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 When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography.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 01, 2008

3.5 Family, Oberon 1947 - 53

My friendship with Chong Eu was strengthened by a name exchange when our wives each delivered a son in 1948, mine the second, named Su Chong by Grandma Yin, and Chong Eu’s his first, named Cheng Ann after General Cheng Ch’eng and his old buddy. In choosing Su Chong’s name, Grandma Yin changed the name Su Min into Su Ming and the meaning into Su, “to think”,and Ming, “clearly”, thus meaning to think clearly. The variation Su Chong (thinking wisdom) then comes naturally because there is a common phrase ”Chong Ming”, meaning a brilliant fellow. Su Min would have none of that however, and soon reverted to his proper given name of Su Min (saviour of the people) which was more out-going. The subtlety is lost in the Romanized spelling of the names.

Bringing up three children was not sufficient occupation for Rosie as Amak had energy enough to manage all our lives. Rosie went back to college to take the Diploma in Education which she passed with flying colours in 1951 when Raffles College had become part of the Universitv of Singapore. At that time I was playing a lot of chess, having won, in 1949, the Singapore Championship organised by the Singapore Chess Club which met at the YMCA in Orchard Road. The Club had been running a Club Championship for some ycan for its members but I persuaded the Club to organize a championship open to all Singapore residents with the proviso that the title of Singapore Champion should be awarded only to a Singapore subject. At that time, Singapore was still a colony and not even a “state’; however, the event was the equivalent of a national championship which it eventually became. For the challenge Trophy I went to my grandfather as I recalled seeing a chess trophy named after him in the Singapore Chinese Recreation Club before the war. Grandmother Yin surprised me by pulling a large silver cup from a cupboard and giving it to me. It is I imagine, one of the most handsome challenge trophies in the world for a national championship and was made in sterling silver. I don’t know where she got the cup from, but I guess that it was an unredeemed pledge for some loan that she had made, probably in Amoy. I won the Cup again in 1962 and in 1968 and I look forward to playing in the golden jubilee of the Lim Boon Keng Cup in 1999!

When Rosie started teaching, armed with a Dip Ed, one of the schools to which she was assigned and from which I would fetch her was the Bartley Secondary School. I got the idea of arriving early so that I could conduct a chess class and made many young friends there, one of whom was Giam Choo Kwee, now an International Chess Master, and still playing strongly. That was not my first effort at teaching chess in schools for I had earlier coached the ACS chess team which included many who subsequently became doctors as was and is the trend for ACS boys.

I had not forgotten what Professor Sen had said, that “real bacteriologists “had to attend the London School of Hygiene course, and I found that my former professor had, before he was taken ill, officially proposed that I be given overseas leave to study in London. This proposal had been deferred when Hale came because he did not know of it and because he needed me to get the department into shape. Once Hale had found his bearings he gave some thought to strengthening his staff. His idea was to send me for a year to his old department where I could be trained in teaching and research as he was trained. When he learned that Sen had already recommended that I be sent to the School of Hygiene he fell in with the plan but further arranged that after I had completed the Dip Bact course I should spend six months in his old department in the University College Hospital Medical School (UCHMS).The University’s study leave plan provided that a staff member on more than six months study leave should be accompanied by his spouse, sad experience being that prolonged separation often led to marital problems.

So in September 1953 our little family, Papa, Mama, Sing Po, Su Min, Su Chong, and Amak (!) and her maid Mei Kin (!!) boarded the P&O liner Carthage for London. Amak paid the expenses of herself and the maid, though the maid was as much for my family’s benefit as for her own. Amak had, of course, been subsidizing my family at Oberon for I don’t remember having paid her anything, just accepting her generosity in return for allowing her to enjoy her grandchildren’s company. If Rosie ever paid Amak anything it could not have been much for Rosie was afraid to handle money and left financial matters to me. She did have her own bank account after she started to earn a salary, but I paid her income tax on the principle that what was mine was ours and what was hers was hers! This inverted housewife’s principle was my idea, not Rosie’s, for although she was frugal by nature Rosie did not have a mercenary thought in her head. Not once in her life did Rosie ask me to buy her jewellery or fine clothing but she did appreciate my effort when I bought her, un-asked, a half-carat solitaire diamond ring as soon as I could scrape up the money. It was nothing to compare with the one carat or one and half carat rings Amak’s mahjong friends displayed as they clicked the tiles, but it was given her by her Ann.

We rented a house with a garden in the district of Morden in south London on the direct underground train to Gower Street where the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (its full name) was located. The children attended a local school and Rosie registered as a student in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, fulfilling an undreamt-of ambition, for Rosie was a drama fanatic and had played stage parts on every occasion she could, from school, through college and later. She had never thought of going to drama school but being in London with me gave her the chance to get the professional training that RADA gave and it thrilled her no end to walk the halls where the great English players learned their craft. The best part of it was that RADA was also in Gower Street, right next door to the School of Hygiene, and it became our routine to take the train together to Gower Street in the morning, though we found our way home separately because my classes stopped at six o’clock while hers stopped earlier.


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