Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Straits Times : Keep stories from the past alive

I agree with this writer that we need to step up on the effort to revatilse the Oral History Unit before many generations fade into oblivion.

History is not just about famous people and should begin at home.

We should all make an effort to know our own family heritage, however humble it might be.

Otherwise, a whole generation of Singaporeans will suffer from historical amnesia.

Kelvin, creator of the Tiong Bahru Heritage and Friends blog, is collecting old photographs of Tiong Bahru Residents, especially those who grew up here.

So if you are time starved to "ïnterview" your family members, perhaps you can just make an effort to pull out some old family photos and contribute them to Kelvin who is involved in this worthy project.

Mar 31, 2010
The Straits Times
By Ho Kwon Ping

HAPPY birthday, Father. This week you would have been 93 years old, and this remembrance is my birthday present to you. Although you left us a dozen years ago, and my youngest son barely remembers you - he was three when you died - I'm surprised by the sudden clarity of some memories.

I remember, after your initial series of small strokes but before you fell into the long coma, we'd have our weekly lunch. We'd often be the only customers; you'd always order the same food, often tell me the same stories of your life - relived afresh in each telling. Or how after dinner at home you'd retire to your study, smoke your cigarettes surreptitiously, and write laboriously in pencil another page of your memoirs.

Your memoirs started as something to do after you'd long retired. You had no great story to tell, no ambition to be a great writer, or to be remembered in history. You hoped your grandchildren might remember you, but it was at the end simply a story that you wanted to tell and leave behind, for its own sake.

Now, many years later, I realise you've left much behind, more than we had both thought. That slim volume entitled Eating Salt - a title you chose because the Chinese adage 'to eat salt' is to have tasted bitter hardship, which was your formative experience during the war years in China - is your legacy to us, a window into a world which only your generation experienced and understood.

Yours was a time in history which we can only imagine: The notion that it took two weeks, by steamship, rail and road, to travel from Singapore to Canton, for example, is inconceivable, not only to your grandchildren but also to me. And how your university life in Canton was disrupted for several years by the war and you decamped to Chongqing, and joined a student troupe to entertain the Red Army's peasant soldiers. Reading your memoirs has been a coming-of-age ritual for each of your six grandchildren, and a revelation for each of your children.

Recently, there has been a spate of biographies about the more famous people of your generation: Mr S. Rajaratnam, who was your friend and boss when you became an ambassador after independence, at a time when Singapore had no career diplomats to speak of; or of the many other old PAP cadres and Barisan Socialis activists whom you may not have known but who shared your anti-colonialist, leftist sentiments. Their voices, like yours, speak to us from a time which few living Singaporeans today remember.

Not only you, but my mother has also told the stories of her life. Her short, weekly, bilingual essays in our local papers gave glimpses into her childhood in pre-war Shanghai, and her adult years in post-war Burma and Thailand.

Despite all this, my knowledge of both your lives is patchy at best; my children's knowledge is even sketchier. Their knowledge of our country's founding fathers is limited to the social studies course they plough through in primary school, or the memorisation of facts concerning the story of Singapore's independence. They may know the bare facts about the political drama, the struggle in these transformative years, but how much do they know of their own parents' stories, and their parents' parents?

An entire generation of Singaporeans may soon suffer from historical amnesia, and we cannot afford to take this condition lightly. It is not just about remembering 1965 and beyond; it goes further and deeper into a need to understand our own individual, distinct heritage.

In all societies, the tribal tradition of oral history, the transmission of wisdom from one generation to another through the stories of the tribal elders, has been critical for the preservation of the tribe's identity. We are not so different. If we do not know from whence we came, how can we know where we want to go?

As we grow and mature as a society, knowing the history of our forebears is critically important to give us a sense of perspective, of identity and direction. And not just the famous names like Rajaratnam, Goh Keng Swee, Lim Kim San and more. How many of us know the stories of how our own fathers and mothers suffered during the Japanese Occupation, or how our grandparents left their villages in China or India, many never to see their families again, in order to escape unbearable poverty? For better or worse, economic prosperity over the last 30 years, globalisation over the last 10 and Facebook over the last five have somehow distanced our younger generation from remembering the fact that Singapore was a very different place as recently as 1950. Dr Goh's farsighted vision in creating the Oral History Unit to tape-record the recollections of first-generation Singaporeans has not carried on with much vigour after he retired. Neither have many people drawn on these rich legacies. One person I know who did was my wife Claire Chiang, whose book Stepping Out drew on the oral histories of Singapore's business pioneers.

Another commendable effort is the recently published Singapore: A Biography by Mark Frost and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow in partnership with the National Museum of Singapore, with the intention of providing an alternative history by acknowledging the pioneers as well as ordinary immigrants who were all equally part of the 'Singapore Story'.

We need more such works, to remind our young that there are alternative stories of the Singapore dream, and the first place to find them is in their own homes over an extended family dinner.

The Government should revitalise the Oral History Unit, give it more funds and charge it with the task of recording the lives of my generation, the baby-boomers who are rapidly passing into retirement - and into obituaries.

By working through our schools, and by providing our students with the techniques and templates of interviewing, it is possible for every Singaporean family to receive a transcribed, professionally edited oral history of their clan or family elders, to cherish and pass on to the next generation.

Some American high schools do exactly this: Students are assigned to draw up their own family trees, and to then interview all surviving, contactable members of their family. After the phenomenal success of Roots in the 1980s - a book tracing author Alex Haley's slave lineage back to his tribe in Africa - many families started their own Roots projects. Whether Italian, Irish, African, Chinese, Korean - stories of each family's forefather and mother crossing the ocean to the Promised Land, became part of the American myth, the American Dream.

We too must extol our Singapore Dream. In the same way we attempt to stay on the cutting edge of technology, we need to devise the best methods to celebrate our history for subsequent generations. No doubt we are a young society - barely 50 years compared to America's 250. But it is no less compelling for us to begin to remember, in each Singaporean household, those who came before us.

'Remembering Singapore' - an active remembrance of our collective heritage - should be an effort embedded not just in our history curriculum but also in the arts and media - as well as the family home. Recent efforts by the National Museum to incorporate new means of photographic exhibition and digital media are good first steps towards generating more awareness. To this end, we need to actively embrace various formats of storytelling so as to engage our children and convey to them the times and lives of those who came before them.

Immigrant societies like the United States celebrate the achievements of their forefathers and mothers, no matter how humble. The American Dream glorifies in particular the little person who made good: the miner's son who went to college; the CEO whose father was a car-assembly worker; and so on.

Maudlin though this theme can be when milked by Hollywood, the American Dream remains powerful because of its omnipresence. It has affected almost every American household - regardless of race or religion - at some time in its history. Most American families know their immigrant roots, family heroes and legends of triumph against adversity.

It is not only Americans who are keenly interested in their family heritage. The younger generation in China is devouring memoirs by those who went through the Cultural Revolution, seeking to understand a dark part of China's collective heritage. Everywhere, the search for roots remains a strong impulse, as we increasingly find ourselves unmoored and drifting in a spiritually becalmed, global ocean.

My youngest son is still schooling in Singapore. He doesn't know it yet, but I'm getting ready (if his school picks up my suggestion) for a long, leisurely interview by him on the story of my life. And in turn, his day will come in due course.

And thus, our tribe continues: In the same way, Father, that your story has touched my children, I hope mine will inform future generations. And thus too, will the Singapore Dream be continually burnished - and nourished.

The writer is chairman of the board of trustees of the Singapore Management University. Think-Tank is a weekly column rotated among eight leading figures from Singapore's tertiary and research institutions.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Raleigh Chopper Bikes.....I like!

One of the perks of my job is that I get to enter people's home very regularly.

About 2 weeks ago, I went into someone's home in Tiong Bahru and I saw this!

Wow, this bike really brought back a lot of memories.

This was THE BIKE that real boys growing up in the 1970s dream of.

It was the era before E.T. came along and made BMX bikes THE BIKE to have from 1982 onwards.

Back then, my brother and me were mostly left to the care of my paternal grandma who lived at Block 53 Tiong Bahru Road (Now the Link Hotel).

And the only bike I had was some sissy bike which my dad probably forgot to update it with a CHOPPER to keep up with the times! (He eventually bought me a MT Sport in 1983)

So every day, either before or after school (depending on which session I was in), I will show up at my classmate, Kee Peng's home at Block 20 Tiong Bahru Road.

Not wanting to be seen as desperate about wanting to check out his ride, a few of my classmates would pop up at his back door and asked him some non important questions like how his balsam plant was doing.

Small talk was always effectively over in under 3 seconds.

And the next 30 minutes to 1 hour were spent riding the chopper up and down the pavement in between Tiong Bahru Road and Lim Liak Street!

I never quite figured out what those GEARS were for but seriously, who cares?!

Life was never meant to be complicated and as long as the bike moves while the wind caresses your face, I'm one happy kid...... until I ride into a group of 3 or 4 kids waiting to push you off the bike so that they can hop onto the CHOPPER to get their fix.

So when I saw that bike that evening, there was this natural desire to ride it.

However, I did not bother to ask the owner of that restored CHOPPER bike if I could have a go at it as there were no balsam plant there to talk about.

Just kidding, the truth is, we have grown older and sometimes we tend to assume too much.

That evening, I just assume that the owner will never agree to it and so I never even bothered to ask.

The raleigh chopper popularised the 'chopper' design used initially in motorcycles. the model shown is from the late 1960's

Saturday, March 20, 2010

年轻夫妻买下老房子 甜美怀旧


买下老房子 甜美怀旧





郑文琪笑说:“我们试过申请达士岭组屋(The Pinnacle@Duxton),现在真的庆幸当初没成功。”

两人现在住的组屋建于二战后的1948年至1951年之间,最大特色是漂亮的圆筒型螺旋梯。四层楼的组屋没有电梯设备,而这样的“步上式”组屋(walk-up apartment,即无电梯的低层住屋)正好抓住他们的心。


自拿主意 不用设计师





粉红厨房 男屋主的地盘













郑文琪的收藏品之中,有一部分是从小时候收到现在,像童年用的Little Twin Stars(双子星小天使)迷你塑料柜现在用来装发饰,小女生的甜美情怀在她成为女人之后,仍然小心保留。
















Friday, March 19, 2010

Yeo Hiap Seng & The Tiong Bahru Connection

I chanced upon a book about the Yeo Hiap Seng family when I was at the POPULAR bookstore this afternoon.

Two reasons why the book attracted my attention was (1) I think I sold a unit in Tiong Bahru which the Yeo family lived in before and (2) I worked at Yeo Hiap Seng for a good 3 years before I became a realtor.

The book contains some pictures of their first factory at the junction of Havelock Road and Outram Road. 

I suspect the location could be the open landscape garden in front of where Isetan used to be or where Tiananmen nightclub is standing now.

Anyway, when I got back home, I noticed Asiaone had posted a story about the Yeo Hiap Seng family and I decided to repost it here as this family were once Tiong Bahru residents too.

Here's the story :

Fri, Mar 19, 2010
The New Paper
By Zaihan Mohamed Yusof

'Security guards didn't recognise he was Big Boss'

(Above: Even the towkay of Yeo Hiap Seng, Mr Yeo Thian In, needed security passes to enter the soy sauce factory. The pass on the left was issued in 1974, while the one on the right, in 1983.)

HE may have been the boss of what is known today as the multi-million dollar company recognised internationally for its beverages, canned foods and instant noodles.

But Mr Yeo Thian In, the man behind Yeo Hiap Seng (YHS), or Yeo's as it's commonly known, used to insist that he, like any other employee, should have a pass identifying him as a staff at YHS.

The humble 'towkay' (boss) sometimes preferred to cycle or walk home rather than being driven by the chauffeur.

And to this day people still refer to him Mr Yeo Hiap Seng, even though it's not his real name.

The familiar, home-grown brand started humbly as a Singapore factory making soya sauce in 1938.

While the brand is famous, the man behind it is much less so, said his youngest son Alfred Yeo.

But a book published this year, The Soy Sauce Towkay, may change that.

It pays tribute to the YHS founder, as a Christian businessman, a father and brother to many who respected him.

Said Mr Alfred Yeo, 76: 'One funny misconception is that most people thought the company was named after him. That's not true.'

Hiap Seng soya sauce factory was actually opened in China in 1901, when Alfred's grandfather, Keng Lian, ventured with a partner.

When his partner left the business, the senior Yeo renamed his business Yeo Hiap Seng.

In 1920, Mr Alfred Yeo's father, Thian In, then 22, took over the business.

A few years later, the elder Yeo died, leaving his son Thian In at the helm.

'That was the start of his long and arduous journey towards being a successful businessman,' said Mr Alfred Yeo, a retired pastor.

'He had to support his family (of four brothers and three sisters). He had to make sure they got an education, too.'

The family left China for Singapore in 1938 due to the Japanese threat in China.

He took his four sons with him, while another son and daughter remained in China.

Even to the end, Mr Alfred and his wife Rosie, recalled that his father, who had died in 1985 at age 88, was a physically and mentally strong man.

Hard work, humility and honesty became some of the business beliefs Mr Yeo Thian In impressed upon his brothers and sons, said Mr Alfred Yeo.

In his office, Mr Yeo's desk was similar to his subordinates.

People who came to the office often mistook him for a clerk because he 'had no airs'.

'Working at the soya sauce factory was his whole life,' said his son.

'He didn't distinguish between work and family. He would work for 24 hours a day if he could.'

Yet, Mr Yeo and his brothers had to work doubly hard after their first factory in Outram Road was bombed by Japan in January 1942.

Mr Alfred Yeo added: 'My mother told me my father had said 'wan liao' (all finished in Hokkien)(I think it should be Bo Liao in Hokkien) when he saw the damage to the factory grounds.

'My mother said it was a miracle that no family members and workers were killed.'

At that time, the Yeos were living above their factory.

Above: Mr Yeo Thian In doted on his grandchildren who were called "taoyu soon" or soy sauce grandchildren in Hokkien. He is carrying Stanley and standing in front of him are (from the left) Samuel, Serene and Sylvia, who are the children of Mr Alfred Yeo.

Blessing in bombing

And as it turned out, the bombing was a blessing in disguise.

The Japanese decided not to use the YHS factory as an ammunition depot.

Instead, other soya sauce factories were forced to shut down as they were used as ammunition storage facilities.

That left YHS as one of the few companies still able to operate during the Japanese occupation.

Business soon picked up, said Mr Alfred Yeo, who was then in kindergarten.

Unfortunately, another bombing in 1945 deeply affected his father.

In that incident in February, Mr Alfred Yeo's sibling, Chee Kian, 13, was killed when British airplanes dropped incendiary bombs on the balcony of the Yeo residences in Tiong Bahru.

Mr Alfred Yeo narrowly escaped death as moments before, he and his two brothers had been standing on the balcony.

'After the incident, I could hear my father sobbing in bed. I knew losing Chee Kian broke his heart.'

Away from work, the traditional Thian In was a simple and quiet man. He and his wife, Tin Khim, lived with their son in a house, bought in Mr Alfred Yeo's name in 1960.

Since the late 1990s, the family home had been rebuilt.

The elder Mr Yeo normally dressed casually and ate modestly.

Said Mr Alfred Yeo's wife, Rosie: 'We would be very happy when guests came to our home because we knew we will get to eat a big fish.'

Above: Mr Alfred Yeo, 76, who is the youngest son to Mr Yeo Thian In (the founder of Yeo Hiap Seng in Singapore) sits in the foreground while in the background are portraits of his father, Thian In, and his mother Tin Khim. This photo was taken at Mr Alfred Yeo's Bukit Timah Road home.

Best soya sauce

Of course, at the dinner table, there would be no shortage of the 'best quality' soya sauce which Mr Yeo Thian In provided.

During reunion dinners, Mr Yeo would always tell his children and grandchildren how happy he was to see all of them at the table.

Said Mr Alfred Yeo: 'He would often tell a joke to make every one at ease at the dinner table.'

His father started his day early and returned home late with 'bundles of papers'.

In his room, he could be seen using the abacus and checking the company accounts.

Before he slept, he would read the bible.

After church on Sundays, Mr Yeo made it a point to check on his grandchildren's homework and Chinese reading skills. He would patiently listen when they read to him.

Said Mr Alfred Yeo: 'My father always believed that education was key to success. Western missionaries had told my grandfather that it was better to leave children with an education rather than a lot of money.

'So I often got scoldings as a child when I didn't study or got poor marks.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

18-19th Mar: 24Hr Cycling Challenge Fundraiser

Resident Val and Siang Hui is at the half way mark of their 24 hours cycling fundraiser.

There is still a good 12 hours to go.

You can watch them LIVE by clicking on the following link :

You can motivate them or keep their spirit up by talking to them.

By the way, this event is taking place in an apartment within the Signature block of Tiong Bahru (Block 78 Guan Chuan Street)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Wheel power

Read about what Resident Val and Siang Hui is up to and their singlemindedness in pursuing their dreams.

The Straits Times
Mar 14, 2010
By Kezia Toh

Two Singaporean women are so determined to cycle around the world, they have sold their possessions to pursue their dream

They have raised only about $2,000 but Miss Tan Xin Hui (left) and Miss Tay Siang Hui will go ahead with their trip. -- ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

Two Singaporean women have a dream: to spend five years cycling around the world.

Miss Tan Xin Hui, 25, and Miss Tay Siang Hui, 31, have sold off most of their possessions and ended the lease on their rental flat. They are ready to hit the road but there is just one snag: money.

They have raised only $1,905 - from their garage sale last weekend, during which they sold off things such as furniture, clothes and books at their two- bedroom walk-up apartment in Tiong Bahru.

That sum is only enough to get them to their starting point of Taiwan.

But undeterred, the duo, who are former television producers of independent company Simply Is Productions, are now tapping sponsors for support. So far, they have lined up sponsorship deals with companies such as health club Fitness First and sports label Puma.

They are also canvassing the public for cash: They will hold a 24-hour cycling challenge on Thursday, where companies and individuals pay to adopt one minute of the cycling, which will be streamed online.

Starting at 10am, they will embark on a test of cycling endurance with 24 hours of stationary cycling. At any one time, at least one bike will still be running.

Sports gadget company Polar Electro Singapore is the first organisation to come on board, paying US$100 (S$139) for a minute. Its marketing executive Lin Yue Yun, 27, says: 'What struck us was the women asking us, do you have a dream, and what happened to that dream? We were moved by their sincerity and passion.'

In addition, their website, , asks the public to donate directly.

But some people find the push for sponsorship deals and funds a little too freewheeling.

'My first thought was, you're asking me to support your lifestyle?,' says assistant manager Selena Ang, 51. 'But if I had a daughter who wants to do something like this, I would give her a chance to prove herself.

'I think people are supporting them because, for the sponsors, it might gel with something that they've always wanted to do, but did not. So it is like supporting them to live through them.'

The duo plan to cycle across Taiwan, Japan, the Americas and Europe. So adamant are they about going that Miss Tan says: 'Even if we have to go on just this amount, we'd still go. We cannot sit and have a discussion to plan the trip - we'd get too scared.'

It is a determination that has resonated with some firms they have approached for sponsorship.

Fitness First, for example, gave them a two-month membership each and personal training sessions.

Its marketing manager Sarah See, 34, says: 'We are supporting them because it is fitness related. We did tell them at first that we do only charity-related sponsorships but we saw that they needed help and fitness advice in preparing for the journey.'

She adds: 'For us, there is value in these sponsorships because they are doing publicity for us as well.'

The women have documented their experience with the health club on their website.

For sports label Puma, which has given the women a pair of sports shoes each and six sets of Dri-Fit attire costing more than $800, it was the aspect of fulfilling a dream that caught its eye.

'We believe that dreams can come true and we would like to spread this message,' says a spokesman. 'We are a sports lifestyle brand. What they plan to do - cycling round the world to meet people who have realised their dreams and using their experiences to inspire others - is a perfect example of sports and lifestyle.'

What do you think of the duo's canvassing for cash for their trip? Write to

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