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 When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography.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

Friday, May 30, 2008

1: 15 Mimi saved

One fine day Grandma Yin turned up with Mimi. She must have been about five years old then, and had been left with Grandma Yin in Kulangsu because she had been unwell and unable to accompany my mother on one of her trips. Grandma Yin had taken the chance to return Mimi to my father’s care because she could see that my mother could not cope with three children to look after. Whether she had consulted my mother about removing Mimi from her custody I do not know, and I doubt it. Nevertheless, from some sense of delicacy, Grandma Yin did not quite like the idea of placing Mimi in my father’s house to be looked after by his “second wife”, and arranged for Mimi to be fostered by a friend of Aunt Ena. In this way it could be put to my mother that Mimi had accompanied Grandma Yin to Singapore because there was no one to look after her in Kulangsu, and Mimi was being taken care of by Aunt Ena on Grandma’s behalf well, actually by Ena’s friend. Grandma Yin always tried to avoid doing anything that did not look nice. Aunt Ena’s friend that took in Mimi was Mrs. Ooi Khye Tuan, the wife of a lawyer who was originally from Penang and had won a Queen’s Scholarship about the same time as Uncle Say Koo, which was how they got to know each other. Khye Tuan’s wife was an English lady named Cinders, after Cinderella, and as they had no children after having been married ten years or more, was quite willing to lake in a Chinese-speaking waif of good family in unfortunate circumstances. The Oois then lived in Cairnhill Road a few doors away from where my father and I were living. Some years later, when my father moved to 348 River Valley Road, the Oois also moved, and by a coincidence, they moved to a house next to ours across an empty lot. By that time, Cinders thought it appropriate to regularise her relationship with Mimi and asked my father to let her formally adopt Mimi. I believe my father was reluctant to do so, but as Grandma Yin by then had brought my other sisters Be-Lay and Ee-Jin out of China and placed them in his care in River Valley Road, he agreed with good grace since he had children enough in his house. Be-Lay and Ee-Jin went to Chinese school and though we lived in the same house I saw little of them.

1:13 Ong Swee Keng and Swee Law
After the Jamboree I started to visit Swee Law and Swee Keng’s house in Claymore Road to play. Although they were a year ahead of me in school they were my first play-mates and it was from them that I learned how to play ping-pong. cricket and hockey. They had a small garden in which we would practice bowling (cricket) but even with great restraint it was inevitable that the occasional ball would rebound rather forcefully from the straight bat and hit a flower-pot. We would then hear the voice of Swee Keng’s father saying plaintively, “Keng, I told you to be careful,” and our penitent reply, “Sorry, pa”, followed by the tactful pulling of stumps to end practice for the day. I spent a great deal of my spare time in Claymore Road and received much kindness from Mr. and Mrs. Ong Hong Keat, Keng and Law’s parents.

Besides cricket, I also learned to play tennis from the Ong brothers. There was no tennis court at Claymore Road, but we would visit their class-mate Goh Keng Swee who lived in (South) Buona Vista Road, on the land side of the Gap. I never got anywhere with tennis but Keng Swee and I hit it off in chess, comparing notes on Nimzowitsch, Capablanca and Alekhine. In later years, Keng Swee became Singapore’s Minister of Finance (and held other portfolios as well) and was the master architect of Singapore’s successful economy.

Swee Law had a small collection of “classical” records which started me on music appreciation, all self-taught. I remember being very impressed by the rendering of Chopin’s Nocturne No.2 by Maria Wolzeskawa in voice, and did not know until years later that the original was a piano piece. Another unforgettable was Rossini’s William Tell Overture. They were HMV 78 rpm records played on a electric record player, not exactly hi-fi, but much better than the acoustic hand wound gramophone generally in use then.

Swee Keng was my Patrol Leader and a rather special friend. He was the older brother by a year, but due to a childhood accident, lost a year’s schooling and finished school the same year as Swee Law. Keng went to Raffles College to study Arts and became a teacher while Swee Law went to the Medical College and became a general practitioner. After the Japanese occupation Keng studied law in London and entered the legal profession. Swee Law’s scout training led him to volunteer for community service in which he distinguished himself. For several years Law was the Chairman of the Public Utilities Board which took over the functions of the Municipal Council. Before anyone awoke to what was happening, Swee Law persuaded the newly-fledged PAP government to acquire some back-lane area in District 9 for the PUB which property is now worth double digit millions. Later, Law was given the task of organizing the Singapore Zoo which he made into one of the best in the world, and where we saw the Scout Law, “A Scout is kind to animals” at work. I sort of lost touch with Keng and Law when I returned to Singapore after the Occupation but a re-union with Keng took place when in later years Keng became a Christian an d joined my prayer group.

1:14 Gaw Synn Ghee

Because I shuttled between Penang and Singapore in my early years at school I did not make any firm friends until I reached Std.6 where the only class-mate I was intimate with was Gaw Synn Ghee who occupied a desk next to mine. He was not so smart in Maths (though a whizz in Religious Knowledge) and when I found he lived only a couple of blocks from where I was living, I volunteered to visit his home and show him round the equations. Synn Ghee’s parents lived in Java and he and his brother Synn Laye lived with Mr. Gaw Khek Chiew, their father’s brother, in Cairnhill Circle. When Khek Chiew learned that I was the son of Lim Kho Leng he told me that my father used to visit his brother Khek Khiam in Newton Road and invited me to make myself at home in his house.
The Gaw’s were members of the Oei Tiong Ham family which had strong Indonesian connections and whose fortunes were based on sugar. The family house was, in fact, just up the road from Khek Chiew’s house at the site now occupied by the Cairnhill Hotel. Khek Chiew appreciated very much the help I was giving Synn Ghee and gave me a good camera when I went to the Jamboree. His hobby was photography and he taught me how to develop and print my own pictures in his own dark room.

Soon after I came to know them the Khek Chiews moved to Sarkies Road near Newton Circus and I continued to visit them there though Synn Ghee was taking Maths tuition from a proper teacher. The Gaw’s were devout Christians, especially Mrs. Gaw, and worshipped at the Bethesda Church in Bras Basah Road. I did not take to their form of worship which included baptism by immersion and cries of “Hallelujah” during the service. In fact, it was rather like the charismatic form of worship that I learned forty years later. On occasions, I would join them in family prayers whenever I happened to be present, it was a practice that I had not heard of among Wesley Church members, but then, I did not know any family that belonged to Wesley Church. My grandmother Yin used to take me to worship at the Telok Ayer Methodist Church though she professed to be a Presbyterian but I have no recollection of what took place there, probably because she attended the Chinese (Amoynese) language services. My mother taught me how to say prayers in a simple sort of way, but Grandma Yin never prayed with me. Later I learned that my mother became a follower of John Sung, the evangelist, and often travelled to hear him speak at revival meetings in China, accompanied by my sisters, but that was after I had left my mother and no evangelist message got to me.