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 When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography.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

1:10 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.


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