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 When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography.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"

Saturday, November 25, 2006

1:8 “Kidnapping”
Opposite our house of Burmah Road there was a men’s club with a tennis court that I never saw used, but where I and local kids would play ball games. One afternoon, when I returned from school to find the house deserted, one of the “boys” from the club came to call me over to the club saying that someone there wanted to talk to me. I went over and learned from a complete stranger that my mother had met with an accident and was in hospital and he wanted to take me to see her. I don’t recall what the soft-spoken stranger said that made me suspicious, but as I went back to the house to put on my shoes, I took hasty note of the number plate of the car in the porch of the club which presumably was the stranger’s car (the one that had knocked her down?). Back in the house I scrawled a hasty note for my father, “Mother in hospital. Going to see her in car No. P.xxXX.” and left it on the dining table.

I had no idea where the hospital was, but my suspicions were truly aroused when after a drive up Burmah Road past the Chinese Recreation Club, we turned right and at the end of the turning entered the grounds of a large house, tennis court and all. I must have thought, “Not a hospital, and a queer kidnap hide-out! though I have never been to either.” I was thoroughly confused when I was brought into a large hall where my mother was talking sombrely to a lady I did not recognize, in the midst of a noisy crowd of children including my sisters. A girl whom I had never met before - at the age of ten, I knew no females outside the family - addressed me as Albert, and asked me if I would like to play chess. Years later I learned that she was Cheng Fan’s daughter P.G. Lim who later became Malaysia’s Ambassador to the United Nations. I did not know until then that Albert was my name, and though I had been shown the moves in Chinese chess I did not know how to play either Chinese chess or international chess. In a little while I was engrossed in a game of chess and gave no thought as to what was going on around me. After some time, I was brought over to where the grown-ups were having a conference and the gentleman who had brought me there, and who turned out to be Lim Cheng Ean, asked me, “would you like go to China?” and indicated that I should leave by ship the very next day with my mother and my sisters.

There was no mention of where my father stood in this and I don’t think I asked, but I threw a spanner in the works when I insisted that I had to go to school the next day to tell my teacher that I was leaving. I could not be dissuaded from fulfilling what I thought to be an obligation - not to leave school without saying good-bye, though apparently, I did not mind not taking leave of my father. Though they did not like the idea, the grown-ups agreed that I should go to school the next morning but they made me promise on my honour as a scout that I would not say where I had been if asked.

I don’t know how Cheng Ean thought he could get away with the scheme; perhaps my mother had told him that my father never came home at night and Cheng Ean had thought my father would not know the birds had flown until it was too late. But, my father did return home the previous evening, and finding my note, had gone to the hospital and learned that my mother was not there. He further learned from the police that no accident had been reported, and mysteriously, there was no car with the registration No. P.xxxx that I had mentioned in my note to him. As my mother had no friends that he knew of, my father wondered what next to do, and as a long shot, went to my school the next morning to ask if they had any news of me.

Cheng Ean’s car sent me to my school the next morning, but I had hardly settled down and was wondering what to tell the teacher when my father, looking very grim, entered the class-room with the principal. I was taken out, but I would not answer when my father asked where I had been and where my mother was. He must have been amazed when the only reply he could get out of me was, “Scout honour.” My father then brought me to the police-station where a large Ang-moh in blue uniform questioned me and got the same reply. But the Inspector knew about people and little boys and asked my father to leave me with him. After sitting some time in the Inspector’s office I was almost in tears when the Inspector took me to the lock-up and said, “I am going to lock you in there until you tell me where you have been.” That did the trick. I burst into tears and said, “I’ll tell my father.”

My father was sent for and I related to him in front of the Inspector how I was taken by car up Burmah Road, past the Chinese Recreation Club and after turning right, to a house at the end of the side-road. “That must be Lim Cheng Ean’s house,” exclaimed the Inspector, then looking at a piece of paper which was the note I left my father, he added,” and if we change round a couple of these numbers we have the number of Cheng Ean’s car.” It was fairly conclusive, so my father took me round to Cheng Fan’s office where the latter sheepishly admitted his part in the “kidnapping”. He and my father must have had a long talk about my mother’s wish to return to her parents, and my father was persuaded to co-operate. I learned later that my father raised our boat fares only with some difficulty and promised to send my mother $200 monthly when she settled down in China. That very day we boarded the ship for China.

1:9 Slow boat to China
Our destination was Hong Kong, more than a week’s travel from Penang, and I only have vague recollections of the voyage. I only know that my mother was sea-sick most of the way and I took care of my baby sister, changing her when she wet her pants. From Hong Kong we went on to Macau where my mother’s parents lived on a farm in the country side. My mother’s father Yung Chao Poh put us up in a room over his tea-shop in Macau city to await events. My only recollection of Macau was that the city was given over to a kind of lotto number-game based on picking 9 out of 100 characters. In the evenings the numbers would be picked mechanically from a big drum, and if somebody made a big win the winning entry would be displayed to the din of fire-crackers.

My mother’s parents must have had a shock when their daughter turned up with four children and announced she had left her husband. How was she to support herself? Perhaps, in a vague way my mother had thought she could rely on her older sister for help, for her sister Alice was a doctor practising in Shanghai with her husband Dr. Man Wong, and she knew that doctors were affluent people. She was not mistaken, for after some time Aunt Alice came from Shanghai to take charge of us, for there was no way my mother’s parents could cope with us. After some days of consultations Aunt Alice spoke to me and asked me if I would like to come with her to Shanghai and go to school there. I don’t think I had any choice, but Aunt Alice, whom I had never met before, was surely most kind to offer to take responsibility for me, for that was what she was doing, I now realize. With that we took the ferry back to Hong Kong and boarded a ship for Shanghai.

Our coastal steamer naturally made a stop-over in Amoy on the way to Shanghai and we disembarked to pay our respects to my grandparents. I recognized the way when we landed in Kulangsu and when we turned into the Aurora compound I scampered up the steps in the lead and dashed into the house, crying. “An-mah ! Gua lai” (“Grandmother, I have come.”)*

“What are you doing here,” Grandma Yin cried in astonishment, and to say she was taken aback by the reason for our appearance would be putting things mildly. When she had recovered her breath and considered matters she put her foot down. If Aunt Alice was willing to take responsibility for my mother, she would raise no objection to my mother taking the girls with her, but Ah-An must stay with her and somehow continue his education. In this regard, she was strongly supported by my grandfather who took a dim view of my chances of successfully starting a Chinese schooling three or four years behind my peers. Whatever I could achieve by staying in Amoy where Grandpa had some say was surely going to be better than what I could in the great unknown of Shanghai. I was truly at a cross-road of my life, and did not know it. If Grandpa said I should make a 180° turn, it was OK by me. That I was deserting my mother did not occur to me; that I was losing my mother affected me not a bit; I was back in the care of “An-mah”. In retrospect, it seems cruel to me that my grandparents had taken my mother’s son from her, and I believe that my mother agreed to give me up because she realized that my prospects would be better if I stayed with my grandfather, than if I had gone with her to Shanghai and relied on her sister’s charity. For Aunt Alice it must have been a great relief and shortly afterwards, my mother and sisters left with her to resume their journey to Shanghai. There’s no telling what could have happened to me if I had gone with them.

I have no clear picture of what happened to my mother after she arrived in Shanghai. I believed she stayed with my Aunt Alice only a short while and returned with my sisters to stay with Grandma Yin at Aurora and in Macau. When I was 14 Grandma Yin visited Singapore and offered me a trip to China, to visit my mother in Macau and my Grandfather in Kulangsu. I found my mother living with my sisters in a rather bare rented house and on impulse asked my mother to come to Singapore with me; I would go to work I said and support her.. My mother had the good sense not to accept my proposal, but I imagine that in later years she was comforted by the remembrance of it. When Grandma Yin somehow persuaded my mother to let her take my sisters to Singapore, my mother was left all alone. My mother died in 1942 during the Japanese occupation of China in circumstances I know not of. By that time, my Aunt Alice had left Shanghai for Hong Kong. Her son, Dr. Francis Wong, became a specialist in Opthalmology.
*1t is customary in Chinese families for the children to thus greet their elders when visiting them, and on departure to say, for example, ‘Grandmother, I am going.’ To receive our elders when they visit us, we would say, ‘Grandmother, you have come’ and when they leave, we would say, ‘Grandmother, walk slowly. ‘ I think these greetings are more meaningful than the western, ‘Hello’ and ‘goodbye’.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Lim Kok Ann and Sister Mimi
1.7 Kho Leng’s family: My sisters, Ah-Lay, Ah-Jin and Mimi
I was not the only child my parents brought to Singapore, for they had two daughters before they left Amoy, named Alice Ee-Lay and Eugenia Ee-Jin. Another daughter was born to them not long after they had settled in Singapore. While the two older daughters were named by Grandma Yin, the youngest was called “Baby”, and later “Mimi”. But things were not going well for my mother.

Violet was the youngest in her family and had been spared house-hold duties. Thus, she did not have proper instruction in household or husband management before she was married. Her upbringing was rather Victorian Christian and although she had four children, I don’t think marital relationships much appealed to her. She did not have any friends either in Amoy or in Singapore and I guess she was lonely, and she tended to nag. The sum of it was that my father was uncomfortable at home and even in our early days in Singapore he was a frequent visitor of Gaw Khek Khiam who lived in a house opposite where we stayed in Newton Road. I came to know this years later when I became acquainted with Khek Khiam’s brother Gaw Kek Chiew. After we moved from Newton Road my father would visit his “Club” to play mahjong.

Sai Soo (Kho Leng’s second wife)
I am not sure how it was arranged but soon after we came to Singapore my father apparently decide to take another wife. Perhaps he felt this was preferable to playing the field as some of his business colleagues did, and perhaps he felt he needed a diversion from what he encountered when he went home. “Sai Soo” was the name of the young lady whom he acquired, together with her maid and her “mama”. She was only fifteen and they were her family. I do not know how my mother came to know of her husband’s affair, but it was not something he could keep from her because when my father was transferred to Penang he established two households for his families and was probably staying more nights in his second house than in his first house.

I was quite unaware of my father’s domestic arrangements until I joined my parents in Penang in 1930. My mother and I and my sisters lived in a house off Burmah Road and I walked to the Anglo-Chinese School in Prangin Road where I was in Standard 3. There was a sundry-grocer’s store at the corner where our lane joined Burmah Road and I was delighted to find a collection of magazines that the shop-keeper’s children had accumulated. These were weekly magazines of adventure stories, featuring Simon Templar, aka the Saint. I believe that I then read the original early novels of Leslie Charteris (son of S.C.Yin, my Ji Ku-Kong), such as “The Four Just Men”, when the Saint had a girl friend named Patricia HoIm.

I had not noticed that my father did not come home some nights, but I became curious when he came home after work one evening on a rickshaw, had some words with my mother, then went off again. I suppose my mother could have accepted the situation and put up with the fact that her husband had taken a second wife, as not a few Chinese men did in those days, but her Christian back­ground and “modern” up-bringing made her feel wronged and she decided to “go home to mother”. I don’t think she was capable of thinking out the consequences and all she wanted was to leave the scene of her humiliation. I don’t think she had any savings and my father was probably not over generous with housekeeping money for her in view of her poor management skills and his own commitments. Ingenuously, my mother sought the help of a senior Lim in the Penang community, probably thinking of him as a clan leader who could make her husband do what she wanted.

Lim Cheng Ean was indeed a pillar of the Penang Chinese community. He was a lawyer who had been appointed to the Penang Legislative Council and had gained some fame because he had the temerity of resigning from the Council in protest against some measure the Colonial Government had introduced. In the 1930s, Penang was a Crown Colony like Singapore and together with Malacca, Dindings and Labuan comprised the Straits Settlements administered directly by the Colonial Secretary from London. His local commander was the Governor whose office was in Singapore. For the day to day running of the colony, the Governor was assisted by an Executive Council comprising the heads of the government departments and advised by a Legislative Council comprising certain officials and leaders of the local community appointed by the Governor to represent the governed. Penang, which was older than Singapore, had its own Legislative Council, and it was considered a great honour to be appointed a member. I don’t know what colonial law Cheng Ean cavilled at, but he created quite a stir when he resigned in protest, a thing that just was not done.

It was perhaps not the best advice that my mother could have got when she went to Cheng Ean’s house to pour out her woes to Mrs. Cheng Ean. This lady was one of the Hoalims, a family of Chinese immigrants in Trinidad, West Indies. She had been educated in England and had a strong character, standing up for women’s rights of which there were not many in those days. and it was natural that Mrs. Cheng Ean gave my mother a sympathetic hearing, and urged her husband to help my mother in every way possible – which led to my ‘kidnapping’.

1.6 Straits Settlements
I was about seven when my father took his family to Singapore, the Eldorado of Chinese southerners. We lived for some time in Newton Road with Chew Lian Seng who had married one of Grandma Yin’s numerous nieces. I had my first lessons in English at a preparatory school in Gentle Road, and after that entered the Anglo-Chinese School in Fort Canning Rise, off Armenian Street, being admitted to Standard One. In pre-war days the school system had nine “standards”, Standard Eight being a class in preparation for the Cambridge Junior Examination, and Standard Nine being in preparation for the Cambridge Senior Examination, examinations that were set and marked by Cambridge University, a tradition continued in our present A and 0 level examinations. These two overseas examinations were very prestigious, and the respective classes were also known as Junior Cambridge and Senior Cambridge classes.

My father’s first job in Singapore was with the Ho Hong Bank where Seow Poh Leng was a manager, and who used to remark of the confusion arising from phone calls for Poh Leng and Kho Leng. Seow Poh Leng, of course, was the father of your Grandma Rosie. As a junior manager, it was my father’s lot to be sent on tours of the Ho Hong Bank’s branches in Malaya, and he was soon off to Malacca, Ipoh and Penang. It happened that Grandma Yin was visiting Singapore about this time, for the purpose of putting Uncle Peng Han and Aunt Ena through English schools as they were to be sent to England for further studies. I was put in the care of Grandma Yin in my father’s absence and for a while we stayed in the house of Tan Chay Yan in Leonie Hill Road (which is to be distinguished from the road named Leonie Hill). We then moved to 348 River Valley Road where I lived on and off for over ten years.

Because my father was constantly moving, I never stayed in one school for long, but shuttled between the Anglo-Chinese Schools in Singapore and Penang. I remember these movements in relation to my schooling: Std.1-2, Singapore; Std.3, Penang; Std.4, Singapore; Std.5, Penang; Std.6 to Senior, Singapore. It was well that my schooling was not disturbed in the later years and I was able to get some good results. Two or three encounters I had in the early years had great influence on my later life.

Scouts and Chess
When I was in Std. 1, I lived in River Valley Road, and occasionally visited Tan Hock Chuan, an ACS teacher who lived in 119 Killiney Road. Hock Chuan was a member of the Magicians Club and used to thrilled us with his sleight-of-hand magic tricks. In his house one day, I came across two books, the like of which I had never seen before! These were two bound volumes of “Boys Own Paper” and “Scouting” magazines each comprising a whole year’s issues, approximately A4 size and 10 cm thick. Seeing how engrossed I was with these books, Hock Chuan said I could take them home. He never asked for them back, and I believe I took them with me when I went to join my parents in Penang, and from reading these great volumes, I gained a love of reading (adventure stories) and a love for scouting (in theory). I had never read before any book other than my schoolbooks which I usually read from cover to cover in the first week of school and the two books Hock Chuan gave me were the first books I ever had. That many of the words were strange to me did not bother me, I just guessed at their meanings or passed them over. One word that I mis-guessed was the word “revolver”. This occurred in the text of a caption to an illustration which said words to the effect. “X showed them his revolver and said, “There’s a bullet for each of you...”. The cartoon showed two boys being threatened by a ruffian who held in his hand what seemed to me a lotus root cut across to show six seed pods. What was threatening about a lotus root mystified me, so I had to pass over the scene as well as the meaning of “bullet” but this did not spoil my enjoyment of the story of which I have no recollection whatsoever. Hock Chuan’s generosity left a deep impression of me and in later life I have always tried to be generous with book loans to young people, considering book gifts as investments for their future.

I joined the Boy Scouts when I was in Std. 3 in Penang, but such activity has to be nurtured and when I came to Singapore for my Std.4, I lost touch, and did not go back to scouting until I reached Std.6 in Singapore. I became a King’s Scout and a Patrol Leader and after leaving school, a Rover Scout. In my undergraduate days, I was scoutmaster of a church scout troop in Edinburgh, and when I was teaching in Singapore University, I was Rover Scout Leader of an University Rover Crew! The latter was largely on the initiative of Foo Keong Tatt, later a surgeon in GH.

My uncle Say Koo
When I was in Std. 6, I had the good fortune of being put up by Aunt Ena who had been to England where she studied music and singing. and had married Teh Say Koo, a Cambridge graduate. Uncle Say Koo was a Queen’s Scholar and a Chartered Accountant who served the OCBC (Oversea­ Chinese Banking Corporation) for many years. My father was not in Singapore at that time and Aunt Ena kindly agreed to take me into her house in Gentle Road. Say Koo had a great library of books on chess and adventure stories by Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson, and others. His chess books, however, made an indelible mark in my memory for I read avidly the great chess masters of the day: Capablanca: Chess Fundamentals, Nimzowitsch: Mv System and Chess Praxis, Alekhine: Best Games (two volumes), Reti:Art of Combination, and perhaps others, all these in 1933! Say Koo and I played many games of chess, but we stopped playing when I started to beat him. I now believe that it was not because he did not like losing, but perhaps because I was insufferable when winning, not knowing any manners. I had to find chess partners outside the home.

The Singapore Chess Club at that time met in the Adelphi Hotel and I visited it a few times but little boys were not encouraged, especially as it was customary for the players to order refreshments, and I could not afford Adelphi prices. On a visit to the SCRC (Straits Chinese Recreation Club) in what is now known as Hong Lim Green, I met Lee Geok Eng who invited me to play chess with him. When I started to beat him blind-fold, he stopped playing with me. In later years, Geok Eng’s children, Chye Seng and Mau Seng, played a lot of chess with me. I could not find anyone else to play chess with at the SCRC though I found in one of the display cupboards a Lim Boon Keng Challenge Trophy for chess that was donated in 1912. The SCRC did not hold any competitions and I don’t know what happened to the trophy when the club disappeared after the Japanese occupation.

But, what I learned from Say Koo was something else more important than chess. He taught me how to swot - to sit down and grind through my studies until I had mastered my school-work, for he “tutored” me, as it were. Actually, I had learned the art of memorising my school texts in the Chinese tradition, in my few years in primary school in Amoy, so memorising vital bits of academic lore was not difficult for me. Say Koo also taught me mathematics, which I enjoyed very much, especially after reading Holbein’s (?) “Mathematics for the Millions”, so much so that I ventured to take “Advanced Maths” as an examination subject although the ACS was not well off for maths teachers. Eventually, I offered Advanced Maths as a supplementary subject that was not in the ACS curriculum, and scored a B in my Senior Cambridge Examinations. But this was long after I had left Say Koo’s house.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

1.4 My father Walter (Kho Leng)

All the above took place when my father was still studying abroad, and I must have been about three or four when he returned after taking a B.A. and a B.Com at Edinburgh University. It was my father’s misfortune that during his schooldays the Queen’s Scholarship was in abeyance and not restored until 1924, for it was quite likely that he would have won the scholarship had he had the chance, when his life would have been very different. He had wanted to be a doctor, but not having the funds to take the long medical course, had taken the shorter arts course. As an extra, and because he wanted to study under his older brother, my father studied Histology as an optional, a rare one for an Arts student. Grandma Yin sent my mother to Hong Kong to meet my father’s boat on his return and they returned together to live for a while at Aurora. We then moved to Amoy to stay in the staff quarters of the University, an apartment in a block of terrace houses about a kilometre behind the University.

My father’s dearest wish was to study medicine but he had to make do with the least amount of money he could get so he took an Arts course and graduated in three years with M.A. and B.Com. And on his return he served Amoy University for two or three years as Professor of English and Mathematics. I imagine he must have taught in English as a foreign lecturer would do. Before he left Edinburgh my father asked Grandma Yin to send him £300, a huge sum in those days. Thinking he was in some trouble, she wired him the money and later was chagrined to learn he used it to buy books. He kept these books in his own library and in later years I made some use of them when I was studying English Lit in school. One book that made a great impression on me was “The Tragedies of Shakespeare,” by Lafcado Hearn, professor of English at Tokyo University.

My father took the job at Amoy University partly out of a sense of gratitude towards Tan Kah Kee who had paid for his studies. He was an academic kind of person and might have remained at Amoy University and enjoyed life as a professor but for two things. The first was that it was being said that Boon Kong was making the University his own by urging that a medical faculty be established so that he could bring Robert Lim from Peking (Beijing) to Amoy, and he already had one son on the campus. The second was that my mother was harping (so I was told later) on the gold lying about in the streets of Singapore waiting to be picked up. My mother had not been comfortable living with a strong minded mother-in-law, with her son always running off to grandma, and she might have felt she wanted to put some distance between herself and her mother-in-law. I think I was closest to my mother when we lived at Amoy University, but I never reached any degree of intimacy with my father. I was rather wilful and not subject to discipline by my mother because I was getting protection from my grandmother. My father probably got caught in the middle between the two women and disciplined me rather severely when he felt I had to be controlled. Thus, I considered my father a stern parent and I don’t think he ever addressed me in terms of endearment, and neither did my mother, now I come to think of it. It was probable that both subconsciously thought of me as a burden to be borne, he, as the price of going abroad to study, and she, as the cost of being a women.

1.3 Family at Aurora

Besides my grandmother and grandfather, my mother and myself other residents at Aurora were my Aunt Ena (Guat Kheng), Uncle Peng Han and Uncle Peng Thiam, when he was home from Chip Bee, a secondary school which took in boarders, and of course, servants. Aunt Ena (8th Aunt) and Uncle Peng Han (11th Uncle) were Grandma Yin’s children. Uncle Peng Thiam (12th Uncle) was an adopted child, adopted by Grandma Yin, on behalf of Grand-uncle Bok Keng, my grandfather’s second elder brother who died without issue. There must have been others who lived at Aurora, various cousins and aunts, from time to time, but I have no recollection of them.

I was the youngest of the children about the house and naturally tagged around with them and the focus of my life was Grandma Yin rather than my mother. I called Grandma Yin “An-mah”, which was Amoynese for grandmother, the term for mother being “Ah-ma”, or “ma-ma”. It was told that when Uncle Peng Han - then eight years old - understood that I was on the way, he exclaimed, “It must be a boy so that he can play football with me.” Young children probably feel where the power lies and I was looking to my “An-mah” rather than my “Ma-ma” as my provider. And this was perhaps one of the things that alienated my mother from her mother-in-law. In Aurora, Grace Pekha was the matriarch who ruled the household strictly and rather frugally, except where Peng Han and myself were concerned.

Oranges and Lemons

Grandma Yin was a member of the board of governors of the Kulangsu Kindergarten, may have been Chairperson even, and she took me with her when she visited the kindergarten one day. The kids were playing “oranges and lemons*” in the hall and I joined them enthusiastically.

*Two kids, who are the captains, hold hands to form an arch and the other kids pass in line under the arch, and in time to music. When the music stops the arch comes down and the kid who happens to be caught leaves the line and takes his place behind one of the captains. When the line is exhausted, the two lines behind the respective captains play a tug—of—war.

When I was “caught” I showed my indignation by bawling lustily. The principal was amused and remarked that I was a lively child, whereupon Grandma Yin casually asked, ”Would you take him in?” . Caught on the wrong foot, the principal said “Why not?” then as an after-thought, asked, “How old is he?”. She was taken aback when Grandma Yin replied, “Two and a half years old”, but it was too late for the principal to go back on her word and I was duly enrolled.

I remember being carried, pick-a-back, by my amah (maid-servant) to the kindergarten which was about a hundred metres down the road from our back-door. What I learned, I have no recollection of but I recall clearly one escapade. Having learned how to go to the “wee-wee” by myself, after one such mission one day, I tarried on the way back to the class-room, peeping out of the main-door at the convicts sweeping the street. I then took it into my head to go home and wandered into our kitchen by the back-door. The servants must have thought I had a half-day and gave me a hot drink (there is always some rice gruel around) and I put my head down on the kitchen table and went to sleep.

Meanwhile, my class-room teacher reported to the principal that I had disappeared, and after a vain search of the kindergarten premises, called my grandma to ask if she had taken me home without telling them. Pandemonium! “Ann-ah* has been kidnapped!”, was her first thought. In those days, kidnapping for ransom or for sale abroad was not uncommon. In the middle of the hullabaloo, the maid came upstairs to see what the fuss was about. On hearing that I had gone astray she blurted out, “But, he’s sleeping on the kitchen table!”

In 1990, nearly 70 years afterwards, I visited Kulangsu and unerringly found my way from the kitchen door to the site of the kindergarten, now a primary school.

*My name is pronounced rhyming with “Tan”, and I was called ’Ah-Ann’, or by the diminutive, ‘Ann-ah’, or even as ‘Ah--Ann-ah’.
Pu-loh Pu-loh
Another childhood incident I recall was when our neighbour Mrs. Wong came visiting with a little girl. She was interested in the fish visible through the side of our aquarium, so I volunteered to catch one for her. It did not take much effort for me to fall into the fish-tank and there was quite a fuss before I was pulled out When Mrs. Wong asked me how I felt in the water, I replied, ‘Pu-lo, pu-­lo”, meaning “Float (up), and down”. Since then Mrs, Wong referred to me as “Pu-lo, pu-lo”. I wonder where the young lady went, but I met Mrs. Wong in Singapore, after the war and she still called me, “Pu-lo, pu-lo.” Her family owned Amoy Canning Co.