Saturday, September 09, 2006

Remembering September 11th

September 11, 2001 is undoubtedly the most famous date this century. Whilst the world remembers September-11 as a day synonymous with hatred and violence, my siblings and I associate it with love and family devotion. You see, September 11, 2001 was the day my father passed away. In fact, I can still remember that evening when we were at the funeral parlour in Sin Ming area and speaking to my brother in Perth about his travel arrangements to return to Singapore, when he informed us about the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

My father was born in Singapore in 1918. We don’t know much about his younger days, except that it was quite tough during the pre-war days. One thing I know is that my grandmother placed great importance on English education and so my father was sent to the Anglo Chinese School for his education. Thanks to her, my son as well as my nephew are now in ACS.

Altogether, my parents had 7 children; 5 sons and 2 daughters, but unfortunately, 2 of them passed away quite young, before I was born in fact. The oldest, a boy, died as an infant during the Japanese Occupation; what of, we do not know as my parents did not talk about it; but I recall some mention of Malaria. The fourth, a girl died of sickness shortly before I was born. My father was very fond of girls. I learned only recently that this was the reason why I was named Chun See. The character See (思) in Chinese meant to think or reflect. I guess he still missed her badly at the time I was born. Both my parents didn’t like to talk about these 2 departed children; but on one occasion, my father remarked that my youngest daughter, who was a toddler at that time, looked like my departed sister.

1950 Photo of my dad with his darling pet daughter, my elder sister Pat

My father got to know my mother through his good friends, the Ng brothers including my seventh uncle, the badminton champion. The Ngs were a huge family of 11 children, mostly boys and only 2 girls I believe; my mum being one of them. She was number 5.

During the war time, my parents must have stayed in Segamat for a while because their second son, my present eldest brother Chun Chew, was born in Segamat in 1945. (This part I am a bit confused because I also recall my father telling me about an incident with the Japanese soldiers in the Padang area. He was with one of my uncles. Apparently, they did not bow properly to the Japanese soldiers and got slapped and punished to run backwards until they fell.)

(Latest: My sister just told me a near disastrous brush my mother had with the Japanese soldiers in Segamat, which should be of interest to my young female readers. Apparently, she only narrated this to my sister and not to the rest of us. On one occasion, they received news that the Japanese soldiers were on their way looking for women. So my mother, and some of the other girls, including one of my aunts, went hiding in the woods. Whilst they were hiding in the bushes, they saw the Japanese soldiers go by. She remembered they wore yellow colour socks.)

After the war, they returned to Singapore and moved to Nelson Road near the Singapore harbour. Subsequently, they moved to Geylang Lorong 14, before finally settling down in Lorong Kinchir, also known as Chui Arm Lor in Hokkien where I was born. It was a mainly HoKKien kampong and my family was one of the few Cantonese families there.

My father was quite well-known in our kampong. The villagers called him Sam-Kor (三哥) because he was the third in his family. My uncles, the Ngs, called him Kou-Kow (or tall dog) – but actually he wasn’t extremely tall. He was also one of the few English-educated men in our kampong. As such, our neighbours often came to him for help in official correspondence with the authorities. We frequently saw him banging away at his Underwood type-writer. I taught myself to type in secondary three using that same type writer. We remember one case where he helped this widow by the name of Ba-li who had many children to apply for a license to operate a drinks stall in a school canteen. She got her stall and subsequently became quite well-off. Every year, we got a free crate of glasses of famous soft drinks brands.

My father was also quite strong physically. He often rode a bicycle and carried water from our well. He was quite a good swimmer too. The photo below is taken in 1948 at a place known as the Tiger Swimming Pool. I heard that it was located next to the sea near to the Haw Par Villa. The kid in the photo was my present eldest brother Chun Chew.

My father was also active in community service. He held the post of vice-president of the Naval Base’s trade union. He worked for many years at the Naval Base in Sembawang as a senior clerk and was retrenched at about age 50 when the British forces withdrew from Singapore. He was also involved in the early years of the NTUC (National Trade Union Congress) labour movement. He was also a member of the Serangoon Gardens Citizens Consultative Committee for a number of years. In fact, I recently met an 80 year old gentleman at the Lentor Residence who claimed to know my father from the days when he too was on the Serangoon Gardens CCC. He said my father was one of 2 representatives from our kampong in the SGCCC. I am confident that he remembered correctly because he was able to give the name of the other gentleman from our kampong. I will interview him one of these days for the full story.

Fortunately, after my father was retrenched in 1968, my eldest brother Chun Chew and my elder sister Pat had already completed their secondary four education and started to work and contribute to the family income.Thanks to their sacrifice, my elder brother David (no. 3) and I (no. 4) were able to get a university education.

I always felt that in addition to a Father's Day and a Mother's Day, we should have a Elder Sibling's Day. I suppose September 11 is as good a choice as any other.


Chris Sim said...

A moving tribute to a great man and a great Dad. How privileged you are, Chun See.

Anonymous said...

The Chinese use to say that nothing is greater than parental love, very unconditional. It is universal. Our parents love us as much as we love our children and it goes on, generation after generation. Years back I watched a Discovery Channel and there was this angry tigress which went all out to kill a back panther found lurking quite a distance from her den. Why ? She wanted to protect her newborn baby. It is my conviction that parents who ill treated their children are not even comparable to animals.

iml said...

It is now rare to have older siblings taking up the responsiblities of contributing to the household expenses and funding the younger siblings. You must be very proud of them.

Victor said...

Gosh, I didn't know that another great man died on that fateful day.

Anonymous said...

My uncle was less fortunate in his encounter with the Japanese soldiers. He was made to kneel on triangular shaped logs, so the sharp edges would leave permanent depressions on his legs. My mother told me she and her sister would blacken their faces with soot if the Japanese came by their houses.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the nostalgia. I hope you or someone still have that Underwood. Classic. My pa has one too.

the other little bit was your badminton link brought me to a name I heard long ago. Eddy Choong. I heard it in conversations between my pa and his contemporaries. Then years later, I was traveling in the states when I met a nice Malaysian girl with the same surname. I said I heard of a badminton great called Eddy Choong, at which point (I hope my memory serves me right) she calmly said "That's my uncle."

Anonymous said...

King of Wu conquered Yueh, which became a vanquished state. The Yueh King was even forced to eat shit by the conqueror. He had no choice but to endured all the sufferings inflicted on him. He reminded himself of these humilations by licking a bitter gall hung up in his prison cell daily, and slept on protruding sticks. He promised revenge if he ever to return to his state one day. He achieved his goal later on. Do we want Singapore to be a vanquished state ?

Victor said...

Fighting fit, decades ago, I used to have an old typewriter. I am not so sure if it was "Under Wood" but I am quite certain that it was "Top Iron". In fact, it was cast iron. It was so heavy that it must have weighed at least 20 kg. My parents probably sold it to the rag-and-bone man a long, long time ago.

Anonymous said...

Ohmygosh, I better go tell my pa not to sell that manual typewriter of his.
Quite odd isn't it? We look at the junk for years, decide to throw or sell it. Then a decade or two later, if we are still alive, we look into an antique shop window and see the same there, we wanna buy it back, at many times the price we sold it for.

Ok ok, not generalizing again hor. Not all of us do that--buy it back.

Lam Chun See said...

In the discussion/comments section of an earlier post about Armenian Street, Victor asked how come my parents were able to bring us to see an expensive 'branded' clinic like Wilmers. I think he can understand now.

Anonymous said...

You mean your parents sold their possessions to get you quality healthcare? How touching. The untold sacrifices parents made, without expecting anything back.

Anonymous said...

In colonial days, Malaya & Singapore (a straits settlement) was a single country. The great Wong Peng Soon, a Malayan, who settled down in Singapore, was considered later on as a great Singaporean Badminton Icon. Then who was this Eddie Choong ? He too was a great player, especially in his student days in UK, and if I can recollect, also won the All England once (?) He invented a very innovative stroke - the overhead sweep, returning shots at the least possible time, catching his opponent off-guard. His stamina was so fantastic, that was able to run down his opponent. He suffered a crushing defeat under the Indonesian Thomas Cup team captained by Tan Joe Hock (a all round player with a killer smash). It was the first time the Indonesia captured the Thomas Cup and team was given a victorious welcome back home (Jakarta) by none other than President Soekarno himself.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this Uncle See. I only remember Gong-gong from some of the stories he told me and him always waiting for me patiently, as I had my piano classes.
And I always remember when Po-po once, (when I was about 15 or 16 years old) told me about how she fell in love with Gong-gong watching him play badminton with her brothers. She must have been 80-over then, and must have been married to gong-gong for more than 40 years.
All I distinctly remember was her telling me about how she had seen gong-gong and fallen head over heels in love.

I never shared that, but seeing your story, reminded me of that afternoon at farrer court.

Chan Peew said...

I was briefly working in the former British Naval Dockyard in the Finance Dept.
Your dad was then working in the Civil Secretary's Dept and one of the Ngs (could well be late Ng Yook Loon who was later to become Payroll Officer in Sembawang Shipyard) (*_*)
Chan Peew