Grave sweepers a dying breed

Pictures by: 
Benjamin Seetor
Report by: 
Jean Iau

Under a shelter made from a canvas sheet that hangs from a tree, Mr Chua Tiam Koon cheerfully recounted his experiences at the cemetery. Mr Chua, 83, is a cemetery caretaker. He has been one at the Bukit Brown Cemetery for 65 years.

In between contagious laughter and a hacking cough, he told The New Paper in Hokkien: “I grew up in the village nearby and we used to play around here. I have been doing this for a long time.

I prefer not to sit around at home doing nothing.” His two children worry about the elderly man working such a physically demanding job.

They have offered to support him financially so that he does not have to work, but the independent man refuses to hang up his gardening tools.“My children don’t want me to work any more. They even sold my mower worth $400 to $500 to stop me, but I bought it back behind their backs and continued working,” he said.

Frail but not incapacitated, he cycles 6km on his trusty 30-year-old bicycle from his three-room flat in Toa Payoh to the cemetery at 6am every day. He tends to 20 graves a day and finishes at 5pm, making about $8,000 a year. Families pay him about $100 a year for each grave.

Read the full report in our print edition on April 11. Subscribe to The New Paper, now available in print and digital, at