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.