Enough With The Nostalgic Videos Already

I watched the LTA Bus Story Virulent Video and disliked it very much. I’ve had it with these nostalgia exploiting commissioned stories. But let me tell you my memory of buses from when I was a child.

I watched the LTA Bus Story Virulent Video and disliked it very much. I’ve had it with these nostalgia exploiting commissioned stories. But let me tell you my memory of buses from when I was a child.

I lived on Pasir Panjang Road, across from the police station, behind which was a beach. It was an idyllic place – there was a little jetty where fishing boats unloaded their catch, which was sold at Ah Heng’s fish shop on the corner of Pasir Panjang and Clementi Roads.

Right outside our bungalow on Pasir Panjang Road was a bus terminus. In those good old days, this was simply where buses stopped at the end of their assigned routes. There was a little structure where bus conductors busied themselves, I believe, with replenishing their bus tickets and other administrative matters. Bus drivers, who weren’t called captains then, would smoke, standing or squatting on the five-foot way on the other side of our garden’s brick wall. I could hear them clearing their throats and spitting. Sometimes, cigarette butts would end up in our garden.

Often, there would be too many buses that had finished their route and had to stop at this terminus, and our gate would be blocked. My father then had to go to the police station to complain and the policemen, yes, who wore shorts, would have to coax the bus drivers to move their buses so we could leave or enter our driveway.

One day, while we were going out, there was a terrible crash, and some frightening wailing, and I saw, lying on the ground in a growing pool of blood, an elderly man with a horrific head wound. Our path was blocked by the accident, and I was transfixed as I saw the SBS bus reverse away from the dead man.

So yeah, that’s my earliest memory of our buses. Now go make that a viral video.

Thank you ACS

I wasn’t in ACS when I was in primary school, and so when I qualified via PSLE to get attend secondary school there, I was thrilled because my Sunday School friends were all ACS boys. And I was terrified, because I hadn’t been an ACS boy.

A smaller turnout for the Class of '85. But we were still the rowdiest.
A smaller turnout for the Class of ’85. But we were still the rowdiest.

I wasn’t in ACS when I was in primary school, and so when I qualified via PSLE to get attend secondary school there, I was thrilled because my Sunday School friends were all ACS boys. And I was terrified, because I hadn’t been an ACS boy.

It took a couple of months in Sec One before I acclimatised, and began talking the talk thanks to teachers whose names I still remember – Mrs Evelyn Wee – English and Form Teacher; Mr Navaratnam, Science Teacher, whose first comments at lab period was to joke that the ACS lab was so old, the equipment was donated by Sir Stamford Raffles; and Mr Jagmohan Singh, History Teacher, who, apart from teaching us how to pronounce “King Nebuchadnezzar”, also famously described anthropological development thus: “the more civilised we are, the donkeyer we become”.

I am forever grateful for the liberal education I received in my seven years at ACS/ACJC, and even more thankful for the fast friends I made, and with whom I still work and play. It was a special place, this place of learning – and we were the lucky few in the 1980s who were assigned ‘native speaker’ teachers from all over the UK who brought with them their knowledge, culture and quirks and opened our eyes to the world.

We were the lucky few who were taught the difference between passing exams and learning, and more specifically, I remember a teacher preparing us for the AO Level General Paper exams which were to be marked by teachers in the UK. He said to ‘give them something to keep them warm, because they’re marking your papers in the cold of winter. Write about your hawker centres, your spicy foods, your sunshine and your tropical storms. I guarantee you you’ll score an A’.

So, thank you very much, Anglo-Chinese School for teaching us to tell our own stories. And congratulations on getting to a hundred and thirty. #TBIYTB

Surprising Sembawang

What was more interesting when we shot the video, was how the bunch of sixty-something year old uncles and aunties were enjoying the spring, soaking their feet in plastic wash basins and buckets filled with hot spring water.

Sembawang Onsen

A video posted by Benjamin "Mr Miyagi" Lee (@miyagisan) on

I visited Sembawang Hot Spring for the first time last Friday because I had written it into a video script.

It’s the only natural hot spring in Singapore, and you can read about its properties on Wikipedia. What was more interesting when we shot the video, was how a bunch of sixty-something year old uncles and aunties were enjoying the spring, soaking their feet in plastic wash basins and buckets filled with hot spring water. The aunties were fully clothed, but the uncles went around bare-chested. Later on, the uncles took turns to soak their whole selves in used chemical drums filled with the water.

One of the uncles appeared to have been a practitioner of a sort of therapy. He would massage the limbs of the aunties who were there, asking them to relax, stretch and flex their joints for about fifteen minutes per aunty-patient. There was one aunty who appeared to be more afflicted with something than the others, because not only did Therapy Uncle have to massage her limbs, most of her torso had to be handled by his hot hands as well. It must have hurt a bit, because there was quite a bit of shrieking.

Now that Sembawang Hot Spring is done from my bucket list of local things to do, I’m looking forward to eating some famous Sembawang White Bee Hoon. That’s right, I’ve never had it. I always thought all bee hoon was white.

The Public Service Paperweight Award

Some time in the early 90’s my father was given a public service award for his contributions to education. It came as a surprise to all of us, since he never mentioned anything about it, and the only times we saw him getting close to education was when he signed our school report cards.

He explained that over the years, he had been donating money to a Chinese school affiliated with one of the Hainanese clans in Singapore. He also said it wasn’t a big deal, but I’m sure it was – because no ordinary donor would have been shortlisted for a public service award.

When he received the invitation to the ceremony, he showed it to me and asked me if he should attend. I said, “Why not? You deserve it”.

He went, came home, and I asked him how it was. He said, “Nothing lah. So long the whole thing”.

I asked him to show me the award or certificate he must have received, and he said, “Don’t have lah. They only give me this block of wood”.

He showed me the “block of wood”, and said, “Useless. Can put on your desk”, probably thinking it was a paperweight.

I took the block of wood, removed the ribbon around it, and opened it to show him a medal. We spent the next hour laughing at his silliness.

My Father The King Of Kuachee

His wish for me when I was in my twenties was for me to “get a professional qualification”, like accountancy, and then “do whatever you want and don’t work for other people”.

IMG_7088My father vacillated between a stable career and adventures in enterprise. He had the former in establishing his own chartered accounting practice – which he later sold, and which still bears his name  – and the latter in a series of remarkable and unconventional business deals which made our family pretty well off.

His wish for me when I was in my twenties was for me to “get a professional qualification”, like accountancy, and then “do whatever you want and don’t work for other people”.

He tried coaxing me to become a “businessman” in the true, vague definition of it, trading in whatever opportunities fell into our laps. In his capacity as the Honorary Consul-General for the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, he gave me a box of raw PNG Highlands Arabica beans, and asked me to see if I could find any buyers. Unfortunately, I wasn’t motivated enough to make that work.

Then he gave me a box of Agar wood, and sent me researching on the subject, and urging me to see if there were any interested buyers. Again, this didn’t stick, and I’m sure he was disappointed in my lack of interest.

There were other exotic mystery boxes –  sea cucumbers, logging concessions, selling second hand computers to New Guinea – they never stuck.

Instead I did something my friends thought even more unconventional – I started a business teaching gymnastics to primary school children. It tanked after five years – and that’s a long, drawn-out business failure. It didn’t frazzle my father a bit. He just said, “do something else lah” – which I understood to be “keep doing what you want to do, and what you’re good at”.

My father never seemed to be discouraged by setbacks. There seemed always to be silver linings in the darkest clouds. Or rather, he painted those linings himself. If a business deal failed, he would pick up the pieces and make something out of them.

I remember most about the time he invested heavily in a factory that produced roasted melon seeds and pumpkin seeds – the type you eat at Chinese New Year and at funerals – and for some reason or another, the other partners in the factory made off with the money and the factory closed. Creditors claimed the factory’s equipment, and my father was left with an inventory of perhaps several hundred kilograms of melon and pumpkin seeds in tins, bags, and jars.

What did he do with them? He had them brought home of course. And to my mother’s lasting dismay, every nook and cranny of our house – including the shoe cabinet – was stacked with tins, bags, and jars of melon and pumpkin seeds. I think we only threw them out when we sold and moved out of the house ten years ago.

In the years between the kuachee factory fiasco and when we moved out, my father could be seen spending his days on his sofa, cracking open melon seeds and eating them. He’d laugh and say, “Not bad, what – Chinese New Year no need to buy kuachee ever again”.