I Remember – My Home at Ganges Avenue

If you pass by Ganges Avenue now, you would see new HDB flats and some private apartments. There are 7 blocks of high-rise HDB flats now when before that it had several blocks of 4-storey SIT flats. I stayed in Block 60 Ganges Avenue since I was born. I left this home after I was married and moved out in 1986. My parents had to move to Jalan Bukit Ho Swee rental flats after the government wanted to demolish all the SIT flats along this stretch of road.

For nearly 30 years, I lived in Ganges Avenue.

Layout of SIT flat
This SIT flat was a three-room flat. When you stepped through the door, you were in the living hall. The window faced a small side road running parallel to Ganges Avenue. When you moved further into the flat, there were 2 bedrooms on the left. Both windows faced Ganges Avenue. At the end of the flat was the kitchen. The kitchen had a window where you hanged out your laundry on a bamboo pole. In between the kitchen and the living hall was the shower room and toilet separated by a wall. What was unique in those days was that there was a chimney above the cooking area.

Fright of my life
My mother used to hang out wet laundry to dry on bamboo poles. There was a technique to push out the bamboo pole filled with clothes through the kitchen window and then insert the bamboo pole into a holder fixed to the external wall. When retrieving the bamboo pole, there was another technique.

There was this one time, when the rain came suddenly. I was about 12 -13 years then (cannot recall the exact year). I remember I rushed to the kitchen and tried to bring in the bamboo pole. I had done it a few times before without incident. But for this one time, I lost my footing and I suddenly felt that I was going to fall over through the window. My hands were still gripping the bamboo pole and did not had the presence of mind to release the pole from my hands. I felt the tilt of my body over the window. I stared death for a very brief moment and panicked. Very fortunately, I forced myself back and withdrew from the window with the bamboo still in my hand. I heard of maids falling over from the flats under the same condition and I still felt the same fear so many years ago.

My Bedroom
I shared the same bedroom as my mother. We partitioned this room into two halves. My part of the room had the window view. It was to be my study area as well. I remember I was able to afford an Akai Hifi audio system with turntable, tuner, cassette player and two speakers. I enjoyed listening to Barry White, the Supremes, Diana Ross, Nana Mouskouri , to name a few.

First Black and White TV
When Singapore started to broadcast black and white TV programmes in 1963, our family bought a black and white TV. I was just 6 years old. One wonders how we could afford a TV and be the first to catch the TV broadcasts. My parents told me that the money came from my second older brother who had a cash award for doing well in his academic studies.

I remember we opened our door to allow our neighbours to watch these TV programmes. That was the neighbourliness in our community back then.

My Siblings
Talking about my siblings. I am the youngest in the family. I have three older brothers and one older sister. My mother is a homemaker. My father was the sole breadwinner. My brothers and sister (including me) moved out of Ganges Avenue flat when we got married. My mother always believes that we should move out and set up our own homes. She knows that staying under the same roof can result in frictions and relationships could sour. She rather stays on her own instead of moving in with us despite of her age.

We came a long way from those days. These are memories worth documenting.

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I Remember – A Private Person

Long before I know the word Introvert, I was and still am a very private person. I was most uncomfortable when socialising in a public event. You would see me standing alone in one corner holding a glass of drink during a cocktail reception. I would not attempt to meet up with new people. I am not good at small talk. (If I did because of career advancement, it would drain my energy.)

To see how I become who I am, I have to go back to how I was brought up.

Going to primary school had been an activity when I could leave my flat. My mother would not allow me to play at the open field fronting the flat. She wanted me to be safe and protected from strangers who might abduct me. I remember the horror stories of young kids who were beheaded and their heads were needed to build bridges. I was only allowed to go to the school and back. We were poor and going to movies and places of interest were rare. My window to the world was through the windows of my flat. I was brought up to be shy and a person who will not talk much. I would spend most of my time on study at home.

I was a quiet person during my school days, from primary school to university. I listened more than I talked. When I was in secondary school, I used to sit upfront near the teacher’s desk. Sometimes, my classmates would break up a chalk and threw it from behind. They aimed for our heads to score bull’s-eye. Gan Eng Seng School was an all-boys school then. Being boys, there were pranks they would play in the classroom. Chalks and paper airplanes flew everywhere when the teacher was not in the classroom. I was only close to some friends but I was not with many others. Thinking back, I was thankful that I was not bullied and my classmates left me alone.

Would I have survived under the current educational environment, where we were expected to speak up, to collaborate and to chiong1? I think I would fail miserably and a misfit.

Thankfully, presentation in class was not a big thing during those days. Group projects were not common. I could be miserable as speaking up was not my strength. Even till these days, I am more at ease being a passive person. You will not see me doing sales! This behavioural type developed because of my family background environment. We followed the adage: “Children should be seen and not heard.”

It was only after I went into National Service when I started to change. I took up leadership positions and I had the courage to stand-up and speak up. Even up to this day, I rather remain a quiet person during conversations. I am most comfortable when I am left alone.

1chiong, Singlish to mean chase the dreams, to be daring to take risk

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“This was a Man” by Jeffrey Archer – A Book Review

I read all and This was a Man is the last and the seventh volume of the Clifton Chronicles. I had followed the stories of Barrington and the Clifton families written by Jeffrey Archer from the time in 1920 to 1992. It traced how both families were connected from the time Harry Clifton and Giles Barrington were born in 1920.

Two important pieces of information were revealed in this final volume: the truth of whether Arthur Clifton (father of Harry) was indeed in the double bottom of SS Maple Leaf and secondly and more important one is whether Harry Clifton and his wife Emma Barrington shared the same father (Hugo Barrington).

Aside from the above, I find the last volume can be dispensed with. The chronicles could be dealt with in just six volumes. Too many pages were devoted to Lady Virginia Fenwick in this volume which frankly is not critical to the stories. It is like a subsidiary story with Lady Virginia as the lead. Having said this, it was still interesting to read about this woman without morals out to cheat to feed her lifestyle.

This last volume started in 1978 and mapped out their lives from then to 1992. Read the ending and let the author transports us back to the growing up years and the lasting friendship of Giles Barrington and Harry Clifton.file_000

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I Remember – Saving habits

My mother taught me about financial concepts as I was growing up, not literally of course. She had no formal education but she knows a lot about money. I was influenced by her sub-consciously because I bears her traits in money management.

When I was still a young boy, I would accompany my mother to the banks to either put in money or to withdraw interest on her savings. She would want me to check on the fixed deposit slip for correctness before leaving the bank. She would also ask me to check the entries in the savings account book.

My mother is a saver. When my siblings and I started work, we gave my mother some monthly allowances. Though not much, she would keep them until she accumulated enough for her to make a trip to the banks. Instead of using a single name for banking in the money, she would use joint-alternate account with each of my brothers and sister. This way, my siblings and I have some money in our names.

My mother knew that there were risks with putting money in a bank. There were run on some banks in the past. She opened accounts with several banks, namely POSB, DBS, UOB, Citibank, now-defunct Chung Khiaw Bank. So my mother spread her risks of losing her hard-saved money over several banks. Back then, there was no such thing as Deposit Insurance Scheme to protect her.

On maturity of her fixed deposits, she would go to the bank to withdraw the interest income and roll over the same principal sum for another fixed period. This way she only spent on the interest income without touching the principal sum. She was not rich enough to compound the interest because she still needed money to spend on Chinese New Year. During her time, the fixed deposit interest rates were above 10% p.a. not like now.

Up to today, my mother still has the fixed deposits (FD). Some FDs were started so many years back. The fixed deposit interest pays so low like 0.1% p.a. now but she still did not terminate the accounts.

Financial concepts
By saving and putting money in interest-bearing deposits is one way to put the money to work. She spread her risks by putting money in several banks. She plans her inheritance by having joint-alternate accounts with my brothers and sister. She played it safe by putting money in reputable banks and not to risk her money with some structured deposits. This way, she preserves her capital sum unlike share investments.

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I Remember – Career

Back in October 1980, I was offered a job as an Audit Assistant with Coopers & Lybrand (C&L) when I was still in my final year at NUS. C&L was one of the so-called “Big Eight” audit firms globally. I was excited at the opportunity even when my starting salary was $950 per month. Salary was not much but I was eager to start on 1 April 1981 right after my final examinations but before I knew about my results. I did not go on post-examination holidays like what is the common practice of the current generation.

I worked real hard and in eight years at age of 31, I was made Senior Manager of the firm.

Three years later in 1992, I decided to switch profession and took up teaching at Temasek Polytechnic (TP). TP was into its second year of operation when I joined. I stayed on for another 14 years before I decided to take things slow. In the 14 years, I took up several appointments, including Course Manager and finally ending as Deputy Director of School of Business.

Both careers were memorable. Both required me to deal with people. Human relationship was key in my jobs. I only picked up people-to-people skills when I was on the jobs and this was never taught in the school systems back then. I must also attribute my maturity because of National Service. At age 20, I was commissioned as a young Second Lieutenant in the army. This was when I had my taste of leading men of my same age group. You got thrown into the deep end and you had to learn to survive. After completing the full cycle of National Service (including reservist trainings) my last rank was a Captain. It was an honour to serve the nation.

It was a dream run when I talked about my career. I must be lucky to be where I was. My path could have been very different. Rewards do not come out of the blue. I was conscientious and worked truly hard at the expense of health. I did not shy away from jobs and challenges as they were offered to me. Like the case when I spent my time in Brunei for nine months on a consulting job. Once I was given an assignment, I would put in my best effort and gave it all I had got. Until such time, when I knew I had enough and lost the passion and the drive. That was when I moved on.

This is the story of my career.

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I Remember – Inferiority Complex

When I was growing up, I was rather shy and reserved. I had this inferiority complex about my family background. Each time when I was asked about my father’s occupation, I would feel uncomfortable. You see, my father came from China when he was a young man to find a better life for himself. He was born in 1909 and during the 1920s there were waves of China immigrants searching for work in Malaya and Singapore. They were referred to as coolies. Coolies toiled in the sun to earn a living. My father found work as a rickshaw puller and later as a trishaw rider.

Somehow, I got this idea that a trishaw rider was beneath a lot of other work, such as shop assistants, clerks in offices. At a young age and when growing older, I rather not talked about my father’s occupation. Such was a strong stigma that I only was able to overcome recently.

My father had an honest living and I am proud about it. In one generation, my siblings and I have done well to be where we are now. We were poor to start with. We stayed in a rented SIT flat along Ganges Avenue. I did not know how we pulled through those years with not much wealth. I remember my father used to get vegetables, meat and fishes cheaply from the Lau Pa Sat Market (Telok Ayer Market). I remember that the fishes were fishy and disliked them.

Despite our urging him to retire earlier, he continued to work until he was about 70 years old. He passed away when he was 89 years old in 1999. We knew he had a tough life. He had to survive the Japanese Occupation. We knew that he was slapped in the face by a Japanese soldier and lived to tell the tale.

I am the youngest in the family. When I was born, my father was 48 years old. When I went to National Service, he was 66 years old and when I was independent of age, he was nearing 70 years old. That was a big generation gap between our ages, 48 years!

I began to appreciate my father when I was older and am thankful that my mother and him brought us under trying conditions.

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I Remember – My Education

I went to a primary school near my home. The choice was obvious; I could walk to school. I started primary school in 1964 at Delta West Integrated Primary School.

From 1964 to 1969, I studied hard and relied on teachers to achieve good grades throughout the years. There was no tuition. My grasp of English was consistently weak. I even received a red mark for English in Primary 6 before my PSLE.

After PSLE, came the time to pick a secondary school. Back then students did not know their PSLE results, except that I could proceed to a Secondary School. I remember looking at Raffles Institution as a possibility but opted for middle ranking secondary school, Gan Eng Seng School, so as not to waste my first choice in case my results were not good enough for RI. Frankly, it was also a fear of coping in a top ranking institution.

In Gan Eng Seng School, I performed well to stay well ahead of the cohort. (1970 – 1973) At the end of Secondary 4, I was ranked 6 out of 283 in the standard.

After GCE “O” Level, my choices open up. I chose National Junior College and tried a JC route of education. (1974 – 1975) Back then NJC and Hwa Chong Junior College were the only two JCs in Singapore. I recall struggling with Physics and Economics. My classmates were coping so well that I felt inadequate.

My GCE “A” Level results were good enough to get me through Accountancy degree in National University of Singapore. I switched focus from science-based education to business-related qualification. I did not dogmatically stick to my original educational trajectory which was Engineering. I realised that one can achieve his dream by studying diligently. I was awarded Second Class Honours degree in Bachelor in Accountancy.

I consider myself to be a late starter. I went on to do my Master’s in Business Administration from NTU on a Temasek Polytechnic scholarship and came up top in Banking & Finance specialisation and was on the Dean’s List.

I consider myself fortunate. I relied a lot on my teachers for my formal education. I did not have tuitions. I had to study hard and diligently to achieve my grades. With my heart on achieving results, I succeeded. Every child had a chance to rise above his social class in this meritocratic society. I may not be born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but education level the playing field for me.

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