The family’s Singapore connection

Filed in Family

Next year, my brother would’ve worked and lived in Singapore for 30 years. He’d answered an ad by the Singapore Government and went to work for them in 1980. Almost as soon as he joined the department, he was sent to Japan for six months’ training. Sometime in the early 90s (or was it the late 80s), he exchanged his PR status for a Singapore citizenship. I remember mother writing to tell me her mixed feelings about it (oh, so it must be the late 80s when I was still studying overseas) but he was advised to do it for the sake of his future – he was beginning to be passed over for training and promotion because he was just a PR, not a citizen. His immediate superior had given him that piece of advice.

But my brother is not the only one in the family with a Singapore connection.

A few years before he went there to work, my sister graduated from the Nanyang University (now Nanyang Technological University) in Singapore. I always felt very grateful to the university for its pre-U course. My sister had studied in a Chinese school, was (and still is) not very fluent in English, so her university opportunities were very limited, and Nanyang U was the only Chinese university in Singapore then. My sister also did not have very good exam results, but sufficient for Nanyang U to accept into its pre-U course. This practically “saved” my sister because she worked hard, very hard, that year and got into 1st year U and went on to graduate. In contrast, one of her classmates, who had been accepted straight into the 1st year, didn’t, and flunked out of university at the end of her 1st year. My sister also met her husband while at Nanyang U.

But my brother and sister are not the only ones in the family with a Singapore connection.

At the end of World War II, my mother set sail from Sandakan, Sabah, to Singapore to search for an uncle. She had buried both her parents during the war, and although reunited with her birth mother after the war, realised that there wasn’t much left in that town for her. She knew of an uncle who was in Singapore and decided to go and look for him there. By the time she arrived in Singapore, he was no longer there, having set sail for another port (he was a sailor). Fortunately, she met a group of women who would become life-long friends. From them, she learned of Kuala Lumpur and decided to take the train up to check out the town. After arriving, she stayed on, found a place to live, worked at a variety of jobs before landing a permanent one at a local publishing house, and met and married my father.

For a long time, I thought our family’s Singapore connection began with mother. And then, I learned about an earlier connection from almost the beginning of the 20th century.

I was talking with my father’s youngest sister about Grandma Chin, when my aunt said:

“At the time, they were living in Ampang.”

“Ampang? Weren’t they living at the shop in Batu Road?”

“No, at the time, your grandfather was working at a Chinese medical hall in Ampang.”

Okay, back up a bit.

I always thought my grandfather was already a successful businessman who came to Malaya to open a Chinese medicine shop. That’s what I was told. Apparently not.

What happened was Grandfather Chin had come to Kuala Lumpur to work at that Chinese medical hall in Ampang after he’d worked in the Singapore branch for a while.

The family’s Singapore connection had begun with Grandfather Chin.

Grandfather Chin had come from China to Singapore where he found work in a Chinese medical hall, and after working there for a while, he moved to Kuala Lumpur where he worked in the KL branch. After he was more settled, he sent for Grandmother Chin from China to join him in KL.

I always thought my dad’s older sister and 3 brothers were born in China. No. All of Grandfather Chin’s children – four sons and two daughters – were all born in Malaya.