  I was pleasantly surprised to see no one in the taxi line outside of the main entrance and hobbled to get in the (non)queue first. 

What happened next unglued me.  It felt like an out-of-body experience. 

Three groups of people exited the hospital behind me, and instead of playing by the rules and getting behind me in the OFFICIAL line, just moseyed right up to the cabs to wait while the exiting customers paid.  I couldn't stop the first two, but when the third group (a family of three, all adults) literally stood right next to me outside of the roped-off queue and started approaching the cab pulling up in front of me, I went berserk.


If you were there you would have observed a crazy-eyed, middle-aged lady in workout clothes YELLING somewhat incoherently, arms flailing and of course, limping slightly.  I believe I said (screamed) things like, "I can't take you rude people another minute", "Don't they teach you manners in your country?" (they were not Singaporean) and a few other good ones that I either can't remember or I subconsciously don't want to.  Oh yeah, at least two times I LOUDLY demanded to know, "What is wrong with you people???"  In my attempt to get out of there as soon as possible, I practically tripped over my bag of books, somehow flung open the taxi door, hit it on my leg and slammed it shut as hard as I could.


And then I had a wonderful cab driver, who talked it out with me and agreed that this is all too common, for foreigners and locals alike.  He truly sympathized with me and we had a nice chat. 

Do not take this post as Singapore-bashing.  For those who know me, you know that is the last thing I would do, and it irks me to no end when I hear other people doing it.  I would take a lie detector test to prove that I have never had a day in two years that I didn't want to live here.  And I'm dreading leaving in 37 days.

Okay, writing this has raised my blood pressure again.  Time to go youTube the puppy bowl or something.  I guess I should just be hoping my meltdown doesn't end up on youTube.

Until next time...