Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A story Lee Kuan Yew told

I cannot recall for sure; but I think he told this story to a bunch of foreign correspondents at an event in Helsinki. Anyway, this story is based on a Chinese idiom; 塞翁失马,安知非福*. This story can be found in The Straits Times Bilingual Collection, Vol 1, page 86, under the title, Fortunes and misfortunes.  

But when I was telling this story to my children when they were young, I titled it, The Story of Sai Weng.

* Sometimes written as 塞翁失马,焉知非福
Long ago, there was an old man who lived at the border. His wife had died more than 10 years ago, leaving him with a son, whom he brought up. The old man had a mare which he took good care of. When the mare became pregnant, he became very busy and happy. He planned to sell the colt when it had grown so he could use the money to get a wife for his son.
               Unfortunately, when the mare was about to deliver, it suddenly disappeared. The old man and his son searched everywhere, but could not find it. The old man was very sad. After some time, however, he was himself again and behaved as if nothing had happened. His neighbours came to comfort him. The old man, moved by their concern, said: “I do appreciate your concern. However, do not vex yourselves over my problem. Although I have lost my horse and cannot afford to have a daughter-in-law now, no one can say for sure if this is good or bad.”
               Several months passed; and on one clear and windy night, the old man heard the familiar neighing of a horse from his bedroom. He hurried out and saw 3 horses coming towards him. When he realized that one of the horses was his very own mare, he shouted for joy. There was also a small horse which apparently was the mare’s offspring. He hastily brought them to his stable. When the neighbours, who had been awakened by the noise, learned what had happened, they came to congratulate him. The old man was extremely happy. After some time, however, his face darkened briefly and sighing, he said calmly; “Let’s not be too happy. This could be a misfortune.” His words caused laughter, and everyone said he was over-suspicious.
               The old man’s son loved the young colt and rode it often. One day, while galloping along a mountain track, he fell and broke his leg. Many surgeons were consulted, but he could not be cured, and eventually became a cripple. The neighbours came to comfort him. After thanking them for their concern, the old man said: “Though my son has become a cripple, there is no need to grieve, for who knows what good may come out of this incident.” The neighbours were puzzled  by what he said.
               One year later, the imperial court decided to wage war against a neighbouring state. All the able-bodied young men were conscripted into the army and most of them never returned from the battle field. The village became deserted and quiet. Only the old man’s son who had been disqualified because of his disability escaped conscription. Thus even in the midst of the chaos of war, he got married and soon had a son. The old man and his family lived in peace and happiness.
            Many people who witnessed this admired and said of the old man: “When the old man of the frontier loses his horse, it may be good fortune; when he gains another horse, it may be a misfortune.”

The End

At the end of every story, there’s a language tip like this. I learned my hanyu pinyi partly from here.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Never too old to blog

Did you see the article in the Straits Times today, where I was featured together with my fellow senior nostalgia bloggers, Philip Chew, James Seah and Victor Yue? There’s a photo on page A4 of me and James. And do you know where this photo was taken, what’s that thing that I am holding in my hand?

Answer. I was holding my primary school report book. The school, as regular readers of my blog, as well as those who have read my book, would know, was the Braddell Rise School. The reporter wanted to take a photo of James and me as a location that could be linked to our fondest memories of the old Singapore. For James, it would be Bukit Ho Swee; whereas, for me, it was my kampong at Lorong Kinchir off Lorong Chuan. Unfortunately, both these places no long exist, and so I suggested we met at Mount Alvernia Hospital and took our photo at the site of the former Braddell Rise School. I told her that I had studied in BRS from 1960 to 1963, and had literally seen the hospital next door sprout from the ground. The BRS buildings are slated for demolition soon to give way for a new wing of the Assisi Hospice. Fortunately, the demolition works had not started yet and so we could sneak in for a photo-shoot.

I requested that the report make mention of my book Good Morning Yesterday ….. for obvious reasons. Many people know me to be a blogger, but many do not know that I am also an author; and even fewer people know where to purchase it. I myself am not sure, since it has been two years since the book was released, and many bookstores no longer carry it; but I am quite sure that the Kinokuniya branch Orchard Road does – at least that was what my distributor says.

Another place where you can purchase my book, at least for this weekend, is at the 50Plus Expo organized by the Council for Third Age (C3A). The expo will be held from 28th to 30th March at the Suntec City Hall 401-404. For the 3rd time in a row, I have been invited to speak at the Forum, and so has my friend James Seah. My book will be on sale at the Booth C27 (Spring Publishing Pte Ltd). If you would like to attend the 50Plus Expo, please register at the C3A website.

 So here again are the details.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Meeting my new old friend Judith Johnson

Last month, I met another of “my new old friends”, Judith Johnson, and her husband, Robert. I brought them to see two places that held strong memories of her years in Singapore, the Changi Airbase in Loyang Avenue, where her school, the RAF Changi Grammar School used to be located; and Chiltern Drive when she used to live. She gave me a CD of old photos of Singapore, a few of which were from my former kampong in Lorong Chuan. I have been very busy these past weeks and have not had time to organize them and share them with readers. She also gave me a DVD of her dad’s cine films, segments of which contain scenes of Singapore in the early 1960s. Finally she also gave me a CD containing photos of the Joint Air Traffic Control Centre at Paya Lebar Airport, which her dad helped to set up, to hand over to the relevant organization.

Our first stop was the Changi Airbase West in Loyang Avenue.   Although she was not able to obtain permission to enter the premises, we were, nevertheless, able to view the buildings close-up from the nearby golf course. She shared with me many stories of her time in this school; especially of how naughty the boys (Brian Mitchell, are you reading this?) used to be.

After a short drive around the Changi Village vicinity, we proceeded to visit the house that Judith lived in at 10 Chiltern Drive in Braddell Heights. Judith was fortunate in that the house was still standing, and did not look very different even though it had undergone major renovation. Unfortunately, there was nobody home, and we were not able to enter the compound for a closer look.

1961 photo of Judith's house
2014 photo of Judith's house
Judith showed me the place opposite her house where there used to be an “ugly square cement structure” from the top of which she could see my kampong. She brought out her iPad and showed me photos that her dad had taken of our kampong. I was a bit disappointed because I could not recognize the place in the photos.  As you can see from the map below, it was probably quite a distance from where I stayed. From her description of the farms and ponds that she saw; including the trellises where the gourds were planted (described in detail in my book, Good Morning Yesterday), I concluded that she was referring to the area presently occupied by St Gabriel’s Primary School. Nevertheless, I am truly thankful to be able to get hold of these precious photos of my kampong. These photos were taken around 1961, which was prior to the construction of the Lorong Chuan in 1963. This new Lorong Chuan linked Braddell Road to Serangoon Gardens; and separated my section of our kampong from the section shown in Judith’s photos.
The "ugly cement structure" opposite Judith's house in 1961
This place is now a playground. The building in the background is St Gabriel's School, I believe.

The Lorong Chuan in this 1963 map is a dirt track which we kampong folks referred to as Chui Arm Lor (Water Pipes Rd) in Hokkien. Actually it continues all the way to Upper Thomson Road (refer to my book for details). X marks the spot where my house stood; and Y is the area shown in Judith’s photos. I can tell by referring to an old topographical map of this area which showed the ponds and the streams.

After taking several photos of Chiltern Drive, I brought them to the entrance of the Australian International School at Lorong Chuan and pointed out to the spot where my house probably stood. From there we drove to the Saddle Club travelling along stretches of Braddell Road and Thomson Road that Judith would have traveled on her way to her riding lessons. We proceeded for lunch at Toa Payoh before I brought them to their last destination at Geylang East Central where they had arranged to meet the family of her amah, Ah Moy, who unfortunately had passed away just two years ago. I understand that they had quite an emotional meeting.

I am glad to have met my “new old friend” Judith Johnson. I am glad to have played a small part in helping her recall found memories of her childhood years in our little island; and I have been richly rewarded by her gift of many precious old photos (of very high quality) of the Singapore of my childhood days; including a few of my kampong. I share some of them with you below. I will upload others to the Good Morning Yesterday Facebook Page.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Tracing my amah Chew Joo Keng (Margaret)

Like Judith Johnson and IngridKivikoski, Shona Trench would like to contact her amah Chew Joo Keng (Margaret). Shona writes:

“Hello, I am a British expat, living in Singapore now for four years, with my husband and two teenage children. I was born here in 1961, as my father was a photographer in the RAF and was based at RAF Seletar. I just wondered if you would be able to help me?

Would you know how I might be able to contact my Amah? Her name is Chew Joo Keng but we knew her as Margaret. It would be nice to meet her after all these years (50!) if she is still living in Singapore.

This photo is of Margaret, my sister Karen, and me (I'm the baby)
We lived at Seletar Camp, 13 Oxford Street. I had an older sister Beverley too.

My parents names are Campbell Bryan, and Irene Bryan. Our house is still at Seletar Camp, it's a B&W terraced house. We love being here, and exploring Singapore, Dad too, although it obviously has changed in the last 50yrs.

Shona Trench"

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Gotong Royong

Not long ago, I came across a book entitled, Citizens, Conversations and Consultations. I think it was published by the Peoples Association to commemorate the institution known as the Citizens Consultative Committee. In it, I saw some photos of soldiers helping out in a gotong royong. They reminded me of the time I was involved in a similar project when I was serving my full-time national service.

What is Gotong Royong? It is a Malay term for an event where the members of a community put their hands together to carry out a project for the benefit of that community (my own definition). Typical projects involve building a road, or clearing a stream and so on.

The year was probably 1977 and I was a platoon commander in 30 SCE in Mandai Camp. Our project involved building a short stretch of road to join Kranji Way to Neo Tiew Road. At that time, Neo Tiew Road was a thriving kampong. We often passed through this kampong when we went to Area D (Sungei Gedong) for our training. Our combat engineer battalion was an appropriate organization to help out in such a community project because we had both the manpower and the equipment for such work. For example, in our battalion, we had a heavy plant company.

It was quite a common practice in those days, when there were still many kampongs in Singapore, to involve the army units in such gotong royong projects. However, it is very unlikely that our army boys today, would be called upon such a project. Firstly, Singapore is so well-developed now, and our government departments are well-equipped to carry out such work more effectively. Furthermore, the population of NS boys has decreased considerably. And with full-time NS reduced to only 2 years, the army camps themselves are facing a labour crunch and have to outsource many non-combat functions like transporting of troops and cooking. Still, I think they would benefit from occasional involvement in such a project.

Operation Broomstick. Source: Citizens, Conversations and Consultations
Operation Broomstick. Source: Citizens, Conversations and Consultations

Below is an example of a gotong royong project at Bukit Panjang. Description and photo from the National Archives Picas collection dated 28 June 1973.

Singapore’s “Keep Our Water Clean” campaign got off to a good start when 300 young men began a two-day operation to de-silt the Sungei Pang Sua in Bukit Panjang. Joined by Member of Parliament for Bukit Panjang, Lee Yiok Seng (on the bank with rake), the men, 200 of them national servicemen, spent eight back-breaking hours shoveling mud and weeds from the river which carries rain water to Seletar Reservoir.

Related article on Gotong Royong in Remember Singapore.