Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Story of Mr Tan Pan Beng

Tan Pan Beng

Once a month, I follow some Christian friends to visit the old folks at the Lentor Residence. Recently I discovered that one of the residents knew my father. Like my dad, Mr Tan Pan Beng was a member of the Serangoon Garden Citizens’ Consultative Committee for a number of years. Initially, I was a bit suspicious of this 80-year old’s ability to remember things from such a long time ago. But when he was able to describe our kampong, as well as tell me the name of the other village representative from Lorong Kinchir, a certain Mr Low Thiam Aik, I was convinced, and of course thoroughly amazed. In fact he could even recall one occasion when he visited our kampong to mediate in a dispute between us and our tenant, a certain Mr Tan Kuan. And so, I asked him to tell me a bit of his life to share with you on this blog.

(Note: What I report here is merely what Mr Tan told me in Mandarin. I did not verify the accuracy of the facts he narrated)

Mr Tan Pan Beng was born in 1927 in a small Malayan town known as Paloh, situated 10 miles or so north of Kluang in Johor (see map here). Like his father before him, Mr Tan was a pork seller. In 1943, and at the tender age of 18 (yes I know the numbers do not quite add up, but I quote what he told me), Mr Tan joined the underground resistance forces to fight the Japanese occupying army(possibly the MPAJA or Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army). They engaged mainly in guerilla warfare, and operated in squads of about 9 to 10 men. This he did for two years until the war ended in 1945 with the surrender of the Japanese. Then, at the age of 20, he was asked to join the army (I think he was referring here to the communists who fought the British after the war). He was reluctant to do that, and so he decided to come to Singapore. At that time, Singapore was part of Malaya, and so he did not actually migrate to another country.

For a few years in Singapore, he worked as an employee for another pork seller. Later, he began to operate his own itinerant business selling pork in the Serangoon Garden area from a bicycle. When the Serangoon Garden market was built in 1962, the government offered him a stall which he operated until his retirement. The rental then was about $5 a month. At that time, he stayed at a kampong in Yio Chu Kang, near the Kok Wah Theatre. Young people would probably not know where that was. It was at the junction of Yio Chu Kang Road and Upper Serangoon Road. He bought his pigs from local farms which were quite plentiful in Singapore those days.

As I reflected on this fact, I realized that I very likely could have patronized Mr Tan’s stall. You see, during the sixties, for a short period, and for reasons I cannot recall, I was tasked by my mother to cycle from our kampong in Lorong Kinchir to do simple marketing in the Serangoon Garden market. I learnt how to buy a few basic items like pork, bean curd (tau kua), bean sprouts (tau gay) and noodles.

I am also reminded that my father did try his hand at rearing pigs for a short while to supplement our income. We only had 2 pigs and after that we stopped. Presumably, it was too much work and not cost effective. Of course we did not slaughter the pigs ourselves.

When the PAP (People’s Action Party) came into power in 1959, Mr Tan joined the Serangoon Garden CCC. He recalled that the first MP (member of parliament) he served under was a Mr Liang Jing Sheng (pronounced in Mandarin) who later left to join the Barisan Socialis. I checked the internet, but was not able to find anyone in the Barisan Socialis by this name. I suspect it was somebody called Dr Sheng Nam Chin. His fellow CCC members, like my dad, were from the surrounding kampongs like Cheng San, Hwi Yoh, Yio Chu Kang and Ow Kang (Hougang).The next MP was a Mr R. A. Gonzales, followed by Mr Rodrigo and Dr Lau Teik Soon. If Mr Tan is right, then I have made a mistake when I told you earlier that we had a MP by the name of Tan Kia Gan (my eldest brother Chun Chew; the one with the supposedly ‘elephant’ memory, to be blamed for this misinformation .. haha) Mr Tan continued to serve all the way until 1997 when he was asked to join the Aljunied GRC (Group Representative Constituency). He declined saying that he was getting on in age and could not speak English.


gonzales
Photo from the National Archives of Singapore showing member of parliament, R. A. Gonzales leading members of the Serangoon Garden Citizen’s Consultative Committee in a ‘gotong royong’ project to repair Cheng San Road.


Altogether, Mr Tan had 6 children; 3 sons and 3 daughters, and 8 grand children, the oldest of which is in his thirties and married with children; which meant that Mr Tan is a great grand father. He said his children did not excel in studies and consequently were in the pork business like him. His is widowed. His wife passed away about 10 years ago. Except for a problem with his leg, he was mentally alert and could move about on his own with the aid of a walking stick.

I think it is really fated that I should meet Mr Tan Pan Beng and share this story with you. One thing I learned from this story is that, one does not have to be in a highly ‘intellectual’ job to have a good healthy brain; and pork apparently is not so unhealthy a food after all.

22 comments:

Chris said...

Amazing story Chun See. It's a small world we're living in, after all.

The sprightly old man is a national treasure. If we go by your reasoning in the last para, then I'll be like the old man in time to come. I love "bakwa". LOL.

Lam Chun See said...

Chris. If you want to be like Mr Tan in 40 years time, I suggest you ease up on the bakwa. I read that it's one of the worst for reasons you probably know already.

Victor said...

Your post shows that nowadays people stay in an old age home not because they are desolate and lonely, since Mr Tan has 6 children. And I also happen to know that Lentor Residence is not a cheap old folk's home for poor people. Another changing landscape of Singapore, perhaps?

zen said...

Being a oldie myself, I observe that people who lead a tough life when young, doing hard labour in farms or other places, tend to be strong even in their later years. Their body constitutions are so strong that even smoking, drinking or other bad habits could not bring them down easily. Once I overheard two middle-aged ladies commenting on a chubby young-looking man in a market: "look at that guy. He is in his eighties - long-life devil! (in Cantonese). You know why ? Both his parents lived nearly to one hundred years old". So parents' genes do count.

Chris said...

Thanks for the sound advice Chun See. I don't eat much of bakwa really, other than during CNY. But the BAGUS gave me 2 packets of this very sinful stuff recently because of my big day. I wanted to tell them, "Hey I'm 42, and I want to see another 42, u know?" But what to do? In order not to disappoint my BAGUS kaki, I polished off the two packets dry. LOL.

Zen, what u said is true. My Dad is 77. He's a chain smoker and was an odd job laborer when he was a young man. He's got chronic lung problem, but other than that, is still quite healthy. But I'm not sure if I'd get his genes. Our life-style is so different from our parents'. These days, many of our contemporaries are inflicted with life-style diseases like Hypertension and Diabetes. So much for good genes.

Victor - nowadays, cannot depend on our kids one. You're luck if they can afford to send you to Lentor Residence. Some old folks ended up in 1-room HDB flat with no one to care for.... Some even died, alone and penniless. So better stop buying korean wives and other stuff..... :P

Adrian Chua said...

Dear brother Lam Chun See.
A very nice and well write up on the life of Mr.Tan.It brings back memory of my younger day and time really flies.I am now approaching 52 years and knowing that my life is in the hand of God.

zen said...

Chris: If you have some of your dad's good genes, and have a good life-style (healthwise), I am quite sure you belong to the healthy type. I had a talk with my doctor some years back, and he warned me that though healthwise I lead a so-called clean living, but both my parents died of stroke, hence I should be extremely careful. He further added, for example, when one has a parent who is diebetic, the chance of he being one is like 50%, but if both parents are diebetic, one is almost sure getting this disease, though there may be some exceptions. The shows how powerful parental genes are.

Victor said...

Zen - To keep healthy and hopefully live to a ripe old age, Chris and I vowed to exercise regularly from now on. Would you believe it, we both visited a shop at Peninsula Plaza today at lunchtime and bought the same make and model of in-line skates. Different sizes of course - his feet are smaller than mine just as his body is (much) shorter as well.

Much to the wrath of neighbours, I have been skating along the narrow corridors of my SIT flat since I was 10-year old. (I will blog about this when I have the time.) The same cannot be said of Chris, however. He has never skated before. If not careful, skating can be a health hazard. That's why he bought elbow and knee guards. But despite advice from me, a stubborn Chris just refused to buy a very crucial piece of safety gear - a helmet. No point protecting your limbs when you have a broken cranium, am I right?

Ok I have strayed enough already, back to this post. So is Mr Tan Pan Beng's brother called Mr Tan Chiak Beng?

simplyetel said...

Thank you for sharing this story with us.. and thanks to Mr Tan too.. Its really nice to know the good old days.. your blog should be featured somewhere more people can see!

Victor said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Victor said...

Simplyetel, most of Chun See's articles (and some less colourful of mine too, pardon the shameless advertising) are already replicated on yesterday.sg which has a higher hit rate.

zen said...

Chist & Victor - Obviously you are both good buddies and are passionate in skating. As an Indian philosopher explains life as follows: "Yesterday is like a dream, tomorrow is like a vision, what is important is today..." It does not mean that we should not prepare for the future. Please do so, but Meantime carry on skating.

Chris said...

Victor, allow me to refresh you memory... Learning in-line skating is one of my resolution for 2006. We're into the 4th quarter, and I'm juz glad that I've finally put my thought into action. Don't want anyone accusing me of NATO, u know. Thanks for offering to teach me to roller-blade. U know, I draw inspiration from you, but more from Minister Jayakumar. He's in his 60s and you catch him roller-blading alone at East Coast often. Isn't that cool? Oh, don't have to worry about my skull. It's pretty thick. That's why you have to be patient when you're teaching me the rope of skating. What u say may be a little difficult to penetrate into my brain lor. Haha.

Zen, yes, Vic and I are buddies, and I know him like the back of my hand. He's also my punching bag, just like I am to him, sometimes. LOL.

zen said...

Victor - Just like a good boxer, he needs a sparring partner to make good progress. I can remember sometime back, the education authority promoted buddy system to schools so that the more able students can look after the weaker ones . Such a system can also keep school bullies at bay. In fact young girls, or rather females in general, should adopt this tactic in secluded places. Criminal like to attack single girl, and seldom dare to confront a group.

zen said...

Chun See - The last paragraph of your story implies that Mr Tan ate a lot of pork could be inaccurate. Why ? Conventional wisdom usually points to the fact that a food seller normally do not relish eating the food he sells. Hence Mr Tan may have eaten less pork than have thought to be. Actually to be more objective, I think eating lean pork judiciously is of no harm. In fact it is a good source of protein.

Lam Chun See said...

I presume that people in the old days are not so wasteful so they will eat everything is is not sold.

Chris said...

Zen, what an analogy! Firstly, I'm not single, and secondly, the last I checked, I'm still a man, fast approaching mid-life. So, what's this big idea about "buddy-system" between me and Victor? LOL

Besides, for the life of me, I can't count on Victor to protect me. He made me lose me way when he tried to lead me to PIE from Leng Kee. Cannot lah. I think I protect him more like it, being younger and more agile. Hahaha.

But there's some truth in what you said about food seller not eating the food he hawks. Juz like how some cooks don't eat the food he whips out. My mum sometimes does this - cooking but not eating.

zen said...

Chris - Please don't get me wrong. We should view buddy system in a more perspective way, not only physical protection. For example if I had a buddy beside me and when I spoke to someone unintentionly in a rude manner, he would just tuck my shirt sleeve to alert me. I remember sometime back, reading the newspaper, there was this hawker whose business was so good that he had no time to go to the toilet. No problem, his friend (buddy) came in to 'jarga' his stall, especially the money, during his absence. This is what I call a good buddy system.

zen said...

Chun See logical explanation of hawkers eating balance food to avoid wastage is very true. I have two canteen friends, one Chinese and the other a Malay. The Malay would put the balance food in containers and distribute them to his needy relatives, while the Chinese would distribute food (foc) to workers who would come after operating hours to collect them

Chris said...

Zen, I was juz fooling around, as usual. But in truth, we mere mortals need more than 1 buddy in real life - 1 at home who is usually our spouse. But somewhere along the road, the buddy sometimes becomes a "baddie", and they head for a divorce. At the workplace, it's buddy like Victor who makes working in the office a little tolerable. Woa Victor, lunch on you, eh? wahahaha...

Victor said...

No, lunch on you Chris, since I am the one who makes life in the office a little easier for you.

zen said...

This is what makes blogging interesting, from an old man life story, it expands to health and personal friendship, really like a coffee-shop where any topic 'under the sun' can be thrown in. In earlier years, the famous Cantonese story teller Mr Lee Tai Soh had a weekly programme called 'Tam Tin Shui Tei', literally means 'talking heaven & earth'. This could be a core concept for blogging. Agree ?