Visiting a Columbarium in Singapore

Today my eldest brother took mum and I to a columbarium in Choa Chu Kang in Singapore. It’s one of three government managed columbaria in Singapore. In Singapore, you don’t get many things for free, but a standard niche is free of charge for each claimed grave that is exhumed.

Choa Chu Kang Columbarium --  where my grandmother and my brother rested.

Choa Chu Kang Columbarium — where my grandmother and my brother rested.

We paid respect to my paternal grandmother, my brother who died in infancy and a great uncle today. Their graves were exhumed a few years ago from Upper Ajunid road, due to government’s development plan.

The columbarium houses some 147,000 niches spreading over 18 four-storey blocks. It’s absolutely clean, serene, bright and spacious. The landscape is magnificent.

According to the website of the columbarium, the buildings span across the entire area like a Chinese fan, and are designed to achieve maximum natural cross-ventilation and natural skylight.  The entire architecture was designed to emulate a natural park.

I truly sensed that this is a soothing place for reflection. Human life is respected and honoured.

My parents have 9 children. By the time I was born, all my grandparents had passed away. I have known practically nothing of my grandparents.  My paternal grandmother had died a year before I was born.

This is my grandmother’s niche. Her name was Chinese Cabbage Lady 白菜娘. At first I thought this name was a joke, but it wasn’t. My 80-year-old mother nursed her for 15 years, from the year that my eldest brother was born 60 years ago. My mum, a hardworking, illiterate immigrant from China, was struggling to feed 8 children while nursing her paralysed mother in law.

Later we found my brother’s resting place. He died of leukaemia aged 4.

My mum laid flower to her son, who died in 1964.

After the death of my brother in 1964, my grandmother (the Chinese Cabbage Lady) ruled that his middle name 仁 — meaning benevolence, must have carried misfortune, so she changed the first name of all future grandsons.  (Note: Normally in the Chinese families, children carry the same first name, while their middle names differ.)

No one knew exactly what my brother died of. We were told he died of leukaemia, which is more likely to be a treatable cancer today. My mum and my eldest brother remembered vividly that the 4-year-old died with a balloon-like belly.

There wasn’t a photograph on my brother’s resting place. Probably the young soul never had a chance to have a photograph taken. Not even a photograph for a tragic young life. I never got to know him. I was born 4 years after he had died.  As a typical Chinese, my father wished for another boy as a replacement, but what he got was me — what a joy!

We later visited my great uncle’s niche.

It was such a memorable way to end my one-month summer holiday in Singapore.

Family’s resting place

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36 thoughts on “Visiting a Columbarium in Singapore

  1. Cheryl

    A tender and beautiful story, Janet. Thank you for sharing it here. It was a lovely way to finish off your Singapore vacation, remembering those who have gone before.

  2. Red Slider

    My respects to your ancestors. And my appreciation to the Chinese for having set aside such a thoughtful, permanent space for quiet reflection in an ever changing world.

  3. Yolanda D

    Very interesting post. I am fascinated by your grandmother’s name. It makes me think of Amy Tan books, which I enjoy. Chinese culture is most interesting.

  4. Addarline

    Sorry Janet, the Singapore government must have needed spaces for office blocks… like mine.
    our great grand mah has indeed an interest name! Luckily she didn’t name all of you with animal names like ah-gao…ah-ngaw…

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  36. adoptacow

    Thanks in the lovely and somewhat splendid share.

    Found oneself awake in the late middle of this night in Singapore after the news on the Sabah earthquake, with some sincerity amidst frankness the numbness or nonchalance is apparent by now after several Malaysian planes missing, a major Malaysian flood, and now a Malaysian earthquake amidst Mahathir’s rants about Najib.

    Amen or Sadhu, eventually I still have to die.

    Still, because my eldest aunt Mdm Ong Swee Lam had passed on at 47 or 48 as a Buddhist, i.e. her youngest sister had converted her into Buddhism before she died, so over the past two decades all I knew was that she was buried at neighbouring Choa Chu Kang Cemetery without knowing exactlly where. With the government policy of exhumation after 15 years, by now she or her remains are also due for exhumation since 2013. I spoke with my mother about it, suggesting that I need to visit her grave during Ching Ming, yet on one hand I too was quite positively certain that her offsprings i.e. my cousins had looked into this matter asap, yet on the other hand precisely because her remains have possibly being exhumed asap, so around the same time as the same aunt – that made my eldest aunt become a buddhist – she also made me and another cousin go for triple gem refuge with her as well as my maternal grandmother before she died in 2012, as a consequence or otherwise ‘the buddhists’ are somewhat psuedo-ly under my area of care and jurisdiction. As far as this possibly exhumed ancestor Swee Lam is concerned, she would be a grandmother by now if still alive. @_@

    Still, the fact that I didn’t see her urn after exhumation, I also don’t have any idea.

    I won’t want my only surviving mother and other grandmother to get the excuse to live forever when Swee Lam dies young, it’s a Christ concept, somebody dying young for the others to live while being forgiven of their sins, the fact that Lee Kuan Yew boldly lived till 92 suggested that if Jesus was right to die at 33 for us I shouldn’t even need to remember Lee Kuan Yew who lived thrice the sentient lifespan of Jesus which is what the government wants of kids today as a matter of politics not faith.


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