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  Straits Times Forum 18 Jul 07
A parting letter from Ang Sar Nah
Letter from Tham Chen Munn

I WAS asked by my friend, Ang Sar Nah, to produce her posthumous letter on her sad demise, which happened rather uneventfully on Sunday.

She died a slow and torturous death amid an accidental crowd - not by gathering to see her execution, but by unwittingly getting caught in a traffic jam that was worthy of the usual Singapore brand of complaints.

I felt that I should do my part to share her story because she once provided shelter for the graves of my paternal grandparents.

My dear beloved humans,

By the time you read this, I would not only be dead, but I would also be mutilated to unrecognisable chunks of wood and heaps of sawdust. It's okay, because life still goes on. There was no way of turning back.

I've lived a fulfilling life. I've stood tall for over a hundred years. I've seen the development of Pek Shan Teng from a humble Cantonese cemetery to what Bishan is all about now.

As a young sapling, I admit to competing with the other trees to get sunlight and nourishment.

I must say that I have been lucky on a few occasions. Some of my fellow friends like Rain Tree and Frangipani were uprooted in their teenage years to make way for graves.

I was lucky. I was out of the beaten path and was spared the changkols and saws because where I stood, the fengshui was not exactly ideal for the departed to rest.

Graveyard diggers, coolies and undertakers would seek refuge under my shade after a hard day's work on the hilly cemetery grounds.

Every Qingming in March/April, hordes of families would dutifully come over to Pek Shan to pay their respects to their dearly departed. Some families would even leave food and plant joss sticks around me. I suppose they were paying respects to me, or honouring me.

Come to think of it, it was funny how I was revered by the masses of religiously-struck humans. I appreciated that.

I continued to flourish and grow.

I've received many guests on my leaves and branches. Did I mention a tiger once used me as a scratching post? A travelling hornbill from Sarawak roosted on my branches for a few months to recuperate from the long journey. I've even had the honour of being the home to a colugo (flying lemur) that gave birth to twins!

Then the Government decided in the 1970s to develop Pek Shan Teng.

First, it renamed the area Bishan, in line with the hanyu pinyin efforts then. The heavy machinery came and exhumed the graves of many Cantonese ancestors. The cemetery in some areas were levelled.

Again, I was lucky to have missed the excavation and clearing of the land.

Then I also witnessed a geopolitical shift in where I was supposed to be located. Not that I was transplanted, but the Government on one hand said I belonged to Bishan, then one day mentioned I belonged to another GRC. Last I heard, I think I belonged to Aljunied or Marine Parade.

In any case, I witnessed boomtime in the 80s when Bishan experienced a huge surge of residents coming to live in the New Town. I also saw Raffles Institution and later Raffles Junior College moving just a stone's throw from where I stood.

Urban sprawl was also the reason to expand the transport network. Braddell Road became more congested as it was the main trunk road that brought the Bishan residents to other parts of Singapore.

Planners decided to widen Braddell Road as part of the Outer Ring Road System. Cutting across underneath was the Circle Line MRT system.

The drawing plans had me demarcated as an 'obstruction to road widening plans'. Someone wanted me to be felled. I was already more than a hundred years old then, and I've seen everything - well, almost.

But there was someone else who championed for my existence and fought his way to get me saved. They came up with an ingenious temporary traffic scheme so that traffic would be diverted safely around me while they kept to the posted speed limit of 40 kmh.

I mentioned that I've seen it all, including the few reckless and irresponsible drivers who would violate the 40 kmh limit. They would zoom past me, thinking that the diversion made a good Formula One-type of chicane or dogleg. I prayed for them, and for the many other responsible drivers who were endangered by these selfish and reckless punks.

For two short years, I literally stood in the middle of the road, relishing once again my stay from the chainsaws. I've got the policymakers to thank.

But they decided to overturn their decision, amid the international call to 'Go Green' and to 'Save the Trees'. How ironic.

Now they blame me for being a potential hazard to drivers who speed and don't adhere to simple safety rules to slow down.

Who's going to watch over them now? Who's going to pray for these irresponsible drivers?

I don't want to point my branches to who's at fault for 'near misses and accidents'. I'm but a 'lucky' tree to almost everyone who sees me standing on that small island in the middle of Braddel Road.

Like I said earlier: there's no way of turning back. The decision was made to execute me and to allow for 'free flow' of traffic.

I was once told that I was a good reason for traffic-calming measures in the area. I guess it's not the case now.

I am only an Angsana Tree - a tree gone by the time you read this - but I have a few things to say.

And this is the only time I'm mentioning anything to anyone in my more than a hundred years of living on this planet.

Please educate your drivers and enforce your rules with the right frame of mind, and with professionalism.

There is always the easy way out in coming up with solutions, but there are many other more innovative ways.

I have submitted to the fact that I need to make way for national development. At my expense, I will do my part if that's the only choice for the sake of safety.

Alas, I'm disappointed that the very issue of responsible driving is not addressed. It's too late for me to fathom how my demise will result in safer driving when the very root of the problem is not addressed on a national level.

Oh, well, life must go on.

I appreciate the nature lovers who have tried their best to keep me alive, but my time has come to bid adieu to all my friends.

Please continue to pray - on my behalf - for the selfish and inconsiderate drivers who endanger the lives of others.

Finally, please drive carefully.

Your friend, Ang Sar Nah

more links in
responses to plan to cut down Braddell Angsana tree
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