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 When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography.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, February 14, 2009

4:17 A place of one’s own.

Lim Chong Keat, Chong Eu’s younger brother, was an architect whose firm, Architects Team3 had won an international competition for the design of Jurong Town Council. One day he asked me if I would join him and a few others in building a small condominium in Pasir Pajang, not far from where the Haw Par Gardens was located. Rosie was most interested because she had always hankered after a sea-side dwelling. The government had recently proposed a superior 11DB development in Siglap plain but when we went to look over what we thought was the proposed site we had found Siglap plain on the landward side of East Coast Road and not on the sea-coast as we had hoped. In actuality, coastal reclamation was still taking place, and eventually the HDB executive flats were built in Marine Parade at Neptune Court, not far from where Titania Rosie’s former house had stood. After our initial disappointment we had not followed up the Siglap development and missed out on something Rosie wanted very much. Now Chong Keat’s proposal for a condominium to be named Starpoint was most attractive and seemed a chance at last for us to realize Rosie’s dream.

The condominium was to incorporate many of Chong Keat’s architectural ideas, the most striking of which was a hexagonal (or octagonal) design that enabled the greatest area to be enclosed by a given perimeter - a near circular as compared with a rectangular design. The snag was that it was difficult to fit ordinary furniture with right-angled corners into a building where the rooms had hexagonal joints. No matter, we scraped together the down-payment and took a mortgage for the rest. It was a fine concept that Chong Keat had and we felt privileged that he had invited us to join a small party often owners that included himself and his sister.

Starpoint had only ten storeys with an apartment on each floor, thus ensuring the maximum privacy. There was also a small swimming pool and a garden, but because there were so few owners, the maintenance cost was relatively high - most condominiums having about fifty owners. We rented out the apartment for a year or so and occupied it ourselves for a few weeks as a holiday jaunt, but we were disappointed when we found that reclamations had placed the sea-shore, once barely a hundred metres away, at a distance of over a kilometre. Chong Eu laughed when he heard of our concern at the high maintenance fees. “You are not qualified,” he said, “on your professor’s salary to live in a place like Starpoint.” We had to admit that Chong Kent’s style, elegant though it might be, was beyond our means, especially when thinking forward to my impending retirement from the university. We decided to sell Starpoint and look for another place.

After taking a wistful look at Marine Parade again, we cast about in the Tanglin area and found a nice apartment in Devonshire Court, in Killiney Road, almost adjacent to the Telecoms Centre. I had told Rosie that we should not take an apartment higher than the fifth floor because of the stairs we would have to climb in the event of a power failure. The view from the 10th floor apartment in Devonshire Court, right cross-country to Goldhill Towers in Thomson Road, was so wonderful that I told Rosie we should take it, never mind possible power failures. I did not realize until much later that the architect of Devonshire Court had been Chong Keat’s partner and that our newly acquired apartment had an octagonal style that created some problems in furnishing, though not as bad as in Starpoint. We moved into Devonshire Court in 1978 with Sing Yuen, the only chick left in the nest, and not too soon, for within a couple of years, at the age of 60. I was retired from the University, having already had an extension of five years beyond the retiring age of 55. I would then perforce have to give up my University quarters.

Along with the problem of finding his own housing if he had occupied university quarters, an academic on retirement would have to find a new source of income. He was paid a gratuity on retirement and could withdraw his accumulated provident fund, but after paying for a house or an apartment there would scarcely be enough left to last him to the end of his days, assuming that he still had four score and twenty years to go. A medical graduate in the clinical line could start his own clinic and perhaps earn even more than he did when teaching. For a para-clinical like myself the options were either to set up as a pathologist in a private laboratory or to re-learn clinical medicine and to set up as a doctor in general practice. Neither option appealed to me.

Another problem that faced a university retiree was that of providing for medical bills. The University had paid his medical expenses and those of his dependents, but the retiree had to provide for medical expenses at a time when they were more likely to be incurred. In my own circumstances, though I might have thought of going to the C class wards to save money, this option was not available because I had to go to the A Class wards because my son was a doctor and the best treatment had to be given his dad. A compensation, however, would be that the attending consultants would not charge anything for their services, as a professional courtesy between doctors, and also because I had been their teacher. Rosie always had a problem with this point of medical etiquette and was ever reluctant to seek medical attention because she did not like the obligation of having to receive free attention. The general problem that faced everyone was that not only had the cost of living gone up, but the cost of dying as well.

Being at a loose end, and wanting to see what “business” really was like, I asked YY if there was anything I could do in his office; I was prepared even to try my hand at selling, though I realised that neither Professor Lim, nor Dr. Lim, could sell anything. YY took me seriously and asked me to try my hand at organizing the research unit that he had just started and paid me handsomely for the year or so that I was with WYWY Private Limited, My task was to analyse the trends in the demand for copiers and to forecast what WYWY Pie Ltd could sell in the following year. If we ordered too many machines, we would have to dispose of what we could not sell at little profit and cramp the sales of the year after. If we ordered too few, our would-be customers might turn to other makes and our market share would be diminished. Ricoh’s sales office, of course, would want us to buy more than what prudence told us, for they had analysed market demands also and wanted to fulfil the market share prediction that good business required of them. I took the opportunity to buy an Apple computer and to learn how to use a spread-sheet and a word processor. Little did I guess to what use my newly learned skills would be put.


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