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A "recycled teenager" learning to blog.

Feb 12, 2012

Ways Done in the Past - Work

This is a cartoon by Mort Walker related to work.

Private Bailey is a lazy sort who usually naps and avoids work, and thus is often the subject of verbal and physical chastising from his supervisor, Sergeant Snorkel.

Cartoonist Mort label Bailey as a lazy worker as compared to workers who work hard.

This blog topic is not about the various types of work or workers; philosophy on work or their ethic as Mort did.

There is a Chinese proverb saying that ” the same type of rice raises up a hundred types of different people”. This simply means that you cannot expect every human to be the same, even when they come from the same culture and background.

Do you wonder what work was like in the past?   Maybe you're not sure what the world of work nowadays and the future to be like?

If the Singapore Memory Project (SMP) were to be mooted a hundred years ago, these Singaporean workers would have so many Singapore memories to be shared with us.

Looking at Singapore memory of workers from PICAS, thanks to the courtesy of National Archives of Singapore (NAS), lets travel backwards on a 'time machine' over a century ago how life was like in Singapore which our ancestors found common scenes on daily life.

Please join me on a photo journey on this blog to discover the ways done in the past the vanished trade, vanished work which became obsolete and not the types of work which nobody needs to do anymore today.

Section two on the lower part of the blog is posted randomly as the thoughts flow. Comments are welcome to express to blog. However, I reserve the right of reply on this blog.

There are two sections on this blog - first on the ways done in the past on work, the second one on "What I have learnt - a personal experience".

Why do we want to reinvent the wheels?

More efforts, time and human resources are now utilised for meaningful work and offer jobs to people.

Singapore grew as a small island of fishing villages over a hundred years ago. Never did our ancestors ever imagined of this place, our home to work, to play and to live.

The word "coolie" was used in Singapore means menial work for labourers who were slaves, illiterate, unskilled workers with no hopes for their future.

However, these "coolies" continue to work hard, toil through blood and sweat, persevere to sacrifice for the family of the future.

Many successful Singaporeans today are proud of their ancestors as "coolies".

The 'Generation Y' friends love to be known as "COOLIES... "IN" TO BE COOL".

Okay guys...lets take a look at some photos of 'coolies' in the 1900s.


"Coolies" having a meal.

Miscellaneous Workers

Street peddlers outside a tailor shop in 1900s.


Bus conductress in the 1970s.

Granite quarry worker c 1970.

Woman car-washer c 1970.

Ice cream travelling man. Photo Credit: Hercules Lim.


Office Workers in the 1950s

Mrs Margaret Clarke at Wheelock Marden at Robinson Road c 1950. Photo Credit: Mrs Margaret Clarke.

Worker Training

Training for "Sinsehs of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)"

Trainees for the Bases Economic Conversion Department, Singapore in preparation of the British withdrawal in mid-1970.

Trainees for the Bases Economic Conversion Department, Singapore in preparation of the British withdrawal in mid-1970.

Students for Teachers Training School


"What I have learnt - a personal experience"

This is a treasured photo of me (20-years-old) taken in 1968 at the office of Koon Hoe & Co at 402, Chinese Chamber of Commerce Building, Singapore 6 (Note: Singapore single postal code).

My first job 40 years ago as an import/export clerk in a building material company owned by the daughter and son-in-law, Mr Lam Wing Fei of my mother's friend who recommended the available job to me.

For the first week, I was doing odd-job to pack Shanks' ceramic cisterns to be delivered to the Port of Singapore (known Singapore Harbour at that time). Koon Hoe & Co. was the sole-distributor in Singapore for Shanks.

Later, when Mr Lam knew that I could type, I was transferred to his head office for application of import/export declarations forms at the Customs House, Maxwell Road.

I was working under Mr Tan Chin Tiong, Export Manager, the brother-in-law of Mr Lam.

There were many things to learn and it was kept me very busy. There were new things to learn everyday. Throughout every new job and assignments to do, I gain work experience to get a better job done. As we say, the rest is history.

I also had to run errands to buy lunch for the bosses and my colleagues at lunch.

Great! I tried the best "Bak Chor Mee" at the stall at Hill Street just beside the office (later I learnt that the original recipe of this original famous Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle stall located diagonally opposite the Central Fire Staion. Another lunch favorite was the chicken rice stall at a Cecil Street which I had now forgotten its name. Free lunch is a fringe benefit and I also found out the street names in town. Those were the heritage street names I have blogged about at my nostalgia blogs. These are Singapore memory of places I became familiar and learnt by heart.

Work to me is an education in life. Learning is life.

Sometimes I wondered... was work created by God to teach us lessons in life?

Work is not just a task, it is the opportunity to encounter people we work with and the place to able to work together for at least eight hours a day. The workplace is a second home to be alert throughout the day to work whereas most part of the first home was for sleeping ;)

I read a non-fiction book "Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do" by Studs Terkel and he inspired me.

How many people could Studs meet in their research for his book?

My limited personal work experience is not comparable to Stud's extensive academic research. I am sorry it is too few for me to blog to express here.

My thanks to Ms Hellen Tan who featured me on this article after my retirement and published in The Straits Times long time ago:

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2 Comments:

Blogger Yee Weng Hong said...

Thanks James for all these great photos of forgotten workers of yester years. These are the unknown people who worked to make Singapore great today.
Except 1 photo of the girl holding the camera. She's doesn't look like a worker; probably just a rich girl fooling around with an expensive camera.
Of course, the most precious photo among all these is James's photo when he was 20 years old. And his personal story as a young worker.

February 21, 2012 at 8:35 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Thank you for the memories, Weng Hong.

Everyone has a first time experience as a first job, the first paycheck we received, what was in our mind at that time...something which could have been done if there were a Facebook and post "What's on your mind..." and tell everyone..."I am happy and proud to earn money by myself..."

Happy memories, Weng Hong.

February 22, 2012 at 10:25 AM  

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