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 When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography.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, March 07, 2009

In 1995 Su Min asked me to move over and stay with his family in Cavenagh Road. I had the use of a large room in the same apartment which was my bed-room and study, and from which I commuted round the world on chess trips. Four of my children were living in Singapore, one in Canada. Stella was separated from her husband and living with Sing in Devonshire Court. Stella was continuing her successful writing career, and Sing was well established as copy writer for Inter-Ads, an advertising company. Stella’s two sons were both living in London, the older, Mark, was training to be a cardiac surgeon, and the younger son, Luke, training to be an orthodontist. Su Min and Sing Yu were living in Cavenagh Road with their son, Min Yu, a doctor doing National Service, and daughter En Yu, an Arts student in first year. Su Hui and his wife Shirley were living in Cairnhill Road with their two sons, Bernard and Christopher. Su Chong and his wife Joanna and their children, Jacqueline and Alexander, both were living in Calgary, Canada.

6:4 World Seniors

The first World Senior Championship was an open event held in Bad Worishofen in November 1991. I brought Rosie to this health resort in the Black Forest where she spent a pleasant two weeks while I struggled through 11 rounds of this inaugural event. The “Kur” in this resort, was invented by a friar in the 19th century who believed that a regime of cold baths, long walks and a vegetarian diet would cure a variety of ailments, including over-weight. Rosie went on one or two walks but neither she nor I took a cure. Campomanes came for the first half (he did not take a cure, either) and saw me score 4 points from 6 rounds but after he left I could only score 1 point from five rounds for 5/11, or “minus half’ (deviation from 50%).
Rosie did not accompany me when I went back again for the 2nd World Seniors in 1992 and to Bad Wildbad for the 3rd World Seniors in 1993when my scores were, respectively, 5 ½ and 6 points, thus averaging exactly 50% for the 3 events. I did not play in 1994, but when the event was held in 1995 in Bad Liebenzell, my score was 6 points, giving me an average of over 50% in four outings!
For the 1993 event, Rosie and I took an extended holiday, beginning with British Chess Championships in Dundee (the British rotated their annual championships all over Britain). The British Veterans was for players over 60 and not very well supported, there being only twelve entries. With a little difficulty I tied for the first place with R. D.Westra. Rosie and I went on from Dundee to visit the Edinburgh Festival where we saw, inter alia, a performance of Stella’s “Emily of Emerald Hill”. I then took off for Bad Wildbad alone as Rosie wanted to stay in England a while. I made arrangements for us to visit Monte Carlo immediately after Bad Wildbad to see the end of the Women’s World Championship Match, but Xie Jun won the match within the distance and we visited Monte Carlo and Nice as ordinary tourists, without a chess purpose.

Campo had called me while I was in Dundee and made arrangements for me to be Chief Arbiter of the FIDE World Championship match between Timman and Karpov. I was to be responsible for the first half (12 games) of the match to be organized by the Dutch in Holland. The Dutch had very little time in which to prepare for the event and in order to get wider support, they organized the twelve games in the three Dutch venues that were used when Botvinnik won theWorld Championship Tournament in 1948, namely, Zwolle, Arnheim and Amsterdam. It was a jolly little tour of Holland for Rosie and I. Sad for the Dutch, Timman lost the match which was concluded in Jakarta; sad for Campo, both the Dutch and the Indonesians had said they could not raise any of theprize fund and FIDE had to provide the entire prize-fund.

In February 1994 we heard the glad news that Stella was to be a grandmother and on 14 February1994, Valentines’ Day, our grandson Luke’s wife, Gini, presented us with our first great-grand-daughter, named Madeleine, but this was the last of the wine.
One day Rosie fell down in our front drive as we were going out and after that she was unsteady on her feet. A few weeks later she lost her balance right in our apartment, sat down rather hard and fractured her pelvis. It was quite painful for her before the fracture was mended. Rosie never complained but she became rather withdrawn and I believe that the scars of the stroke she had some five years back were breaking down. I think she must have had a recurrence of strokes, for one night she was sleeping at my side and next morning she was gone. The date was 7 July, 1994, three days after her 72nd birthday, and we had been married just over 52 years. Isaac Lim spoke at the wake and Noel Goh at the cremation. Rosie’s ashes rest in Mount Vernon Crematorium, No.263/93. There is room in the niche for my urn.
Through sheer inertia my life goes on without my better half; but it has not been so much fun. On my 75th birthday in January 1995,I decided to forego a birthday party, but instead, to hold a Rose Memorial Tournament to which old FIDE friends would be invited. Tan Chin Nam kindly agreed to be a joint host of the event which we held in the Hotel Sucasa in Kuala Lumpur. Giam Choo Kwee won the Rose Bowl with Campomanes the runner-up; among the competitors were Tan Chin Nam, Matsumoto and Sun Lianzhi and I felt it was a fitting conclusion to the story of Rosie-Ann.

6:3 Golden Wedding!

The great event of 1992 was, of course, the celebration of our 50th wedding anniversary which we had to hold in Penang so that Su Chong could attend.

Note: Because he went AWOL near the end of his military service, Su Chong had been posted ‘Arrest on sight’ and could not enter Singapore without risk of imprisonment! The story was rather sad. Su Chong had returned from Canada after taking his degree in medicine at Edmonton. He had also married Judy Goodwin, a Canadian girl who had taken a degree in Physical Education. After his basic military training Captain Lim Su Chong was posted to Sports Medicine but Judy could not get any employment in Phys. Ed., and moreover, she was not able to settle down to life in Singapore. Judy wanted to go back to Canada and Su Chong decided to go back with her without finishing his national service. The really sad part of it was that Judy divorced Su Chong after all. A couple of years later, Su Chong found another partner in Joanna Reaville, settled in Calgary and became a Canadian citizen.

We got a chalet at Tanjong Bungah and had a festival of music on the theme of Rosie and Ann. Each of our five children played a part in the narrative and the final group photo lacked only three grand-children who were unable to attend. Chong Eu, who was Best Man at our wedding was a guest of honour.

Rosie had mentioned something about celebrating our golden wedding in church but I was cool about it, not knowing what that would entail. Some weeks later, it chanced that Rev. Chiu Ban It, formerly Bishop of St Andrew’s Cathedral, was present at a Wednesday meeting in YY’s house. He was an old acquaintance and I told him about our Golden Wedding Anniversary in Penang. When on an impulse I asked him if he would bless our golden anniversary he said he would do better than that; he was qualified to conduct a wedding, we were in a house-church and he would marry us properly since we only had a registry wedding the first time. So, there and there, without anyone present being aware of what we were doing, Ban It led us through the questions and responses and the vows, “...till death do us part.” It is droll that Chong Eu and Ban It who were deadly rivals in their youth should jointly serve in our weddings fifty years apart.

6:2 Chairman again

Campo called me in the summer of 1990 and asked me to be a member of the Appeal Committee in the World Championship Match that was to be organized, half in New York and half in Lyon with a total prize-fund of USS3 million. After failing to topple Kasparov in Saville, 1967, Karpov had qualified again as Challenger to make a fifth K-K encounter. Campo did not turn up at all for the New York half of the match because he had a motor accident in Zambia in which his driver, the President of the Zambia Chess Federation was killed, and Campo was hospitalized for a week and was wearing a neck-brace for months afterwards. I had to write and deliver a speech for Campo at the Opening Ceremony and I was Chairman of the Appeal Committee in Campo’s absence.

Kasparov had earlier expressed his disagreement with the USSR Chess Federation which he thought (rightly) favoured Karpov by saying that he would play under the flag of the Russian Republic and not under the USSR banner, and the organizers had hoisted the Russian flag in the playing ball. A question from Karpov’s delegation faced me before the start of the first game: was the display of the Russian Republic flag in accordance with FIDE regulations? This was an easy question to answer for it recalled the question posed in Baguio 15 years ago, whether Korchnoi could use the flag of Argau, the SwissCanton where he resided. The Appeal Committee ruled that the Russian flag was not an official flag recognized by FIDE regulations and should not be displayed in the playing hall; further, neither player should use table flags as they would obstruct the spectators’ view of the board. The Soviet delegation did not see or pretended not to see that under the respective name-cards of the players below the chess-table, minature flags of the USSR and of the Russian Republic were painted. The first twelve games in New York were tied 6:6; in Lyon, Kasparov gained an early lead and held Karpovoff to win the match by 13:11 and retain his title.

Rosie enjoyed very much the visit to New York as the matches were staged in the Hudson Theatre right next to Times Square and we were lodged in the adjoining Macklowe Hotel. We did not get to see any Broadway shows but we took in a dinner show that featured Eartha Kitt whom we had seen thirty years earlier. It was nostalgic. In the two weeks interval between New York and Lyon, we made a flying visit to Su Chong’s family in Calgary. We were surprised in Lyon to meet Singapore’s Ambassador to France, David Marshall, who had come to speak to some Singapore school-children on a cultural exchange visit. David Marshall remembered us and invited us to visit him in Paris, saying he would put us up, so on the first opportunity we went by train to visit Paris.

When I mounted the train I was misled by a notice which said we should place our suitcase in the luggage compartment provided at the end of the carriage. When we arrived in Paris and I went to collect our suit-case, wefound it had been stolen. I had missed another notice that said passengers should watch their baggage. The notices were all in French, of course, and I was so proud that I understood the first, that I did not try hard to understand the second. So it was that we turned up at Marshall’s house without any change of clothing, stopping only on the way to buy some nightwear and under-clothes. What really hurt was that Rosie had packed her best Chinese gown to wear at a possible Embassy reception and it was gone with the suit-case. On the way back to Lyon, Rosie recognized Peter Brook, the producer of the Mahabharata, a celebrated epic then playing in Paris, in the carriage corridor, and complained to him that we had been unable to get tickets for his play. Without hesitation, Peter Brook told us to call his secretary and said she would give us a couple of tickets. This required another ride to Paris where we stayed just over-night after seeing the play. It was terrific and well worth the trouble.

Campomanes called me again soon after that and asked me to be Chief Arbiter of the second half of the Candidates’ Final Match in the Women’s World Championship between Alicia Marie(Yugoslavia) and Xie Jun (China) to be held in Beijing. As was often the case, no neutral country was willing to host the match of eight games, so it was played in February 1991, half in Belgrade and half in Beijing. In the first half Xie Jun led by 2½ to 1½, in the second half, in Beijing, Xie June won the third game after two draws to qualify as the Challenger. Later the same year, Campo asked me to be Chairman of the Appeals Committee in the Women’s WCM to be organized in Manila. Thus it was that in 1991, Rosie and I were present when Xie Jun defeated the Champion Maya Chiburdanidze to break the 62-year monopoly of the Soviets on the women’s world title. Later that year I was Chief Arbiter in the Men’s Interzonal Championship, and in 1992 I was Chief Arbiter again, of the Olympiads, both these events being held in Manila.

Soon after Xie Jun’s success, I got a call from Lee Seng Tee, brother of Lee Seng Ghee who was a Scout in my patrol when I was Patrol Leader. Seng Tee explained that his wife’s uncle, a former Minister in the Chinese government living in Beijing, had told him with enthusiasm of the success of a Chinese girl in international chess. Seng Tee wanted to encourage the Chinese in their efforts so he had donated a library to the Chess Centre (Qi-Yuan) in Beijing. Actually, Seng Tee had donated a large sum to endow a International Chess Foundation in Beijing (and made his wife’s uncle the chairman of the board of the foundation), the income from which was used for construction and further expenses of the library, including organization of international tournaments. The annual income from the endowment was about US$100,000, a great sum, especially as it was in foreign currency. I gladly agreed with Seng Tee’s request to advise the Chinese Chess Association on the books they should buy for the library. In fact, I had on my own, given some help to Xie Jun by getting a donation to buy her a lap-top computer. Hitherto, when she travelled to play chess, she had to carry two suitcases of books, mostly back issues of Chess Informant, all now available on hard disk in a portable. The Chinese Chess Association made me an Honorary Adviser, and I helped them organize the S.T. Lee Cup Open Tournament in Beijing with prize fund of US$16,600.

Lee Seng Tee subsequently called me occasionally to ask me about chess matters and I was invited to lunch at the Garden Club, an exclusive businessmen’s lunch presided over by Seng Ghee at one table for about fifteen Hokien speaking business friends, some carried over from his father’s time, and by Seng Tee at another table for about ten English speaking friends. The latter was English speaking because a co-host was Henry Eng, an American-born Chinese who had married Seng Tee’s sister and who spoke only a Cantonese dialect, apart from English.

6:1 A Visit with Father Thames.

We closed our apartment and Rosie left for England before me. A few days before I was due to follow her I called Rosie and suggested that she should rent a boat for a cruise up the River Thames. This delighted her enormously, for Rosie had a passion for boats, as I knew, and when I arrived in London, I dumped my baggage with Sing Yuen (Sing) who had been working in London with Greys, an internationally renowned advertising agency, and we all went to pick up the boat. Rosie had rented a six-bunked river-cruiser, large enough to take Sing and her friends with us on a river holiday up to Reading, but she had failed to convey her idea fully to Sing for although a large party escorted us to the boat and we had a sort of picnic, Sing and her friends said they could not go with us because of their work commitments. It was rather of a blow to Rosie, but I did not see any problem in managing the boat with Rosie’s help. The driving instructions were simple: push the gear lever forward or backwards, and the boat followed accordingly; turn the wheel clockwise and the boat turned to the right, anti-clockwise and she turned to the left. After a couple of turns in the pool just outside the docks, I signed on as Captain of the boat - Rosie was my cabin-boy, deck-hand and mate. It was romantic.

I did not even ask for a map of the river as I knew we only had to go upstream to reach Reading where a good friend of mine, Cohn Kaplan, was Professor of Bacteriology at Reading University. I was told that I had to negotiate some 20 locks on the way to Reading, hut locks did not seem to present any problems: you wait outside the (down) lock-gates until they open and the boat(s)inside leave to proceed downstream: you bring your boat inside the lock and tie up; they shut the lower gates and let in water until the water level equals that up-stream; the upper lock-gate open and you exit and carry on. Each lock brought us two or three metres higher in the stream, and the mainstream went past at the side of the lock down an incline known as a weir that was not navigable. We went like this past a couple of locks, once tying up to await our turn while a boat in front of us cleared the lock first. Rosie enjoyed her deck-duties tremendously but was met with a tart retort when she called to the dock-hand as we went into a lock,
“Would you please pass this rope round your bollocks?”
“Not bloody likely,” was the reply. Rosie had meant bollards, of course.

I could see that the lock-gates were shut as we approached the third lock on our journey, so I drew alongside the wharf that was provided to let boats tie up. The wharf level was just alongside the wheelhouse of the boat, so I stopped the motor and stepped out on to the wharf .
“Pass me the rope,” I said to Rosie sitting on the wheel house just a yard or so away.
“Right-Oh,” she said and tossed at me the rope she was holding in her hand. Unfortunately, she tossed the rope upwards instead of laterally and the end of the rope landed in the water between us. After the initial contact with the wharf when I had stepped off, the boat was drifting away from land. I had visions of Rosie merrily sailing down the Thames, riding on the wheelhouse, not knowing how to control the boat in any way. I made a dash for the side of the wharf and leapt over the widening gap of a yard or more. My feet landed on the gunwales, my hands on the roof of the cabin, just missing the railings. I fell back into the Thames with a colossal splash.

Though I was weighed down by my leather jacket I was able to surface immediately and swimming to the wharf I was able to put one foot round the end of the wharf and hoist myself out of the water. It was lucky that I did so because the boat had drifted back to the wharf, driven by the current from the lock whose gates had just opened, and I might have been crushed between the boat and the wharf if I had been in the water still. Rosie jumped off the boat with the rope and asked me if I was all right. I could not answer, because I was in some pain, having wrenched my back in climbing on to the wharf. Rosie was wondering what to do next when a hitch-hiker named Steve Croydon appeared out of the blue, stepping on to the wharf from the bushes alongside.

“Can you help us tie up the boat, please?” Rosie asked him.
“Certainly,” Steve said and helped us tie the boat, fore and aft, while I got back my breath.

I was able to get about, but my back was hurting a bit and I was not confident about continuing the voyage on my own. On an inspiration I asked Steve, having learned his name, if he was free and if he would take us up to Reading, for a fee, of course. Steve said he would be delighted to do so. 1-lewas a part-time labourer, competent with boats, and was uncommitted for the moment. I learned later that Steve’s father was a doctor in general practice, but rather than learn a profession, Steve had decided to earn a living using his hands. He was one of the last of the flower children, I thought to myself. Steve took us up the lock to the next stretch of the Thames near Hampton Court where we tied-up and had dinner after making a quick tour of the place. Steve was a vegetarian for a reason that I had never heard of before. He said that he would eat neither fish, fowl nor good red meat because man obtain such foods by exploiting other forms of life, trapping them or rearing them with an ulterior motive.

I did not sleep too well, but I got up early and made breakfast. When I went to call Rosie to breakfast she looked at me blankly and could not speak coherently. I knew at once that she had had a stroke in the night that was very likely a delayed reaction to the shock of seeing me dive in the river. It was lucky that we had Steve to give us a hand. I went to dial 999 for assistance, called Sing to ask her to come and help. When the ambulance came, I took Rosie to the neighbourhood hospital where the neuro-specialist confirmed that Rosie had had a stroke that affected her speech centre, not too badly as she was already able to say a few words. The specialist then insisted I should have an x-ray and told me that I had fractured some bones in my back. Rest in bed for both of you was his advice!

I arranged with Steve to return our boat to the hirers and went home with Sing. Rosie stayed in the hospital a week, by which time she had recovered her speech entirely and appeared none the worse for wear but I still had some pain in my back and could not lift anything. I decided we should go home as quick as possible, and both of us travelled first class by SQ so that we could lie flat (well, almost) when we slept. It was the first time ever that we travelled First! We asked for wheel-chair service and were whisked through immigration and customs at both ends. Su Min put us to bed in his apartment in Cavanagh Road where we stayed temporarily, as our Devonshire flat had to be renovated. Meanwhile a visit to the radiologist confirmed that I had avulsion fractures of two lumbar transverse processes (my back muscles had pulled so hard on the bones to which they were attached that they ripped the bones out). Rosie had a brain-scan that showed that a cerebral haemorrhage had destroyed an area in her left temporal lobe about two cm in diameter. “A hole in my head,” Rosie said with a shudder.

Few people believed that I had taken a dip in the Thames. It was truly a close call for me, but Rosie had an even closer brush with death when she was in Lucerne. Rosie had learned that the rear door of the bus where we exited did not close if one stood on the step and that the bus did not start if the door was not closed. One day, she changed her mind after leaving the bus and tried to get back on. Rosie just had her foot on the doorstep when the door closed because the indicator (a light beam about knee high) that someone was on the step was no longer interrupted. The bus door closed firmly on Rosie’s foot and the bus moved off dragging her about ten metres along the road before the driver heard shouts from bystanders and halted the bus. Rosie sustained some bruises only, no broken bones, but she surely would have been killed if the driver had not stopped the bus in time.

It took us a few months to regain our confidence and to re-install ourselves in Devonshire Court. We found then that in our absence our family ranks had been thinned. Grandma Yin who had been living alone in Pasir Panjang had passed away, and so also had Sai Soo. My Aunt Ena who had been living apart from her husband was also no more. Aunt Ena had helped to take care of me when I was a child in Kulangsu, and in my teens had more than once taken an interest in me, her last effort being to get me acquainted with Rosie. In the summer of 1989 I decided to take a trip to Puerto Rico, via the Pacific, to attend the World Youth Chess Festival for players of Under-10 to Under-18 as Coach and Manager for Singapore’s young hopeful, Hsu Li-Yang. After the Under-18s, Li Yang and I went on to Tunja, Columbia (drug-barons’ country!) for the World Junior (Under-20s) Championship. It was a great experience for Li-Yang who not many years after became Singapore Champion as well as an International Master. Rosie did not go with me to Puerto Rico. She branched off at San Francisco to visit Su Chong in Calgary, Alberta, where he had settled with a wife (Joanna) and two children (Jacqueline and Alexander). I joined them after Tunja and brought Rosie home.