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Story For A Story

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About the initiative

Everyone has a story. And stories are powerful things. They invoke feelings and thoughts in us, empowering us to take action for things we believe in. That’s why we want to hear from you.

Big or small, your story is special and that is why we want to hear from you. Tell us about the treasured memories you’ve created, be it with your grandparents or the friendly neighbourhood aunty.

Best of all, this time we have some truly exciting prizes to give out in addition to signed copies of “What Gives Us Our Names” by local author, Alvin Pang sponsored by @booksactually. Stay tuned to find out more about our prizes which would be released along with the theme this 28th January.

Theme This Week!


featured stories.

Shawn Seah is the author of My Father’s Kampung: A History of Aukang and Punggol (2020), Leader and Legislator: Seah Liang Seah (2019), and Seah Eu Chin: His Life & Times (2nd Ed. 2019, 1st Ed. 2017).

He is interested in Singapore’s history and heritage, as well as economic development in Southeast Asia. At the LSE, his area of research was private order institutions in early colonial Singapore, 1819-1867, where he studied the Peranakan middleman traders and the Chinese secret societies.

With his work experience in education, policy development, and communications and engagement, Shawn aims to make history appealing and relevant.

He lives and works in Singapore.

To learn more, head over to his website at shawnseah.com

Badminton During Kampung Days

[In Picture: Shawn's father playing Badminton in the 1950s]

A few years ago, I asked my father Simon if he would like to share stories of his old neighbourhood of Aukang (Hougang) with me. His stories, and the stories of many others, led to the book, My Father’s Kampung. One story is about badminton. 

Despite his age, my father is crazy about badminton. He once challenged me to a badminton match. Thinking that I could not lose to a much older gentleman, I foolishly accepted the challenge. He duly beat me. Later, I discovered I stood no chance, because my father started playing ‘badminton’ in the kampung using an exercise book as a racquet and a match box as a shuttlecock. He graduated to the real thing using borrowed racquets and shuttlecocks discarded by adult players, which were often so badly damaged that they spun like propellers when hit. In the 1950s and 60s, open-air badminton courts were found across Singapore. For example, the backyard of his Malay neighbour’s house with a sand and clay surface, with proper lighting, was available to the neighbours as a badminton court. The kampung spirit meant that people could walk into their neighbours’ compounds and watch matches. 

By listening to my father, as well as many other seniors, I have learnt more about the Singapore of yesteryear. And through this experience, I have become closer to my father. I believe that through sharing stories, we learn more about where we came from, who we are as a people, and what values define us.

Property during Kampung Days

[In Picture: An artist's illustration of Kampung Houses in Aukang, commissioned by Shawn Seah]

One of the hobbies my father and I share is talking about the property market—probably every Singaporean’s favourite pastime. He used to tell me about different types of housing options available back in his kampung. The first and most simple type of housing was the “Ah Tup” chu, or attap house, which used leaves for roofs that needed to be replaced every few years. 

Another type of house had zinc roofs and wooden walls, the “Sar Lee” chu. My father recalled that he would know when it rained because it was so noisy when the rain droplets hit the zinc roof. When he was young in the late 1950s, one side of his Sar Lee chu was made of wood and when some parts of it rotted away, he had to patch it with paper, and paint the white paper blue, to match the colour of the walls.

Lastly, the best and most luxurious type of housing was the “Ang Mo Chu”, western-style, brick houses with tiled roofs. When my father stayed at Lorong Buangkok in the mid-1970s, the rent of his Ang Mo Chu was $700 a month. Those were some of the common types of houses people lived in during those times in the kampung. 

While living conditions and quality of life were not ideal back then, the pioneer generation made do with what they had, and their resilience was admirable. In present day Singapore, we are blessed and have much better homes to stay in. 

Hawkers in the Kampung

[In Picture: A simple illustration of a Street Hawkers plying his wares in the Kampung]

In December 2020, hawker culture in Singapore was officially added to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Indeed, hawkers have been around for a long time, way before they were resettled into the hawker centres we are familiar with today. From the 1940s to 70s, there were street and travelling hawkers who peddled a whole range of foods on Singapore’s streets. 

My father shared with me his fond memories of the street hawkers of Aukang and Punggol. He told me about a “Kor Loh Mee Man” who was once attacked by a dog and sought shelter in his garden. Despite this dangerous work, “Kor Loh Mee Man” worked every single day. Only once did he not turn up to work—the day he got married. The very next day he was back at work in the kampung streets, with his wife as his helper! 

My father also told me about the Kacang Putih Man, “Yip Yip”. He was a big Indian man dressed in white, who would always station himself outside my father’s neighbour’s house. He never called out “Kacang Putih”, but instead shouted “Yip Yip”, which became his signature and trademark. 

Things have changed over time. Today, instead of hawkers going to customers, customers are now going to hawkers! And from an activity which arose out of economic necessity, it has now become a potential career path for future Singaporeans. 

Dr. Alvin Pang

my treasured memory

A few years ago, I found myself sitting alone at a table by the window in a bookstore in the small seaside town of Albany, Western Australia. An elderly lady who was browsing the shelves came up to me to ask what I was doing there. I said I was writing poems on request for anyone who asked. At once, she said to me: "I want you to write a poem telling young people what it is like to be old". She said she used to have fun: to sing and dance, and drive up and down the coast for the sheer joy of it. Now she tends to her garden, alone, and passersby who walk look past her, never thinking that she too was once young and beautiful and had wild dreams. Then the lady, whose name was Celia, smiled wistfully and left the bookstore. I wrote the prose poem "Forbearance" to answer her request, and left a print copy of it with the cashier for her to pick up on her next visit.  Not long after, the bookstore closed down, and I never found out if Celia ever received her poem. 
 
This is not the first time I've chanced on a moving and memorable connection with a senior while I was doing something else. When my grandmother was admitted as a patient at Dover Park Hospice, I happened by coincidence to have been assigned there on a working attachment. This meant that I could visit her frequently, during my breaks and after office hours. I remember her telling everyone within earshot that I was her grandson and that I visited her every day. She passed away proud and delighted to have been afforded such attention in her peaceful final days. And I experienced for myself the good work done by the palliative care sector to give our seniors comfort and dignity in the closing chapters of their lives.


Forbearance enjoys tending a fresh crop of hyacinths, irises, black‐eyed susans, bluebells and kitchen
herbs. She has read somewhere that to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow, and loves watching
them drink in the warm summer mornings through her back window, as they come into their fullness.
She remembers what it was like to be strong, to feel the glorious wind billow out her brave, blond hair
asshe dashes up the impertinent coast. She hasfound herself equal to the urgentsummons of a man’s
arms, the needful press of a child’s, the sway and dip of dancing. She is no stranger to the sudden bitter
quarrel, nor the slow,sweet making up after. She has mourned family, seen children grow up and leave
home, taken on new names. Forbearance is a veteran of fickle weather and has mastered the
diplomacy of storms. Few things surprise now; fewer still faze. She has learnt to take her time, and to
let some things be.

 

Mostly she wishes the carelessly young could know what it is like to grow old. How they love to
shoulder past or stare! The streets tilt steeper every time she steps out of the house, and she must go
gentler on that one foot ever since the accident. There was a time when, waking before the birds, she
would hop up the nearby hill in the dark to watch the sun come up. She has always had a knack for
keeping still and listening quietly. Some days she wishes those sheltering, immortal gums she used to
sit under can tell her what she is waiting for.

 

Every week Forbearance and her neighbours, Compassion and Grace, sing in a choir to cheer the
forgetful and forgotten. They keep each other company, and awake. In their presence, her house loses
a little of its hollow music, shakes off shadows. She brings in fresh cut flowers from her garden,
arranges them in a vase she has kept and loved for years. Sharing another of the many tales only
Forbearance could have earned, her eyes gleam with an ageless light, as she sets aside her tiredness
and remembers Hope.

Jessy’s story

"She will always always live on in me, and she will always be my favourite senior."

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Ethans’s Story

"It made my grandparents happy as well, as they watched us little kids smear the chocolates all over our mouths...

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Kenny’s story

"Knowing he made this weekly effort to reconcile with his son, it has taught me that humanity is a lesson...

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Joanne’s story

"As a child, I would often spend my days wrecking havoc in my grandparents’ home."

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Jiwon’s story

"Uncle Phillip, possibly in his 60s, works at the NTU KFC but he’s not like any other employee or staff."

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Weilin’s story

"Sometimes we hold the lift for each other, and ask each other about our days during the short ride."

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