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 When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography.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


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