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.