Gong Gong says

This is a posthumous blog of our father's (Lim Kok Ann) life. When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography. We'd like to celebrate his life by sharing his autobiography through this blog.

"I have dredged these anecdotes from memory just to pass the time; if they amuse my grandchildren their purpose will have been served; if they provide any instruction, it will be a happy coincidence; that they are disjointed is probably to be expected.

Aurora was the name of my grandfather’s house in Kulangsu.   Amoy, where I spent the first five or six years of my life.   I still have vivid memories of events that took place when I was barely three years old.

Lim Kok Ann
October 1996"

Monday, October 30, 2006

My mother Violet
Giok-Chin was of the Yung family which was from Macau, but had a tea business in Amoy. Violet was the youngest daughter and was rather spoilt, I guess. When my father finished his Senior Cambridge at the Anglo-Chinese School (Yap Pheng Geck was a classmate of his), his desire was to study medicine in Edinburgh University where his brother Robert was a lecturer in Physiology and highly regarded by Professor Shafey-Shaffer, his boss. Robert had graduated with Honours, winning the Athol Medal for topping his class, as did his father before him, and had served in the Royal Army Medical Corps in France. His research on mucin cells of the gastric mucosa had elevated him to be a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and it was generally believed he was being groomed to succeed his Professor.
Walter was much disappointed when Grandma Yin told him he had to get married before he went abroad for she did not want yet another “ang-moh” (red-haired) daughter-in-law, Robert having married a Scots lady (Margaret), and Francis an American lady (Gertrude). So the match makers got to work and proposed Violet as a candidate for a Lim Boon Keng daughter-in-law. Violet was 17 or 18 then and had no desire to lose her freedom; she wanted to “study”, but in those days, daughters did what they were told to do, and it was considered she had made the catch of the season. Indeed, Wong Tok-Sau’s mother, the matriarch of the Wong family who lived next door to us in Kulangsu, had her eye on Violet for Tok Sau, so to be a Lim daughter-in-law or a Wong daughter-in-law was apparently Violet’s destiny. I think that Violet would have been better off had she got the Wong who subsequently owned Amoy Canning Co, but then I would have been a Wong. For a consolation prize, Tok-Sau married Siu-Tin, the daughter of another neighbour, whom Grandma Yin had “adopted”, being her god-mother, so much so that she got enrolled in my list of aunts as 14th Aunt. They were all church deacons and as chummy as a gaggle of geese.

After as brief a courtship as decency permitted, Walter and Violet were married in Singapore, and we have a photograph of them looking rather glum, in Boon Keng’s house in Emerald Hill Road. Well might Walter be glum, for Grandma Yin would not let him leave until his wife had her baby, so Walter twiddled his thumbs until I was born on 27 January, 1920, in No.2 Emerald Hill Road, subsequently the site of the Singapore Chinese Girls School. It is intriguing that the houses on our side of the road were subsequently given odd numbers, for example, No.117 where Rosie, your grandmother, was born (4 July 1922). At the foot of Emerald Hill Road, now named Peranakan Place, the house numbers start with 3 on the left and 4 on the right; No.1 and No.2, being there before anyone else, retained their numbers as Emerald Hill Road houses because the front gate to the compound in which they stood was on Emerald Hill Road, although No.2 was rather nearer to Cairnhill Road than to Emerald Hill Road. My birth certificate which shows where I was born also records that I was named and probably christened Albert, though I was usually called Kok Ann. Grandma Yin gave me the name Albert, imagining the beginning of a dynastic generation of true Chinese grand children (my Uncle Robert had a son already, named Edward, who died in childhood in Peking), but my grandfather named me Kok Ann because I was born in 1920, after the great war, and he hoped the country would be at peace.
It was told, that when Grandma Yin was casting about for her third daughter-in-law, one of the prospective victims was Polly Tan Poh-Li, daughter of Tan Boo Liat of Tan Tock Seng’s descent. Though I missed the Tan Tock Seng genes, the error was corrected in my children when I married Polly’s daughter. I am sure Rosie’s mother knew what the match-makers’ had been doing, which possibly accounted for the queer looks I sometimes got from Rosie’s mother when I was courting her daughter. It did seem as if I was trying to make up for my father’s mistake in marrying Violet. Indeed, I do recall that Rosie’s mother once remarked that my mother was “carrying” when she attended Polly’s wedding, so I had been present in utero, so to speak, to see that Rosie’s parents got off to a good start. It explains why Rosie’s mother treated me more than a son-in-law deserved; I was nearly her son! These Nonya relationships are complex.


I guess that I could have been less than a year old when I was brought to Kulangsu, an International Settlement ceded to foreign governments by the Chinese government in 1911 after the Boxer Rebellion. Kulangsu had its own police and all foreign missions in Amoy were actually located there. It was a matter of prestige that the Principal of the Amoy University should have his official residence on Kulangsu. My Grandfather named his house “Aurora” and it was located near the top of a rocky bill known as Pit-Kay-Sua. or “Pen Rest Hill”. From Amoy the three rocky peaks at the summit of this rock resembled a pen rest on which one could place a brush pen. The island of Kulangsu was made of granite boulders large and small that were named fancifully as “Kuay-Bu­Cheokh” (Hen rock), “Monk Rock” and so on. The caves at one end of the island that resounded to the crashing of waves were named “Drum caves”, giving rise to the name of the island, “Ku” ( or rather “Ko” in the dialect) meaning “drum”, and “Lang” (“long” in dialect) meaning cave, and “Su” meaning “island”.

“Aurora” was a true “Ang-moh Lau”, (Red-haired (European) house), in the western style. A broad flight of steps about 100 metres long led through extensive gardens from the main gate at the foot of the slope up to the house above. Twin flights of steps led up to the terrace upon which the front door to the house opened. Behind the front door was a reception hall about 10 metres x 15 metres with side corridors, that led to the back of the hall. The main house was a two-storeyed block of three large rooms on each floor and fronted by a corridor, both upstairs and downstairs, and there was a staircase leading from the front corridor on the ground floor to the corridor upstairs. The whole house and reception hail was faced with glass window casements and it must have been an imposing sight. French windows opened from the upstairs front corridor to the roof of the reception hall from which one got a magnificent view of Amoy across the narrow straits that separated Kulangsu from Amoy which was also an island. One night, when Grandma Yin was away from Kulangsu I apparently sleep-walked and was found on the terrace crying for her. Luckily, I did not climb up the surround parapet else I might have fallen down twenty-thirty metres.
The upstairs rooms were connected at the rear by a narrow corridor which had backstairs that led to an annex on the left of the main house. The annex had three bed rooms on the upper floor and the servant quarters and kitchen on the lower level. My mother and I occupied two of the upper floor bedrooms and I remember visiting my grandfather’s bedroom in the main house adjoining when he was having his breakfast, unbelievably, toast and chicken curry!


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