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Oct 29, 2011

My Singapore Story


If nostalgia fans missed the Straits Times "Special Report" published in The Straits Times, Saturday, October 29, 2011, please get a copy from the community centres, libraries, friends or neighbors.

Titled "my singapore home", Straits Times readers discover Singapore pioneers in their own family. And each elder has a remarkable story to tell for a National Day contest. Lee Siew Hua reports Pages D2-9.

Responding to a call in their National Day Special, Straits Times readers submit the stories behind items belonging to their family elders, providing glimpses of life in old Singapore.

On this blog is excerpted relevant sections, with courtesy of The Straits Times as a non-commercial, community service via this social media channel for everyone.
A fuller, more resonant Singapore Story

From weighing scales to a wedding dress, unusual and whimsical objects have been uncovered in homes by readers of The Straits Times to illuminate the Singapore Story from original angles.

They have also explored memories of food from the 1940s - fresh braised duck peddaled on the streets, and desserts from a Singapore River pushcart. But these flashbacks have all the aching connotations of survival during Singapore's hungry years, rather than today's sense of culinary adventure.

Other emblems of the past: sepia family portraits; phone cards from a less tech-savvy but more communicative age; a sweet teddy bears; old coins; an antique iron safe; and more.

Readers sought the memories and memorabilia of family elders for a National Day Special contest in August.

In our contest titled My Singapore Story, readers were invited to tke a photo of a parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent or any older relative with a nostalgic item that they cherish. They were also asked to explain why the object is both a family memory and a slice of Singapore history.

These pages display the compact yet compelling stories of 10 winners. Their glimpses of life in old Singapore, lovingly collected, are full of romance and realism, power and poignancy. They have discovered pioneers in their own family, who personalise the vigour and vulnerability of Singapore. Best of all, they emphasise that family bonds deepen as they delve into neglected memories of their nearest and dearest.

Among the winners is Mr Lim Teck Koon, 43, a consultant in the pharmaceutical industry who pens a piece about his late China-born mother's landing permit in Singapore. He says: "The richness of the grand Singapore Story comes from the tapestry of stories of ordinary pioneer Singaporeans."

Listening to his mother's accounts of her life in a grittier Singapore, he felt an emotional impact that no history tome can equal. As he sees it: "Heartstrings are tugged."

He wonders anew at her fortitude when he gazes at her 1938 photo on her landing permit, which portrays a tender Madam Lau Tain Tee at the age of 15, when she left Putian forever to wed a man match-made for her in Singapore.

"The youthful and lovely picture of my mother evokes a great sense of wonder about her journey on earth, and deep gratitude for giving of herself so freely to her husband, children and grandchildren."

The immigrant spirit is also captured by Ms Teresa Malar Benedict, 32, a research associate who tells the dramatic story of how a Japanese soldier forced her grandmother to mend his uniform in the 1940s. He cracked the lock of her Singer sewing machine, which has survived and still whirrs today.

The stoic life of the late Mary Theresa Ponnuthurai echoes the Singapore Story, her granddaughter says.

"She was an immigrant and, like others, her life was changed by the course of events that took place here after she arrived, including the Japansese Occupation and Independence," Ms Benedict says. "These events forged her sense of belonging and identity in this country which becme her home."

Much like the Singer, Singapore confronted challenges and adversities that left long scars on the nation. "But Singapore remained strong and persevered and today, we are a progressive and cohesive nation."

For Singaporeans in their teens and 20s, storytelling spins new bonds between the generations when they linger to listen, and reveals Singapore in a fresh light.

Says one winner, Ms Yeo Shu Hui, 26, a branding executive: "Story time strengthens family bonds, I always enjoy listening to my parents' childhood stories and life experiences, which are far more interesting than what we get from books or the Internet."

Ms Yeo, who contributes a story about the nostalgic cour-fold ruler used by her carpenter grandfather to build sampans for a living, adds: "Their stories really give me a feel of what it was like to live in the olden days. So much more 'exclusive' to hear from the original source, isn't it?"

Another young voice, Secondary 4 student Phyllis Phua, gleans lessons of resilience and thrift from her grandfather Lao Song Khong, 78, who lives with her family in Tampines.

She writes about his tough teenage days in the 1940s, when he peddled desserts from a pushcart in the Boat Quay area with his widowed mother.

The 16-year-old, who won third prize, says: "He was amazing and resilient. He struggled in his life when Singapore was trying to develop as a nation."

Phyllis, who converses with Mr Lao in Teochew, adds: "Life in Singapore is very fast-paced and sometimes people forget the older generation who have contributed to Singapore."

Like her, the first and second prize winners are teenagers who retell the stories of beloved grandparents with a simple power.

As it turns out, the first prize winner Darren Chng and runner-up Hanis Sofea Abdul Rauff are both 14 and from Christ Church Secondary. The school has a culture of promoting national and moral values, and encourges students to test their skills by joining competions, according to Mr Rahmat Ali, 63, who teaches Darren and Hanis. He instructs four classes in English language as a relief teacher.

He had highlighted the Straits Times contest to his classes, after the principal and a department head addressed the school on issues of "familial love, devotion and respect, and the sacrifices of the earlier generation in building the nation with regard to National Day and the contest", he says.

He adds: "I wanted my students to build their own self-confidence in writing. I was also keen that they should discover their own rich heritage through bonding with their immediate and extended families."

Reflecting on the links between personal and national stories, Mr Bernard Lee, a partner of Digital Storytelling Asia, says: "Stories help in some way to establish an elusive element in our national consciousness - an emotional bond anchored in a shared history that has touched every family in Singapore.

"But this shared history has so far come forth from official - some may say propagandist - channels. It's time to have a voice from the man in the street to articulate this shared history, so that the mosaic of the Singapore Story will be fuller, more resonat, more fleshed-out and ultimately more powerful." His social enterprise works to empower ordinary people to tell their stories in digital form.

Imagine what it can do for older folks to tell their stories, Mr Lee continues. Imagine what it cn do for younger people who need to form stronger bonds with the previous generation, with one another and with the nation.

"Finally, imagine if the new Singaporeans and PRs get to tell their stories as part of a new chapter in Singapore's history and how that can bring Singaporeans closer to them."

By Lee Siew Hua, Senior Writer; Photos by Ng Sor Luan

Congratulations to the 10 winners tell the personal Singapore Story of their family elders:

1st prize: "Music of the ages" by Darren Chng
2nd prize: "Grandpa's TV set and regret" by Hanis Sofea Abdul Rauff
3rd prize: "Sweet family bonds" by Phyllis Phua

Other winners:

"Mirrored hopes" by Chang Yuen Yi
"Grandpa's weighing scales" by Janel Ang
"Singer and Japanese soldier" by Teresa Malar Benedict
"Pigs and serenity" by Lim Teck Koon
"Ruler transforms into sword" by Yeo Shu Hui
"Love in old Singapore" by Francis Ng
"Iron safe" by Meenakshi Nin
"1st new dress" by Janette Tan
"Pot of love" by Loh Sing Ping
"Harmonium" by Vincent Rasa Bendict
"The Ship Restaurant" by Chung Yuen Sien
"Phone cards" by Rachel Chee
"My old home, in watercolour" by Edmund Arozoo
"Porcelain wrist pillow" by Pauline Khoo

It doesn't matter if there are only three top winners in this contest.

In the opinion on this blog to express, every contestant is a winner in his or her own rights; including those with a Singapore Story not submitted, but has one to tell. Please read on the following article by Lee Siew Hua:
"Half a century of nationhood, half a century of memories"

SINGAPOREANS love reminiscing most about places dear to them, and their childhood.

These are the top themes among the 200,000 memories and stories of Singapore collected under the irememberSG drive, part of the Singapore Memory Project.

The idea is to pool five million memories - all pieces of the Singapore
story - to mark the nation's 50th birthday in 2015.

Since it was officially rolled out during the National Day Rally on Aug 14, stories have been flowing in through the irememberSG Facebook page and blog from individuals, communites, groups and institutions.

Mr Gene Tan, programme director of the Singapore Memory Project, says irememberSG "personalises" history: "We find that this is a very personal and organic way for people to share their Singapore connection and identity."

It creates a daisy chain effect, he adds: "They start connecting with other Singaporeans and realise they are part of something bigger."

Other themes with a unifying power include: food, national service, Malaysia Cup victories, and major events like the   Bukit Ho Swee fire . Memories stretch back to the Japanese Occupation.

The Singapore Memory Project collects, preserves and offers access to the memories of the nation. The project from the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts is led by the National Library Board.

Mr Tan notices that the young do have a hunger to connect: "Hopefully we will go on a never-ending discovery of Singapore."

Contribute personal memories via e-mail at or the irememberSG Facebook page.

Visit the irememberSG blog, which showcases stories and memories of Singapore from selected contributors.



Blogger derek tait said...

What a wonderful story. Your blog really brings alive today's Singapore for me and makes me realised what I'm missing. I'll have to visit again one day soon. Without the internet, many people outside Singapore would never get to read about the city and its people today. Your blog brings back many happy memories for me and I enjoy reading about events today together with memories of the past. Every family has their own tale to tell and I'm pleased to read these ones on your bog.

October 30, 2011 at 4:07 AM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Splendid Derek. Thank you very much for our virtual connection and communication within minutes on the Internet.

Its surreal isn't it...a small world indeed!

What it would take a week or two to send a copy of The Straits Times of 29 Oct, I could post this nostalgia blog
to share with you and friends in UK.

Our blogger friends and I are looking forward to welcome to Singapore soon. Our Facebook friends "On a little street in Singapore", your book and eBook

October 30, 2011 at 1:49 PM  
Blogger derek tait said...

Thanks, James. Of course what I meant to say was, 'Every family has their own tale to tell and I'm pleased to read these ones on your blog (not 'bog' which means toilet in the UK!)I should type slower!

October 30, 2011 at 11:47 PM  
Blogger ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Keep it going James.

November 6, 2011 at 9:11 AM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Thanks for the motivation and encouragement Andy.
Happy blogging!

November 7, 2011 at 11:41 AM  

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