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 When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography.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

1:12 Scouting

About 1932-33 when I was in Std. 6 or Std. 7, my father rented one of the houses in Cairnhill Road, at first on the stretch not far from Caimhll Circle then at the corner of what is now No.126 Cairnhill Road, an Arts Centre. The Anglo-Chinese Secondary School was located on a hill and set back from Cairnhill Road. The school had three storeys with the Senior Cambridge class on the top storey, a very superior location. Our favourite teacher was C.B. Paul who taught us Latin and Religious Knowledge. He was also the Senior Scoutmaster of the A.C.S .Scouts, minding the Scouts and Wolf Cubs of the various divisions of the school. The Scoutmaster of our Scout Troop was a fine fellow named Kwee Hai who was killed by the Japanese when they occupied Singapore, along with other Scouts that I knew.

One day, C.B. Paul invited the scouts to his house for a picnic and in the middle of our festivities he called us together to show us something. “Look boys,” he said, holding up a glass tumbler in his hand, “Unbreakable!”. With that Paul dashed the glass on the concrete floor, causing the tumbler to shatter into smithereens. We looked at Paul to learn what was so wonderful about his act and the look of bewilderment on his face was something I shall never forget. “But, but,” stuttered Paul, “they said it was unbreakable”. The glass was actually splinter-proof, not break-proof, and indeed, the glass had shattered into tiny fragments that were less likely to cause injuries than glass splinters - a precursor of the car window glass of today. Paul had not read the small print.

The Singapore Boys Scouts Association had the use of a piece of land that belonged to Mr. Wing Loong, the tailor, at the 11th mile Changi Road not far from Changi Prison, and where a camp site named Purdy Camp was established. Camping was what Scouting was all about and I “camped” frequently on hohdays and week-ends at Purdy Camp, making the journey on my trusty bicycle. I was rather disappointed at first to find that instead of tents, we had to use huts that were no more than low atap-roofed shelters without walls, and to sleep on wooden mattresses instead of on ground-sheets on the turf, as described in scouting books. Ready-to-use huts, equipped with mosquito nets, were more convenient than tents and we were able to set about the business of scouting as soon as we arrived in camp and unpacked our back-packs.

Camp-life consisted of swimming at the near-by beach, “hikes” through the neighbouring rubber estates, scout games, and of course, cooking. We took the opportunity to learn how to pass various Scout Proficiency tests for Scout badges, such as cooking, swimming, life-saving, signalling, rescuing. Some scouts I knew of were very professional about earning badges of which there were some 70 in number. For winning 12 badges one gained a Green and Yellow shoulder cord, for more badges, a Red cord or a Gold cord. In addition, if the badges included a number of public services badges such as Ambulance man, Fireman, Signaller, one became a King’s Scout. Being King’s Scout with Gold and Yellow cord was as far as I ever got. Though I had quite a number of hobbies, I had sense, even then, to understand that getting a badge for being an expert in one’s hobby could be a deserving distinction, but learning up a dozen hobbies so as to earn badges was not what they were meant to promote.
The routine of camp-life was most enjoyable for me. The scout unit was a patrol of about eight boys led by a Patrol Leader. As soon as we had un-packed, the work of settling down was divided between the patrol members. One party had to sweep out the hut and clean the environments of the hut and the incinerator. The patrol cook constructed his kitchen in a roped off area, his stove usually being a few bricks on which to rest his pot. Some scouts went into the nearby rubber estate to collect firewood. I recall we had piped water for cooking, but I forget what our bathing and latrine arrangements were. I never got tired of our camp cuisine though it was naive in the extreme. Rice, of course, with main course of corned-beef stew with cabbage. Pilchards in tomato sauce, straight from the tin, omelette with onions, and Chinese sausage as a luxury. Some scouts indulged in chilli sauce, but I never cared for the hot stuff. The rudiments of cooking that I learned in camp stood me in good stead when I did for myself as a student in Edinburgh. It was strange that in the scout camp most of our diet was based on “iron rations” (tinned food) eked out with cabbage and onions, but perhaps this was natural as we had to bring all our rations with us to camp. We could have bought chicken, fish and prawns in the nearby villages, but we never did. Innocence!

Baden-Powell, a British hero of the Boer War and successful defender in the siege of Mafeking, founded the Boys Scouts movement in 1910 to give the children of the British working class something better to do then to hang about in the inner city. His role models for them were the Mafeking ‘scouts’, children who resourcefully ran errands for him in the defence of Mafeking. As a youth movement the Boy Scouts captured the imagination of the world. Though it had its drills and para-military formations, the Scouts were essentially a movement for peace because it stood for the universal brotherhood of man. In Singapore, the Scouts were mostly the children of the middle class and generally well off. The children of the poor had no time for such frivolities. I did not understand the social aspects of the Boy Scouts until I volunteered to be a Scoutmaster of a church scout troop when I was a student in Edinburgh and learned something of the background of the working class homes my scouts came from. I am convinced that I owe much of my success in life to what I learned in the Boy Scouts. It was one of the benefits of being a British Colony.

A great event for the Singapore Scouts in the 1930s was the Australian Jamboree of 1934 when I was a member of the Singapore contingent of a dozen or so scouts, led by Canon Sorby Adams of St. Andrew’s School. Among other members of our party were the brothers Ong Swee Keng and Ong Swee Law who became great friends of mine. Another was Yahya Cohen who became one of the senior surgeons in the Singapore General Hospital. The Jamboree was a camp in the outskirts of Melbourne where we made friends with scouts from other parts of the world. I was one of the youngest in our party - Yahya was the youngest, I believe. Our tour was by ship from Singapore to Perth, Western Australia; by train from Perth to Melbourne; then by ship again from Melbourne, via Sidney and Sourabaya back home. I don’t think I learned much from the trip.

1:10 Oldham Hall

For a little while, Grandma Yin toyed with the idea that I should continue schooling in Kulangsu where there was a school by the name of Anglo-Chinese School (sic). A visit to the school showed that it was a Chinese type of school and whatever was “anglo” about it would not suit me. It was decided that I should return to Singapore to continue my education. From some sense of delicacy my Grandmother decided that it would not be seemly to return me to Penang to stay with “the other woman”, so she decided that I should go to boarding school in Singapore.

At this time, my grandparents were living alone in Aurora as both Aunt Ena and Uncle Peng Han were studying in England. Exploring the numerous drawers in Aurora, I came across a Meccano set which fascinated me so much that I adopted it as my own. “Meccano” was a child’s construction kit consisting of perforated metal strips and angle-pieces of various lengths, nuts and bolts, rods, wheels that doubled as pulleys and gears which were the most wonderful of all. The skill that I developed in using a screw-driver has stood me in good stead all my life and made me a useful handyman. I also got a good idea of mechanics, which was the idea behind Meccano.

Grandma Yin had a niece in Singapore whom I called Auntie Chui Geok. She was a qualified dentist named professionally as Dr. Grace Chen and who was married to a unregistered dentist named Yeo Jin Bang. The Yeos ran a dental surgery in Hill Street opposite the Fire Brigade Station, but they lived in Thomson Road where they shared a large compound house in Thomson Road with a Lee family. I had visited Aunt Chui Geok’s house earlier when I stayed with Grandma Yin on one of her visits to Singapore especially on the occasions when Mr. Lee showed the films of which he was the distributing agent. On such occasions, the Yeo and Lee children, numbering over a dozen or so and I would sit or lie on the verandah floor and watch the screening on a bed-sheet of first run movies such as Ben Hur, Ten Cornmandments, The BlackPirate, Don Q, Three Musketeers, Our Gang, and other classics to be, that featured Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and so on. In those days, I did not notice the names of the female leads!

It was only natural that Aunt Chui Geok would take charge of me when I returned to Singapore (with a Meccano set) and she duly re-enrolled me in the Anglo-Chinese School in Armenian Street and arranged for me to stay at the Oldham Hall, the Methodist boarding school in Barker Road. From Barker Road I could walk through Chancery Lane to Thomson Road to visit Auntie Chui Geok’s house.

Oldham Hall was for boys only and quite a number of the boarders were from Christian communities in Indonesia, notably the Bataks. A bus took us to school in Armenian Street and brought us back for lunch after school. After a rest period, we did our home work, then broke for games or play before dinner at seven. We were supervised by a house-master, a teacher in some mission school, and who led us in singing grace before dinner. Although my mother was a professed Christian and taught me sporadically to say prayers at bed-time, I don’t recall ever being taken to church or Sunday school and it was at Oldham Hall that I learned the forms of Christian worship: saying grace before dinner and going to church on Sundays. The school bus took us every Sunday to Wesley Church where the pastor was Hobart Amstutz. I don’t know if the preaching was different in those days, but I never learned what Christianity was about: Original Sin and the need for salvation and how Jesus saves. Nor did I learn until forty years later, that we should glorify, God in everything that we do.

The great thing I did learn at Oldham Hall was how to read quickly. After discovering Raffles Library in the corner of Armenian Street and Stamford Road, I got permission to visit the Library after school instead of taking the bus back. There was a Junior section, but I soon sought out the senior section which was located in what was later the Art Museum. To say I devoured the books that I found is somewhat of an exaggeration, but not too far from the truth. Not knowing what to select, I just sampled the shelves from A to Z and read the authors whose styles were to my liking. Thus I read Agatha Christie at one end and PC. Wren at the other, and did not overlook H. Rider Haggard in the middle. All adventure stories, reviving my taste for what I bad cultivated when I read “Boys Own Paper” some years back, and Leslie Charteris not too long ago. I would start reading the book of my choice the moment I left the library and while walking back to Oldham Hall. My route was up Stamford Road to Tank Road, at that time a railway yard, cut across Orchard Road and follow the railway track along what is now Clemenceau Avenue to the rail station at Newton where the rail tracks turned north on the east side of Bukit Timah canal. I think Dunearn Road already existed then as a minor road, and I walked along it to Oldham Hall. More often than not, I would have finished reading my book by then and could start doing my homework. I cannot recollect what grades I got, but it was nothing wonderful. I do not remember anyone I got acquainted with at Oldham Hall

1:11 Ah Ee
My father paid my expenses at the boarding school and sent me pocket money regularly, but at the end of my year at Oldham Hall he sent for me to come to Penang. I did not understand what my father’s domestic arrangements were. In a vague way, I knew he had taken a second wife, but I was given to understand that this was not quite regular. According to my quasi-Christian up-bringing my father could not marry a second time while my mother was still alive, and I resented the woman who had displaced my mother in my father’s household. I was told to address Sai Soo as “Ah Ee” which I did with poor grace and it must have been a great burden for Sai Soo to have to look after a sullen adolescent. To her credit, Sai Soo treated me very well, and I never had cause to complain of being treated as a “step-child”.

Sai Soo bore my father six children, three girls and three boys whom my father named, respectively, Margaret, after his mother, naturally, Robert, after his adored older brother, Edward, after the King who had been, Grace, after his second mother, George after the King who was, and Lucy. I don’t know who Lucy was named after, but I remembering going on my bicycle in the early morning for the mid-wife when she was born so perhaps she was named after the dawn.