Friday, 8 June 2012

Our New Home

Very soon, we were at our new home in Ama Keng and everyone on her side of the family was happy. But not me. I felt so sorry for my father who loved me so much. For the first few days, I had nightmares hearing my dad call me. I did not tell my wife for fear of upsetting her again. She was then very happy and cheerful.

Her mother and sisters visited us more often. It was near the main road and convenient. I could also walk that 400m to school. I often went home during my free periods.

Soon I was more settled and happier. My wife became more romantic in someways and in October 1961, she was pregnant with our first child.

In anticipation of the birth, my wife wanted to move more closely to her mother so she could come and help out. We set out and finally found a room in a three-storey flat in Princess Elizabeth Estate. The owner was a Mr Lau who had a wife and three kids.

His sister stayed behind to look after the kids while he and his wife went to work. The kids all called her "gu-gu". The flat had three bedrooms, so he rented one to us.

Mr Lau was quite desperate as the factory they were working in was winding up and they would be left jobless. So renting a room brought in an extra $30 which was quite a good sum in the 60s.

My Wife's Hidden Agenda

I was too naive and too satisfied with the way I was in to be aware of my wife's hidden agenda, which was to move out and be near to her parents!

One day, the opportunity arose and she struck at it. My eldest brother had come over and during our conversation to clear up some misunderstanding, it actually got worst. It led to a greater misunderstanding. My wife saw the opportunity and seized upon it. She flared up.

She became unreasonable, packed her things and picked up her transistor radio and left for home. We could not stop her.

My eldest brother was stunned.

He later apologised for causing all the trouble. I did not know what to say; it was not entirely his fault. He advised me to go to her house to persuade her to come back.

The next day, I left for my mother-in-law's house. My wife was there.

There were other relatives there as well to support her. She refused to come home unless I promised to move out of the kampong. I told them that they had to persuade my father to agree to the idea. So they sent her brother-in-law, who was a middle-aged man from China (like my dad). But he was a Singapore citizen as he had lived in Singapore since the war. It was hoped that their similar backgrounds would help in their communication.

He went with me to see my father.

My father was emotionally charged when speaking about the matter, but my brother-in-law was quite tackful. In the end, they came to the question of letting me move out. My father was very wary that since my wife's family had no sons, they would try to 'rob' me over. He laid down his conditions much against his will; I could move but only to Ama Keng where I was teaching and not anywhere else.

My wife's brother-in-law accepted the condition and together, we went back to my wife's parent home - the post-war Hindhede Road Barrack Estate.

My wife was very happy then and agreed to go home with me first. On the way, we immediately went house-hunting in Ama Keng Village centre.

We landed a room at the back of a shophouse where the Peh Clinic was. There were two bedrooms at the back of the clinic, a kitchen with a bathroom and toilet as well.

One of the rooms was used by an old mid-wife who helped deliver babies in the village. She told us the rent was $30 a month. I was to go see Dr Peh who owned both the clinic and shophouse. Dr Peh also ran the main clinic at Bukit Panjang, opposite where the Ten Mile Junction is now. He ran his clinic from 2pm to 5pm on weekdays.

I immediately went to him to ink the contract and collect the room key.

A Confession

My father was very shocked to learn that my father-in-law was at work and absent from our Tea Ceremony. He felt there was something very wrong about it. To this, my wife gave a strong reason to support her father's action.

She said she loved her father more than she loved her mother. She was his favourite amongst the three daughters (including an adopted one). Her two elder sisters were all married. And having no son, her father had hoped that his younger daughter would get a husband who was willing to marry in. That was why she was the original sole signatory to her father's savings of $7000 - now worth at least ten times more in today's value.

Her second sister challenged this, seeing how attached she was to me. The family revolted. Her mother supported the second sister's claim to have half the money. The father gave in and so saw his hope of a man marrying into the family crushed. This was why he did not turn up at our Tea Ceremony and went to work as usual. He didn't want to be reminded of his crushed dream!

A Teething Period

My wife must have experienced the biggest cultural shock in her life when she married me and had to live in a kampong.

In the morning of our wedding day, she left her parents and went happily with me. However, after the celebrations in the morning followed by the afternoon Tea Ceremony, she broke down bitterly for some reason. Her father was noticeably absent (an understatement); only her mother was there to accept our offer of tea. They said her father had to work! On his daughter's Tea Ceremony Day???

I thought she was just ebbing emotional about having to leave her parents and got upset because her father was not there to say goodbye.

That evening, I spent some time pacifying her and trying to cheer her up. She admitted that she was not used to this sudden change in life.

Meeting My Wife

One day, at break-time during one of my National Service training sessions, my best friend and troop mate, Koh, told me that his pen-pal needed an English language tutor because she had transferred from Nanyang Girls High School to study English in a private school. As I'd just started to teach English as an untrained teacher, I agreed to give it a try. He gave me her address and soon I began writing to her.

She was both happy and grateful that I would help her voluntarily. We arranged to meet. The place was Rex Theatre opposite Tekka market.

I turned up punctually, dressed the way I'd told her I would: long sleeved white shirt, black long trousers, and black shoes. I would be carrying a brown Crocodile file. She would be wearing a colourful dress, high heels and her hair would be tied up in a ponytail.

The excitement and joy inside me was beyond description while I waited for her at the bus stop. I didn't have to wait long as a small-sized girl started walking up to me. She was smiling or grinning with joy, breathing or panting excitedly - not saying a word. And before I could finish asking her "Are you Ms Koh...." she had nodded her head a few times. She then said, "Have you been waiting long?"

We decided to head to the Esplanade or Queen Elizabeth Walk.

In 1958, this was a popular park fronting the sea when Marina Bay/South was still a sea. We sat together and talked for a very long time. We also decided that I should tuition her on my NS training days - either Wed or Thurs. I could reach her house after training at about 7.30pm. I would also go to her house on weekends for another session.

Not long after starting, I discovered that she was having difficulty in all subjects...from English to Math. Whenever I asked her, "Do you understand?", she would reply, "A little bit." Despite my fervent tuition, she did not do well in her exams. And so she decided to quit. She then took up a Singer's Embroidery Course. But we kept in touch. It was obvious that her parents liked me and considered me a prospective son-in-law. But they were not happy that I lived in a kampong.

My lady love at the time lived along Upper Bukit Timah, at the residential estate that was converted from some Japanese barracks. She was also against the idea of living in a kampong. Her parents demanded that we shift out after our marriage. But my parents were adamant that we did not.

At one point, she decided to call it quits on our relationship; I felt badly hurt. This was my second emotional turmoil.

I wrote her a long letter in English, telling her how I felt about being turned away from someone I loved. I wondered if she understood fully.

But there was some light. Both of our parents came to some compromise. Earlier, her mother and sister had come to meet with my parents at my house. They agreed that though we would not move out, we would stay in a separate house. Our kampong estate was six acres large with coconut and fruit trees and some vegetable plots. A house with a tile-sheet roof was spruced up and converted into a bedroom at one end, a sitting room in the middle and a kitchen at the other end. When all were ready, we got married on 26th December 1960.

My First Romance

Sometime during 1957-58, a girl named Chan Soo Lan came into my life. She was the immediate neighbour of my cousin sister-in-law, i.e. the wife of my cousin who was the son of my youngest aunt. We all called this aunt "suai gou" or youngest aunt in our dialect.

Somehow, Ms Chan befriended my Second Sister and she came to visit quite frequently. In the cause of that, she got to know me as well.

She was six years my junior.

She was sixteen and I twenty-two when I obtained my Senior Cambridge School certificate. I then became a teacher at Kay Wah Public School - the same school where I had completed my Chinese P6 education. The year was 1958.

Chan (that's how I addressed her) was a friendly person with bright sparkling eyes. She would visit me even during Chinese New Year to exchange oranges for Good Luck and Prosperity.
She lived in a village at the end of Choa Chu Kang; I lived almost at the end of Lim Chu Kang.

Not long after knowing each other, we started to write letters to one another. We enjoyed writing but did not touch on the sensitive subjects of Love or Marriage.

Very soon news and rumours of her and me being an item spreaded like wild fire. My parents came to know about it too. They were not for it as there was a six-year gap in age between us. It was not considered a good match. Chan's horoscope was Snake and it was claimed that it clashed with my Pig.

Nevertheless, we exchanged photos. She gave me hers, which was taken with her younger sister. And I gave her mine.

The storm of rumours gave us a lot of unpleasantness, so we decided to meet each other one night at a temple wayang show. It was an event to celebrate the birthday of the temple's main deity, Kuan Gong. The temple was in Ama Keng village.

My sister told Chan that I would be waiting for her in a dark corner away from the wayang stage and prying eyes.

At the meeting, Chan told me it was her neighbour, that young sister of my cousin-in-law, who had been spreading rumours that she was 'chasing after' me and that she was madly in love with me. In other words, she was ready to marry me!

To prove them wrong, she decided to stop our relationship. She insisted that we should just be friends.

My heart sank on hearing that. I was hoping for a more agreeable solution as my feelings for her was just blossoming.

As I could not think of any other solution to the problem, we agreed to remain as ordinary friends. But such an arrangement is difficult to last between opposite sexes. And so we slowly drifted apart.

I did not take it too badly as our romance was not too deep yet.  It made the separation less difficult.