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Teo Kah Seng

Introducing my paternal grandfather, Teo Kah Seng, born 1906, died 1959. His ancestral hometown was Tong’an, Xiamen, Fujian, China.

After three attempts and a mini treasure hunt of sorts, I finally found his grave!


I was interviewing my dad about his family, when he mentioned that my grandfather was buried in Bukit Brown. As the latter had passed away suddenly in 1959, 13 years before the municipal cemetery at Bukit Brown was permanently closed to burials, it made sense that he would be buried there, instead of being cremated and laid to rest in a columbarium.


I decided to ask my dad to take me to the grave, so I could document it and add another layer to the research into my family history. My dad told me he last visited the grave more than three decades ago - he stopped doing so after his mother passed away in 1988.


However, he thought he could remember the rough location of the grave. He pointed out the area on a map of Bukit Brown I printed. The area was in the northern half of the cemetery, after it had been sliced in half by the concrete and asphalt monstrosity that is Lornie Highway.


So we headed there last weekend. My brother dropped us off at Sime Road, and we walked in via a track off a slipway feeding into Lornie Highway. Alas, we could not find a way to the spot he had pointed out - there was no clear path there, and the surrounding forest was too thick to traverse. After an hour of searching, we gave up.


My dad then rang his sister - who has been visiting the grave for Qing Ming (Tomb Sweeping Day) every year - for directions. She offered to take us to it.


Yesterday, her husband drove us to... not Bukit Brown, but Kopi Sua, a cemetery just south of Bukit Brown, separated from it by Mount Pleasant Road and Onraet Road. I was speechless when my aunt stopped the car along Mount Pleasant Road and said “yes, we have to stop here and walk in”. My dad had made a complete mistake about his father’s grave’s location - Kopi Sua was more than a kilometre away from the part of Bukit Brown he had pointed out!


More disappointment followed. My aunt led us inside the cemetery, but inexplicably, she could not locate the grave, despite having visited it only 20 months before. We combed the area for more than an hour, but to no avail.

My dad and aunt in Kopi Sua.

After we had departed for home, my dad recalled two more clues: The grave’s number was L52, and there was a coconut tree near it.


Refusing to give up, I made another trip to Kopi Sua the following day, today. This time, I went alone. I entered from the south, through an opening in the grass verge of the Pan-Island Expressway. I found out that the graves in the south were numbered in the 100s and 200s, so I trekked north through knee and thigh-deep grass.

The south side of the hill called Kopi Sua.

Eventually, I reached the area where my aunt had searched yesterday. The graves there were numbered in the 50s, so I knew I was very near. I started systematically scanning every grave.


After a few minutes, I found it: Grave L52. There was a coconut tree nearby, and coconuts scattered around the grave.


Success!


It helped that I had done research on traditional Chinese graves for my work, so I knew what to look out for.


The main information of the deceased is in the middle of the gravestone, running top to bottom:

The first two characters are merely respectful placeholders: Xian Kao means Prominent Deceased Father. The third and fourth characters are Jia Cheng in Mandarin, or Kah Seng in Hokkien - the deceased’s given name. The last three characters are Zhang Gong Mu, meaning Honourable Mr Teo’s Grave.


I offered my Ah Gong an Old Chang Kee curry puff and a can of Carlsberg beer. As Old Chang Kee was created in 1956, he might have tasted the original food just before his untimely death.

I spotted my dad’s given name (Eng Chee in Hokkien, Ying Zhi in Mandarin) on the gravestone (circled):

The grave looked like it needed a lot of cleaning, though. Years of moss caked the stone:

The grave mound from the back:

It was a very satisfying day. My dad - the typical Asian dad - is usually reticent, but when I called him excitedly to tell him I had found his father’s grave, he exclaimed “Well done!”.


We’ll be back the following weekend to clean Ah Gong’s grave. He’s back with us now!