Monday, May 28, 2007

A War Time Love Story – Lam Chun Chew

My mother told me a love story that happened during the Japanese occupation.

Around 1943, at the tail-end of the Pacific War, my parents were staying in a small town in Johore state, called Segamat. There was a young and good-looking Japanese officer named Watanabe controlling this district. He fell in love with a wholesome looking town girl called Rose (not her real name). They got married through a simple ceremony, witnessed by Rose’s parents and some relatives.
Watanabe was very protective (a minor version of Schindler, a German, in the Holocaust) towards his district population, earning much dismay from his superiors, who believed in harsh treatment towards the locals.

The fairy-tale marriage was short-lived, as the war was coming to an end. The thunderbolt struck, when the Japanese emperor announced Japan’s surrender to the Allied forces in September, the 2nd, 1945, after two atomic bombs were dropped in mainland Japan. The surrendering Japanese troops were to assemble in designated locations controlled by the Allied troops, give up their arms, swords and munitions. Rose cried bitterly because she knew her husband was going to be repatriated to Japan after the war. The departure of her husband was a shattering blow to her, but she had to accept her fate.

It was war that brought them together, and now peace had torn them apart, with her beloved Watanabe returned to his homeland. Would they be able to meet again?

Well, time was healing and Rose later married a Dutch national, moved to Holland, and had a few children. She led a peaceful and happy life in Holland, but in her heart, there was a small corner reserved for her beloved Watanabe. How was he getting on? Was he still alive and well? Such questions lingered in her mind of her ex-lover.

She decided to make a trip to Japan to find out. In Japan she got her answers. Watanabe had remarried happily with a wife and children. Rose was finally at peace with herself and returned to her family in Holland.

Destiny plays a part in War and Peace.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Tragic Accident

I am truly saddened and angry to read of the tragic, tragic accident involving 8-year old Jadon Sim at the Simei MRT station a few days ago. Saddened because I myself am a father of three and feel for the pain of Jadon’s loved ones, and angry because this is such an easily preventable ‘accident’.

What is an Accident?

I have come across a definition of ‘accident’ as something that has a low degree of expectedness, preventability and intention to cause it. If that’s the case, then the Simei accident can hardly be called one. From the description in the newspapers, you will agree with me that if the authorities in charge of that area had been safety conscious, they would have easily seen that it was a very hazardous situation. If the driver of the truck had taken a few basic precautions, such as having an assistant to act as a lookout, which he is supposed to have anyway, the accident could easily have been prevented.

I think Singaporeans, especially we parents, should band together and demand that our government do something to prevent a recurrence of such a tragedy. For one, please write to the government’s feedback unit (Reach) at this address to voice your concerns and unhappiness. You can also write to your member of parliament to demand that he or she do something.

There are lots of other places just like this one or even worse. The stretch of Bencoolen Street just in front of Albert Complex is one such example. Whenever, I go to Sim Lim Square to do my shopping, I noticed that there is ALWAYS at least one goods truck parked along the bus lane there. Not only does it pose an inconvenience to other road users, it also created a very hazardous situation.

How to Prevent Such Accidents? To prevent such accidents we should apply what is called the 3E’s – Engineering, Education and Enforcement.


Engineering refers to the operational system and design of the work area. A look of the sketch provided by the Straits Times will tell you that the area was poorly designed. How can you have a pedestrian pavement located so close to a goods vehicle parking area? Don’t forget, the place is also likely to be very noisy and thus affect the pedestrian’s ability to hear warning sounds, such as the sound of a reversing truck. Certainly the planners could see that the pedestrians are in a very vulnerable and unprotected position when walking in this area. In the first place, from the photo in the Straits Times, it is not very clear whether or not this was a designated pedestrian walkway or a truck parking/unloading area.

Another thing the management should do is to provide a guide to direct the truck driver and pedestrians. Please don’t use high labour cost as an excuse. When I was in Tokyo, where the labour costs are much higher, I noticed that they always positioned a smartly dressed inspector (full uniform with cap and white gloves) to direct and warn the pedestrians when a truck is entering and exiting a construction site.


Safety training should be provided to all truck drivers. They should be taught defensive driving and what the Japanese call ‘kiken yochi training’ or KYT which means danger prediction or hazard-spotting training. Lots of case studies should be used not only to increase their awareness, but to remind them of the tragic consequences of accidents.


Finally there is enforcement of the rules and regulations. When people knowingly violate the law, stern action should be taken. Blogger,
Epilogos has noted that Singaporeans are becoming more and more defiant when it comes to complying with the rules and regulations.

Another funny thing in Singapore is that the traffic police seem to be getting friendlier whilst the traffic offenders are getting more aggressive. More than one occasion, I have seen a traffic police looking all courteous and smiling, and apologetic even, when confronting a reckless driver, who ironically looked angry and indignant. How can this be? The traffic cop is the one who should be giving the offender a tongue lashing! Maybe they have been attending too much GEMS (Go the extra mile service) training.

Finally, I want to ask the question that this
blogger asked; Must we wait for another tragedy?

Monday, May 21, 2007

THE BEGGAR by Lam Chun Chew

My mother told me a story when I was a kid. There was this rich man who was a very extravagant and wasteful man, and a wouldn’t-care-less type of a person. Every day his horde of servants would throw away useful things. When preparing meals, the kitchen staff would carelessly spill large amount of rice into a drain which flowed down hill past a monastery.

The chief abbot of the monastery was disgusted with such daily wastage and instructed his monks to use a sieve to trap the rice flowing down the drain, dry them in the sun, pack them into bags, and store in the temple’s warehouse. This rice retrieval went on for a number of years.

Due to some misfortune, the rich man lost all his wealth and became a pauper, and had to resort to begging for a living. One day he visited the monastery and begged for a meal. The abbot recognised him and quickly told his monks to serve him a hearty meal, for which the rich man was very thankful.

The abbot said: “You need not thank me. The rice you are eating now actually belongs to you”. The former rich man was surprised: “I don’t understand?” The chief monk then explained how his monks had retrieved the rice wasted by this rich man in former days. The rich man understood his misdeeds which caused him to lose all his wealth

We can learn a lesson from this story. Sometimes, when I pass by a coffeeshop or a eating place, I see people order large portions of foods, but unable to eat all, leaving behind much leftovers. Many people have forgotten that Singapore has, in its history, gone through ups and downs, and just because we are having good time now, we throw caution to the winds. If we ever placed on a complacent mood, please remember the above story.

Photo courtesy of: Morton Fox

Thursday, May 17, 2007

International Museum Day 2007 (IMD'07)

The National Heritage Board is launching International Museum Day 2007 (IMD'07) tomorrow, on 18 May 2007. IMD'07 promises more than 80 activities and events spread over 24 museums over 10 days; such as:

Curatour by Low Sze Wee
18 May, 7.30 - 8.30pm

In the Trail of the Ghawazee
18 May, 8pm

6.5 million: Growing Singapore, Planning Ahead

“Down Memory Lane” – A Postcard Trail
19 & 26 May, 2pm; 20 & 27 May, 9.30am

And many more.

Unlike other commercial events, most of the activities are FREE or at very low cost. The idea is to make heritage and culture more accessible to everybody, especially the heartlanders and the masses.

There will be lots of fun things to see and do at IMD'07. You can hop on free museum bus tours, wiggle to exotic middle eastern dances, form a group to participate in the Heritage C-Race, dine with your favourite toys plus of course the ever popular MIA Night Tour. Those who are into art collecting and trading can find out all about the art markets in Singapore and Southeast Asia. There is something for foodies too, with the Eastern Surprise Food Trail which combines culture with cuisine!

Do drop by the official IMD'07 here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Can Young People of Today Survive the Kampong Days?

Next week, my teacher wife will accompany some female students to spend a few days at some ‘adventure village’ in Johor, Malaysia. At the same time, my son will also join a group to spend 10 days in a remote mountain village in Kunming, China for some kind of community involvement project. I think the idea is to expose the kids to kampong life and maybe toughen them a bit. All these remind me of a question put to me by some young people a few months ago.

I was being interviewed by 3 final year students from the Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design and Media. They were producing a video of Singapore’s last kampong at Lorong Buangkok and wanted to interview people who grew up in a kampong. They interviewed me and my friends Chuck and Peh, both of whom also grew up in kampongs. One of the questions they asked was if we thought the young people of today would be able to survive the kampong life of the 50's and 60's.

Even as I reflect on this question, it occurs to me that it was a strange question. These young people must have heard many 'horror' stories of conditions of the old days, and repeatedly been told that compared to their parents, they are soft and so on. Thus they have begun question their own 'toughness'.

For the record, my answer was 'no problem'. Of course if you were to dump them suddenly into those types of conditions, 'cold turkey', they will find a great deal of discomfort. But I believe young people of any era are adaptable and innovative. Give them a bit of time, and they will certainly be able to adjust ….. although I simply cannot imagine how my two girls can cope with the mosquitoes of my kampong days.

But if the question had been, "Do you think the young men of today can survive the NS (National Service) training of the early days; i.e. the late 60’s and early 70’s?" I may have some doubts. Certainly the incidence of breakdowns and attempted suicides would be higher. The physical and mental abuse of those days were really quite terrible.

I recall a conversation with a regular officer of the SAF. This was probably in the late 80's or early 90's. He told me that he couldn't understand why the number of attempted suicides among recruits had gone up in spite of the easing of many of the pressures imposed on them. I guess only the professional psychologists can figure that one out; but our conclusion was that it was probably due to the fact that many young men came from small families nowadays. Most families I know nowadays adopt the NTUC principle – Never To Use Cane. In my home we used to have a cane, but I mostly used it to make noise only; like beating the table and chairs in a show of force. As for the schools, I believe any teacher who lays a hand on the students the way our teachers did would probably lose his or her job, or worse.

Photo from: Singapore, An Illustrated History, 1941 ~ 1984, Information Division, Ministry of Culture
Related post: Pay Correct Sir
Reference article: here

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Trip to China with my mother – Lam Chun Chew

In September 1985, my mother asked me to accompany her for a visit to China. I asked her why she did not want to go with my dad, and she replied that my father had already visited China few times. I agreed, knowing that it would be an uphill task, as my mother was already in her seventies, full of illnesses, and could not walk much. The trip was planned in such a way that it must be short, probably 7 to 9 days, more flying, and to cover Guangzhou, Beijing and Guilin – all her favourite destinations. The only tour available was conducted by Chan Bros. The itinerary was: Singapore/Hong Kong/Guangzhou/Beijing/Guilin/Guangzhou/HK/Singapore.

It was a brave attempt. I forgot that so far I myself had not flown outside Singapore, hence a rookie traveller, and to look after my sick mother, her heavy luggage, and medicines was something like mission impossible. Furthermore, a few years before this trip, my mother had heart-murmurs in UK, which short-circuited my father’s planned trip to Europe, and subsequently they travelled to Ireland to see my restaurant-owner cousin instead.

To make a long story short, my mother enjoyed every minute of her trip despite her physical and medical constraints. Everywhere we went, she would either sit in the bus, stay in the hotel, or sit near the entrance of the tourist spot, doing very little walking. For example, at the Forbidden City, she sat near the entrance of ‘wu men’ the spot where the emperor ordered the execution of prisoners. She could not walk much, but making friends was her top priority.

Luckily we had the company of one Mr Kwan who brought along his family comprising of his wife, daughter (a cute toddler of about four years old) and his mother-in-law. This adorable little girl used to ask me: “Uncle where do you stay?” I replied, “In AMK”. She asked again: “Where is AMK?” I replied: “I don’t know.” She retorted: “How can you don’t know?” The bantering went on. This little girl had great stamina, climbing the Great Wall with ease. In hotels and restaurants, all the waitresses, on seeing her, wanted to hug her, calling her “bao bao”.

In Guangzhou, we went to a restaurant called Tai SamYuen, the eating place my grandma used to recall with fondness. But I found the food of this Chinatown-like restaurant to be so-so. Mr Kwan bought some boxes of moon-cakes, costing about 15 Renminbi per box, equivalent to about S$3 per box; very cheap. I pleaded with my mother not to buy more things as I could not cope with the burden anymore. All in all, I found the Forbidden City and Great Wall an eye-opener, Guangzhou a nostalgic farming land of my ancestors, Guilin indeed a scenic place of great beauty and Hong Kong just enough time to pass by.

This was the only time my mother visited the land of her ancestors which made her very happy, but at the same time many complaints, because of her poor physical condition. She passed away in July 2000, a year before my father’s demise. Well, for me, an impossible mission had become possible. Thank goodness nothing serious happened during the trip. I am pleased that I did something for her that satisfied her life-long wish.

A Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Caned for Porning

My son said at dinner table the other day that these days he has been 'porning' a lot. Thank goodness, he wasn't talking about pornography, but what in local lingo we called "Pontang", meaning to play truant. Apparently, his involvement in school science projects and the rainy weather has resulted in his skipping a few kayaking training sessions.

And that reminded me of a rather traumatic experience when I was at the tender age of 6. The year was 1958. At that time, I attended Primary one at our village primary school called Chong Boon School. It was a Chinese school and they were not very particular about our ages. After one year, my father transfered to Primary One in
Anglo Chinese School in Barker Road.

Anyway, one morning, for reasons I cannot recall, I decided to 'porn'. Guess what my mother did. She dragged me to school and caned me with a papaya leaf stem in front of the whole class!!!

Now that's an experience you don't forget even after half a century.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Toys Were Us (6) – Tong Choi Jar

Do you know what is Tong Choi (Cantonese pronunciation) or Tang Chye (Hokkien pronunciation)? It’s the brown colour preserved vegetable that the hawkers add to your fish ball noodles and mee poks. Nowadays, tong choi is sold in plastic packets, but in our kampong days they came in earthen jars. Did you know that these jars can be turned into a simple toy pretty much like the Gelek Reng that my friend Chuck blogged about some time ago. Here’s how the game is played.

Tong Choi Jar (3)

First you stand the jar on its side. Then you insert one end of a thin bamboo into the opening and roll it along on the ground. Those days of course the ground in our kampongs was unsurfaced. The bamboo should be flexible enough to bend a full 90 degrees as you pushed the jar along. In the photo below, I used a fishing rod as a substitute.

Tong Choi Jar (5a)

Two players can compete against each other by racing over a distance of say 20 to 30 metres. The idea is to keep the jar moving because once you stopped, it would topple over. At the same time, you should also try to keep it in as straight a path as possible. When we got tired of the game, we would simply crash the bottles by rolling them a full speed against each other. It’s not as easy as it sounds, because some skill is required to steer it properly.

I have been wanting to blog about this ‘toy’ for a long time because I think many of the younger readers would not know about it. But I was unable to find such a bottle at our supermarkets like NTUC Fairprice and Shop n Save. In fact, I couldn’t even find it in Ipoh. But recently, I was pleasantly surprised to find it in a neighbourhood mini-mart in Bishan and promptly bought a bottle. It cost only $1.20.

My problem now is: How to finish the whole bottle of tong choi alone, as no one else in my family eats the stuff.

Tong Choi Jar (8)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

My Uncle’s Favourite Car: The Toyota 700 Deluxe - Lam Chun Chew

Recently, there was some attention drawn to Chun See’s photo posted at the top right corner of this blog. It wasn’t Chun See or the dog, but the car; especially its number plate, that attracted some readers.

Anyway, I take the opportunity to tell you a bit about that car, which belonged to our Seventh Uncle uncle (the one who was a badminton champion) who lived next door to us in our kampong at Lorong Chuan/Lorong Kinchir.

After resettling down in Singapore, my uncle bought a brand new Toyota 700 Deluxe. This was sometime in the late sixties. To a certain extent, my uncle was a person ahead of his time, full of faith in Japanese goods, when most of us had an aversion to them, especially cars. At that time there were few Japanese-made cars on our roads. If I remember correctly, only Datsun cars, namely the few Datsun Bluebird could be seen cruising around the island. At this time, Toyota made its entry by introducing two models, the 700 standard (air-cool) and the deluxe (water-cool). My uncle quickly bought a deluxe model. I could not remember the price, maybe a few thousand dollars, definitely much cheaper than its European counterparts. His purchase brought in many critics, all expounding ideas that it was a wrong decision to buy Japanese goods. Some even said that if you were to scrap the under-carriage of a Japanese car, you could see the word ‘Ovaltine’ imprinted on it.

One day my mum and I hitched a ride on my uncle’s Toyota to KL (Kuala Lumpur) to attend my cousin’s wedding. Another uncle drove a Volkswagon competing against the Toyota all the way up to KL. I would like to give my verdict: European vs Japanese. Undoubtedly the Volks had the edge in stability, air-cool, excellent cornering, slope-climbing and comfort. The Toyota had some virtues also, namely: better fuel consumption, fuel warning light, fast pick-up and excellent paint-work. However, it was not fair to compare the two, one being a branded car of many years, and the other the Toyota being just a new-comer in the international car market. But my uncle was ahead of his time, Toyota is now fast going to be No.1 car maker of the world.

Corolla (6)

Corolla (1)

In Malaysia, you can still find many old cars that are no longer seen on Singapore roads. Above are 2 of the oldest models of Toyota Corolla I have come across – Lam Chun See

To side-track a bit, being obsessed with Japanese goods, my uncle used a Japanese hair lotion to groom his hair making it look good. Even my sister Pat commented favourably on my uncle’s good grooming, so much so my uncle felt elated, and bought her a bottle, but she was afraid to use, what irony! Likewise my cousin Richard (staying with us) and I were also afraid to use it. Indeed there was great prejudice against Japanese goods at that time. The said hair lotion is still available now in most shops, big or small, selling around $20 per bottle. It is the famous SANKYO hair lotion (I am not doing a commercial for this product). This story carries a message – do not under-estimate the ability of your rivals. We Singaporeans were once labelled in Asia as: naive and incapable. Today the word Singapore is an icon of honesty and integrity. That is why when Capital-land develops houses in China, they are being snapped up like hot-cakes - three cheers Singapore.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

What I Wrote Elsewhere

Article No. 3 – Where’s the Stuff? (东西在哪里?)

I think many Singaporeans remember this very funny advertisement from Ikea. A group of thugs breaks into a house and confronts a young man.

Thug (menacingly): Where’s the stuff? Hand it over quickly! (presumably referring to drugs)
Young man: I don’t know.
Thug gets impatient and repeats question:
Young man (in exasperated voice): I don’t know. I really don’t know.

003b - messy store room

Read full article here.


Last week I wrote a couple of articles at and My 5S Corner. Sure would like to hear your views about these 2 issues.

Article No. 1 – Time to Make Some Trouble

Recently, I was privileged to be invited by the National Heritage Board to attend the book launch of Singapore’s Monuments & Landmarks: A Philatelic Ramble. The main author was one of my fellow ‘Friends of Yesterday’, Dr Tan Wee Kiat. The launch was held on 2 April 2007 at the Singapore Philatelic Museum. I must apologise for not blogging about that event because I was quite busy at that time.

TWK Book

Read full article here.

Article No.2 – No Littering in Singapore?

There’s an article in page 35 of The Straits Times today (27/4/2007) titled, Singapore Wows Vancouver Visitor. Written by a Vancouver architect, planner and property developer, Michael Geller, the article was full of praise for our country; especially its cleanliness. “During my stay, I did not see any litter on the streets.” he declared.

002a - No Littering
“CLEAN LIVING: No littering, no graffiti … Singapore has to be the cleanest country in the world.”

Read full article here.