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 When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography.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 15, 2008

3: 11 Grand Old Man Passes

After my grandfather retired from the Amoy University in 1936, he lived in an old atap-roofed house on Paterson Hill, once the club house of the Magic Circle. The Japanese had given him a bad time during the Occupation and made him the chairman of the Overseas Chinese Association, on which account the Chinese government labelled him a collaborator. Because he had played an important role in the amalgamation, before the war, of four Chinese banks into the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation, the OCBC gave my grandfather a pension that enabled him to live in modest comfort. At the age of 87, on New Year’s Day, 1957, this Grand Old Man of Singapore, as he was often described by the press, passed away. I was in Penang on vacation and hastened back for the funeral.

Lim Boon Keng had been a free-thinker all his life and a Bahai in his later years but I was told that before he died Grandma Yin persuaded him to become a Christian. When I came to Paterson Hill I found a choir of Grandma Yin’s church people singing hymns around the coffin. My uncle Peng Han who lived in the same house was so incensed by the death-bed conversion that he kept away from the obsequies as much as he could. It would have been a great funeral in the Chinese traditional style but we had a relatively quiet Christian funeral. Lim Boon Keng was laid to rest in the Bidadari Christian Cemetery in upper Serangoon Road where subsequently Grandma Yin was also buried. Such a location was rare to come by and none in our family, not even Grandma Yin, had the foresight to make provision for it. However, Chew Lian Seng, a distant relative of Grandma Yin, came to our family’s rescue by giving her a plot in Bidadari he had kept for himself but possibly decided he did not need. I don’t think the Grand Old Man would have cared. When, once, we discussed religion, he quoted Confucius on this topic, “Not know life, how know death!”

Editor’s note: In the 2000’s Bidadari cemetery was cleared. Lim Boon Keng’s remains were exhumed and placed in a columbarium in Lim Chu Kang. The memorial stone was placed in a national Garden of Remembrance nearby.

My sister Ee-Jin had this story to tell: One day she found her young grand-daughter crying and asked her what was troubling her. “My school friend teased me,” said the little girl who was in primary school. “Tease you, how?” her grandmother asked. “We were looking at our history book,” my grand-niece said, “and I pointed to the picture of Lim Boon Keng, and I said ‘that’s my great-great-grandfather.” “Nothing wrong with that,” said my sister. “But”, said her grand-daughter, crying afresh, “my friend said, ‘I know, I know, Stamford Raffles, my great-great-grandfather!”

Lim Boon Keng was orphaned when young and stopped going to school so that he could try to earn a living. His teacher, Mr Hullett, however, sought him out and persuaded him to go back to school with financial assistance from Cheang Hong Lim (of Hong Lim Green). When my grandfather came to live in Emerald Hill, he named a road behind his house Hullett Road, in memory of his old teacher. Lim Boon Keng, himself, has Lim Boon Keng Road named after him.


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