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May 14, 2014

Children's Stories to Teach Language and History

This blog is inspired by Jacqueline Littler's comment to the "Tribute to Samsui Women of Singapore" "Tribute to Samsui Women of Singapore" blog posted on 29 November, 2010.

Jacqueline said:
I was in tears as I read your "blog" James. I was so young when we lived in Sg. How easyt my life was compared to theirs. I can see them in my mind's eye, and am ashamed I paid them so little attention. They truly were the life-blood of Singapore in that era.
Thank you for sharingx
May 14, 2014 at 2:19 AM
Thank you, Jacqueline Litter.  I am glad that you like this blog as much as the story about the Samsui Women as I blogged it almost 4 years ago.

There is another children's story "Samsui Girl" by Ms Ho Lee-Ling's first book, published with a grant from Singapore's Media Development Agency (MDA).  It set the model for a series of books that integrate story and history in a fun way.  The aim is to use stories to interest children in learning about the past to teach language and history.

Photo courtesy of Dr Stephanie Ho
Stephanie is a public historian with extensive experience in education and the heritage industry. A former history teacher and museum educator, Stephanie has a PhD (Public History) from the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).

As a museum educator, Stephanie has created various innovative and educational resources including an interactive CD-Rom, a family and teacher’s guide to the museum and a hands-on archaeological kit.

Stephanie is the author of several children’s books, written under the name Ho Lee-Ling. She was the recipient of the First-Time Writers & Illustrators Publishing grant awarded by the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) and the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) in 2006. Three of her children’s books are published under The History Workroom imprint. They are Samsui Girl, Wayang Girl, and Gasing Boy. Samsui Girl is in its third print-run.

With courtesy of "Samsui Girl" by Dr Stephanie Ho extracted here .

This story is set in Singapore and about an 8 year old girl whose name is Amber.  I drew Amber in a way that would convey the kind of a girl she is.  You can see she has short hair, wears T-shirts and shorts.  She as a tom-boy but a child that likes to try new things.  One of her problems in that she like to put her leg on the chair - a habit I used to have.

Amber's leg on the chair leads to a stand-off with her Mother.  Amber's mother thinks it is very rude for her to put her leg on the chair.  Her mother says "Only Samsui women and rickshaw pullers put their legs on the chair.  Young ladies do not do it."  In anger, Amber replies that she will be a Samsui girl so that she can put her leg on the chair.

Amber's mother is an important character in the story.  She often challenges Amber, and it is her challenges and Amber wanting to prove her mother wrong that motivates her to do new things.  I imagined Amber's mother to be very different to what Amber is.  So I decided that she would be a curvy, funny woman who is always immaculately groomed and made up.  See her red lips, jade pendant, earrings and bracelets.

Amber first tries to become a Samsui girl on her own but does not succeed.  She later meets her neighbour, Lee Por Por who used to be a Samsui woman.  Lee Por Por makes a Samsui headscarf for Amber.  This process is very hard to describe in words, so I drew pictures referring to historical photos from an old newspaper article.

With Por Por, Amber goes to a construction site to do work which the Samsui used to do.  In a conversation with Por Por, she also learns that not all Samsui women put their legs on the chair, only rude ones do.  At the end of the day, Amber returns home tired but finally understanding what it is like to be a Samsui Girl.
The "Samsui Women of Singapore" belongs to the "Pioneer Generation" of a different era. 

It is unlikely that they could be "reborn" in these roles as were born once upon a time in China under those prevailing circumstances and conditions to migrate to Singapore.

These were rugged, resilient, young girls from a certain village in China at a tumultuous times.  They were prepared to endure hardship and poverty to sacrifice and took a vow to work in Singapore, where it was offering them to earn a living in construction sites.

When we looked at the earlier HDB public housing estates in Toa Payoh, Queenstown, Chinatown and other places in Singapore, these buildings were constructed with the contributions of the "Unsung Heroes" of the past with their sweat and blood.

Let Dr Stephanie Ho tell children and our younger generations the stories of the "Samsui Women" and how these "unglamorous" group of women helped us to build Singapore today.  A tribute to the pioneer generation of Singaporeans to remember not to forget.



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