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 When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography.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 11, 2006

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.


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