I used to fish at a number of ponds around Sembawang Hills Estate and Yio Chu Kang Road. One of the ponds was “Cathay Fishing Pond” (hope I got the name right). I walked there from Sembawang Hills Estate, past the junction of Lorong Kinchir and Upper Thomson Road, for short distance more, then turn left into a road that leads to this fishing pond. I never knew the name of this kampong. I can vaguely recall the barber shop at the junction that Freddy mentioned. There were 2 ponds at Cathay.* The fishing pond that Edward is referring to must have looked like this one which was called Ng Tong Choon's Fishing Pond in Sembawang (Photo from National Archives Collection)
Mr Lim CE and his neighbour were both co-owners of this pond. He was then about 30, had a big family (at least 6 children) and his mother lived with him too. He was a very nice gentleman, always considerate and forever cheerful. What struck me most was his constant hearty laughter. He only spoke Hokkien.
Besides this fishing pond he also owned an “open air” cinema. I cannot remember where this cinema was, but I have been there on several occasions. For the benefit of the younger generation, an “open-air” cinema is just what it implies – it is open (no roof top) and you get lots of fresh air! Hence the name “open air”. There were no cushioned seats, just long wooden benches, so you sat anywhere you like. When it rained, most of the patrons would move to the side walls for shelter. I don’t think there was a money-back guarantee for inclement weather.
* For the younger readers who have never seen an open-air theatre before, this is a photo of one such theatre in Somapah (from the National Archives Collection)
I believe the cinema and the fishing pond wasn’t doing well enough. Mr Lim then decided to venture into real estate. He first bought a house in Jalan Lanjut (Sembawang Hills Estate) and rented it to a British family. Sometime later he bought another house in Sembawang Hills Drive (still in the same estate). Years later he bought a third house in Adelphi Park, an estate along Upper Thomson Road, a few miles from Sembawang Hills Estate. These houses were originally bought for investment purposes. He continued to live in his kampong house with his extended family. In the boom years ahead each of these houses would be worth almost a million each. When Mr Lim first bought the houses in Sembawang Hills Estate he’d have paid about $20K to $25K for each of the houses. This is only my rough estimate. Mr Lim will be in his 70s today
The second person in this story is Joseph. He lived in a kampong somewhere off Upper Thomson Road, further away from Mr Lim’s area. Joseph operated a pirate taxi service (pa hong chia), fetching kids to school in the morning and back home after school, in his Mercedes Benz 280D. His customers included some kids from Sembawang Hills Estate, a couple of whom were my friends. Joseph also supplied Marymount Convent School with fresh vegetables, meat and fish every morning. This was actually meant for the boarding house of the school. One morning his car broke down and my friend and his brother had to carry a basin of fish up the hill to the boarding house. Joseph also ran a food stall outside his home. Here fresh meat and fish were sold on makeshift tables in the morning.
Joseph bought his first bus in the 60s and operated it for the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ). The bus was painted blue with the name of the school on its sides. My friend told me that he was in this bus when Joseph drove it to the convent on its maiden trip. A couple of nuns came abroad, prayed and blessed the bus. Joseph was obviously a staunch Catholic. He did not stop at one bus. In the years ahead he continued to expand his fleet. He had over 20 buses by the late 60s. These buses would be parked along Old Upper Thomson Road, near the entrance to Pierce Reservoir, in the evenings.
Like Mr Lim, Joseph also had a cheerful disposition. My friend said he was quite a funny man. Why am I telling you the story of these men? Both Mr Lim CE and Joseph hailed from our local kampongs, had no formal education, yet were very successful. Their successes were inspirational for me and many others. What were the ingredients of their achievements? First and foremost let me state the obvious – hard work. Nothing succeeds like hard work. They worked hard, had foresight, business acumen and seized opportunities they saw in their own ways. Mr Lim went into real estate while Joseph chose the transport business. They had ideas and an action plan, and most important of all, they acted on their ideas. They lived exemplary lives and were good role models for those who knew them.
For privacy reasons I have not given Mr Lim’s full name. If any of their children or grandchildren are reading this blog, let me say to them: “I am fortunate to have met Mr Lim and Joseph when I was a kid in Sembawang Hills Estate”.