Tuesday, 2 October 2012

My Teaching Career and Official Retirement

My first teaching job was at Kay Wah Primary School. I started on 13th January, 1958 teaching English. It's the same school I had attended as a kid, completing my education in Chinese with English as a second language.

I had sat for my Senior Cambridge Certificate exams in 1957 and obtained a Grade One certificate. So I returned to teach English at the same school. English was then a compulsory 2nd language at this government-aided school. Its first language was Chinese. It remained so throughout the 50s and early 60s.

In 1959, I started my teacher training proper at the Teacher's Training College on a part-time basis. If I taught in the morning, I then went for my training in the afternoon, and vice versa. The training was 3-4 hours a day, three days a week.

After struggling for three years, I obtained my Certificate in Education and began teaching as a qualified teacher in 1962.

I left Kay Wah on 31st December that same year and began my career with Boys Town English School on 1st January 1963. BTES was the old name for the current Assumption English School. The school's name was changed after it took in girls at the secondary level in 1973. The primary level was still an all-boys primary school.

1973 was the same year I stopped teaching at the primary level and moved on up to the secondary. I had majored in Art during my teacher training and it so happened that the newly co-ed secondary school needed an Art teacher. So I was pushed up to teach Art there. At the same, I was asked to design the new Assumption English School badge and flag after a competition amongst the students failed to find a suitable solution. Thankfully, both designs were officially accepted and signed off by then director and founder of Boys Town, Brother Vincent.

After I started teaching at Boys Town, I grew attached to the school. Much of it had to do with the kind of work and commitments I had. For example, I was made Scout Leader of the school's Scout and Cadet Scout (primary level) Troops. I held this responsibility from 1963 till 1996.

I was also an active member of the Boys' Town Old Boys' Association, now known as Boys' Town Alumni. We were very active during the late 60s and early 70s when we used to organise Talentime for Schools in order to raise funds for the Alumni's scholarship fund.

I was roped in to serve on the Alumni's EXCO in 1965 and am still in it!

To me, my time with Boys Town was/is not just a job or career, it's everything in my life.

So in 1996, when time came for me to retire, there was great sadness. It was compounded by the fact that the old school had been rebuilt and newly opened. It now boasted of two state-of-the-art Art Rooms - something I had longed for over 20 years. I had all along taught Art in that meantime without a proper Art room.

I felt disappointed that I had to leave just as new facilities were available. But then I remembered something that was said during the retirement seminar I had attended. I could continue as an Associate Teacher if I so desired! So I approached the school's principal then - Mrs Susan Thomas - about it. She advised me to write in to MOE, which I did. My application was successful and so I started work again on 9th January 1996 - a day after my official retirement on the 8th.

Towards the end of 1996, Mrs Thomas asked me to sign up for another year. This went on year after year until 2005 when I was asked to take over Sec 1 Art so as to hand over the upper secondary (graduating) classes to new teachers in case I left.

My schedule became quite full. I had eight Sec 1 classes with 2 periods a week. It was quite the change. You see, for the last ten years, I had been dealing with Sec 3 and Sec 4 students preparing them for 'O' or "N' level Art exams. I became quite lost when I suddenly had to teach Sec 1.

The problem was communication.

The students either didn't get what I was telling them or they just couldn't be bothered with what I said. A few rowdy girls and boys and there would be havoc in class. Many of them were very restless or active.

A few would forget to bring their Art materials too. Some just wouldn't listen. A few found the spacious Art Room a nice place to run about. When I approached the misbehaving pupil, he/she would run away, round the room, expecting me to catch them. I was not young anymore to play 'catching' with them!

The experience with the Sec 1 classes in 2005 was both stressful and unpleasant. I decided then to step down as Associate Teacher with full load and duty. Instead I would take up the new post of Flexi Adjunct Teacher where one could sign up to teach a limited number of hours over a period of time. Mine was in the 27 hrs per week category, usually for 10 weeks a Term.

Suddenly my workload became much lighter. Sure, my pay was affected: It was reduced, I don't get paid during the school holidays, and there would be no year-end bonus. I was also not entitled to any promotion. But it was so much stress-free!

All I had to do was assist the teacher proper (usually a young one) and guide her along. Or to co-teach the upper secondary classes or Normal Technical ones. I no longer took the lead but played second fiddle instead. It was indeed much more relaxing. I just did my best to support and help out the main teacher however I could.

I am still a Flexi Adjunct Teacher in the school and hope to be there as long as I am able and needed!

[Editor Note: Mr Ang has finally announced his retirement from teaching on 1st Jan 2013, almost 17 years after his official retirement on 8th Jan 1996. He had returned as an adjunct teacher then. Thank you, Mr Ang, for what is almost a lifetime of service to your students and to Assumption English and Boys Town. They are definitely poorer without your presence and contributions!]

Pioneer Scout Boat Shed and Launch Area:

My First Grandchildren

After marriage, Julie and Jeow (my son-in-law) applied for an executive flat in Choa Chu Kang. While waiting for their new flat, they stayed at Jeow's old place in Jurong West Neighbourhood 4. Julie then transferred herself from her workplace at DBS in Ang Mo Kio to the branch in Jurong, just a short distance away from her temporary home.

Soon after, good news arrived. Julie had conceived! Before we knew it, the little boy arrived safely on 1st of August, 1993 at Mt Elizabeth Hospital. My first grandson! We named him Augustine after his birth month.

A year or so later, Julie and Jeow were successful in getting their executive flat in Choa Chu Kang North 5. They moved in after renovations were done. In 1995, Julie became pregnant again, this time with a girl. We named her Marissa.

As Julie and Jeow were both working, they had to hire a maid (Ravina, a Filipino) to look after the children and home. As the maid was young - around 20+ - we had to drop by Julie's home as often as we could to supervise. In the morning, with me in school teaching, my wife would take a train from AMK to Yew Tee and from there take bus 302 to get there. I would join her after school to look after those two darling little kids.

By 4-5 pm, we would leave as Julie and Jeow would be home soon.

Ravina the maid left after two years. Her replacement was a Nepalese mother of one. She was very obedient and loyal in character but lacked initiative and ability. She had to be instructed all the time. I remember Julie having to write out an action list for her to follow - what to do, what to cook, etc. This maid returned to her home country after 2 or 3 years, which was typical. Next came another Filipino maid. But unlike the first, she was problematic. She had family problems back home, was often moody and unstable. She was later recalled by the agent.

The next maid, our present one, is Leny, also from the Philippines. She has been working as a maid for many years and thus experienced. She's the best so far. She's self-motivated and need not be told what to do. She also keeps the house very clean and neat. She came when my grandkids were of pre-school age. Now, Augustine is in Sec 5 and Marissa is in Sec 3!

Julie and Jeow upgraded to a private condominium in Choa Chu Kang (Palm Gardens) in 2001. My wife and I followed suit a year later and moved from Ang Mo Kio to Hillview Avenue. We had been living in AMK for 22 years!

From my new home, I could drive to Julie's in about 15 minutes; to my school, in about 10. At school, I continued to be re-employed as an Associate Teacher after my official retirement in 1996.

The Romance of My Daughters

Around the late 80s or early 90s, my daughters Julie and Susan started their romances.

Julie paired up with Mr Jeow, an IT engineer. He turned out to be my past pupil, someone I had taught in Sec 2.

Julie and Jeow started dating and soon made plans to wed. Susan had quite a few admirers but her relationships with them did not end well.

One serious chap tried very hard to win her heart, even enlisting my help, but to no avail. He was flatly turned down. Susan's second suitor was the son of a businessman who would ask his company staff to deliver presents to our house. They dated for a year or two ('91-'92) and told us they wanted to get married. My wife and I did not object but we thought we should let Julie proceed first as she was the elder and already planning her wedding.

However, Susan's relationship with this young man stopped suddenly. Till this day, we do not know the reason(s) and she did not tell us. Unlike Julie, Susan could not communicate well with me and my wife at the time. But she did help out at Julie's wedding, which was held at the Ritz Carlton hotel. It was a small affair of about 20 tables. I did not invite my relatives nor friends; it was mostly theirs. After the wedding, the couple flew to the U.S. for their honeymoon.

Susan didn't take her break-up too badly but she did sort of blame us for not letting her get married when she'd asked. I found it a blessing for if a relationship could be broken off so easily, it meant it was not built on solid foundation in the first place. Susan's life soon went back to normal.

Daily, Routine Life

During school days, life was quite hectic.

Each morning, I would prepare breakfast for the family as well as myself for school. By 6.30 am, we were all ready to leave.

My daughters would take the nearby feeder service 217 to Serangoon Gardens Center to transfer to service 156 or 136 that would then take them to their school at Hillside Drive off Upper Serangoon Road. Before I get to my own school, I would drive to Toa Payoh first to pick up Mr Chiam and Mr Wee who were my colleagues teaching Chinese Language.

School would be over by 1 pm.

It was not the habit for teachers to stay back in school then. They would bring their work home, especially student's work, to mark. Usually I would be home by 2 pm. My private tuition sessions would then start at 3 pm and last till 5 pm. Another session ran from 7 pm to 9 pm.

It was like this for a few years.

My private tuition load was then slowly reduced after I joined CDAC as a tutor around 1989-90.

As my teacher's pay increased, I further reduced my extra income. By 2000 I had stopped all my private tuition classes.

As I had no more loan commitments to finance, money was not a problem. Besides, my wife and I seldom traveled. My daughters did most of that, almost annually, but out of their own pocket. Both of them were already working by the early 90s.

Julie started working after her 'A' levels as she did not qualify for a place at university. She became more stable in her career after she joined DBS in 1984. She is still there at the time of writing.

Susan, on the other hand, started work after she graduated from Singapore Poly in 1985. She started working as a temp staff in several different organisations before settling down at Simex, the forerunner of SGX today.

Our Ang Mo Kio Home

Our new home was in one of the three 25-storey point blocks at the eastern border of AMK. It was about 200m from Serangoon Gardens. The Central Expressway was not yet built and a short footpath led to a feeder service bus stop where we could catch a bus to Serangoon Gardens Centre. From there, we could transfer to other bus services to Upper Serangoon Road where my two daughter's school was. (St Joseph Convent is now in Sengkang.)

This so-called 5-room had three bedrooms and an L-shaped hall that was both the living room and dining area. The latter had glass doors that led to a spacious 8 x 8 feet balcony. The kitchen was slightly narrower than the one in our previous three-room flat in Toa Payoh.

The master bedroom was quite spacious and came with an attached bath. The other toilet in the flat was attached to the kitchen.

My wife and I of course, had use of the master-bedroom. My daughters they took the second bedroom in the middle between the living room and third bedroom.

The third bedroom was used for studies and tuition. Almost all my Toa Payoh students continued their tuition with me in Ang Mo Kio.

Tuition for extra income was common and necessary as the pay for teachers was very miserable then.

A qualified teacher like me was drawing only a $1000+ after 20 years of teaching. But prospects for teachers got better in the 80s (around '81 or '82, I think). Then Director for Education Mr Goh Kim Leung announced a substantial pay increase for teachers. I remember my pay scale (between $245 and $1670) jumped to a maximum of $3,600 per month with an annual increment of $50 to $100 as you went higher.

The instant increase in pay was $1,000+ to $2,000+. I cannot remember the exact amount.

It was really good news and good fortune for the teaching profession. And there was further good news for me after this.

A non-graduate teacher like me who have distinctions in English Language, English Literature and Mathematics could get an instant increment for each subject. So in 1984, I decided to try my luck. I signed up for English and Maths at 'O' level as a private candidate. Very fortunately, I received distinctions for both subjects: an A1 for Maths, and an A2 for English Language. I immediately received an increment of $200 added to my pay.

But life is never a bed of roses. We also had our ups and downs.

My wife was getting very depressed at times - full of grumblings over very small things. I had to take her to a specialist about her case. I had thought her thyroid problem returned but the tests proved negative.

Our specialist doctor recommended her to see a pyschiatrist. But when the psychiatrist asked to see me and my daughters, my wife changed her mind. She was afraid that we would provide inaccurate information or worse, false statements. I think she could not simply take the change in lifestyle and environment. The same thing happened to her when we moved to Toa Payoh in 1967. She was someone who needed time to adjust and adapt.

My two daughters also had problems.

Susan's neck problem came back when she was in Sec 3 or Sec 4 and had to be operated on. The problem did not go away and would came back often, almost yearly. In the end, we changed the doctor to Dr Yeo Kiau Hian who did a very good job. Recurrence was less.

All these happenings reminded me of Sister Bernard's words: "What God has taken from you, He compensate you in other ways."

You get something good, you pay for something bad.

Ang Mo Kio - Our Home for The Next 20 Years

Ang Mo Kio was the third satellite town after Toa Payoh and bigger.

From north to south, its Ave 1 borders Ave 9 and Bishan Park. Ave 2 and Ave 12 ran from east to west. Much of the estate was still under development when we moved in. The town center was under construction.

However, our neighbourhood was complete and had a wet market and shophouses. The wet market itself was just 200m from our flat. A feeder bus service plied past our place and would bring us to the town center where many more services terminated along Ave 3 where the AMK Hub is today. As AMK developed, more bus services were added and a bus terminus was eventually built in the late 80s. It was connected to the MRT station by an underground passage that cut across Ave 8.

From the east side of this avenue, direct trunk services to the city, Bedok, Tampines and Marine Parade would run. There were also direct trunk services to Bukit Merah Town Centre as well as Queenstown along the western side. There was also service 169 that ran from AMK to Woodlands Interchange. But till now, there isn't a bus service that runs to Choa Chu Kang or Bukit Panjang from Ang Mo Kio. Actually, come to think of it, AMK residents have been pampered with the many bus services that connect to many parts of the Singapore island, not to mention the many feeder bus services that run within the estate.

A Great Depression

I should really thank the kind and understanding people around us who kept us going during this great depression after Annie died. For days and weeks, I had colleagues who visited us either in groups or as individuals. They counseled and gave invaluable advice to dilute our suffering; most said that Annie would be in a better place, heaven. The Christian group from Susan's kindergarten also visited us often and gave us much comfort.

The principal of Julie's school, Convent of Our Lady of Good Counsel, also specially invited me to her office to counsel me. I remember a line from her: "What God has taken from you, he will compensate you in other ways."

Every teacher of Annie's said she was such an angel and that she would surely to go to heaven. Not long after, I had a dream one night. As a matter of fact, I dreamed of Annie very often after her passing. However, this one dream was very vivid. In it Annie told me that although she had been close to Christian activities, she could not go to heaven without a mass. I quickly asked her, "So where are you now and what do you want me to do?" I then woke up. The very next day, I went to her school and told her principal about it. I also asked her to help arrange a mass for Annie. It was soon carried out and my family and I attended.

Our family doctor, Dr Tan Kien Yong helped us by prescribing tranquilizers to relieve us from depression. Intellectually, I know I had to put the past behind me and move forward, but it was easier said than done.

For the first few months, I would break down for no reason. It would happen at least once a day.

It happened in school too where I worked, and I would rush to the toilet if there was time. When I stopped at a red light, I would feel the need to get out of the car. When I queued up to buy anything, I felt like running away. It was unbearable to wait for anything. All these happened even though I was on medication. It lasted three years.

My wife was stronger in this aspect. She might scream at times to let out her emotions but she was usually more stable and consoled me when I was down. I also felt uneasy during big functions like weddings. It was very tormenting to have to sit through them. There was great relief when the functions were over. I discovered that I was withdrawing  into myself.

I was lucky to have a good bunch of tuition students who kept me busy and occupied. And at the same time, providing me with more income.

After three long years, I became more seasoned to my misfortune. Some normalcy returned and I soon began eyeing the 5-room flats that were coming up in Ang Mo Kio during the late 70s.

My wife and I applied and were soon allotted one. The price then was about $35k. And for the first time, the HDB allowed us to sell our old flat in the open market. We found a buyer who was willing to pay our asking price of $20k. The balance for the new flat was covered by funds in my CPF account, so this new place was paid for once and for all from at the very start.

Getting the flat ready for occupation was a hassle but we did finally move in on 20th November, 1980. It was a Saturday.

I remember Susan and Julie going to their new home by bus, carrying their school bags and a colored photo of their late eldest sister, Annie. My wife and I had to remain behind to supervise the movers and afterwards drive ahead of them to Ang Mo Kio.

By the time we arrived, Julie and Susan were already in the house. And thus this was how we began our new phase of life in Ang Mo Kio.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Annie - (4) My Greatest Loss

By 1973, Annie was in P5; Julie was in P3; Susan was in her final year of kindergarten at Blk 107, Lor 1, Toa Payoh - two or three blocks away from our home.

Annie began having a fever sometime in March. After seeing Dr Chiam at Blk 111, she did not improve. She kept vomiting even after a bit of food and drink. Her condition worsened on the 2nd day, so I decided to take leave from work and bring her to see Dr Tan.

I went to his clinic, took a queue number (no. 13 it was) and begged him to come to my house. But Dr Tan said he did not want to be pressured with so many patients waiting. I had no choice then but to rush home and carry Annie into my car and drive her to the clinic. Dr Tan kept his promise to attend to her immediately when we arrived. He discovered that her blood pressure was very low. He wrote up a reference letter and instructed me to send her to Toa Payoh Hospital, then known as Thomson Road Hospital.

When we arrived, we went through the usual registration routine and waited. I couldn't bear to see Annie suffering, so I told a doctor that she was very ill. He looked at our reference letter and did a bit of examination. He then ordered Annie to be admitted straightaway.

Later in the afternoon, the staff there decided to transfer Annie to SGH where better facilities were available. I followed in the ambulance which was an old Volkswagen boneshaker. I imagined how badly Annie must be feeling riding in that rickety thing.

Finally, we arrived at SGH and Annie was immediately whisked away to the Emergency Room. It was airconditioned, not typical in those days.

The nurse then did all the preparatory work of attaching tubes, etc, to Annie. She did not like it a bit and screamed and cried out. Suddenly, she was silent. Before I knew it, doctors from everywhere were rushing in. I was told to go outside and wait. Apparently Annie had collapsed, why the nurse had sent for help.

I could hear a doctor asking the nurse why she did not send for him earlier. To this, the nurse replied that Annie was ok before she collapsed.

"Shock her," I heard, followed by two pop-pop sounds.

Then suddenly I could hear Annie crying out in pain. Her voice then faded away. That was the last I heard from her.

Before she was transferred to SGH, she had asked me, "How about my studies?" Though not a top student, she was consistent and worked hard.

I was praying and waiting outside when I saw the doctors all come out from the ER. I heard a doctor comment, "That girl in the ER could have been saved if..." I don't remember the exact words. What he said told me what to expect, something I'd never have imagined that I would go through. I moved forward to find out more. One doctor, the leader I assumed, said, "So, you are the father of that patient?" I nodded. "Sorry, your daughter has just passed away." I wanted to rush into the ER but the nurse there stopped me. "Let him in!" that same doctor ordered.

Inside, Annie was lying under a piece of cloth. Trembling, I lifted it. What I saw filled me with tears. Through that haze of grief, I asked her, "How you want me to tell your mother now?"

I repeated the question for I don't know for how long. My tears fell on Annie's gentle face. Though I wiped them away, my own tears would not stop.

When I finally recovered myself somewhat, another nurse was standing by my side. "What should I do next," I asked her. She told me I could claim the body in a few days, failing which, the hospital would take over if it remained unclaimed.

Feeling utterly lost, I took a cab back to Thomson Road Hospital to drive my car home. I was all quiet in the taxi. I couldn't even answer the cab driver when he asked, "Not feeling well?"

When I reached home, my wife was all ready for the bad news. I just threw myself onto the sofa and cried. That said everything; she didn't need to ask. She did her best to console me but I was unconsolable for quite some time. Devastated as we might be, we still needed to get on with life. I suspended all my tuition for that week. Next, we went to see my colleague and friend, Mr Ng Heng Peng, who stayed at Blk 124 to say that I would not be able to fetch him and the others to school for a while. Mr Ng was not there so I left him a note. It read: "My Annie has just passed away. I will not be going to school for a few days. Please tell Mr Chiam."

At the time, I was also involved in a school tuition program for needy students. There were more than 10 teachers from various schools. A social worker from that program came to see me that day. Through her,  the others knew of my misfortune.

Mr Ng came to see me with his wife after reading my note. When he found out that I had not informed my parents yet, he volunteered to go all the way to Lim Chu Kang to their home to do just that. Back then, there were no phones in the rural areas such as Lim Chu Kang. Even in our new HDB town, getting a phone took 1 year. So we could not telephone my parents at all.

Bad news spread fast. That group of voluntary tuition teachers at First Toa Payoh School paid me a visit after their classes. Parents of my own tuition students also came by to express their condolences. My school colleagues also came in groups to visit me at home. Many also turned up for Annie's funeral. All these kind gestures helped to dilute my grief a lot.

By the time Mr Ng informed my parents, it was already evening - my dad could not rush down to see me. He came the next morning. I was outside, standing in the corridor. When I saw him, I was so overcome I started to sink to my feet. My dad and I were close. When my father saw that, he rushed up to me, arms out ready to catch me. I can never forget that scene. Later, he accompanied me to the undertaker shop to buy a coffin. We chose a presentable one as I wanted Annie to feel comfortable in it.

The funeral itself was set for the next day. My father and I, together with two of Annie's cousins, went to the mortuary at SGH to claim her body. It was wheeled out for me to identify. Afterwards, the undertaker dressed her up. I don't know how to describe my feelings then. I was told not to touch her or her nose would bleed. It was common belief that blood-relatives of the dead cannot touch the body because of this.

My father could not believe that Annie was dead: she looked as pretty and lovely as she was alive. He placed his hand on her forehead and called her name, hoping she would wake up. Lo and behold, Annie's nose started to bleed. I quickly dragged my father outside. He broke down uncontrollably. It turned out that I had to console my father instead.

Finally, when the undertaker had dressed and laid Annie into the coffin, we were asked to take a last look before the coffin was closed up. When we were satisfied that all was neatly done, we all made our way to Kong Ming San where she was to be cremated. My principal, Mr Boivin, and representatives of teachers from all the subjects and ECAs were already there and waiting.

When Annie's coffin was put into the fire, I was devastated. My colleagues tried their best to console me. Some stared sympathetically but was uncertain what to do. Mr Boivin hugged me tightly and rubbed my back to loosen up my tense body. It really made me feel better at the time.

The next morning, we had to go through yet another heart-wrenching time when my wife and I, together with our daughters Julie and Susan, went to the crematorium to collect Annie's remains. Her small heap of bones and ashes were already sorted out from the wood ashes by the staff there. How would you feel if your beautiful daughter was now a pile of burnt bones and ash? Yet, we treasured her in everyway and so, bit by bit, we picked up her remains and placed them inside an urn where she would rest forever. The whole time, I was really hurting inside.

Singapore After Independence

When Singapore was kicked out of Malaysia on 9th August, 1965, it was still a Third World country with a dubious future. We had no natural resources and the population was exploding as no family planning and birth control was enforced. I still remember vividly a cartoon drawing in the Straits Times newspaper entitled "Mr Chew Swee Kee's Nightmare". Mr Chew was the Minister for Education before the PAP took over. The picture showed children studying on bumboats on the Singapore River. They were so crowded that many children who could not get onto the boats were floating in the river holding their books to study.

This cartoon really reflected the plight of Singapore's state of education. Schools were few and badly built, especially those Chinese-aided schools in the rural areas. They would make use of the temple wayang stage as classrooms. Personally, I have taught for five years at Kay Wah Public School in Lim Chu Kang.; I was posted to teach at the branch in Ama Keng Village. We used the temple's wayang stage and partitioned it with movable boards to have two classrooms. Fortunately or unfortunately, the children of that era were not well fed as our present generation and were therefore not so active, noisy and did not take up much space!

After the PAP took over in 1959, Singapore became self governing but not an independant nation. Mr Lee Kuan Yew thought the only way for Singapore to survive was to merge with Malaysia, which the first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman had created by merging Malaya's 11 states with Sabah and Sarawak together with Singapore. So, in 1963, on the 16th of September, on Mr LKY's birthday, Singapore became an independent nation with special rights in education.

Due to the then political situation in Malaysia, which led to racial riots in 1965, Singapore was ousted from the Malaysian union. She thus became a independent nation of her own.

With LKY and all our first-generation leaders, they manifested the PAP ideal and policies and got down o work very hard. Singapore surely but slowly improved. By the 1970s, it became obvious that Singapore was doing very well. Goh Keng Swee's Jurong Industrial Estate took off and investment poured in. I, who used to give some tuition to supplement my meagre income, was glad that more and more parents are sending their children for tuition after school. So life had become certainly better. But we still struggled like mad.

Everyday, I would leave for work at Boy's Town English, leaving behind the three young girls with their mother. The worst time was when my wife had to go for her hospital appointment once a month at Toa Payoh Hospital along Thomson Road., about one km from my flat. She would bring the youngest, Susan, along, leaving Annie and Julie at home. Susan was then 3 yrs old in 1970.

My wife had to make sure she was back on time to prepare the other girls for school. I don't know how she managed then! But this situation affected her mood very much whenever she turned up for her monthly check-up. One of the first tests was to hold out her hands to see if she was calm. Because of her anxiety to get home on time, my wife would do poorly in this test. In her excited state, her hands would tremble. This gave reason for the doctors to tell her to keep taking her medication, which dragged on for three years. I was unhappy with this state of things, her treatment and not knowing when she would be cured. So, I decided to go see her doctor.

When I asked him when my wife's condition would be stabilised permanently, he suggested an operation. At the time, my former teacher, Mr Seah Cheng Liang, had a brother (Professor Seah Cheng Siang) who was a specialist in this field. I asked CL to recommend my wife to be his brother's patient; he did not hesitate and wrote me a letter on the spot.

After securing an appointment, we met Prof Seah at SGH in 1972 (I think). After reading the letter from his brother, Prof Seah gave us a broad and warm smile. He then took action immediately and ordered some tests. The results came back within two hours. I think Prof Seah must have given special instructions to his staff to have the blood and urine tests back quickly.

When we saw Prof Seah again, we were anxious. He was in his room with three Australian doctors. Knowing that my wife was not proficient in English, Prof Seah spoke in Teochew. "Your sickness is cured," he said.
"Your thyroid glands are functioning normal again."

He added: "But you are prone to worry a lot. Whenever you feel pressured or depressed, you just need to go see your family doctor."

My wife and I were pleasantly surprised to hear this bit of good news.

"Am I really recovered?" my wife asked, somewhat incredulous.

To assure my wife, Prof Seah pointed to the three Australain doctors and said: "They also agree that you are cured."

My wife told me later: "It's not the medicine that cured me, but Prof Seah's reassuring words."

I don't remember Prof Seah prescribing her any medication that day. But I remember the consultation being free! My wife insisted on a small token of payment, but Prof Seah refused.

Back home, we went to see our family doctor, Dr Tan Kian Yong, of Toa Payoh First Clinic. He also agreed that my wife's case was more a case of anxiety than thyroid imbalance.

Getting Annie into St Joseph's Convent

It had been our dream that our daughters should attend an all-girls school like the CHIJ convent. So, in the second half of 1968, it came time to register our eldest, Annie, for P1. Our aim was to register her at St Joseph's Convent (SJC). It was then still a full school. But the chances for the last phase was always very slim, especially with popular schools. So I decided to try my luck with the phase for former pupils or others related to the school.

I met the VP, Mrs Galistian, a very nice lady to whom I explained my rationale. I told her I had attended a Catholic school, Boys' Town English, and am now a teacher in the same school. By right, my children should be eligible for registration at my school but, the school did not take in girls. However, its corresponding school SJC, did.

Mrs Galistian was very sympathetic to my situation. She told me that so far there were still a few vacancies, left. It was almost the last day for this phase. She assured me that I stood a good chance as those who applied for this phase had all rushed to register on the first day. She promised I would be the first one in this phase at this stage. I then thanked her and waited for her good news.

Before the last phase of registration started, she called me to got to the school at once as there were still vacancies left. I'm still grate ful to her for allowing me that special privilege. I did not have to go queue up the day before dawn. Without any problem, Annie was successfully registered for P1 for 1969.

Our dream thus came through. Annie started P1 at SJC located at Hillside Drive off Upper Serangoon Road. As young parents, we wanted the best for our children. As Annie had suffered from a polio attack, her left leg was left slightly deformed - it was thinner than her right leg. It was also about an inch shorter so she walked with a limp.

However, it was considered a very mild attack and she remained independent in her movements. We engaged a piano teacher and sent her for lessons once a week. We also bought her Shanghai brand piano for $1200. On Sundays, we let the girls join some singing lessons run by a record company. But this company would up after some time.

We then sent Julie for ballet lessons ran by Television Singapore artiste, Lim Fei Siong. The lessons were conducted in an old bungalow in Marine Parade.

It was quite taxing having to send the family there for half the Sunday. About a year later, we quit ballet and let Julie take up violin lessons taught by a certain Mr Woon, who had conducted classes in her school.

When Julie went to P1, it was at Our Lady of Good Counsel situated in Cooling Close, Serangoon Gardens. It was an affiliate school of SJC. By then SJC had stopped accepting new P1 classes to ready itself as a full secondary school. However, Annie was still able to continue with her primary education there.

14 Years Living in Toa Payoh

Not long after the birth of Susan in 1967, life became a struggle. Before my tuition business has picked up, we were living from hand to mouth. We even illegally rented out our front bedroom to a newly wedded couple, a certain Mr Lee. The rent was $30, inclusive of utilities. But some bad-hearted neighbours must have reported us to the HDB and we were caught red-handed. Luckily, I was witty enough to tell the HDB officer that the Lees were moving out soon. My tenant also lied that we were helping them out and that we did not collect rent. The officer believed our explanations and did not file a case against us. He said he would return a week later to check.
My tenant, Mr Lee, was very cooperative; he went house-hunting immediately. He managed to find a place and moved out within three days. A week later the officer did return. He checked our place and was glad we kept to our words.

One day, while I was giving tuition to the Neo family children (two girls and two boys), my wife called me up and asked me to go home immediately, saying something had happened. She wouldn't tell me what. "You just come back at once," she said. I was both worried and sad, wondering what was going on. Driving my old Morrie Minor, travelling at more than 50 mph, I negotiated the narrow and crooked Choa Chu Kang Road into Bukit Pangjang village centre; there I turn right into Upper Bukit Timah Road, turned left into Adams Road, then Lornie and up that first flyover into Toa Payoh North and then Lor 1. My home was at Blk112.

My wife was glad to see me come back. But I was not shrewd enough to understand the stress of looking after three very young children. She told me she just felt worried and frightened after seeing an old aunty - the one who goes around selling curry powder - sitting at the side staircase doing some knitting and crocheting. However, my wife was calmer after I got home. We then went to the semi-charity clinic downstairs which charged little. Afterwards, she was given a reference letter to go to Toa Payoh Hospital. There, she was warded for observation and investigation for a few days. I had to employ a 12-yr old kampong girl to look after my daughters. My MIL also helped out on and off.

Now, I cannot imagine how I could have let a 12-yr old kampong girl look after my three babies and yet keep the house clean while I was at school and my wife in hospital. The year was 1968 (or 69). I was teaching in the afternoon session with only four classes together with four form-teachers, a Chinese lang teacher and a Malay lang one.

I remember one afternoon how our kampong girl (who was not used to being cooped up in a flat) carrying Susan in her arms and handholding Julie with the other, went on a tour around the new Toa Payoh Estate. I thanked my lucky stars that nothing untoward happened. It would really be a nightmare for me.

Annie did not go with them as she was already in St Joseph's Convent (I think). Soon my wife was discharged and confirmed as having hyper thyroid syndrome. She was put on meds and that kept her in control and well for the time being.

The Story of Lim May Ling

She caught my attention when I marked her composition on My Teacher. In it, one of her sentences was "My teacher is very handsome". I asked her if you knew the meaning of the word 'handsome' and she told me, in Chinese, 英俊. Her level of literacy and intelligence or knowledge was well above the others.  At the end of the course, she was awarded the Best Student prize, which would be given out at an awards ceremony at the Singapore Conference Hall in Shenton Way. I drove her there and drove her home.  

Coincidentally at the event, I heard the name of my colleague, Ms Margaret Tan Joo Yan being called. I greeted her and sat with her. That was not very wise as I had to drive her back to her home in Jalan Batu near Katong before sending May Ling back to her home in Bukit Panjang.

After graduation from night class, May Ling kept in touch with me. She used to write to me in Chinese addressing me as "My Dear Brother" i.e. 亲爱的哥哥 It happened that her brother-in-law had a shop in Upper Serangoon. After visiting her sister there, she would drop by Toa Payoh to visit me. She knew I taught the afternoon session and would leave for school at around 11.30 pm. She would arrive an hour earlier and leave with me thereafter. I could then give her a lift to Bukit Panjang. She did this several times, much to the chagrin of my wife.

I was not aware of the emotional reaction of my wife until one weekend when we had a casual quarrel and she accused me of being a changed man because of May Ling. She was at the time in her advanced pregnancy state with Susan and yet she stormed all the way to Bukit Panjang to confront Ling. She pleaded with her to leave her husband (me) alone!

May Ling was shocked and consoled her by saying nothing had gone on between her and me.

I think May Ling was very hurt by my wife's accusation. She did treat me like her brother. We never did overstep our boundaries.

To prove her innocence, she took immediate steps to convince my wife that she had no ulterior motive nor designs on her husband. One month after the incident, she came to visit with her fiance, presenting us a customary cake to announce their engagement. However, she did not invite us to her wedding nor inform us of when it would take place. We kept up with our correspondence but she did not say anything about getting married. Out of the blue, she told me she was the mother of a baby boy.

My wife decided to pay her a visit one day. Our whole family went - my wife and three daughters. We managed to find their home near Sin Ming Road just off Woodlands Road.

I guess my wife wanted to express her apology for having mistaken her as a 3rd party. She held May Ling's newborn son and "sayang-sayang" him. Finally, she tucked an ang pow - a red packet containing money, into the baby's bundle.

After this visit, we continued to keep in correspondence. One of the last ones was a photo of her two sons. Her husband had also become a full-time taxi driver. Slowly, our contact faded with the passage of time.
We now have lost complete touch with one another. I hope she is still well. She should be in her 60s.

Annie's Story - (3) Contracting Polio

1965 was the worst year for Annie, me and my family - and Singapore as well. My father-in-law died of cancer in early 1965 at the age of 65. A few months later Annie developed a persistent fever. When her fever subsided, she complained of a pain in her left leg and could not walk by herself. I took her to the Singapore General Hospital and they suspected it to be case of polio.

They then transferred her to Middleton Hospital next to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, what is now the Communicable Disease Centre. She had to be warded for further observation and investigation.

The very heart-tearing part was when I had to leave her. Her little right hand grabbed one of my fingers and she implored me not to go away. But the nurses were quick with their tricks in separating us. Annie was soon forcefully carried away. I could hear her screaming "I want to go home!" repeatedly until she was carried to a far corner of the ward.

The nurse who attended to me kept consoling me with "Don't worry, she'll be fine here. We will take good care of her."

I really had a nightmarish time that night. This was followed by daily visits to her with different toys until we ran out of ideas. This tormenting nightmare lasted for 50 days until she was discharged and came home. Afterwards, it was followed by physiotherapy sessions at SGH for quite some time, at least till she was able to walk on her own again. By then, her left leg was thinned by the illness (as is usually the case) and she also became shorter. She walked with a limp. But hers was actually a minor case.

On 9 August 1965, Singapore was kicked out of Malaysia. Our then prime minsiter, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, was so sad he broke down while meeting the press. That memorable scene was captured on our black and white TVs; I could never forget it.

Singapore became an independent nation on its own. Luckily, we had tough and capable leaders in the PAP who turned crisis into opportunity. We have had capable leaders in Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee, Lim Kim San, Hon Sui Sen, S Rajaratnam, and Toh Chin Chye.. They spared no time and got down to work immediately. From a swampy land, Jurong Inductrial Estate was created and investments from abroad poured in. More and more people were able to find jobs.

A home ownership scheme was introduced and Toa Payoh New Town was established.

I was among the first batch of that Scheme who moved into Toa Payoh. My registration number was 214; the year was 1967. Construction work was still very evident in Toa Payoh at the time. We bought our 3-room flat for $7,500 only. Spent $1000 or $2000 more to renovate it. By then, I also managed to own a second-hand Morris Minor sedan car which I bought at $2,000 with money borrowed from my mother-in-law and paid back at $50 a month interest-free. That year was 1965. The car came in handy in sending Annie to her physiotherapy sessions. Later, it came in handy when my youngest daughter, Susan, was born on 8th August 1967. To go out with three kids on public transport then was not easy. With our own car, it was a breeze.

My Transport To Work

After shifting to Margaret Close in Queenstown, I had to take two buses to school, or rather three buses if I had to stop at the 7th mile Bukit Timah market for breakfast.

Every working day, I had to walk about 400m to the bus stop along Queensway to take a Tay Koh Yat bus to Bukit Timah Road. There, I would change to a green bus that plied along Bukit Timah Road to other destinations like Jurong, Princess Elizabeth Estate, Lim Chu Kang, Mandai, and Johor Bahru.

The Green Bus Co. Ltd bus services were like this:

No.1 - Queen Street to JB;
No.2 - Queen Street to Lim Chu Kang;
No.3 - Queen Street to Jurong (Tuas);
No.4 - Queen Street to Mandai;
No.5 - Queen Street to Princess Elizabeth Estate.

Of these five routes, Service No.1 was the most frequent while the rest ranged from 15-20 mins. So I took Service No.1 often. If I had no breakfast at home, I would stop at the 7th mile market for one. After that I would take a bus to my school in Boys' Town.

Being young at the time, my wife and I were very active. I was then 29 yrs old and my wife was 27. Although our girls were very young, we went everywhere with them. Julie was hardly 3-4 months old. We would go shopping at the pasar malams with her sleeping cradled in our arms. At times, my wife could even manage to go to the market some 300-400 m away on her own with the girls in her arms. I sometimes wonder how she/we managed!

Really, it is great to be young and full of energy!

Annie's Story - (2) A sister

In mid-1964 we shifted to a two-room flat in Margaret Close, Queenstown. These first-gen flats are no longer around. They have been demolished a few years ago. The land has since been left empty.

On the right of our unit was a young Chinese man like me. He had an Eurasian wife and a three-year old son. I remember his name as Gabriel. On the left was a Malay neighbour. He had a Kelantan wife and two daughters.

In that same year, on the 29th of November, my second daughter was born. I named her Julie because the song Julie, Julie I Love You was very popular at the time. Her Chinese name is Kim Yam. It was the school holidays and so I could take care of Annie whilst my wife was still in the maternity home.

On the second day, I took Annie along to visit my wife. When we came home, Annie appeared sad and quiet. She started to cry when I carried her into the house. I then took two pieces of rags and asked her to help me mop the floor. Immediately she stopped her crying and started to enjoy what she was doing.

The next day, we visted her mom again.

After the visit, I brought Annie to the Van Kleef Aquarium next to the National Theatre at King George V Park. Annie enjoyed looking at the colorful fishes and we had no trouble upon reaching home. Annie had accepted that her mom would be away.

The National Theatre was later demolished to make way for the Central expressway. The Van Kleef Aquarium was also tore down.

After five days in the maternity home, my newborn Julie was discharged with her mom. We then became a family of four.

We lived happily together and the long school holidays saved me the trouble of hiring a maid; I was able to look after my wife and baby. I was there all the time until school reopened the following year (1965). By then, my wife was well enough to look after the two babies. Annie was already 2 1/2 years old.

Annie's Story - (1) Birth

My first child was conceived in September 1961 when we were staying in a rented room behind the Peh Clinic in the centre of Ama Keng village. My wife then suggested we move somewhere near her parents' place so that her mum could come easier to help with the birth. Soon, we managed to get a place at Princess Elizabeth Estate. We moved in at the beginning of 1962. At the time, we registered our pregnancy case with the Salmon Maternity home in Princep Street. Dr Salmon was a Jew who had been running that maternity home for some 30 years. We was already in his 60s when we first met him.

On the night of 30th May 1962, my wife felt abdominal pain. Our landlord (whom we rented the flat from) drove us to the maternity home at around midnight. My wife was then warded to await delivery of our baby.

I visited her in the morning but the baby had not come yet. I felt miserable seeing my wife in such constant pain. I left and returned again in the late afternoon. I was happy to learn that her ordeal was over and that our baby had been delivered.

I met my mother-in-law who told me my wife took a long time to deliver. "Kah chew see beh mun," she said, which literally meant 'slow hands and feet' - a kind of harmless criticism.

I went into the ward and saw my wife talking cheerfully to a nurse. She saw me and pointed to where our first-born child was. I went over and saw a cute baby, perfect in every way. She had rich black hair just like her mum's.

I was told my wife needed to stay in hospital with the baby for another five days or so, depending on how fast she recovered. Alas, after ten days, she still could not pass urine and needed to be drained out each time. The doctor explained that because my wife was small in built, her bladder had been flattened during delivery and would take time to recover. My wife felt miserable upon hearing this. I was worried about the final bill but Dr Salmon assured me that it would remain at $130. "Not a single cent extra," he said.

Finally, on the 20th day, she managed to pass urine by herself and so, she and our newborn child, Annie Ang, left the hospital and together we headed happily for home.

Being first-time parents and not staying with our parents, handling a newborn was not easy. One time when I came back from a wedding (old classmate Lee Chan Moh's, I was best-man) I found Annie crying and howling. We tried all sorts of tricks but she just would not stop. Finally, her grandma came. She performed some water-sprinkling rite over her. Annie stopped her crying and calmed down. Grandma said it was for warding off evil spirits. I dunno, perhaps Annie was tired by then.

Finally, we were able to get to sleep. Annie laid on my chest the whole time that night.

Annie grew up well over the next two years, having only a slight fever or cough. We had a wonderful time with her and would bring her out often to make her happy. I would take pictures of her with my black and white film camera (colour film was not available in Singapore then). Many pictures were taken of her and some I even colored manually on my own using the Kodak's Color Photo Stamp.

Birth of My First Child

We moved into our new room in the Lau's flat in early 1962. On May 31st that year, my daughter was born. You know, it is both a mixture of pride and joy when you have your own child.

I wanted to give her the name Angelina Ang but my wife said it was difficult for her parents to pronounce, so we named her Annie instead. Her Chinese name was Kim Huang, or Golden Bangle. She was much adored by our neighbours as she was really cute and loveable.

As the renting of our room from Mr Lau was both temporary and illegal under HDB rules, we soon began to look for alternative lodgings.

There was a new row of shophouses coming up along Bukit Panjang where we found a room upstairs a shop. It was here that my second daughter Julie was conceived.

At the time, we had also applied for a HDB flat and was soon offered one. It was a 2-room rental flat located at Margaret Close, Queenstown. It was a rental because HDB had not started their homeownership scheme yet.

The flat consisted of a bedroom, a sitting room and a small kitchen. The toilet was combined. The rent was $55 inclusive of conservancy charges. We paid our PUB bills separately.

To get to school, I had to take two buses. I first took a Tay Koh Yat bus from Queenstown to Bukit Timah via Farrer Road. I would stop at the 7th mile market for breakfast. After that I took another bus to school. Despite the hassle I was never late (even though the standard of bus services could not be compared to today's). I think school started at 8 o'clock.

Soon, there were even pirate taxis plying between Bukit Timah and Queenstown. I would take one, costing me 15 cents a trip. This unauthorised service made life easier for me.

The birth of my kids was planned in such a way that they coincided with the school holidays. In this way I could be at home helping my wife. Annie was born during the June holidays of '62; Julie - the November holidays of '64. As for my youngest she was born on the eve of National Day in '67, which was the last day of school. I remember celebrating National Day just before that.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Our New Home

Very soon, we were at our new home in Ama Keng and everyone on her side of the family was happy. But not me. I felt so sorry for my father who loved me so much. For the first few days, I had nightmares hearing my dad call me. I did not tell my wife for fear of upsetting her again. She was then very happy and cheerful.

Her mother and sisters visited us more often. It was near the main road and convenient. I could also walk that 400m to school. I often went home during my free periods.

Soon I was more settled and happier. My wife became more romantic in someways and in October 1961, she was pregnant with our first child.

In anticipation of the birth, my wife wanted to move more closely to her mother so she could come and help out. We set out and finally found a room in a three-storey flat in Princess Elizabeth Estate. The owner was a Mr Lau who had a wife and three kids.

His sister stayed behind to look after the kids while he and his wife went to work. The kids all called her "gu-gu". The flat had three bedrooms, so he rented one to us.

Mr Lau was quite desperate as the factory they were working in was winding up and they would be left jobless. So renting a room brought in an extra $30 which was quite a good sum in the 60s.

My Wife's Hidden Agenda

I was too naive and too satisfied with the way I was in to be aware of my wife's hidden agenda, which was to move out and be near to her parents!

One day, the opportunity arose and she struck at it. My eldest brother had come over and during our conversation to clear up some misunderstanding, it actually got worst. It led to a greater misunderstanding. My wife saw the opportunity and seized upon it. She flared up.

She became unreasonable, packed her things and picked up her transistor radio and left for home. We could not stop her.

My eldest brother was stunned.

He later apologised for causing all the trouble. I did not know what to say; it was not entirely his fault. He advised me to go to her house to persuade her to come back.

The next day, I left for my mother-in-law's house. My wife was there.

There were other relatives there as well to support her. She refused to come home unless I promised to move out of the kampong. I told them that they had to persuade my father to agree to the idea. So they sent her brother-in-law, who was a middle-aged man from China (like my dad). But he was a Singapore citizen as he had lived in Singapore since the war. It was hoped that their similar backgrounds would help in their communication.

He went with me to see my father.

My father was emotionally charged when speaking about the matter, but my brother-in-law was quite tackful. In the end, they came to the question of letting me move out. My father was very wary that since my wife's family had no sons, they would try to 'rob' me over. He laid down his conditions much against his will; I could move but only to Ama Keng where I was teaching and not anywhere else.

My wife's brother-in-law accepted the condition and together, we went back to my wife's parent home - the post-war Hindhede Road Barrack Estate.

My wife was very happy then and agreed to go home with me first. On the way, we immediately went house-hunting in Ama Keng Village centre.

We landed a room at the back of a shophouse where the Peh Clinic was. There were two bedrooms at the back of the clinic, a kitchen with a bathroom and toilet as well.

One of the rooms was used by an old mid-wife who helped deliver babies in the village. She told us the rent was $30 a month. I was to go see Dr Peh who owned both the clinic and shophouse. Dr Peh also ran the main clinic at Bukit Panjang, opposite where the Ten Mile Junction is now. He ran his clinic from 2pm to 5pm on weekdays.

I immediately went to him to ink the contract and collect the room key.

A Confession

My father was very shocked to learn that my father-in-law was at work and absent from our Tea Ceremony. He felt there was something very wrong about it. To this, my wife gave a strong reason to support her father's action.

She said she loved her father more than she loved her mother. She was his favourite amongst the three daughters (including an adopted one). Her two elder sisters were all married. And having no son, her father had hoped that his younger daughter would get a husband who was willing to marry in. That was why she was the original sole signatory to her father's savings of $7000 - now worth at least ten times more in today's value.

Her second sister challenged this, seeing how attached she was to me. The family revolted. Her mother supported the second sister's claim to have half the money. The father gave in and so saw his hope of a man marrying into the family crushed. This was why he did not turn up at our Tea Ceremony and went to work as usual. He didn't want to be reminded of his crushed dream!

A Teething Period

My wife must have experienced the biggest cultural shock in her life when she married me and had to live in a kampong.

In the morning of our wedding day, she left her parents and went happily with me. However, after the celebrations in the morning followed by the afternoon Tea Ceremony, she broke down bitterly for some reason. Her father was noticeably absent (an understatement); only her mother was there to accept our offer of tea. They said her father had to work! On his daughter's Tea Ceremony Day???

I thought she was just ebbing emotional about having to leave her parents and got upset because her father was not there to say goodbye.

That evening, I spent some time pacifying her and trying to cheer her up. She admitted that she was not used to this sudden change in life.

Meeting My Wife

One day, at break-time during one of my National Service training sessions, my best friend and troop mate, Koh, told me that his pen-pal needed an English language tutor because she had transferred from Nanyang Girls High School to study English in a private school. As I'd just started to teach English as an untrained teacher, I agreed to give it a try. He gave me her address and soon I began writing to her.

She was both happy and grateful that I would help her voluntarily. We arranged to meet. The place was Rex Theatre opposite Tekka market.

I turned up punctually, dressed the way I'd told her I would: long sleeved white shirt, black long trousers, and black shoes. I would be carrying a brown Crocodile file. She would be wearing a colourful dress, high heels and her hair would be tied up in a ponytail.

The excitement and joy inside me was beyond description while I waited for her at the bus stop. I didn't have to wait long as a small-sized girl started walking up to me. She was smiling or grinning with joy, breathing or panting excitedly - not saying a word. And before I could finish asking her "Are you Ms Koh...." she had nodded her head a few times. She then said, "Have you been waiting long?"

We decided to head to the Esplanade or Queen Elizabeth Walk.

In 1958, this was a popular park fronting the sea when Marina Bay/South was still a sea. We sat together and talked for a very long time. We also decided that I should tuition her on my NS training days - either Wed or Thurs. I could reach her house after training at about 7.30pm. I would also go to her house on weekends for another session.

Not long after starting, I discovered that she was having difficulty in all subjects...from English to Math. Whenever I asked her, "Do you understand?", she would reply, "A little bit." Despite my fervent tuition, she did not do well in her exams. And so she decided to quit. She then took up a Singer's Embroidery Course. But we kept in touch. It was obvious that her parents liked me and considered me a prospective son-in-law. But they were not happy that I lived in a kampong.

My lady love at the time lived along Upper Bukit Timah, at the residential estate that was converted from some Japanese barracks. She was also against the idea of living in a kampong. Her parents demanded that we shift out after our marriage. But my parents were adamant that we did not.

At one point, she decided to call it quits on our relationship; I felt badly hurt. This was my second emotional turmoil.

I wrote her a long letter in English, telling her how I felt about being turned away from someone I loved. I wondered if she understood fully.

But there was some light. Both of our parents came to some compromise. Earlier, her mother and sister had come to meet with my parents at my house. They agreed that though we would not move out, we would stay in a separate house. Our kampong estate was six acres large with coconut and fruit trees and some vegetable plots. A house with a tile-sheet roof was spruced up and converted into a bedroom at one end, a sitting room in the middle and a kitchen at the other end. When all were ready, we got married on 26th December 1960.

My First Romance

Sometime during 1957-58, a girl named Chan Soo Lan came into my life. She was the immediate neighbour of my cousin sister-in-law, i.e. the wife of my cousin who was the son of my youngest aunt. We all called this aunt "suai gou" or youngest aunt in our dialect.

Somehow, Ms Chan befriended my Second Sister and she came to visit quite frequently. In the cause of that, she got to know me as well.

She was six years my junior.

She was sixteen and I twenty-two when I obtained my Senior Cambridge School certificate. I then became a teacher at Kay Wah Public School - the same school where I had completed my Chinese P6 education. The year was 1958.

Chan (that's how I addressed her) was a friendly person with bright sparkling eyes. She would visit me even during Chinese New Year to exchange oranges for Good Luck and Prosperity.
She lived in a village at the end of Choa Chu Kang; I lived almost at the end of Lim Chu Kang.

Not long after knowing each other, we started to write letters to one another. We enjoyed writing but did not touch on the sensitive subjects of Love or Marriage.

Very soon news and rumours of her and me being an item spreaded like wild fire. My parents came to know about it too. They were not for it as there was a six-year gap in age between us. It was not considered a good match. Chan's horoscope was Snake and it was claimed that it clashed with my Pig.

Nevertheless, we exchanged photos. She gave me hers, which was taken with her younger sister. And I gave her mine.

The storm of rumours gave us a lot of unpleasantness, so we decided to meet each other one night at a temple wayang show. It was an event to celebrate the birthday of the temple's main deity, Kuan Gong. The temple was in Ama Keng village.

My sister told Chan that I would be waiting for her in a dark corner away from the wayang stage and prying eyes.

At the meeting, Chan told me it was her neighbour, that young sister of my cousin-in-law, who had been spreading rumours that she was 'chasing after' me and that she was madly in love with me. In other words, she was ready to marry me!

To prove them wrong, she decided to stop our relationship. She insisted that we should just be friends.

My heart sank on hearing that. I was hoping for a more agreeable solution as my feelings for her was just blossoming.

As I could not think of any other solution to the problem, we agreed to remain as ordinary friends. But such an arrangement is difficult to last between opposite sexes. And so we slowly drifted apart.

I did not take it too badly as our romance was not too deep yet.  It made the separation less difficult.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Being Called Up For National Service

It was early 1955 while I was in Sec 2 (known as Standard 7 then) that my school was informed to send all pupils of the age 18 to register for National Service. So one fine morning, Bro Vincent drove about five or six of us of the right age to Beach Road to the Singapore Volunteer Corp (SVC) HQ to get us registered for National Service. The notice would come later.

The Notice
At around May 1955, the letter from HQ was sent to me to report for formal registration and training. At the time, we were still under British Rule though we had our our elected chief minister and assembly men. To train under the SVC - a British oriented regiment - was like joining the British army, and we Chinese hated it so. There were suggestions that I should go back to China to avoid being a British soldier, so a struggle within me started to evolve. I felt lost.

I didn't want to be regarded as a British soldier. All my elder brothers agreed that I should go back to China. My parents, especially my father, was not with them. He did not want me to leave the family and go to China where the future was so uncertain. He wanted me to stay and turn up for National Service training. That made me even more confused.

But someone had to make a decision and my father did. I obeyed him and so turned up for enrolment.

This was a great change in my life and it affected my school performance. My form teacher, Rev Bro Paul Goh Seng Chan noticed the change in me. He saw me personally and after knowing my problems, gave me a lot of advice and encouragement.

My Problem
My NS training was like this: Twice a week - Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5pm to 7pm. Every month, there was a weekend in-camp training from Friday night to Sunday noon.

On top of that, there was an annual camp lasting two weeks at the end of the year. So, at the start, for every Tuesday and Thursday, I would rush home to my house in Lim Chu Kang, change into army uniform and cycle that two kilometres to the bus terminal at Thong Hoe village. I then take a bus to Queen Street terminus, change to a Tay Koh Yat bus to Beach Road and then walk to SVC HQ at Beach Road where we would start our training.

The total journey time to go home and rush to SVC HQ took me three hours.  Training ended at 7pm. By the time we were dismissed, it was half an hour later. My journey home took me another 1 to 1.5 hrs to 2 hrs. By the time I was settled to do my homework, it was about 10pm and I would be usually dead tired.

The following day in school, I was often tired and dozed off at the end of the day. As a result, although I topped my class in Term 1 before all that NS training started, I was 4th in Term 2 and 7th after the final exams. This was what shocked my form teacher Rev Bro Paul.

Suspected Girl Trouble
Rev Bro Paul interviewed me to find out the cause.

He must have thought I was growing up and was developing too much of an interest in the opposite sex. First, he gave me a book on decency. I remember that it was about parts of a female body which were very sensitive topics to growing up boys like me. He advised me to behave decently towards the opposite sex. But that was not my problem actually.

Then during the Term 2 exam, there was a composition title with the words "The Most Unforgettable Event In My Life". Without hesitation, I zeroed in on the question and revealed the terrible experience I went through during the initial stage of my NS to the added problem of my then situation, namely, the extra time I had to spend attending the NS training twice a week. I was surprised that I scored high marks for the essay! It also prompted Rev Bro Paul to give a talk on NS to the class, stressing the importance of us Singaporeans being trained to protect our country.

The Solution
One afternoon, he spoke to me in a kind of interview or couselling way, first stressing on the duty as a citizen. Then he proposed that during my training days - instead of going all the way home to Lim Chu Kang to prepare myself for training that I should proceed to Beach Road from school. I could bring my army stuff along with my school bag. I could stay in school to study and do my homework while waiting from 1.30pm to 4.30pm. By the time I reached home late, I would not need to be doing my homework anymore!

I agreed with Rev Bro Paul that his suggestion was a good idea and decided to follow his advice. It was proper Time Management. Although it was quite troublesome for me to bring my army uniform and boots with my school bag etc., I managed to save a lot of time by doing my homework in school till 4.30pm. When that time came, I would start off for my National Service training in Beach Road.

About Pre-independent Singapore National Service
I was called up for National Service in June 1955. I was in the third batch of Singapore NS. We underwent six months of Basic Training, mastering footdrills and the handling of the 303 rifle which was about 10 lbs in weight. Training was twice a week with two-hour sessions from 5pm to 7pm. After six months, we had a Passing Out Parade, which meant we had passed our BT. We were then posted to different units. There wasn't a Commando unit at the time so I joined the Infantry or 'foot soldiers'. Training was reduced to once a week for three years.

So I passed my BT at the end of 1955 and ended my NS training at the end of 1958. After that, we were put in reserve for seven years. No active Reservist training for us. We just had to report back annually for address and other particulars like job description, etc. We didn't have to report after Singapore joined Malaysia in 1963. By then, my NS was all but over.

Editor's Note: The National Service Ordinance issued by the British in 1952 (but taking effect in 1954) caused a lot of unhappiness amongst the local Chinese populace. For one, many of the 18-20 yr olds were still studying (their studies being interrupted by WWII) and two, the Chinese were wondering why they had to serve the British as soldiers since they had abandoned them when the Japanese invaded. This unhappiness exploded into the famous 13th May 1954 National Service Riots, which is notable for a couple of reasons. For one, it marked the beginning of the militancy of the Chinese middle schools; two, the infiltration of the Communists into these schools to cause further outrage and riots (like the Hock Lee Bus Riots and Maria Hertogh one). More can be learnt here:


My Lasting Impression Of Rev Bro Vincent

I have a cousin who is two and a half years my senior. At the time I was struggling with my English in Jurong Primary School in the early 50s, he was attending Holy Innocent English School in the Secondary levels.

HIES was later changed to the Monfort Primary and Secondary schools. During the 1950s, a lot of the teachers there were brothers of the St Gabriel Order (the same order from which Bro Vincent hailed from).

My cousin had told me a lot about the values the Brother teachers in the school displayed: Dedication, Hard Working, Simplicity, Compassion... to name a few. When I met Bro Vincent for the first time (and also the first time I was meeting a priest), he was everything my cousin had described.

The second time I met him was when I had to go back to school to buy some more textbooks. Bro Vincent then was the director of Boys Town, principal of its English school, and also in-charge of selling textbooks. He attended to me even though he was the principal. I could not help but respect him even more.

My good impression of him grew as I became his student and later as a staff of Boys Town. He would give a listening ear to whomever turned to him with a problem.

And throughout the years I'd known him, I've never seen him lose his temper or even be angry with anyone. In my eyes, he was a real holy man, a real-life saint!

On one occasion, just after I joined BTES as a Sec 1 student, we had a problem with our literature teacher.

It was the first time we were having the subject English Literature.

Our textbook was "The Vicar of Wakefield" by Oliver Goldsmith.

Our literature teacher was a fresh Senior Cambridge Exam graduate (same as our present GCE 'O' Levels). Her first lesson was a nightmare. In person, she was an Eurasian, fair and rather pretty, but she put on a very serious and fierce look. She didn't simply look at you but stared. Her firece look was very scary to us students then.

After the class greeting, she would begin the lesson straightaway.

"Take out your Literature book and open to Chapter One. You! Read!" she would command.

During our first lesson, she pointed at one unfortunate boy and asked him to read. He was so frightened that he stammered. "Sit down!" she commanded. She pointed to another boy and said: "You! Tell me what he has read!"

The poor boy looked lost and shocked. He could not answer and had to remain standing. More boys were queried, more remained standing. Some answered, but all throughout, this teacher did not comment if the answers were right or wrong. She just randomly picked anyone and asked them to answer.

Up till then, we never had a teacher quite like that. Often, we were taught first and then asked to answer questions later. We were all shocked (and somewhat traumatised) by this. We approached our form teacher Ms Helen Chan for help. (Ms Chan later became Mrs Helen Seah.)

Ms Chan, together with Mr Seah Cheng Liang were both graduates of the then Teacher's Teaching College. They went to consult with Bro Vincent.

For the next few weeks, Bro Vincent took over the Literature periods from that fierce Ms Stewards. He made sure we could follow the lessons and understand them. Bro Vincent's teaching style created a very pleasant ambience in the class; we learned better and faster. After a few weeks, he covered the whole chapter and gave us a test. I don't remember anyone failing.

The following lesson, he brought Ms Stewards back. She was all smiles and friendly. "You must tell me if you don't understand," she'd said. Her demeanor now reflected that of Bro Vincent. How he had changed her I do not know. But I am sure it was done without any harsh words.

When one has love for Education, one has love for everyone! This is Bro Vincent, the founder of Boys Town. The man I remember most fondly.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Joining Boys' Town

As Beatty Sec Sch was so far away, my family decided to try me out for Boys Town English, which had started a secondary wing in 1953.

One fine December morning, my teacher Mr Lawrence Sia Khoon Siong (who was then living at some quarters near St Joseph Church next to BT) led me and my classmate Lim Thion Quee to BT to meet Bro Vincent in order to seek admission. We arrived with our report cards and sec sch posting slips.

In Boys Town, we met Bro Vincent on the slope leading to BT's Dormitory (the Boys' Home). He was driving a truck with a few boys on it going to perform some manual work. He stopped the truck and got off to meet us. We then told him our purpose and he looked at our documents.

After going through mine, he said: "Admitted to Std 6". As for Thion Quee's report card, Bro Vincent shook his head. Finally he said:"Ok, we will give you First Term on trial."

Upon hearing that, TQ gave out a deep sigh of relief. We then proceeded to the general office to register.

I had bought my textbooks during the December holidays and so in Jan 1954, I would start my next phase of life in Boys Town English School.

At The Crossroad Of My Education

After graduating from primary school, the next stage was to enter  a Chinese middle school (i.e a secondary school). The nearest one was Chinese High, which was about 30km from my village in Lim Chu Kang. At that time, the Chinese schools were not financially assisted by the government and hence the school fees were very high - something my parents could not afford. Also the long journey (and transport costs there-in) made it a dream not to be realised.

The next option was to join an English school.

There was Bukit Panjang English School where the Ten Mile Junction is now. It's been demolished but has since been relocated to nearby Cashew Heights. But at the time, it only admitted P1 students of age six. Overaged pupils had no chance of being accepted.

At the time during the 50s, the government had just started to build English primary schools in the rural areas. The nearest one to my village was the one in Ama Keng but it was still in construction. The one along Jurong Road was already functioning and they took in Chinese school pupils who were overaged. So, I decided to try my luck.

My first day in Jurong Primary School was like this:

I went alone with my birth cert to the school. Feeling quite lost in the school compound, I was approached by an Indian teacher who nodded his head in my direction as if to ask can I help you?

I thrusted my birth cert at him and presumed that he knew I wanted to join the school.

He then asked me: "Can you speak English?"

I said a little, sir, as I'ved been coached in my Chinese school.

Without another word, he signalled me to follow him. He took me to his class.

As we entered, someone called out new boy! New boy!

The teacher then took out an English Reader and asked me to read. I jerked along, softening or skipping words I did not know. After a few lines, he said: "Ok. Go and sit down."

Next period, another teacher came in. That same boy who had shouted new boy pointed at me and said, "Sir, new boy!"

I found out later that he was called Wong Siew Chye. He was from another English school and could speak English better than me.

This new teacher walked up to me and asked, "What is your name?"

I stood up and answered (quite clearly): "My name is Ang Leng Sze." He went on:

"How old are you?"
"Where do you live?"
"Who is your father?"

I responded clamly and correctly to all these questions. We had been drilled before by our English teacher at Kay Wah.

Finally, he said: "Thank you. You may sit down." Siew Chye leaned over and whispered: "Good, man!"

That day, I bought my first textbooks and exercise books. The textbooks were Everyday Classic Reader Book II and Oxford English Course Book II. There were no books on Geography, History, and Science. But there was a book called Nature Studies.

More than half the pupils in my class had English background or had come from an English school. The others were like me, from another P6 primary school who could hardly understand English.

I remember there was this big sized Indian teacher who came in to teach Nature Studies. I did not know what he was talking about but kept hearing the word "mosquito". I was not alone. Later, all the Chinese-educated pupils in my class would refer him as Mr Mosquito!

At the beginning, I tried my best to pay attention. But I could hardly understand what was being taught. When the rest of the class laughed, we laughed along.

My classmate, Ong Poh Siak, nudged me and asked me in Mandarin: "Ni ting de dong ma?" - meaning if could I understand. I said no.

"Then how come you laughed?" he asked. I replied that when other people laughed, we'd follow.

The days went by, and more lessons were taught.

I loved lessons in Drawing or Art, as well as Handiwork. I also loved the writing lessons - not the essay type but to copy and repeat a line neatly in our best handwriting. I scored highly or topped the class in all these subjects. Fortunately, there weren't any textbooks in History, Geography or Nature Studies or else I would have seen Greek and stars. It helped that after these lessons, the teachers would condense all contents into 10 statements. For example, a statement might read: 'The female lays eggs in water', etc.

It was within my capabilty to learn these statements by heart and fill in the blanks correctly during tests.

At end-of-year exams, it was decided to put the better students formally into a Standard 4 class. It's unfortunate that I did not make it. The weaker lot of about ten of us remained in the Special Class, then known as Special 2; it was a new special class formed. I was just below the borderline of Std 4. Here's a comparison between the Old (Standard) and New education systems.

Old System (Present System)
P1 (Pri 1)
P2 (Pri 1)
Std 1 (Pri 2)
Std 2 (Pri 3)
Std 3 (Pri 4)
Std 4 (Pri 5)
Std 5 (Pri 6)
Std 6 (Sec 1)
Std 7 (Sec 2)
Std 8 (Sec 3)
Std 9 (Sec 4)

In the final exams of 1952, another boy and I scored very high marks, leaving a big gap between us and the rest of the class. So in 1953, we were double-promoted to join the Std 5 class, which was the same year I had to sit for my Std 6 Entrance Exams. It's equivalent to the present PSLE.

I struggled very hard to study for it.

It was also the time I began to understand the story books I was reading, titles like: Children of the New Forest, Heidi Grows Up, etc. But my English composition was still very weak. The same with my grammar.

After the First Term exam, I was positioned at 12th in a class of 15. In Term 2, I progressed to 8th, then 6th in the prelims of the entrance exam.

After the Std 6 entrance exams, 12 of us qualified to go to Std 6 (Sec 1). I was posted to Beatty Secondary School, somewhere along Jalan Besar and some 18.5 miles away from my home in Lim Chu Kang! Hence, the good news of having passed my entrance exam posed another big headache. Which secondary school to go to?

Fainting In School

Though the British had returned and took control of Singapore, life was not any better for us than during the Japanese occupation. The rationing of rice and sugar was no more but we needed money to buy things. And money was hard to earn.

By this time, my dad had built a bigger and better attap house in our new estate at Neo Tiew Road, relegating our place at Cashin Estate to lesser importance. Nevertheless, my brother and I were still posted there to look after it.

Every morning, I would have every many chores to do before I could go to school.

One Monday, I left home without a proper breakfast after helping my brother to pick vegetables and feed the pigs. I just swallowed a few small bananas and cycled to school.

At school, it was Monday Assembly - Chinese-school style. It began with a flag-raising ceremony. The national flag of the Republic of China was raised, a colourful flag with a quarter at the top left in blue. On this patch was a 12-point white sun. The remainder of the flag was red in colour (see picture below).

In Chinese, we would say "Qing tian bai re man di hung."

At the time, we were Chinese settlers in a British colony and so remained Chinese and honored our motherland, which was China.

As the flag was raised, we sang the national anthem of China, which was the san ming zhu yi. After that song, our principal recited the will of Dr Sun Yat Sen. The ceremony ended with the paying of respect to the portrait of Dr Sun with three deep bows.

After this, the principal would start his long lecture, followed by the Senior Teacher and then the Discipline Master, and any teacher with something to say. At times, there would be a moral lecture on some theme of the week. The theme could be about Honesty, Helpfulness, Friendliness, etc. A Moral Student would then be picked at the end of the week as an exemplary student.

One week, I was picked as the model student for Loving Kindness as the teachers found I loved everyone and they in turn were friendly to me.

On this day, I am standing right at the front of my class in a straight line in the basketball court that is used as an Assembly Area. I feel very tired and my legs have become lighter and seem to float. All of a sudden, a thick black curtain cast itself right in front of me and I couldn't see anything any more....

The next thing I knew, everybody was calling my name, but I found it hard to reply. Slowly, I began to feel people pinching me; it was painful. I could hear them call me some more. When I answered them, they were so relieved. "He's alright now," they said.

I felt as if I had been asleep and when I opened my eyes, I saw Mr Yeh - a teacher with a weather-beaten face and one who cycled to school everyday. Around me were all my friends grateful that I had come around. My teacher asked me two questions: "Did you have enough sleep last night?" and "Did you have your breakfast?" He then gave me a cup of warm water to drink.

Later, two schoolmates from upper primary sent me home. One used his bicycle to pillion me, the other rode my bike. They then returned to school on one bike.

As my fainting case was the only major incident to happen in my school so far, I became suddenly very famous. I was known as The Boy Who Fainted, The Boy Who Nearly Died, and The Boy Who Died And Was Resurrected!

The teachers also became very concerned and would ask me if I had taken a good breakfast, how I was that day or simply to take care.

This was around 1949 when I was in Primary 5. By 1950 year end, I was ready to graduate from Kay Wah Public School. At the graduating ceremony, I was chosen to deliver a message to thank the school and my teachers for a successful education.

My form teacher, who was also my principal, was praying hard that I would not faint. The speech was written by him and I learnt it by heart.

I was a bit nervous at first but after a few sentences, I calmed down. I could tell that the principal was very pleased with my performance that day.