Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Singapore Dream

Extracted from Find Singapore.net.


I am 55 this week. An Arian Tiger.

My name is Lai Chee Fan. It means “Struggling with Ambition”.

Born a British Subject, a Singaporean, then Malaysian and Singaporean.
Perhaps ASEANian in 2015?

From the day I started work as a 15-year old apprentice on 04-April-1966 at H. M. Dockyard till today, I considered myself blessed to have ample opportunities for me to seize to improve my life.

But I am weary,
I see nothing ahead of me but another 10 more years of toils.

Before I vanish from the page of history, I would like to take this opportunity here to voice my life, my frustrations and anguish over the direction that Singapore is taken.

I trust that young lot of Young Punks will have an inkling of what 2nd Generation had gone through….and I consider myself amongst the luckiest of the whole bunch, fortunately enough to work towards middle-class whereas lots of my contemporaries are still in working class, grinding out a living.

The Beginning

I was born in 1950 at Chong Pang Village in Sembawang. I guessed my mother made the right choice and determined to give birth in Singapore instead of her hometown in Johor.

Flashes of my toddler memory:
- I think I was about one year old, just sitting on a linoleum floor playing with a ball. I think, how nice it is to throw the ball far far away and watch uncle pick it up and return to me. I threw the ball.
- Thrown tantrum, want bus ride. Remember only I was dozing on father’s shoulder.
- As a 2-year old toddler, just managed to standup, went to Johor uncle place, a packed earth floor. What is that yellow stuff? Pick it up, put in mouth to taste it. Funny taste, a bit salty.
- Why is all aunties shouting and talking what. I don’t understand.
- Friends, in my case, it is proof that those little rascals can think once they are able to sit up.

Those early days, babies were with a thin rice gruel, a bit of toman (snakehead) and once in a rare while, lean pork.
MY parents were impoverished; father an odd-job laborer cum handyman, and work where works are available.

No Western medicine available, for the first 8 years of my life, it is Chinese medicine from the local sen-seh or well-known herbalists to cure your flu, chicken-pox, ring-worms, tape-worms, earth-worms, ulcers, etc.

Nutrition came from Scotts Cod Liver Oil and that Butterfly-brand starchy baby-food to feed babies and toddlers……and of course, nestle milk powder and Milkmaid condensed milk.
Bread, if you can afford it, is from the local bakery.

You live in an attap house, partitioned into small rooms of 3.6m by 3.6m, for rental to about 6 to 8 families. My family of 6 (2 adults, 4 children) occupied one of these rooms. A common kitchen served all families.
Toilets facilities is an outhouse, with nightsoil carriers changing the “pan” daily.
You use well water to bath.
But there is a PUB (Water) standpipe, about 100 metre, serving the whole village.

No electricity, no telephone, no streetlighting, just a mud-track. After dark, it is real darkness as there are no artificial lights.
Light source is an oil lamp; or if you can afford it, a single candle light.
The common verandah is lit up by a kerosene lamp,….you know, those type, you need to “pump” to get it to brighten up.
Entertainment is listening to Rediffusion (Lei Tai Soo) or the Senior Elder Lady will regale us with traditional Chinese folktales from China.
Therefore, Lee Kuan Yew’s much vaunted “Chinese traditions” by mandarin is all rubbish as he is an Elite and did not understand that for the 2nd Generation, our immigrant forefathers’ values and traditions are actually passed down to us verbally by our Village Elders and our parents in DIALECTS. And not some forcefully imposed “values” via a Northern Barbarian tongue called Mandarin.
And that is the perception of a young Cantonese boy, so influenced by stories from all these Cantonese elder ladies in my village. And they hardly spoke a word of Mandarin to me.
That is, for the first 5 years of my life, I was totally immersed in a Cantonese enclave, hardly heard any dialects (until I began to listen to Redifusion), Malay or English. We are that insular at that period of time.

It is bed-time at 8pm…as most of them need an early start at 4am or 5am to tend their farms, get ready for market, or to travel “long distance” to city to work……or if you are lucky to work at nearby H.M Naval Base, from 7am to 4pm.

There is little racial intermingling, only at workplace or market.
Each and everyone of us stayed within your racial enclaves.
Cantonese here, Teochew and Hokkien there, further away are the Hainanese, somewhere is a Malay kampung,….and Indians somewhere.

Landlord and Grocer

Our Landlord is also our Grocer. It is a self-help group and very shrewd business practice., basing on the Chinese traditional practice that the whole family honored the debts.
You can buy all your staples on credit…..and you joined “tontines” to borrow when you are desperately short of funds.
All debts to settle before Chinese New Year as a matter of honor.

It is a family’s honor to settle all debts incurred by family members. Even when my father passed away in the 70’s, my mother was still paying my late father’s gambling debts for the next few years after his death.

We were fortunate because my mum’s Johorean family is considered well-to-do as small rubber estate stakeholder. Again, we survived through the generosity of my maternal uncles that loaned money and provided “live” chickens for our Lunar New Year celebrations.
That is, I was eating kampung chickens, about 3 or 4 times per year.. That is, during Chinese festivals only.
Pork? Once in a rare while.
Duck? You are lucky if you had tasted it once a year.
Mutton and Beef? Never heard of it.

At one time, a neighbouring house caught a 1m long monitor lizard and it is a delcacy when cooked with Chinese herbs.
A local coffeeshop owner (they were the Elite those days) purchased a slaughtered tiger, perhaps from a circus, and it took him a week to “cook” it with a large steaming wok…everything, right down to the bones, until nothing remained.

You protein comes from ikan bilis and the local black-colored swamp carps (about 100 to 150mm long) which has a muddy taste…..and only once a week.
Your meals comprise of rice, vegetables and more vegetables.

When my father managed to secure employment at HM Dockyard, and as pay-day was every Friday, we had streaky pork on every Friday without fail. It was tough and those fats, nauseating, and I hate it even now. Until I discovered the braised version at Teochew or Taiwanese porridge.

Chinese New Year?
All tenants at each attap house combined their effects to make cookies and rice cakes. I remembered that we used to help to grind all those rice into powder, and then steamed it.
Delicious!!! Nothing like home-make rice cakes…which I still missed them.

There was hardly any crime in my village. Never heard of anything being stolen even though all rooms remained open and unlocked all the time.
Of course, one must avoid the coffee shops after dusk, as it “belongs” to the local gangsters during evening and nights. Frights frequently broke out as early as 8pm. It is part of out nightly “entertainment” from a safe distance, of course.

If you are eating at a coffee shop and there is a sudden blackout, you will hear this message:
“Those that they did not walked the road should not be afraid and should remain seated.” You sit still immediately.
Then, gangsters will come around and check each person by torch lights.
If you ran or move or from different gangs, you are slaughtered.

Law & Order?
Everybody is suspicious of all those Malay policemen and we knew that they were all corrupted and cannot be trusted. Everybody knew that this village is protected by so-and-so gangster and it is his territory.
When you are in trouble, you go to seek help from the local Big Brother, certainly not the corrupted police force. But we still retained our Chinese insularity and prejudices, suspicious of all “outsiders” who are not from the same village.

I think in the mid-50’s, a curfew was imposed on the whole area (Maria Hertogh rioting) and we were all confined in our room. You can sensed the fear permeating into the atmosphere and from our parents. You heard those old ladies speaking reassurance that: “Don’t worry. The local Big Brother would protect us from harm”.

There is a certain “code of honor” that the gangsters would not “disturbed” the impoverished working class. After all, we are all their “customers” patronizing their opium dens and gambling dens.
No, there was no brothel in out village. It was situated in some other place conveniently situated to cater to all those British sailors and soldiers.

I vividly remembered an incident where I was out of nights with my friends, and noticed that a group of street urchins were pestering two drunken sailors. Every now and then, these two sailors laughingly tossed out a handful of coins and there was a mad scramble to gather these coins.
During that time, an ice-ball costs 5 cents and F&N bottled drink costs 15 cents.

I was scolded by my father as he warned me that should the sailors turned violent and used us as punching bags, it is within their “rights” and there is no appeal and they would not be charged at all.
After all, the death of a few local natives is meaningless to the British colonial masters. Those Whites are a law onto themselves.

Opium den?
I can remember vividly (I was 6 or 7 years old then) bringing lunch to my paternal granduncle smoking opium for the whole day…..a kind of funny smell, not unpleasant…..and no, I was not stoned.

Gambling den?
Right in the open, with police patrol, if they ever appeared, just passes by.

Early Schooling

During those days, teachers were at the top of the totem in prestige. The local schoolteachers are well respected and woe betides those naughty boys during conversation between teachers and parents at the wet market.
Indeed, it is always a closely knitted community where everybody knows everybody, and every one of us is extremely conscious of our social status and leave the “rich” well alone. We dare not even aspire to visit their homes or even talk to them unless spoken to.
Peasant mentality brought from China to Singapore. Our parents keep reminding us “never to “disturb” or played with those rich children”. That is, we must “know” our place in the Community.

At 6-year old, I was “forced” by my father to attend the local private Chinese school. All a blur to me and I flunked the end-year exam, and got whacked by father.
I repeated the course, and surprise of surprise, amongst the top student, won a prize. When you got up to the stage, bow to that guy handing out the prize, collect it, turn around and bow to the audience.
Well, father’s whacking certainly concentrated your attention (of course, no distraction like TV, radio, MP3 or PC) and blessed with a retentive memory, was able to memorize the complete multiplication tables from 1 to 12 (those that are behind all exercise books) by the age of 7! Talk about “hot-housing” and “advanced preparation” by a demanding father!
Those Chinese teachers were brutal at that time. They think nothing of slapping, rapping your heads with a hard rulers and rapping your knuckles as well. Parents were not complained and instead, you got a second whacking at home because you are deemed to be in the wrong when you got whacked in school, never mind if on that day, the teacher got out of the wrong side of the bed.

For those “senior” practicing on a large abacus hanging on the blackboard, your knuckles got a hard rap every time you made a wrong move!!!

All parent at that time believes that it is a slight to family’s honor should their child misbehaved in school and receive punishment; and worse of all, the whole village knew about it.

I guess that the high esteem that our parents hold for teachers may perhaps due to their subservience behavior as peasants in Feudal China.

PAP Arrives!

Weary of corruption and deprivations, those old ladies were discussing politics and talked of a new young man who is serious and they think can change things around. And they will have better infrastructures.
Therefore, do not sniff when politicians promises, because it worked as deprived people were always grasped at “star dusts” thrown at them. They always live in hope of a better life. What else is left for them at the bottom except a wish for a ladder to climb out?

The late Ahmad Ibrahim (our first Health Minister), accompanied by Chinese helpers came a calling, everybody were impressed and all I saw was a smiling, quite shy actually, smallish dark-skinned man standing there with all his helpers talking.

A few months later, we shifted to worker quarters inside H. M. Naval Base.

A footnote.
Lee Kuan Yew was campaigning one night within HM Naval Base along Canberra Road. I was amongst one of the numerous street urchins that mobbed his lorry. He was pressing flesh and I was one of them. It was fleshy, warm and dry. And I can still remember that handshake’s feeling even today.

English School

We moved to Block 14, Kowloon Road in 1959. Just 3 blocks away from the footballing Quah family.
Paradise!!! Free electricity, free piped water,and modern sanitary squat-pan. No more open nightsoil pan!!!!
Free filament light bulbs as well, all provided by HM Naval Base.
That my friend is socialism at work where the proletariats are provided with “basic necessities” and they worked to earn their keep.

Colonial Government built Canberra Primary School, West Hill Primary School and Naval Base Secondary School in Chong Pang Village. Vacancies galore.
My father insisted that I must attend English school for my future well being and dragged me “screaming” out of the Chinese school.

I was advanced of my classmates due to my Chinese Education and topped my forms. I was completely submerged in an English-language environment and start to lose my “Mother Tongue”. There was no 2nd Language Teacher till Primary 4.

In 1958, I was attending West Hill Primary School in the morning (it was single session then), dismissed at 1pm, had a quick lunch and dashed off to attend the Chinese School till, I think, 6pm.
No problem at that time, there was little or virtually no homework. A few months of these until Government said that a child can only attend ONE school at a time.
I left the Chinese school.

Blessed with a retentive memory, and you know, our examinations are merely a test of memory, and I topped the standards virtually every year, the worst is 2nd place.

Even at Sembawang, our parents were talking of “Raffles Institution” as the best secondary school, and every primary school aspired to study there. Every girl aspired to Raffles Girl School.
They spoke of ACS as a “rich man’s school”, not suitable for people like us at Sembawang.

During my cohort, only two of us were chosen to study at RI. It was celebration time by our primary school form teacher. A proud achievement by him, especially the whole “A” class scored a 100% pass rate in PLSE…the first 100% achievement.

During my time, being prefects were hazardous to one’s health. After PSLE, there is usually a gang of ruffians, hanging outside the school-gates to bash-up any prefects. Well, I was of the kampung, and they were my kaki, I was their “gang” and therefore, escape a bashing.

And if there is any “disagreement”, fistfights were organized after school by the residing “headman” or bully in schools.

In those days, you better “belong” to your neighborhood “gang” of boys from the same kampung or same street for protection.

And all these rascals had grown up to be respectable citizen.
Except for one guy who was addicted to horse punting.

Chia Ho Bee (that guy that sold all those motivation courses) was my primary school mate and considered one of those “rich”, son of that famous open-air Sultan Cinema owner.

Well, every Friday is payday, and his father shrewdly showed western action movies (mostly Cowboys & Indians, war, action, etc) and we spent 50 cents to watch this movie.

During these periods, my father enrolled me in an English Language class ran by an Indian-English clerk. Boy, how he exploited us when we got to pay 50 cents for end-of-class celebration and served sweet potato soups. Hey, during that time, sweet potato soup costs only 5 or 10 cents from street-side hawkers.

And of course, his brat of a son, by the name of Peter, became a schoolteacher, flaunted his superior command of the spoken English and taunted us on our inability to pronounce proper English. My friend wished to smash him up and left the class. We endured because it is our parents’ wishes. It was torturing with laughter and sneer accompanying our poor spoken ability, heavily Chinese dialect accented.
And that was the beginning of my intense hatred against this kind of white man trash and calling Eurasians as 2nd Class Eurpoean.

Raffles Institution

In 1962, I was allowed to travel alone to National Library at Stamford Road. Bus fare only a mere 25 cents from Chong Pang Village to Beach Road Satay Club (now Shaw Tower). It is a 45 to 60 minutes Tay Koh Yat bus journey.

I am not joking when I said that I saw my very first horse-drawn carriage at Bras Basah Road in 1962!!!
Moreover, STB was operating the electric trams at that time.
A dazzling sight for a kampung boy.

AT that time, my mother managed to secure a job with a British family as a washerwomen at S$50 per month. (one sterling pound = S$10). The work is in the morning.
But I got to watch over my younger sisters and brothers and cooked my owned lunch before dashing off to catch the public transport to school.
Where got school bus at that time?
If she is late, I asked the neighboring housewife for help when I need to leave the house.

During the 60’s racial riots, I can remember that on 2 occasions, schools ended early and we all rushed home to beat the curfew deadline. At that time, there is no racial animosity at all amongst students, but we tend to congregate amongst our own race. Very little inter-racial mingling amongst students.

All, during the monsoon period, where there is flooding at Nee Soon,..where there are literal miles of traffic jam due to flooding..and it was fun for us students returning home and arrived at Chong Pang near to mid-night.

It was during that time that William Phua, Chan Peng Mun and Kwan Yue Yong were Pre-U (or JC) students and rugby players. A closed-knitted group.
I discovered athletics and Patrick Pestana discovered me. Mr. Puhaindran was my form teacher.
RI opened its doors to female Pre-U students during my time.
And it was during this time; it reinforced my hatred against Eurasians that I considered white-man trash.
One particular “turn-coat” was from SJI, I got picked by him for a “grilling” session at the canteen (near the famous banyan tree) to entertain his surrounding female “admirers”. I dunno why, but perhaps to show his “European” superiority to us local natives.

And no, it did not enter in my mind then as to whether it is racism or not. Just plain hatred against Mat’s Salleh.

A footnote: Dileep Nair (if I can remember correctly) and Mak Yew Thong were, I think one year my senior, and they were top students and were head-prefect and assistant head-prefect.

Jesudason was the Principal and he caught my friend playing basketball in class (teacher had not arrived yet). Without a word, Jesudason gave him a tight slap and warned him: “You can get sack for this”. A few minutes of lecture and he walked out of the class.

Well, during an arts class in designing badges or symbols, one boy drew a lovely badge featuring the Beatles.
Immediately, the Arts teacher started condemning the “yellow culture”, ranting it is bad for youths and we should not listen to it. That poor boy got to redo his badge design again as it was rejected outright.

My best achievement was being appointed Morrison House Captain (PM Session) in 1966.

HM Dockyard

In 1966, my father said that it is difficult for him to support four school-going children. He understands that HM Dockyard is conducting an exam to select apprentices from 16-years old; usually those that failed their “O” levels.

He pointed out that he could only supported me up to “O” level only. And the best I can hope for is to work as a teacher or a clerk. Why not learn a trade and work your way up. And if you are a top student, you will selected to work at Portsmouth and at the same time, studying for a HND (equivalent to a poly diploma) over there.

Patrick Pestana was trying to persuade me to stay in school, offered free athletic kits and a bursary. Unfortunately, for bursary, the cut-off level was S$200 pm income and my father was earning S$210 pm. So, disqualified!!!!!

I passed the exam and came in 7th. I selected Superintending Electrical Engineering Department.

I started work on 04-April-1966 as an indentured apprentice for the next 5 years at a princely sum of S$132 per month.

Tried to imagine, still a 15-year old boy, who lived a sheltered life, a lamb whose parents did not spoke to him on the “Facts of Life”, suddenly threw into the cauldron of life amongst 30, 40-years old uncouth and coarse shipyard workers that cheat, lie, smoke, drink, whore and gamble.
It is very corrupting and open my eyes to the seamier sides of life…………..where every Friday payday, fellow apprentices made a beeline to Desker Road, bars or organizing gambling activities.
JB was so nearby, same as Hatyai. This is where I discovered them talking about S$1 whore at Tanjong Pinang, Bintan.

I guessed the saving grace was that I am from a strictly traditional family and resisted these temptations because I had been taught it was wrong.
Moreover, I was a non-conformist, rather a loner and despise all those uncouthness and coarseness; which certainly did not make me popularly and of course, they picked me to bully.
And I understand the meaning of bullying. Tried to grin when a muscle-bound 20-something lout stepped upon your bare foot and grind your bare toes. And I am still 16 years old. You learnt to endure bruises and verbal abuses.

Well, there was racism. “White” and “Colored” toilets prominently featured.

Workers are allowed to eat at the “Office Worker” canteens. White-collared workers are predominantly English-speaking Indians and Eurasians. And their canteen has the best nasi briyani on every Fridays. We sent a representative to queue up outside the canteen to buy lunch for us at 50 cents only.

Anyway, we non-English speaking workers were “looked down” upon by all these superior English-speaking Indians and Eurasians.

Malay was the lingua franca as Indians and Chinese workers did not know even a smattering of English. Those that did are promoted to foremen or charge-hands or called “Number One”.

Again, at their HM Dockyard Technical College, I was either the top or 2nd boy in the Class. I was happy, as there is an extremely good chance that I will be one of the two boys selected to work and study in Portsmouth.

Toa Payoh and British Withdrawal

BANG!!! Harold Wilson announced British Forces withdrawal from Singapore and in 1968, HM Dockyard became Sembawang Shipyard SS). My dream of going to UK was shattered.

There was a mad scramble to replace all those departing British supervisors and managers. A classic case of a worker who only changed light-bulbs, but because he was a football referee and rubbed shoulders with all those Whites during friendly football matches amongst the Whites, he was promoted to Departmental Manager!!
I was curious and asked: Why?
Reply: because he threw Square Bottles. {Johnny Walker bottles were square in shape at that time.]
And yet during that time, there ugly rumors of those British supervisors “selling” their positions to locals.
I speculate that maybe this is one oft eh reasons as to why Sembawang Shipyard first HR Director was rumored to be an ex-CPIB personnel.

As a top student, SS sponsored my studies at Singapore Polytechnic and we gained direct entry into the 3rd year Day-Release Course due to our high standard at HM Dockyard Technical College. (My fellow apprentice topped the final year exam and was awarded the Certificate of Merit.)

My father discovered he had cancer. He knew that he might have to move out of the workers’ quarters soon. It was pretty considerate at that time for the Sembawang Shipyard Management to retain him as long as possible.
Not like the present brutal MNC management as reported in the press where pregnant women are “retrenched”.

We applied to HDB, bought and moved to a Toa Payoh 3-room flat at Lorong 7 in 1969. It costs S$7,800 and monthly mortgage payment was S$50, I think, for 20 years.

Well, I got to wake up at 5am to catch the 5.45am company bus every morning.

My 5-year apprenticeship is up to April 1971. During 70’s, QUANTAS was looking for trainee engineers and ESSO was looking for technicians to man their Ayer Chawan Refinery. It pays S$500 per month!!!!
But I got to break my bond to join them. But I prefer not and hope to finish my poly studies in 1972.
Well, I completed my apprenticeship in 1971 and was promoted to fitter grade..
I got TRIPLE Increment, that is, from 4 cents and hour to 12 cents an hour.
My take-home pay, excluding overtime, is S$210 per month.

AT that time, HDB was booming and my father insisted that I worked for his “friend” as a site supervisor at S$500 pm. But I insisted to complete my poly diploma studies in 1972.

AT the same time, shipping liners were hiring trained marine workers like us to be engineering officer on board ships at about S$600 pm, but plus overtime and allowances can be easily added up to S$1,500 to S$2,000 pm.

In the 70’s, employment galore for poly graduates at all industries, including as production supervisors in electronic factories at S$500 pm.
I heard that it is a dangerous occupation as all those female production workers are gunning for a “production supervisor” husband and woe to that poor chap who antagonize '’em as your production lines would have lots’ of “girl”problems.

Well, those production workers were earning S$50 pm during the initial period of Singapore industrialization.
Well, girls galore, but at your own risk. As the joke goes, technicians loved to work at production line, especially beneath those benches doing repair work.

National Services

I was called up on December 1967 as a 2nd Intake. I was granted deferment from full-time NS as I was the sole breadwinner. I deferred enlistment for 6 months and was called up in December 1968 and served in the Special Constabulary (SC) for 12 years, from 1968 to 1980.

It was tough, balancing working from 7am to 4pm, rushing for NS Training, rushing to attend night-classes at Singapore Polytechnic (Prince Edward Road campus); and spent whole weekend at Library catching up with tutorials.

During basic trainings and in-camp training, it is an eye-opener on how the rest of Singaporeans lived; and comparatively, I found that I am really living in a “cocoon”, well-protected by my parents and strict Confucian upbringing, not as “street-wise” as most of them and rather “naïve and honest” in my attitude towards life.
That is, I was brought up to believe “all human beings are good” whereas, well, you know those Ah Bengs and their attitude towards life.
As to whether you can resist the temptation to submerge into their World and became one of them, depend very much on one’s upbringing at home. As human beings are social animal, it is of course their natural instinct to belong to a Group.
Whereas what save me is my natural cynicism, my Confucian upbringing and of course my sheer stubbornness of being a non-conformist, that is, what you Young Punks called “doing your own things, my rules, my way”.

If you knew the trick, you will defer your annual in-camp training till December at Police Academy. There is where they will organize annual in-camp training at those “luxurious” police recruit barracks. You got to sleep on real beds, instead of planks at those archaic camps at Tanah Merah and elsewhere.
On Fridays, the curry chicken at the canteen is not too bad.
Those bread baked by prisoners? At your own risk as bits of stones and sands can be found in them. But only on a few occasions, generally it is coarse and not too bad.
Against UN Human Rights using cheap prison labor?

Quite an abuse.
Those that are “well-to-done”, actually booked hotel rooms at the opposite then Ladyhill Hotel (where Europa Club is).
I gave this as an example.
There was one chap innocently admitted he was a virgin and got ragged by one Gang Leader as “Virgin Boy” throughout our stay.
For being well behaved and following instructions smartly throughout our stay, we were given a night out during our penultimate night in camp.
My group went to Bugis Street to ogle “girls” and to eat those delicious half-raw cockles with the accompanying fantastic chili dips.

Next morning, roll call and there were sour faces and I asked what happened.
Well, Gang Leader dragged “Virgin Boy” along to a brothel. Everybody forked out money to watch Gang Leader demonstrating to “Virgin Boy” how it is done.
This is called a “Tiger Show”.
Half-way through the performance, “Virgin Boy” was so excited that he took off his pants and start to mount Gang Leader!!! He is a real “innocent”.
I dare not asked the conclusion of this hilarious episode.
But they told me: He is no more “Virgin Boy”.

SC was an abject failure from the very start as everyone thought it was a complete waste of time. Poorly led and poorly managed.
At that time, the police force was virtually Malay-dominated and Malay Language was acceptable in the daily log.
Well, as things go, our batch was selected for National Day Parade, and during practice, sometimes, Mrs LKY turned up in her cheongsum and slippers to watch.

I got posted to Radio Division and worked 3 eight-hour shifts every 2 months. Boy, did I really survey the whole of Singapore, discovering Malay kampung and brothels in ulu-ulu areas where we were served tea and chit-chat with those service workers.

NS men were carrying corpses, attended courts,..and performed the same functions as regular policemen.

During those tense period in the late 69, I draw a patrol to Geylang Serai in a jeep. Geylang Serai was all mud-track and kampung. I was the only Chinese in the all-Malay crew. Can’t remember clearly, but no racial tension, just an unfriendly atmosphere where even the Malay crew will not step out of the jeep.

Life as a policeman is not easy. When attending the morning shift (7am to 3pm), the worst duty is escort duty for ministers. Some ministers were reportedly scolded the crew for not sitting straight and will conduct their own “personal” inspections of the crew turnout.
But our hot and humid climate makes it torturous to patrol for hours on our packed and jammed roads.

Tan Soo Khoon was one of the two NS man promoted to Inspector at Radio Division (Pearl’s Hill), and a few month later, I was surprised to read that he was a “new” face in the 70’s Election.

Similarly, Special Constabulary had their “White Horses” which were stationed at the SC Headquarters at Police Academy. They were supposed to be the “Brain Workers” and we can see how successful they were when Government decided to scrap SC (NS) Part-Time.

A sigh of relief when I was finally discharged from National Service on December 1980, after fulfilling my 12-years of part-time service.

IT Industry

I graduate from the Singapore Polytechnic in 1972 and a few months later, I decided to work for International Computers Ltd. as trainee computer engineer at S$500 pm.
IBM offer came too late as I was slated to go to IBM Australia for training on the new on-line KRISCOM terminals for SIA at Paya Lebar International Airport.

Mine, how life is full of twists and turns.
If I had joined IBM, I may be an Australian citizen…..
If I had accepted Shell Brunei, I maybe in Brunei right now…
“If only…” that is life.

Sadly, my father passed away at Toa Payoh Hospital after a month in ICU.
Those days, medical care were free and I did not pay a cents at all for my father medical expenses. My father was unemployed at that time.
Isn’t socialism nice for Singaporeans at that time?
If my father had been ill now, it will literally bankrupt the whole family.

Ah, 1972/73 was when a 64-KILOBYTES MAIN FRAME ICL 1900 computer system needed a room as big as a HDB 5-room flat.
An a 16-kilobyte magnetic core memory bank (about the size of a desktop PC) costs S$500,000.00!!!
Drop it on the floor, and kiss that S$500,000 goodbye.

Well, I was stationed at Raffles Place where the stock-broker firm Fraser & Co were located at Boustead Building (now Tung Centre), in charge of maintaining those card-punches and card-verifiers.
Nice to talk to those female operators until the supervisor complained to my boss (guess she lost quite a bit of money on that day).
It was boom-time, with lots of inside trading.
A simple clerk can buy in the morning and sell in the afternoon and earned enough for a holiday in Taiwan.
They were working 2 shifts and the bloody machines keep breaking down…(British technology and no wonder IBM won hand downs) until Lee Kuan Yew made that famous speech in 1973 and the stock market collapsed.

I remembered that supervisor was talking of buying OCBC at S$50 and the very next day, it collapsed to S$47 and downwards all the way. Guess she deserved to lose her skirts and panties.

I was not selected for oversea (they selected my 40-year old supervisor, who was competing with me for this upgrading course, who did my appraisal and reported “Lai no good”) and left them.

Construction Industry

I began my career in the construction industry as a site supervisor at Holiday Inn at Scotts Road. Well, Ng Teng Fong was building the nearby Far East Shopping Centre and he as directly involved running the site work as well. I thought I got a glimpse of him as a “slim” man.

Well, as the story goes at that time, Ng Teng Fong borrowed so much money from Moscow Norondy Bank that they dare not foreclosed him for fear of bankrupting the bank!
And in 1978, Ng Teng Fong was saved by Lucky Plaza when the property market took off like a rocket. ANd he never looked back, successes one after another,..Far East Plaza, Far East Centre, etc.

It was “boom-time charlie” where jobs are available everywhere and your salaries accelerating upwards all the time.
That is, from S$900 in 1976 to S$2,800 in 1980 to S$3,500 in 1983.

It was during the mid-70’s that I mixed with the wrong crowd and developed my gambling habits. The behaviors of addicted gamblers are as follows:
1) Every night, without fail, there is a mahjong session. If you played overnight, the next morning, you reported to the office that you are “attending a site meeting”.
2) We were tough and can continue working till 3pm where really, you need lots of coffee then to survive till 5pm.
3) Friday nights are for overnight gambling until 3 or 4am.
4) Sleep and continue on Saturday afternoon till Sunday mornings.
5) At the average, I attended 4 or 5 mahjong sessions per week.

Put it this way, girlfriends are secondary to gambling and none of them will work out because I ignore them in favor of mahjong session with my groups.

Regardless of how well brought up you are, once you mixed with the wrong crowd and started to socialize and think mahjong is an innocent past-time, you will be surprise to note that once start, cannot stop.
You will miss that particular thrill associated with gambling,
The fun, the anticipation, the thrill and warmth glow of winning.
It is a drug that provides instant euphoria when you have a winning hand, very much better than sex.

Those days of wilderness came to an end when I went to UK in 1983.

University of Surrey

In 1978, my brother said he wished to be an Architect. Big Brother shot him down and said future is in the IT Industry and you go to Nantah and enrolled in their B.Sc in Computer science.

Well, he graduated in 1982, got a job with MINDEF, and Big Brother left Singapore in 1983 to fulfil his ambition to study in a university in England.

While, at that time, I need a guarantor for my study in England. True! I need to go to Public Service Commission to sign up all sorts of forms. That is when you need good friends who will be your guarantor. In fact, it is the millionaire brother-in-law of my good friend who acted as my guarantor!!

I landed in Guildford, stayed there from 1983 to 1986.
Man, it was sheer paradise just to study with no work pressure at all.
Waking up late on Monday mornings, jut skipped the 9am class.
Skipped Fridays class should you want a longer weekend.

Laboratory preparation works? Plagiarism is the name of the game.
You copied from the jotter books of previous students, go through the motion and the lecturers will usually mark a “C”. Good enough for me.
One Singaporeans got the temerity to query the lecturers why he was given a “B-“?
He was grilled by the lecturer and was unable to explain his preparation work.
Lecturer’s sarcastic reply: “I had been reading the same preparation work and conclusion for years. “ He was marked down to “C” immediately.

But the worst aspects of this is the behavior of Ugly Singaporeans who brought kaisuism into this University:
a) They had a dirty habit of reserving those standard textbooks, one after and another, so that perpetually, it remained in this group of 7 Singaporeans (one year my junior, and all ex-poly students) for the whole academic year.
b) They preferred to congregate into one group an always go early to lecture theatre and “chopped” the front row. All sit together and of course, the British resented them and made them convenient “paper bomb” targets.
c) Form tutorial groups amongst themselves, not willing to share their solutions with others.
d) So insular and “refuse” to mix with others socially and build up friendship with the local British. They came to UK to study, study and only study, nothing less than a 1-1 honors degree.

And all above incidents were reported to me by my British friends.

There is no racism within the campus and generally in Guildford. I only encountered four incidents;
1) A 5-years old kid at the Cathedral greeted me: “Hello Chinky”.
2) A drunken started ranting on the street against foreigners, Chinese in particular. I showed him my middle-finger and walked away. He started pelting me with empty beer cans (thanks heavens, no bottles).
3) Late Friday’s night after 10pm, group of youngsters started to make funny “Chinese noises” and pulled their eyes into slits. It is dangerous for a foreigner to walk alone late at night after pub or disco closed. You tend to get pick on.
4) London Leicester Square beggars start shouting: Hey Chinky! Come here”. It is best to ignore them and away. Their passing comments: “F**king Chinky. Can’t understand English and speak Cantonese only.”
5) Always avoid trains on Saturday’s afternoon due to football fans traveling to and fro from games. Prevention is better than cure.

Havoc Singaporeans?
I admired those Hongkongers who are so steeped in their Chinese traditions and formed self-help groups to help ALL HONGKONGER students at the campus.
And yet they are so open-minded and assimilated into British lifestyle so easily. For example, one of my seniors had a different live-in girlfriend every year.

Orientation Week is the best time to scout for freshies. it is no joke to have live-in girlfriends because every weekends are for togetherness, Fridays night disco, cooking today for dinner, etc. It cramps my lifestyle and I forgo it.

Singaporean girls? Some succumb to the charms of those Hongkong buayas. And I believe one or two hotel manageress in Singapore will not care to look me in the eyes.

But I love the company of these Gen-X Hongkongers who know how to live, I mixed with them and they in turn called me “Uncle Lai”.

After my final exam last people, me and 3 of my British mates went on a drinking spree at 12pm. Nothing solids, just drink until the pub closed. We adjoined at one of their houses and continue drinking until the pub opened at 6pm.
Got kicked out of a pub when the bartender advised us to come back with our annual float procession.
Adjourned at a local bars and tried to pickup middle-age bored ladies.
11.30pm, standing outside disco, “disturbing” girls, almost got into a fight with their boyfriends.
Warned by the policeman to get off the street or else cool it in a cell.

Well, when waiting for result, it is one whole bash of drinking with my mates.
With girls we did not know when first started off, but when returning to the campus, we played a “catching” game, catch the girl and you got to kiss her.
Arrived at her room. We played “catching”.
Switched off the light and she grabbed the guy. The lucky one got to stay with her.
Pushed me in and they said: “Try a Chinese” jokingly.
I got out pretty quick and of course, her boyfriend was staying overnight.

Compared this to life at NTU or NUS Hostel? Can this wild celebration ever happen in staid Singapore? This is youthful celebration of life.

I vowed I will not return to Singapore and stayed there. I got a job but got cold-feet at the very last minute. I love the 4 seasons, the theatres, and weekend trips to London or elsewhere; happy with the lifestyle, but not really comfortable living with “angmoh”. Maybe, my hatred against 2nd Class Europeans, maybe my roots in Singapore.

I don’t know and return to Singapore in 1986.

CPF Contribution & Housing Mortgage Loan

When I was 40. and became eligible to apply fro HUDC apartments as a single.
To my fury, HDB changed the rules (again) and said we must ballot. Moreover, the HUDC Scheme was scrapped and transferred to HDB!!!
My fiancée and I applied for HDB 5-room flats; and we were unsuccessful after SEVEN attempts.

We discovered that the price difference between a Pasir Ris executive apartment and a 99-year old condo is only S$100,000.00.
In 1992, we bought a 141 sq.m. Elias Green condo unit at S$440,000 (S$290 per sq. ft.) whereas at that time, a Pasir Ris executive apartment costs S$350,000.00.

Again, after I bought this apartment, HDB changed the rule and said that unsuccessful ballots were be biased and given a higher probability of success after each balloting.

Boy, do HDB really changes rules at their whim and fancies and poor suckers like me have to live with it.

When our children reaches primary school age, we need to move near to my mum Bishan HDB flats. Because both of us are working, we need to “deposit” our children at my mum’s place, to watch over the children, as well as the maid.

Pretty lucky.
Sold away my Elias Green for S$640,000 and bought Springbloom at S$836,000 (S$495 per sq. ft)

CPF Contribution & Housing Mortgage Loan

During the 80’s, CPF contribution was at 20% with a limit capped at S$6,000 pm. That is, my employers contributed:
S$1,200 in the 90’s before PM Goh restructuring in 2003.
S$960.00 (16%) in 2003, capped at S$6,000 pm.
S$715.00 (13%) in 2004, capped at S$5,500 pm.
S$550.00 (11%) in 2005. capped at S$5,000 pm. (CPF rates for over-50 years old)
S$300.00 (6%) after April 2005 when you are over-55 years old.

And worse news, by 2006, the CPF maximum limit will be reduced from S$5,000 to S$4,500 pm.

And yet, my mortgage loan still remain at S$1,900 pm for the next 8 years, i.e. till 2013.

The Government policy is meant to restructure “High Cost” Singapore to regain their competitiveness against China, India and our ASEAN neighbors.
It was supposed to help those middle-aged workers to remain “employable” by lowering our operating costs BY LOWERING OUR SALARIES TO DEVELOPING COUNTRIES” WAGES LEVEL????

That is, I perceived this Policy as geared towards to help the “employability” of the majority of those 90% HDB dwellers who are of working class.

But how about the 10% of us Singaporean Baby-Boomers, who had attained middle-class, and wanted to maintain that lifestyle during our retirement and twilight years?

Well, what the Government is saying to us are:
a) You should be more prudent in your financial planning.
b) You can always downgraded to HDB 3-room flat.
c) Who ask you to marry late?
d) Well, I did said: A 3rd child if you can afford it.
e) Hey, nobody owes you a living. It is your personal responsibility.
f) You are collateral damage. I have to take care of the rest of the 90% HDB dwellers.
g) You can work beyond 62-years old, jobs will be created for you.
h) In this New Brave World, you pay for what you want.

Singapore Dream Shattered

Therefore, on Aug 17, 2003, when PM Goh Chok Tong announced that the Singapore Dream is no more and the Iron Ricebowl is no more, it is an acknowledgement of the failure of the 80’s Restructuring of Singapore Economy.

Dr. Goh Keng Swee Doctrine:
a) Restructure Singapore Economy from low-tech labor-intensive to hi-tech capital-intensive industries.
b) Increase wages by 20% per annum to force companies to invest in automation to improve productivity.
c) Drive out low-tech labor intensive industries like textile and electronic manufacturing assembly line operators.
d) Maintain Singaporeans work ethics by increasing HDB housing price to ensure Singaporeans will work for at least 20 years instead of opting for early retirements.
e) That is, that 20% NWC annual increment should not benefit Japanese appliance manufacturers.

And because of this Doctrine, today, we are suffering from 20-30 years HDB mortgage loans for even a basic 3-room or 4-room HDB flats.
As I posted at FBU on a 30-year old mother who seek my advice but still proceed to abort her SECOND CHILD in February 2005 as she said she simply couldn’t afford a second one.
Own 4-room HDB Flat, still servicing 20-year mortgage loan.
35-year old husband, an NTU graduate, earning S$3,000 pm.
She is a poly graduate, earning S$1,100 pm.
They have one 6-year old child, attending kindergarten.
This couple had suffered TWO retrenchments within the last 5 years; and at one time, it was so bad that they had their electricity and water supply cut-off due to non-payment.

Comparatively, I am extremely lucky and has a comfortably life, as compared to this Gen-X couple who can afford only a HDB 4-room flat.
As they had been educated to tertiary level, shouldn’t this couple be classified as the top 25% Elite of Singapore?

When Gen-X couples decided to abort their Second Child due to economic reason, what ails Singapore?

Everything went wrong when Singapore became too dependence on MNC to grow jobs; and worse of all, the failures of all those GLC or TLC to grow regional and globally before Singapore Economy got hit by the Triple Whammy:
- 1997 Asia Financial Crisis
- 9/11 and Bali Bombing
- SARS and Bird Flu

We did not recovered at all and limped along till today.
Therefore, Government reverted to the time-honor practice of how to be competitive by:
- cost-cutting
- down-sizing to reduce overheads, i.e. retrenchment.

Well, in 2003, during FBU Public Forum hosted by Dr. Amy Khor, I told her that PM Goh speech “was a betrayal of my Singapore Dream”.
Well, I was given a 10-seconds flash on CAN and so nervous that I merely mumbled my speech. Friends, it is no fun to appear live on TV, you became extremely nervous and tongue-tied all of a sudden. Time seems to move in slow motion with your mind blankety-blank.
Guessed Amy got a walloping from PM Goh for using the word “Betrayal” in Parliament. But then, isn’t it her job as a MP to feedback honestly to Parliament on what Common People like me felt about PM Goh’s NDP Rally speech, “A Betrayal of Our Singapore Dream”.

Boy, isn’t it hypocritical of our Leaders when they claimed thyme were in favor of “open consultations”; and when you tell them the unvarnished truths, warts and all, they turned around and bit your heads off.

]My Financial Health

During Feedback Unit (FBU) Public Forum on the high-cost of medical-care in Singapore, The Straits Times gave my quotation as “one man said he will rather die than pay to stay alive” and of course in April 2004, The New Paper did an article on me and my family as the “$7,500 Man”, where I detailed all my family expenses to demonstrate the problem faced by the “Sandwich” Class in Singapore. Basically my problems are:
- Married in my 40’s and have 3 children.
- That is, Government said I am stupid and should remain a DINKIE (Double Income No Kid).
- As I am middle-class, I can afford it.

Well, friends, I started work on 04-April-1966 as a 15-years old, I am 55-years old now, and here is the latest financial statement after almost 40 years of working in Singapore:

a) 154 sq.m. 4+1 Springbloom 99-year leasehold condo………… S$836,000.00
b) CPF Ordinary Accounts………………………………………………S$ 75,000.00
c) CPF Special Accounts………………………………………………..S$ 62,000.00
d) CPF Medisave Accounts……………………………………………..S$ 32,000.00
e) SGX Shares and Unit Trusts (bought with CPF Funds)………….S$286,000.00
f) Life Insurances and Endowments …….......................S$120,000.00
(maturing in 7 years time)
g) Children education insurances @S$20,000……………….S$ 60,000.00
h) Cash in POSB and other bank accounts……………………S$ 35,000.00

a) Outstanding mortgage loan: S$234,000 at S$2,660.00 pm for next 8 years.
b) Outstanding Nissan Sunny loan: S$50,000 at S$852.00 pm for next 5 years.

a) Praying to earn S$100,000 per annum for the next 10 years until 2015.
b) IR will help me to gain employment in the construction industry.
c) Pray that my share portfolio (properties & GLC) will quadruple in 10 years time.
d) That is, by 2015, I should be grossing S$2 million from salaries and share portfolio.

Household expenses are still at S$3,000 per month.
That is, by 2015,
my gross household expenses totaled up to S$720,000.00.
Plus S$100,000 per child for education, books, cloth, etc……..S$300,000.00.

Then, really, after 2015, my retirement funds depend very much on my share portfolio to double, triple or quadruple to enable me to have funds of S$250,000 (worst case) to S$1 million (most optimistic) for both ME AND MY WIFE to retire.

No, it is not whining. I am blessed and I considered myself as one of the lucky few who can still retired in 2015.
But what the average working-class Singaporeans?
Can they still do it or got to live from “hands to mouths” like British pensioners who survived on cats and dogs canned food and begged on the streets from foreign students to buy them a cuppa of coffee?

After 2030, when I am 80-years old with no medical-care insurance coverage, and when I am struck with a catastrophic illness, wouldn’t it will be cheaper for me to die, rather than be crippled by 6-figures medical bills that will wipe out all the pension funds for both my wife and me?

Friends, I am serious on my proposal for s Singapore Euthanasia Centre for 80-years old like me in 2030.

I had been asking this question:
I had put all my trust in Lee Kuan Yew and the Old Guards that “Give me Obedience and I will take care of you for Life” and felt betrayed when Singapore Dream was shattered.
Or is it that the Old Guards meant for Life to stop at 80-years old?

A nation I love and yet, I asked in anguish:
What has Singapore become where loyal service do not count, once you not economically productivity, you are discarded like an empty husk.
A nation that had become soulless which dictates that it is cheaper for the Aged, Infirm and Unproductive to die.


And it is not my intention to “extort” maintenance costs from my children under the Family Maintenance Bill. I believe firmly that my children should be independent, solely concentrate of taking care of their immediate family and I will never want to pass to them my traditional burden of being the eldest and filial son of taking care elderly parents at the expense of immediate family, and the pursuit of my very own personal happiness.

How nice is it to walk away from my mother, brothers and sister in the 70’s and go to UK to pursuit my personal happiness of living, studying and working there?
Or in 1976, when I was match-make with an Australian Chinese and must leave my family to stay “permanently” in Australia.
But I cannot.
Filial piety was so ingrained in the 2nd generation Singaporeans that Eldest Son will unquestioning bear this onerous burden to support the family first, put all your brothers and sisters through the universities (if they are able to gain a place), and then only when the younger siblings are able to take up the slake, you will start to think on your personal “pursuit of happiness”.

And there is the reason why only in 1983 was I able to fulfill my life ambition:
To study in a British University.
Funnily enough, it was my second full-time education; the first being my primary school years.
I left secondary school during my Secondary Three.
I did my “O” levels part-time with the Adult Education Board then.
I studied part-time at Singapore Polytechnic.

And why I postpone love and marriage until I fulfill my first ambition:
To study in a British University, not American, not Australian, not Canadian but British.
Guess I was “brain-washed” by the Royal Navy to become an anglophile.
And I owe the Royal Navy my everlasting gratitude for my engineering education and skills.

And I am still beholden to Lee Kuan Yew and the Old Guards for the economic opportunities that they created for 2nd Generation Singaporeans like me to grow from a kampung boy living in an attap house to become a UK graduate living in a modern 1st World Singapore condominium.

And yes, I had tasted and consumed the Fruits of Success as planted by the Old Guards and sown the Seeds of our own destruction.
PM Lee is harvesting this bitter crop now. But will he has the gumption, stamina and vision to destroy this bitter crop, plough the land and replant another Successful Crop, which inherently contains its own Seeds of Destruction as well?

It is beyond my Time, and this burden is passed to Gen-X, Gen-Y and Gen-Z.
Good luck then to you lots of Young Punks.


Ah, my three burdens of joy.
There are in Primary 6, Primary 4 and Primary 3 respectively.

In Singapore context, it costs parents about S$277,000 (2003 cost of living) per child to “rear” them from conception till they graduate from a local university.
And this is based on university tuition fee of S$5,000 per annum; and not the expected increase to S$12,000 per annum in the near future of say, within 10 years time.

I will promise them an oversea university education if they so desired.
I would like them to emerge from this coconut shell called Singapore, to open their eyes and realized that there is a very much bigger world out there; and their Vision should not be confined to what they see within their confining “coconut shell”, imposed onto them by our education system, our nurturing in Singapore “Values” devoid of religious guidances, and by our very own successful lifestyle.

I want my children to live a whole life, and not live to exist.
I want them and their children to be able to stroll in the woods, smell the flowers by the many paths and have the courage to travel on the “paths least traveled”.

I will not wish them to repeat my mistake of “having no choice but to live here”, but to give them an alternative choice:

To stay here or live elsewhere if they so desire.

That is the best gift I can give to my children:
Learn to live here or elsewhere.
But do not exist here in Singapore Limited like mere beasts of burden and in the fields.

I am dog-tired, physically and mentally exhausted, and everyday it is so hard to wakeup and start the daily grind all over again….ad infinitum.
I am working 6-day week, from 8am to 6pm.

I ask myself: Is this the meaning of Life?

And I am so tired of Life.
And all I see there is still ten more years of toils ahead of me.
When will it all ends?

Now, this bell tolling softly for another, says to me: Thou must die.

Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill,
as that he knows not it tolls for him;
and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am,
as that they who are about me, and see my state,
and may caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.

The Church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions;
and that she does belongs to all.
When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me;
for that child is thereby connected to that head which is my head too,
and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member.
And when she buries a man, that action concerns me:
all mankind is of one author, and is one volume;
when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book,
but translated into a better language;
and every chapter must be so translated;
God employs several translators;
some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness,
some by war, some by justice;
but by God’s hand is in every translation,
and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again,
for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls
not upon the preacher only,
but upon the congregation to come,
so this bell calls us all;
but how much more me,
who am brought so near the door by this sickness.

The bell rings out, and tells me in him, that I am dead.

John Donne: From Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions. (an extract)


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