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 When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography.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

Sunday, November 05, 2006

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.


Blogger Stella said...

I remember how dad used to tell us about the "oranges and Lemons" incident -- how the Children's hands came down "Chop!" to catch him -- then he'd demonstrate how he screwed up his baby face in alarm and indignation and let out a howl! Tothink he rmembered all that from the age of three years old! I was with him when he visited Kulangsu at the age of nearly eighty. From the gates of Aurora, his feet just seemed rto lead him down the road to a little school still exisiting there!

8:36 pm  
Blogger Stella said...

Dad used to tell about how he fell in the fish-tank -- he'd act as the little boy streaming with water, and stammering through his tears "pu-lo pu-lo"-- so funny!

8:47 pm  
Blogger Stella said...

I have on my bookshelf some Everyman's edition LIterature books, Euripedes and Sophocles and Goethe, with Walter Lim Kho Leng's name signed in them. The signature is dated 1931,so they must have been acquired after return to Singapore.

9:02 pm  

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