Monday, September 7, 2009


(The Sun Shower Folk Lore)

The Monkey met his match by chance
At the Flamingos' mating dance,
Bright eyed, bushy-tailed caught his glance
He fell for the fox's sister.

Fox-trotting the vixen cheek to jaw,
He held her close with monkey paw.
Their friends were delighted as they saw
Monkey unable to resist her.

When Fox gave Monkey an admonition,
To curb his passionate disposition
Monkey sought and got his permission
To wed his foxy sister.

Mother Hen made the preparations,
For the grand wedding celebrations.
In pecking order, she issued invitations,
Enlisting the rooster to assist her.

Deep in the forest, where monkeys play,
Monkey handed Fox a bridal bouquet,
And a monkey's word that he'd always stay,
Devoted to the Fox's sister.

The bridal attendants met at dawn,
Prancing fillies and a very shy fawn
Fussed around the bride, while a swan
Sang till Mother Hen dismiss'd her.

Weaving flowers with silk of corn,
Black Widow made garlands to adorn
Foxy tail, flowing manes and a budding horn
'Twas the vixen's idea to enlist her.

The attendants lined up side by side,
Watching guests from far and wide
They watched Fox, with obvious pride,
Embrace and walk off with his sister.

The Cardinal led the wedding parade
Across open fields and forest glade.
With great aplomb, the bird displayed
His worth as bridal minister.

Fowl and birds of land and air,
Beasts from barnyard, field and lair,
Bugs and slugs and snails were there,
To sign the wedding register.

Handsome in top hat and a flowing cape,
Monkey arrived with his Best-Ape,
The wedding guests did gasp and gape,
To see such a dashing mister.

Beneath the tree, among roses and lilies,
Tended by one shy fawn and prancing fillies.
To bleating by the Nannies and the Billies
Into matrimony, a fox gave his sister.

When the wedding vows were said and done,
The Cardinal pronounced the pair as one.
'Kiss her,' the wedding guests called in fun.
The Monkey obliged them, and kiss'd her.

The congregation erupted in glee,
Monkey had joined a fox's family,
Who welcomed him in solidarity
Because they loved their sister.

A barrel of monkeys served the food;
Cats played fiddles, a fat cow moo-ed
Jazzy blues till a proud fox stood,
To toast a bride, his vixen sister.

Monkey too, rose to toast his bride.
Pledging a lifetime by her side,
His tender feelings, he could not hide
From each attending guest and list'ner.

The Sun came with his mate, Sky Blue.
To find Rain Showers in the queue,
Waiting to shake the paw of the Monkey who
Claimed the heart of the fox's sister.

They celebrated till the lights were low,
Before they saw the bright Rainbow,
Arrive with Moon and Stars in tow,
They thought they had miss'd her.

This was an auspicious occasion
Proclaimed throughout all creation,
To celebrate the quirky situation,
A trickster married another trickster.

Whene'er there's sunshine during rain,
'Tis a sun shower, meteorologists explain.
A Monkey's wedding, folk-lore maintain
Or a Fox's, which makes a mind twister.

On days when Sun and Rain Showers play,
To Zulus, it's a Monkey's wedding day.
The Japanese claim, it's a fox's; but I say.
'Tis Monkey marrying a fox's sister.



From Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia

A sunshower is an unusual meteorological phenomenon in which rain falls while the sun is shining.[1] These conditions often lead to the appearance of a rainbow, if the sun is at a low enough angle.[1] The term "sunshower" is used in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and parts of Britain, but is rarely found in dictionaries.[2] Additionally, the phenomenon has a wide range of sometimes remarkably similar folkloric names in cultures around the world.[3] A common theme is that of trickster animals, or the devil, getting married, although many variations of parts of this theme exist.

Since primary school days at Methodist Girls' School, I've always called a sun shower, the monkey's wedding. I have no recollection how I came about this knowledge of folk lore, but my sisters and other friends remember this term originating from my references whenever there is bright sunshine with sprinkling rain.
The most perfect rainbow, which made a perfect arc across the sky from one end of the horizon to another occurred during twilight while a sun shower was still falling. It remained until nightfall, which was some hours later, since the sun shower was falling around mid summer.
I have always thought it would be fun to write a poem about this quirkiness. This poem comes from all the times during the last thirty odd years, I had false starts and never quite finished the poem. However, I sat down seriously and the words just flowed, much of it from memory of the words used during the previous false starts. I tackled this project while I was in Singapore August 2009, and it has taken me over 3 weeks of tweaking to get to this draft.
Please be kind with your comments!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Gone with the Wind in Singapore: The Japanese School Friend

The crown colony of Singapore of the 1930's was already prosperous and thriving port, serving as a commercial port, a military naval base, as well as a centre for diplomacy for European and Asian nations. Japan, seeking to further the influence of the Rising Sun in the region, had an active diplomatic service in Singapore. The Japanese did not mingle among the locals although on at least one occasion, a Japanese child enrolled in a local mission school.

By this time, my great-grandfather Chee Kwee Kin was already an influential voice for the Chinese as editor of the first overseas Chinese daily, newspaper Le Bao. Previous to his relocation to Singapore, Chee Kwee Kin had taught at Anglo Chinese School (ACS), founded by Methodist missionaries, in the city known then as Foo Chow (Fuzhou, in Fujian Province today). It was not surprising his grandsons, children of his eldest son, Dr. Chee Peck Liang attended the prestigious Anglo Chinese School in Singapore. Father and son had the foresight to realize total immersion in the English language was the key to success in a British crown colony. Even though Chee Kwee Kin passed away in 1937, his influence and reputation shielded his progeny through the bleakest times of the war. The Chinese community who knew of his sterling reputation, would not question the good will and judgment of his progeny.

It was at ACS that my father Chee Siew Oon, the third son of Chee Peck Liang, and grandson of Chee Kwee Kin met his lifelong friend, Goh Teck Phuan aka T.P. or Tippy. Theirs was an alliance of contrasting personalities. My father, a boy of judicious study, transparent in thought but sparing in speech and action admired the plucky boy, quick-witted, gregarious and energetic who was Uncle Tippy. The two unlikely companions looked up to Goh Koh Pui (no relation to Uncle Tippy) a meticulous scholar with liberal ideals, a few years their senior, who later courted and married my father's oldest sister Chee Kie Ha.

The storm clouds of war in faraway Europe were not in anyone's radar when a young Japanese boy, son of a diplomat at the Embassy of Japan in Singapore enrolled in Anglo Chinese School. As new boy in an elite school, he struggled with the exacting standards of the teachers and the school boy cliques established since primary school. Uncle Tippy, ever the leader of the pack befriended the boy, and a woebegone Japanese boy joined in the tomfoolery and mischief cooked up by Uncle Tippy and the close knit group of spirited intelligent students. They graduated from Anglo Chinese School, my father as top boy of the class of 1939 and Uncle Tippy, Sportsboy of 1939. The Japanese school boy returned to Japan to attend Military College.

When the storm clouds of war finally gathered over Singapore, fire and brimstone rained upon the city from Japanese fighter planes and bombers, the Nippon divine wind quickly establishing air supremacy. On the ground, the Japanese ran a 'bicycle blitzkreig' from Northern Malaya advancing south on stolen bicycles. While the bombing of Singapore started in December within hours after Pearl Harbour was hit, the Japanese did not cross the causeway until February. An infamous, often regaled tale of this campaign was the account of the British guns pointed south to the open sea impotent against the Japanese artillery was shelling the city from Johore Bahru to cover their advancing forces. Singapore surrendered the day after Valentine's Day.

Many, even today, equate a surrender and laying down of arms as a 'mission accomplished'. The Japanese, like many conquerors, miscalculated likewise, assuming erroneously that their ruthless show of power could cower an island of frightened civilians. They started with the slaughter of Allied prisoners of war, the savage attacks on hospital staff, patients and civilian employees of Alexandria Hospital, followed by the Sook Ching Massacre, and finally, the intermittent round-ups of civilian populations for interrogation, torture and execution. Vain efforts, which hardened the resolve of locals who might conceivably have accepted Nippon rule.

During their reign of terror, few, except the colloborator-informers, were spared from the brutish hand of the Japanese. Neither Malay, Indian, Eurasian, not even the aboriginal dayaks of the peninsula were safe from their practice of torture and mayhem. In this uneasy climate, Chee Peck Liang and his family hunkered down to the business of survival. Survival in a city, held by conquerors with a tradition of atrocities and a history of genocide, meant steering clear of paramilitary resistance groups, impulsive guerrilla or mob actions or personal campaigns of vendetta. Constant beneath the veneer of hopeless submission, peoples' resistance manifested in unexpectedly ways.

Mother spoke of an assassination of a Japanese soldier right before her eyes. She never saw the dayak lurking in the shadows of large tropical trees lining the street until a Japanese soldier rode by on a bicycle. A flash, a thud, and my mother spotted a headless rider pumping the pedals of a teetering bicycle, meandering awkwardly towards the edge of the road into the foliage beyond. Mother never clarified whether the 'turnip-head' (mother's term) was claimed by the dayak or simply rolled out of sight into the undergrowth. With a collective gasp, some murmurs, and a moment of hesitation, the bystanders continued on their separate ways. Mother too, went about her business, filing away that memory of a dayak's retribution for an interesting dialogue in another era.

As the Occupation wore on, the Kempeitai retreated from their initial campaign of fear and terror. They no longer cast their net island-wide searching for resistance fighters and spies. Instead they relied on informers, who selectively fingered folks, often out of retaliation for unintentional slights or from petty jealousies. Though my father and other members of the household were gainfully employed with Japanese civilian businesses, the feelings of doom and gloom persisted. Whispers of secret arrests, indiscriminate torture or mass executions at dawn circulated widely around the island .

Uncle Tippy, in self-preservation, reined in his boisterous personality, kept close company with my father and 舅舅, who, as members of Chee Peck Liang's household, received wide respect because of the family's history for humanity. He was naturally disturbed when he heard that an unnamed Japanese officer had asked for him at his usual haunts. In a valiant effort to protect his family and neighbourhood from unwanted scrutiny, he decided to seek out the officer. He made his good byes, even gave away all his cigarettes, before swaggering into a Japanese post to turn himself in. Hours later, he returned, chastised by the officer in charge for wasting his time. There had been no arrest warrants for him nor instructions to bring him in for questioning.

Back home, he was greeted by news that a Japanese officer had come, asking for him by first name. This officer arrived later, tipped off by passers-by, that Tippy was home. Uncle Tippy had been the object of a search by a grateful friend, the same friendless Japanese boy from Anglo Chinese School. After a discreet reunion reliving the halcyon days before the storm of war, Uncle Tippy, my father and my 舅 received 'letters' to freely move around the inner city, as well as limited access to the commissary. The camaraderie given an awkward new boy in class had not been forgotten. Protected from the depravity at the hands of the Kempeitai by the Japanese officer and the deprivations of the Occupation by their employment, my father and 舅 felt safe the for the first time since their return to Singapore from Cameron Highlands.

Uncle Tippy, generous and enterprising as ever, decided to share his good fortune. With a small investment, and bare-bones lists from my father and 舅, he purchased medicines and medical supplies, sundry items such as cigarettes and tobacco, from the commissary, to be meted out to friends and neighbours for nominal 'tea money'. The 'letter' from their Japanese friend gave them the confidence to do what little they could to alleviate burdens caused by the hardships of war. He persuaded 舅 and my father to join his business venture.

舅, ever conscientious and straight as an narrow, played the role of a bean counter, who also kept the younger men on a short leash, guiding them through the uncharted underground economy of contraband. His prudence kept the trio flying under the radar, safe from envious privateers and suspicions of corrupt Japanese officers. His conscience reminded the boys of the altruistic purpose of their ventures. His part in a black market business seemed so out of character from his public persona that I often wonder if Uncle Tippy exaggerated his role as comptroller of their black market enterprise. Yet, it appears his contributions here would become a precursor of his contributions to Singapore after the war, as the person in charge of the Port Authority of Singapore and after retirement, as General Manager of the Mandarin Hotel.

My father, no longer attending King Edward VII College of Medicine when classes were suspended for the remainder of the Japanese Occupation, eagerly undertook the task of a bicycle delivery boy. He distributed medical supplies and drugs, and sundry items sugar, tea or the occasional pouch of tobacco or pack of cigarettes. As the son of a respected doctor, Chee Peck Liang, and also a medical student before the outbreak of war, he was sometimes asked to check vital signs or to suggest a treatment course for the sick or elderly. He did not disappoint them.

The 'house calls' gave my father the resolution to finish his studies in medicine no matter how old he was when the College of Medicine re-opened. According to Uncle Tippy, his enthusiasm in their underground business was fired more by his commitment to medical studies than its meagre profits. Absent minded entrepreneur that he was, he had to be reminded by
to ask for payments (bartered goods, services, money, gold, etc.) for goods delivered.

Uncle Tippy, ever the rainmaker, privately considered their escapades, his small contribution to the resistance cause: small efforts which thwart the Kempeitai's wicked efforts to demoralize the population through systematic starvation and deliberate deprivation of health products and drugs. Underscoring the yarns Uncle Tippy spun about those adventures, was the undercurrent of hope, the unlikely partners passed to those still living in the shadow of death.

I recognized the leader in him, though he claimed the role of the 'wise cracker'. He drolled: 'Your uncle was the wise wizard, your father the wise witch-doctor, and I was the wise cracker'. His was the uncanny leadership of a juggling court jester, who distracted the mighty from their petty but dangerous rivalries while entertaining the innocent standing in the cross fire of opposing powers. Careful never to upset paranoid Japanese administrators, he did not complain about the new regime, willing to concede that the Japanese 'freed' him from the 'red haired devils' (literal translation of Chinese slang)
His irrepressible good spirits gave others hope of better days ahead.

Fidelity, intrinsic in Uncle Tippy, demanded that he recognized his duty to an old friend; that he never betrayed the trust which prompted his Japanese friend to renew ties bound in friendship in the past, during the current times of enmity. Meetings with his former class-mate were never prolonged; always conducted openly with discussions of what appeared to be official business, with every respect accorded his Japanese friend. Other Japanese officers as well as respectable locals (often ACS alumnus) were sometimes included, to avoid appearances of impropriety between the former classmates.

Genuinely concerned for the well-being for all, Uncle Tippy empathized with the war- time conflicts within individual Japanese officers. There was never any placement of blame for their obedience in the decisions of their superiors and he always considered them as victimized by the ambitions of the war leaders as the people they oppressed. He once told me, 'War is fought by young men to achieve bovine waste delusions of old men (more colourful language has been substituted by words involving bovine waste)

The Americans dropped the final bomb of the war on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. My parents, wearied for word of a Japanese surrender, had set the date weeks after the confirmation of peace in the European theatre. In the blacked-out of the news by the local press run by the Japanese, and too absorbed with her preparations for marriage, my mother heard nary a whisper about the devastation of Hiroshima.

On August 9, 1945, she was surprised when she was toasted by a grand-uncle, as the 'peace bride'. The wedding guests eagerly discussed and cheered rumors about the Emperor's probable intervention and imminent signing of a Treaty for Peace. Surely that date was an auspicious day for a marriage with the brightest of promises for a young couple's future.
My mother said that there was no blackout curtains drawn during her wedding celebrations nor the honeymoon which followed. The streets were lit from then on.

A fortnight or so after my parents' wedding, during a tropical squall, the heavens rained leaflets announcing the end of the Japanese Occupation.

The days before the landing of Lord Mountbatten, the Japanese did little to contain the celebratory mood of the local population. Responsible for keeping the peace, their armed patrols attempted to maintain a semblance of order. For the informer/collaborators, they could find no refuge. My mother spoke of mob attacks on acknowledged informers, who had led death to the homes of friends and neighbours for favors or vendetta. She witnessed a few people, running amok with pent-up hatred, attacking Indians and Malays indiscriminately because many of these populations co-operated with the Japanese invading forces during the Sook Ching massacres, which indiscrimately exterminated thousands of Chinese. The Japanese in charge were impotent, often hiding in fear of their own lives. In the frenzy, there was never a single hint of threats towards my 舅舅, Uncle Tippy or my father. They were safe under the umbrella of Chee Kwee Kin's legacy of Confucian teachings of virtue and filial piety. Their underground activities were never ridiculed or condemned.

I realized recently that my mother's recollections of the period before the official surrender of Singapore, were not of dark difficult times of retribution. She often reminisced about the rejoicing which continued long after Lord Mountbatten led the victory procession from the docks to the padang, amid waving Union Jacks, to receive the official surrender from the highest ranking Japanese commander. Amidst the swelling throng of people stood my parents, married barely a month, my 舅舅 officially an in-law to the Chee clan, and other siblings of the Dr. Chee Peck Liang family

In the closing days of the Japanese Occupation, from the first celebratory toasts to the 'peace bride' to the final surrender to Lord Mountbatten, the Japanese alumnus of a mission school was not seen at his former childhood playmates' wedding, nor was he heard from again. Uncle Tippy believed that he returned to Japan, married and led a successful business after the war, but I could never pin him down on whether he was only guessing and voicing his hopes for an old school friend. At any rate, the Japanese friend was relegated to the distant past, never to be seen again by either my parents or anyone else.

Half a century later, at a family dinner, my brother, Ping Chian recalled an incident told by one of more elderly ACS teachers. In the 1950's. Mr. Yap told a class full of cheeky boys about his encounter with a former students after the fall of Singapore, when food was scarce, fear was rampant, and the Japanese were flexing their muscle through indiscriminate arrests, torture and mass executions.

Schools had been suspended for the rest of the War. Mr. Yap was hailed on the street by a young Japanese officer who demanded: ' Mr. Yap, do you remember me?'.

Mr. Yap stood mute, barely able to control his bladder functions and trying hard not to allow his knees to buckle under him.

The Japanese officer continued, 'Mr. Yap, you used to slap me at the back of my head. Do you remember that? Painful slap!' Mr. Yap began to mentally say good bye to all his loved ones.

'Mr. Yap, you did that to the naughty boys,' the young man smiled broadly at Mr Yap

'Mr. Yap, you did me good!'

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gone with the wind in Singapore: Glory is not in the Fall, but in rising from the fall.

The main source for this adventure was my mother, Goh Hun Keong. The stories related over the many times we sat around the kitchen table (across the span of over 30 years) After my mother's dementia and her subsequent death, Goh Kie Ha, her brother's wife, and the oldest daughter of Chee Peck Liang, filled in certain details. Her husband, Goh Koh Pui was the source of his personal tales. Goh Teck Phuan, my father's best friend from ACS provided the hilarity. He deserved my utmost respect for his gumption and wit. He passed away in 2007.

After the news of the sinking of the HMS Repulse and the HMS Prince of Wales, our grandfather began to doubt the impregnability of the Singapore defenses, despite assurances to the contrary by colonial government and military leaders. Aware that there would be no air cover since the aircraft carrier assigned to protect Singapore was either sunk or had ran aground (?), our grandfather was not taken by the ang moh's posturing. In the midst of optimistic rumours of reinforcements of Australian/Allied troops, grandfather made plans to send his family to the Cameron Highlands. Unfortunately, it never occurred to me to ask the whereabouts nor the ownership of the highland refuge. Nevertheless, the family left for the highlands in the evening, before the Japanese troops crossed the same causeway days later.

During the confusion of the flight, number 5 son, (Mee Ding's father?) was missed. He either hid from everyone out of fear or as a lark. He may even have innocently left to say goodbye to friends. The siblings were forced to leave with their mother (my grandmother) while Chee Peck Liang remained to search for his son. The loss of their brother, albeit temporary, struck home with the younger generation, the remifications of the war even among civilians and children. My mother was struck for the first time that even Chee Peck Liang could not protect them all.

The older siblings, except for the oldest daughter, Chee Kie Ha, did not stay long in the Cameron Highlands. They returned home with their mother (my paternal grandmother) after word of the surrender of the British reached the Highlands. The entire Singapore scene had changed. The Japanese were in charge; to the horror of the local people, the reputation of the Japanese for merciless killings were understated. Rural fields and urban areas stenched of decaying flesh; gruesome decaptitated heads leered from the tops of poles at roadsides at unexpected places; all part of the campaign by the Japanese to flex their military muscle and rule by fear. The young women who returned to Singapore hid in the home because of the widespread rapes and torture by the lower rank and file of the Japanese occupation forces. Young men were being rounded up for interrogation. Goh Koh Pui, my 舅舅 was among them, having been in civil service, well spoken in English.

He spoke of a haunting incident, which seemed to torture him even during the 60s when he first related the story to us. Among the young men held by the Japanese troops, was a relative, (or perhaps just a fellow settler from our Fuzhou village) younger than 舅舅, whose vulnerability aroused his protective instincts. As the men were ordered to file into 2 rows, the sobbing youth happened to be lined up several places behind my 舅舅. He called out to my not to leave him behind. In kindness, my 舅 舅 negotiated with his partner, (they were lined up in twos) to change places with the weeping relative. The young men were led out of the compound by the Japanese. At the gate, the rows were separated. Those on my 舅舅 's line were told to march one way, and the other line of youths were directed the opposite way. Since they were separated outside the gate, 舅舅 thought nothing it. He and the relative arranged to meet at a coffee shop later in the day as they said their good byes.

The relative never showed up. I suspect,
舅 舅 forever questioned his 'soft hearted' decision to persuade the person next to him to exchange places with his young relative. He received news later that while one single file walked free, the other was lined up and shot. 舅舅 never identified his young relative; even if he did, could I have felt any worse?

While the Japanese Occupation was relegated to history in my carefree mind, I saluted this unknown relative each National Day, as I, a Girls' Brigader, marched pass the War Memorial to the Civilian Dead. It was impossible to forget the relevance of my 舅舅's recollections
or to join in the complaints of my cohorts about our government's parade route pass a memorial to civilians while sweltering under an August morning sun. How could I? 舅舅's haunting tale gave me the meaning to the annual march pass. Sacrifices, not only by the innocuous frightened 'collateral damage' but also by men of principle like 舅舅 whose personal act of random kindness morphed into a life-long nightmare act of random cruel execution by a conquering soldier.

Even as I relate this tale of random execution, I weep for what was lost that day the young man. In early adolescence, i read adventure books about the French resistance of World War 2 Occupation by the Germany Army. Curious about his World War 2 adventures, I asked him 舅 , did you join the resistance to the Japanese? His reply was disappointingly tame to an immature fanciful tween: To embark on the journey of retribution, one must dig two graves.

Two score and more years later, I discovered a similar quote while preparing for a public presentation. My uncle was quoting Confucius. There is a famous quote by Gandhi: ' An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind' Was my uncle alluding to this in the mid sixties as he advised a wide-eye ingenue of his war experience?

舅舅, like a bamboo stalk tossed in the violent winds of war. survived the war through exercise of patience and forbearance. Unlike the unyielding mighty oaks, felled by wind gusts in an awful storm, the bamboo rode out the turbulence by yielding to the wind. My uncle chose to bide his time during the Japanese Occupation. Like so much of his life, he preferred to work incognito behind the scenes, seeking neither the limelight nor standing ovations. By the end of the war, my uncle proved his worth and courage. He served his conscience. He survived the war. He lived to marry a good woman, sire three children and participated in the building of the Singapore Port Authority to the port it is today.

NOTE: Since the publication of this blog. Cousin Jean has informed me that the War Memorial to the Civilian Dead is also called the LIM BO SENG War Memorial. One of Lim Bo Seng's sons is married to a decendant of Chee Kwi Kin, through the lineage of his older daughter, who married Mr. Lau Baik Huo aka Liu Pai Hu. in my immediate family, we respected Grand Uncle by calling him Uncle Big Head, for reasons I was too young to be privy to. Perhaps he was the oldest patriarch married to one of the second generation of Chee settlers in Singapore, or perhaps he was the wisest. I do remember my mother seeking his advice on many family matters, not the least of which was the decision to send my brother, Chee Ping Chian to the United States, a decision which was to result in the migration of members of my immediate family to the U.S. Lau Baik Huo is the Patriarch of the family of seven sisters, all educated daughters and accomplished women in their own right, who have also forged their way in the early nation building years of our country.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Education of Daughters

Chee Kwee Kin's stand on education has proven staying power. Our home village, in Fuzhou honors him for his contributions in the establishment of a school in his name. In his family life, the commitment to scholarship, evident among his progeny is never more obvious than in the education of the daughters. His emphasis on education developed 'legs' which marched beyond time and borders to influence generations into the twenty first century.

The virtues of Confucius were inculcated into his daughters, as they studied alongside their brothers. Private tutors from China were chosen to ensure that his children received Confucian studies beyond calligraphy and recitation. He purchased and imported replicated sets of the Analects from the library owned by the Emperor of China. I was told by my parents, as well as my aunt
(妗子; name: Goh Kie Ha nee Chee) that there were five or less complete libraries of these volumes intact in the world after the Japanese Occupation. The entire library of Analect volumes were donated to a Singapore university by Chee Peck Liang's children after the death of his wife( my 嬤嬤) It is speculated that today, these volumes are one of the three complete sets of the Analects from the Imperial Confucius Library. Unfortunately, we are not able to ascertain which university it is housed in today.

The two daughters of Chee Kwi Kin married learned men. A second generation Chee female, (I believe it was the second paternal grand-aunt we called 乙
嬤; ni gu ma) delivered the eldest grandson of Chee Peck Liang, in the waning days of the Japanese Occupation, when the streets were too chaotic for the journey to the maternity hospital. Goh Kie Ha, Chee Peck Liang's eldest daughter was attended by her paternal aunt and her mother-in-law when Dr. Goh King Hwa was delivered at Cuppage Road family home.

It is said that 'The education of a daughter results in the education of another generation'. When Great-grandfather was stricken in his prime, his eldest son, Chee Peck Liang shouldered the burden (he probably considered a calling) of educating the second and third generation of Chees in Singapore, females and males alike. Unusual as it may seem for those times, Dr. Chee Peck Liang's siblings, sons and daughters were educated in schools founded by English missionaries. Due to this foresight, his siblings and children were among the first generation of English speaking graduates who rose above the smoke and ruins of the Japanese Occupation to pave the way for Singapore's independence and nation building. The first generation of English educated daughters included Jenny Lau, who was one of the first Chinese female magistrates in Singapore, Patsy Lau, one of the first Chinese female medical practitioners, and countless English teachers who taught during the crucial decades after the Occupation. When my grandfather educated his daughters, his daughters educated and enlightened Singapore's future.

On a personal note: the education of girls were controversial at the turn of the twentieth century. My maternal grandmother recounted the fear she had of the English ladies who combed the country for girls to attend the mission schools. My maternal grandmother hid because of rumours of the drinking of blood and the eating of flesh by the Christian ladies. Unwanted daughters given to the Christian ladies were never seen again. (I always wondered if they were adopted and sent overseas) Grandma had cousins who were 'lured' by the missionaries to the churches, and they acquired Western ways and spoke English. I learned at her knees that she wished she had not feared the English, she wished she had attended church with other village girls. According to mother, maternal grandma gladly lived with the Chee clan, taking care of Patriarch Chee Kwee Kin because of the opportunity for mother to attend Methodist Girls' School with the Chee daughters. The opportunity to study the Analects under the tutelage of scholars from China was the icing topping the cake.

After the war, the children of Dr. Chee Peck Liang made their way back to obtain their tertiary degrees. My father, Chee Siew Oon was lucky to reclaim his place in medical school. Uncle Goh Koh Pui, who married Chee Peck Liang's oldest daughter, Chee Kie Ha, after obtaining his law degree in the United Kingdom, returned to bring the Port of Singapore Authority within striking distance to the first place world standing it enjoys today. Mother wanted to attend university like her husband and brother. Unfortunately, in the days after the Japanese Occupation, she was persuaded to obtain a teaching degree, in order to allow the generation of males who were dismissed from classes after the sinking of the HMS Repulse and the HMS Prince of Wales, to complete their degrees. Mother worked the rest of her life to secure her daughters' opportunities to a professional degree which was denied her by the circumstances after the war. (I have always wondered what she would have chosen to study in university then)

N.B. I do not have the names of many of my relatives. The downside to our practice of addressing our elders by titles (grandmother, great aunts, grand uncles, etc) is the lack of knowledge of our older generation's given names. Any information as to their names should be relayed to me in order for me to be recorded here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Our Patriach - Chee Kwee Kin - An Early Settler in Singapore

The last two decades of the Ching dynasty were a turbulent time in the history of China¸ they were a time when East met West in serious confrontation, resulting not only in physical warfare, but also in cultural-spiritual conflict, the consequences of which were less the humbling of an ancient civilization, but more gravely, a total loss of confidence on the part of the Chinese literati of their own heritage.

Life for scholars who lived around that time was testing and painful. They certainly did not have the luxury of engaging in East-West comparative studies under comfortable circumstances such as we have now, but indeed had to struggle with matters of life or death on a personal, communal and national level. It was not just losing a war, it was also losing a whole world-view, a whole understanding of life, a whole essence of a civilization, if you may. Such was the burden many carried upon themselves. Even today, some, if not we ourselves, still ask questions like “do you believe in Chinese medicine?” or “do you believe in ying-yang?” subjects that were intrinsically part of Chinese life lost through the confrontation. So the turmoil of the last years of the 19th. century right into the 20th. century of the encounter between East and West was not only of a war fought between China and western powers, including a “westernized” Japan, but indeed one also fought within the educated people themselves, of the China – what to accept or not accept, and how to understand the reality of a new world now forced upon them.

1895 was the year China was defeated in the Sino-Japanese War. 1900 was the year the western powers over-ran Beijing, and hence the year that confirmed China’s superiority a fantasy.

The proud and conceited Empress Dowager faced intellects who realized it was the dawning of a new world. How the scholarly officials of the court would advise her became part of the scenario of hundreds of stories, fact and fiction woven together. Historical studies have already made common knowledge the prominent people who have made their impact to this part of history. But there are always stories of those closer to the anonymous. Those though cast in perhaps minor roles but nevertheless were essential, if not crucial, to make the story of China more complete, the stories of the people closer to the ordinary. The story of Chi Kwee Kin (徐季鈞)is one such to whom we are related. Beginning with my father’s memory, I have tried to trace his foot-steps during that period. I believe it will throw light on some of the significant inner struggles of migrating Chinese of the times, the so called Hua-Chiau (華僑), particularly of the China-educated. How one such family left China, continued to relate to China, and yet faced the inevitable reality of needing to grow roots in an overseas environment – “Nanyang”. The following is the result of my attempt, I hope that more will be revealed with further researches.

My father Chee Siew Kee(徐士季) tells a few things about his father Chi Kwee Kin, some of which I have heard from young: Father was certain that Grandfather was a Ching government official because he had seen his official robes. Grandfather was a reformist having a personal connection with Kang Yu-wei(康有為) who had visited with him in his Singapore home. There was a memory about an assassination attempt, but he was not sure whether it was directed at Kang or Grandfather, but probably Grandfather. Grandfather was editor of a newspaper, and had a business by the Singapore river. Father’s memory remains a memory, but it delivered its influence on him and some of us, his children. Needless to say, stories from memory affect the lives of people, family stories included. So Father’s memory is important. My endeavour than begins with discovering the background to his story, checking the facts and whatever I can find through historical records or other leads that may still be around in order to come to a more complete understanding of the “true” story about Grandfather.

As I dig into the past, it becomes more and more interesting as one piece of information led to another, not perhaps directly about Grandfather – there were few, but mostly providing insight into the world he lived in. I now believe that his story, that of an early immigrant to Singapore over one hundred years ago, will be significant for present-day Singaporeans who are facing a similar scenario – “sudden” influx of new immigrants. It may help enlighten the understanding of some Singaporeans, so that they may learn to accept new immigrants in a new Singapore.

We start with the Chee Clan Genealogy, which briefly records Grandfather as:
11th.Generation, Shen Hai(琛海), Official Seal: Liang Chuen(亮銓), aka. Kwee Kin, Scholar, Ching Dynasty. Taught at Chang-chien Shan’s He-lin(倉前山鶴齡) Anglo-Chinese School in Foochow. In 1893, taking his family with him, migrated to Singapore to take up the chief penman’s position with Le Bao(叻報), Thien Nan Shin Pao(天南新報), and Penang Ri Bao(檳城日報).

The Genealogy also reveals that Grandfather’s father, Dung Ji(東濟), aka Shau Tang(少唐), was also a Scholar, his Official Seal being Bao Tong(寶桐). So that is two successive generations of China scholars to begin with.

The record on Grandfather is attested by the Foochow Annals Committee (or the equivalent of) which records Grandfather as first being “the chief pens-man of Le Newspaper, then he moved to the Tien-nan New Bao, and then became the Chief Editor of Penang’s Bin-Zheng Ri Bao”. However, my check in Singapore does not show Grandfather to have been the chief pens-man of Le Bao. Records show the editor to be another person, Yeh Chi-Yun(葉季允) invited from Hong Kong, and who’s been in that position since the founding of the paper. However, Grandfather was most probably the sub-editor or associate pens-man. A micro-film of the newspaper at the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library in Singapore shows that Le Bao publications daily advertised such a position from December of 1892 through February 10, 1893.

A Mr. Lin Bing-kwang(林柄光) wrote a chronicle/biography of Grandfather in 1937, a year after his death, which states that Grandfather’s move to Nanyang was in response to the invitation of a local newspaper, Le Bao. Judging from the date of the chronicle, there is reason to believe this piece of writing to probably be a eulogy for the funeral of Grandfather, in which case it is highly reliable since it would have been composed and delivered in the presence of all the people related.

A initial check into the list of newspapers mentioned in the Chee Clan Genealogy reveals them (the newspapers) to hold different political positions, leading one to question how Grandfather could have been so politically conflicted? But through further research, I believe we can clearly see that Grandfather had in his heart and soul the matter of the future of China, and his, like most scholars of his time, was not one of mere intellectual exercise, but actually translated into responsible involvement in the political affairs of the times. We can also safely speculate that in the process of his activity, he was also going through very tough inner struggle of his political beliefs, with his new insights in a new land working with new acquaintances of varying backgrounds, and especially as major events that would affect the course of a new China unfolded around him, which were all beyond the control of Heaven and Dao(道). The avenue to understanding his heart and mind can probably be gained through a closer look at the newspapers he served.

Le Bao founded in 1881 is recognized by modern scholars as the very first overseas Chinese newspaper that can legitimately be called a “daily”. Published in both Chinese and English, it basically supports the authority of incumbent governments, namely, the Ching government of China and the British colonial government* of the straits. Grandfather arrived in Singapore in 1893 to take up the position of, most likely, the sub-chief-pen. We do not know much about his political position, even while we do know that among the students he taught in China, were prominent persons later in the revolutionary camp and the new republic government: Lin Shen(林森), Lin Jue-min(林覺民)), Chai Sung-poh(蔡松坡). However, it seems safe to say that with the Ching dynasty both corrupt and inept, Grandfather at this point if he were indeed an official, or even just a teacher, must already have his own ideas such that he would entertain taking up work with a newspaper in a distant land. Intellectuals at this time in China all faced the questions of how the country may stand up against foreign impingement on its daily life and affairs, and reformist ideas already abound in mid-19th.century. But was his “pen” in Le Bao, a somewhat politically neutral daily, pro-Ching or pro-reform? I cannot imagine him to be overtly pro-Ching, but he was surely nationalistic, having written powerfully against the foreign intruders to China, even though when the Sino-Japanese War occurred, he was already in Singapore.

From Le Bao, Grandfather went on to the “chief pen” or editor’s position in Thien Nan Shin Pao, a newspaper founded in 1898 by Khoo Seok Wan(邱菽園), a young Singapore-born, China-educated man who subscribed to the reformation of China. This was just one month before the clamp-down on reformers by the Empress Dowager in China. Dr. Lim Boon Keng(林文慶) was the English editor*. Thien Nan was deemed a powerful voice from Nanyang* advocating China’s reformation. Soon after the Empress Dowager Tze Hsi(慈禧) clamped down on the reformation, executed key reformists, and locked-up Emperor Kuang Shu(光緒), the leader of the reformation movement, Kang Yu-wei, founded the “Protect the Emperor Society” or the “Bao Hwang Hwei(保皇會)” in Canada in September that same year (1898). With the reformist movement now squashed, the key players turned to the task of attempting to save the emperor and to restore him to the throne in order to carry out the reformist agenda propagated for China to become strong once again. Khoo Seok Wan, owner of Thien Nan Shin Pao, was a key overseas person of the society*.

So by now, Thien Nan Shin Pao added to its reformist position, a new voice and agenda, that of advocating the return of the Emperor - urging the Empress to release Emperor Kuang Shu and to return him to power in the throne. A book recently published by Beijing University (author: Shang-bin桑兵) mentions five persons as being deeply involved in the reformation/restoration attempt and sharing a close friendship as well as making tight collaboration in the matter. They are: Khoo Seok Wan, Lim Boon Keng, Wong Nai Siong(黃乃裳), Li-chang(力昌), and Grandfather. The book also reveals that Khoo Seok Wan was the biggest donor of dollars world-wide in his support of a military uprising to be accomplished by the “Bao Hwang Army(保皇軍)”, hence his important position in the movement. He was in fact the chief fund-raiser for the restoration attempt and had contributed the major sum himself.

1900 must have been a very intriguing year for overseas Chinese in Singapore. This was the year that Beijing fell to foreign powers. Both the arch-leader of the reformist/restoration movement, Kang Yu-wei, and the leader of the revolutionary movement/party, Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) visited Singapore successively to recruit followers and to raise funds for their causes. Though Sun was also planning to talk and work with Kang in a joint effort to save China, fears (implication of Sun in a prior plan to assassinate Kang), misunderstandings (over money matters), distrusts (Japanese representatives sent initially by Sun), all played into the events of the year and the failure for them to co-operate. Lim Boon Keng and Khoo Seok Wan both played roles in the “rescue” of Kang (from alleged revolutionary assassination), while Sun Yat Sen was banned from Singapore for a few years by the local government as a result*. All in all, Sun Yat-sen did manage to convert a substantial number of the Chinese in Singapore to his revolutionary cause*. In the meantime, Khoo Seok Wan was having his dissatisfaction with Kang after the failed uprising. Indeed, in 1901, both Khoo and Lim Boon Keng withdrew their support for the reformist cause and pledged allegiance to the Ching-dynasty China. Where did this leave Grandfather? I believe he still remained a reformist though now struggling with revolutionary thoughts. Perhaps he was also, by working with Straits-born Chinese like Khoo and Lim, pondering what to make of the local colonial scene of Nanyang, fully realising himself as an educated Chinese living out his own Chinese identity and being actively loyal to his mother country. It should be said that Singapore was not then yet a country, and the second generation local born such as Khoo and Lim were clear-cut British subjects (though this is not to say they did not have self-identity problems, they did, in fact).
In early 1901, citing ill health, Khoo Seok Wan announced he was passing on the General Manager’s position of Thien Nan Shin Pao to Grandfather, whose name already appeared, beginning from July 2 of 1900, on the front page as “Printed and Published for the Proprietors by Chi Kwee Kin at the Thien Nan Shin Pao” (here is where I found the official English name of Grandfather.) He was also the Chief-pen and Treasurer. Some months after he took over from Khoo, Grandfather too announced on October 12 that he was leaving the helm of Thien Nan having accepted the invitation of Ri Xin Bao(日新報), even though according to one source, Ri Xin Bao was already known to have difficulties at that time. It is more probable that the newspaper having trouble was actually Xing Bao(星報), predecessor of Ri Xin Bao, and the transition was just as problematic. During this period of apparent uncertainty, there was on-going negotiation to merge Ri Xin Bao with Thien Nan, but the deal did not come through. Formal announcements of the impending merger had already been made, front page, in Thien Nan as early as September 16 and in the days following, but on October 11, the merger was cancelled. Grandfather’s announcement of his resignation from Thien Nan and his move to Ri Xin was on the very next day. So it must have had something to do with the merger, or rather the failure of it.

It was Lim Boon Keng who owned this new Ri Xin Bao. According to “Lim Boon Keng: A Life to Remember” (Compilers: Ang Seow Leng and Bonny Tan; Published by the Singapore National Library), Lim Boon Keng and his father-in-law Wong Nai Siong bought over a Chinese newspaper Xing Bao and renamed it Ri Xin Bao, that this newspaper “became for him a medium to reach out to the Chinese community” and that the paper closed after two years because of financial problems. This may seem strange as he was, according to other sources, already airing his perspectives as English editor of Thien Nan Shin Pao, and certainly in other English newspapers. One possible explanation then is, he has at this point renounced the reformist position and is pro-Ching government, yet his interest was now focused on reaching out to the Chinese-educated immigrant in the light of his own self-consciousness as a Straits-born, postulating the kind of role he could play to help China*. These are very pertinent immigrant issues. So Ri Xin’s agenda is directed towards the China-educated Chinese. Could Grandfather then also have given up his reformist position by moving to Ri Xin? I don’t think so. But it is highly probable that he was by now paying some attention to, if not immersed in local concerns in some way.

After taking over Ri Xin, it still closed down in 1903. Lim Boon Keng the owner of Ri Xin may have renounced the reformist position, but Ri Xin is known to be a non-politically inclined newspaper and had started only in 1898, same year as the Thien Nan. It thus survived for only five short years. As for the reformist flag-bearer Thien Nan, after Grandfather left, it passed through two General Managers, Ruan Tien-so(阮添壽) and Hwang Shih-chung(黃世仲) before it too folded up in the hands of Hwang Shih-chung in 1905. Hwang had a rift with Kang Yu-wei, and ended up opposing the reformers and actively encouraging others to join Sun Yat-sen, the revolutionary leader.
A piece of puzzle lies here. Why did Grandfather having charge of the reformist Thien Nan give it up so soon to move to neutral Ri Xin though the latter was already in trouble even while “new”? One possible reason perhaps has to do with his relationships with Khoo and Lim. He perhaps stayed on in Thien Nan to help Khoo out by first temporarily relieving Khoo of the awkward position he was now in (having renounced the reformist position), before fading out himself. It seems likely that he himself now may also started to have doubts over the reformist thinking, and hence moved on to Ri Xin. On the other hand, by carrying his doubts of the reformist movement while moving over to Ri Xin, Grandfather would have no problems as he would be continuing his association or collaboration with a friend, Lim Boon Keng, who as said earlier, has shifted his position from reformist thinking to supporting the Ching-dynasty China. Indeed, Lim even went in 1903to China at the invitation of Prince Dai Fung(戴灃) after the latter visited Singapore that same year. The introductory chapter to Lim Boon Keng’s “The Chinese Crises from Within” says of Lim: “Influenced by British evolutionism and reformation, Lim Boon Keng did not approve of a blood-shedding revolution”. With the closing of Ri Xin after two years, and Lim Boon Keng’s continuing support for Ching China, I believe Grandfatherthen took a different course, either shifting gradually turning towards Sun Yat-sen’s revolutionary position or returning to a staunch reformist position. As someone China-born, he could not support a decaying Ching dynasty though even a former Ching official himself. The uncertainty of which direction he went is related to the record in the Genealogy.

According to the Chee Genealogy, it is clearly stated that Grandfather moved on to become the Chief Editor of Bing Zhen Ri Bao, a daily paper of Penang. On checking*, this is a Chinese newspaper founded in 1906 invested by the Sun Yat-sen’s revolutionary party for their propaganda. If this were true, then Grandfather must have accepted the revolutionary position and parted ways with his former self. However, there is also another Chinese newspaper in Penang – the “Bing Zhen Shin Bao(檳城新報)” which is reformist. If the genealogy was wrong on one word: “Ri” or “Shin”, and Grandfather were actually the Chief Editor of the Penang “Shin” newspaper, then his reformist position did not change after all, after perhaps a soul searching journeying. I have not been able to unearth much of anything regarding the two Penang papers, but I do believe there is a strong possibility of a mistake in the Chee Genealogy on this point, the reason being Father’s memory. First, Father is very certain that when he was in his youth, Grandfather was still working at “Jung Hui Bao(南洋總彙報)” which had a reformist history earlier on (before Father’s birth), and second, his memory regarding an assassination attempt on Grandfather’s life, purported to be by Wang Jing Wei(汪精衛).

These memories would make some sense only if Grandfather were still editor of a reformist newspaper (the Penang Shin Bao, to “merit” an assassination on his life), for these were now the years of a fierce and bitter newspaper warfare between the reformists and the revolutionaries in the Nanyang Straits, known as the “War of the Pens”. Another point for consideration that the Genealogy was perhaps mistaken, may be the Genealogy’s lack of awareness that the (Penang) newspapers had different political backgrounds. Interestingly, Father was born in Penang in 1911, the very year of the founding of the Republic of China, he said it was because Grandfather was escaping an assassination attempt. That year still a baby, his oldest brother went to Penang specifically to escort him and Grandfather back to Singapore. And second, when Grandfather died, Father was already an adult of twenty-five years, so chances are he would know better. The Genealogy did not mention the politics of the times. I believe that the Genealogy had in the first place maintained a disinterest to recording the political inclinations of Grandfather – it was the revolutionaries that won the day after all. And typically in Chinese culture, “the winner becomes king(成者為王)”, and the losers are no longer mentioned. So in all probability, Grandfather returned to a reformist position after all, perhaps at least right up to the time the republic was born. All these to me are so interesting, and will surely make good material for a “historical novel”.

In his chronicle of Grandfather, Lin Bing-kwang writes: “At a time when England, America, France and other powerful nations seek to divide and usurp China, and defaming her reputation, he welded his authority in the newspaper world. With his magical pen, he hit out at powers and actions that bully the Chinese, spreading truth and sweeping away the mist of evil” Lin also records Grandfather as having founded the Foochow Laborer’s Association(福州工會) where Chinese migrants could gather, obtain assistance for their work, buying property, and in their endeavour to establish themselves. They would find help and care from Grandfather. He also worked on, and contributed his mind to the unification of overseas Chinese against demeaning powers. Grandfather also founded the Singapore Foochow Business Association(新加坡福州商業公會).

The Chee Genealogy however, does not mention Grandfather’s political activities, but instead mentions his service to the overseas Chinese in Singapore and his fund-raising effort to alleviate fire and flood in his native country, China. This is also mentioned in the Annals of Foochow, that he organized fund-raising efforts which contributed to victims of fire in Sibu(1928), also in China, and floods in China(1931).

Lin’s writing also mentioned Grandfather as having practised medicine, “healing lots of people and upholding the ethics of the profession”. In 1919, Grandfather sent money to China to help build a school. In 1926 when the authorities of Sarawak disallowed the remittance of money to China causing great hardship, Grandfather asked his son Set Chew(叔超) to negotiate with the British in London which resulted in the lifting of the ban.

It is perhaps in the practice of Chinese medicine that Grandfather came to be acquainted with my maternal grandfather, Zhang Shih Yung, who was also an immigrant Chinese physician with some reputation amidst the Chinese community of Singapore, and together through the traditional process of engaging the services of a match-maker, tied the knot between Father and Mother. Father remembers his father-in-law as a scholarly person who wore his long Chinese gown everyday in the year, in fact, he never saw Grandfather Zhang in any other local dress. Grandfather on the other hand, wore a long gown only on special occasions. Father remembers Grandfather as a serious person but could occasionally tease Grandmother with the singing of some Chinese opera verses. He frequently goes to the Peking opera, and Father would go with him sometimes, and they would end the night with a bowl of noodles at a food stall. It explains why Father would listen to Peking opera when I know he didn’t understand what was sung - I had often wondered about it. Into the Republic, and Grandfather spends his time not only at operas, but also at the mahjong table. Mother did not know Grandfather well as he was already bed-ridden and not talking when she married into the family.

Grandfather died in February of 1936, but it was in the next year that a ship was specially hired to take his coffin back to Foochow for burial. Scores of relatives and friends accompanied him on that his last trip back to his homeland. Father did not go as Mother was pregnant with Kuan Tsee, their firstborn. It was not a peaceful time on the international scene and especially in China, being the beginnings of civil and international war; but Grandfather had the assistance of his former student Lin Shen, now the president of the Republic of China, and also that of the British authority, to facilitate his ship to smoothly pass through ports and customs without inspection! The ship had to pass through Hong Kong, Xiamen(Fujian), and Mawei(馬尾).

In Chinese records, Grandfather was a patriotic (towards China) Singapore (or Nanyang) Hua-Chiao. Yet I have not been able to find much of anything about him in the recorded history of Singapore. Chen Mong Hock’s “The Early Chinese Newspapers of Singapore 1881-1912” (p.66) mention of “Hsu Chi-yun” was just as brief, that he was an editor of “Thien Nan” and had been on the staff of “Lat Pau”(Le Bao). It is interesting that in his notes, Chen recorded, “Hsu Chi-yun, however, seemed to have retired from public life later”. To me, that actually speaks a lot. The people that he worked with, whether Khoo Seok Wan or Lim Boon Keng were Straits-born and English educated. They were thus the local history-making people of early Singapore. Grandfather, of course, would just be a typical Chinaman, knowing no English. Yet, it is interesting to observe that Lim Boon Keng was referred to as a “Chinaman” by western writers of his time, even while recognizing and writing about his great education and accomplishments; that being so, I would imagine that Grandfather being from China and especially not knowing any English, would be the Chinaman’s Chinaman. Though recognized as well educated, he would probably be still seen as not as accomplished, or even “cultured” enough to the westernized minds of those times, and therefore of a lesser class - “those Chinese” perhaps. He would probably be seen also as someone not assimilated enough with the locals and having a loyalty elsewhere, and so forth, all that which even today, and in modern Singapore, continues to be the case – the stereotyping of immigrants, the latter ones by the earlier ones - we see this again and again in immigrant societies, and I sense such feeling reading Chen’s book*. An article on the topic the “Allerged Grievances of the Chinese” in an quarterly co-edited by Lim Boon Keng*, the writer says, “we are extremely sorry that between the many thousands of ignorant coolies and the better class of Chinese, there is a tremendous social gulf so that it is not easy for the latter to know or to control the plans for the good or evil of the former.” The grievances in this case were a cultural misunderstanding (my interpretation) of regulations regarding health issues such that protest placards were raised in “Chinese town” that displayed the contempt for the government with “prices” set for the head of certain government officers.
The note in Chen’s book is particularly interesting because Grandfather did not to my understanding actually “retired from public life” though he may have “disappeared” from the English or bi-lingual scene in early Singapore. For Father said that he was active all along. Indeed, as seen in the records in China, that in the years of the Republic, he continued to serve the Chinese immigrant community of Singapore, as well as helping his homeland.

After Ri Xin Bao, Grandfather continued his newspaper work in Jung Hwei Bao (Union Times), but perhaps indeed, by now Grandfather’s actual involvement in politics was over.

Grandfather was a Chinese Scholar who also practised Chinese medicine. While he lived at a time when East met West with hostility, over-spilling from China into Chinese societies elsewhere, he was yet open enough, or more probably enlightened enough, though incapable or unwilling to learn English himself, to send his children to English schools to receive a sound western education. This was his response to emigrating to Nanyang, that the next generation would be equipped far better than himself to face a new world outside of China while he himself contributed as much as was possible by actively engaging himself with the people and communities he was in, serving his compatriots in this which to all is their new home. He did not hole himself up in a “China-world” or China-town. As indicative of how he saw the new world, he prepared his children well to face it – many went to Raffles, and three studied western medicine, this perhaps influenced by Dr. Lim Boon Keng. But he also made sure that they learned the Chinese Classics, and that was through hiring a teacher to teach at home as tradition would have it. My father was taught by one such teacher. As a first generation migrant, and in particular one who was so involved with the destiny of his home country, Grandfather’s loyalty unquestionably was to China. But that was not just the case. He certainly also demonstrated his dedication to some of the affairs of his new home, contributing to the society in the land of his new life.

Grandfather’s oldest son, Dr. Chee Pek Liang(徐伯良)was highly respected in Foochow circles in Singapore. His second son, Dr. Chee Set Chew, was also well-known and much respected in Sibu, more popularly known then as the New Foochow, in Sarawak. Among his grandchildren who have made publicly-known contribution to Singapore are Dr. Chee Siew Oon, Dr. Chee Chin Tiong, Chee King Ting, and Dr. Chee Kuan Tsee. The son of his first daughter, Lau Pek Hoo(劉伯和), is a well-known educator in early Singapore. Dr. Daniel Chee contines his good work in Sibu. Of the fourth generation, Dr. Chee Soon Juan is one among his many accomplished great grandchildren.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Christmas at 222

Many of the fourth generation Chee family do not recall the celebrations of Christmas at 222 Orchard Road. The children of Chee Peck Liang did not grow up in a Christian home. There was no grace before meals or prayers at bedtime. In fact, according to my mother, although the girls were schooled at Methodist Girls' School and the boys were schooled at Anglo Chinese School, and were all familiar with Methodist worship services, our grandfather Chee Peck Liang frowned on Western traditions and religious practices. Mother (Goh Hun Keong) gave many examples of his negative perception of the Ang Moh ways. Certainly, (as we are all aware) our patriarch was a keen scholar of the Analects of Confucius and schooled his children in calligraphy and recitation of Confucius's philosophy.

Our parents (I was fortunate to have a double dose of Confucian as both mother and father spent their childhood guided by Chee Peck Liang's Confuscian ethics) had to practise their calligraphy before their classes at their respective Methodist primary and secondary schools, and then tutored privately in the reading and writing of Confucius moral values and work ethics. In fact, father once said that the tutors (I do not recall if they had one or several tutors through their formative years) prepared them for the Imperial Examination (abolished in the last gasps of the Qing Dynasty). I always wondered if our great grandfather Chee Kwi Kin was an Imperial scholar or if our grandfather, Chee Peck Liang prepared to take this examination since it was not abolished until after the turn of the 20th century.

Yet among my oldest memories of 222 Orchard Road, was the memory of Christmas parties (were there two or more?) held in the front hall of 222 Orchard Road. I suspect Uncle Chin Tiong, (T'ng Kah) was adult promoting the Christmas parties as I remember him as the person picking up brightly wrapped presents (were they Christmas wrapping papers or were they merely brown paper festooned with Christmas ribbons?) handing them to grandmother as he called out the names of the children present. As our names were called, each grandchild,very 'kwai2', walked up to grandmother, and received with both hands our present, bowing slightly as we thanked grandmother and then quietly walked back to our seats. There was no tearing of papers the way my wild American children do at dawn on Christmas day. We all sat in family groups, and waited for our names to be called, and we each returned to our place in the family group with present in hand. Not a single child whined to open presents or left our places by our parents.

There always has to be an exception. I believe Margaret was the youngest child at that period of time. She would giggle and squiggle sitting between her brothers and parents, dressed in a lovely dress with wide can-can under her poofy skirts. I still recall being so jealous that she was the prettiest child there and commanded so much indulgency. Since she lived at 222, she also opened her present when she went upstairs to their family quarters, and later appeared with a gorgeous golden haired doll with blinking eyes! I had never seen such a beautiful doll in my entire life. I am sure the passage of time and my envious childish soul has exaggerated the loveliness of the doll in its lacYet, none of the nieces (or nephews) opened our presents to see what we received, not even whisper for permission to do so.

After the presents were given out, the children moved in our usual 'orderly' manner into grandmother's atrium for 'treats'. Sweet biscuits from tins, fresh fruits and orange pop (that was the real treat!) were served to all of us. Hundreds (thousands in my mind) of leather bound volumes, cover to cover of of Chinese ancient text surrounded us: the Analects of Confucius. Grandmother sat in her familiar Chinese vintage lounger near the front hall, the indulgent matriarch of 222.

After the treats were consumed, the cousins ran played outside as our parents bid their good byes under the stacks of Confucius Analects. Our grandmother said very little:
a petite woman with dainty feet stuffed in 'doll' shoes, surrounded by larger adults, the uncles and aunts but always the centre of my curiousity: she was my Fuzhou Mother Christmas.

When Christmas at 222 Orchard Road became Christmases of my distant past, I shelved those memories away. Uncle Chin Tiong married, moved to Butterfly Avenue, Margaret and her brothers migrated to the U.K. and the cousins found our individual way to Christendom never to visit those volumes of Analects, silent witnesses of the passing of our Confucian childhood. The Christmas ghosts of 222 Orchard Road visit me at Christmas, even in America, hovering just a tad out of reach, never embraced yet never discarded with the used wrappings of Christmases present.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

How did this blog begin?

I know that typing in caps is not the protocol, but the caps is to differentiate the blog from the emails posted below it.






RE: Chee clan

Friday, 13 March, 2009 4:26 PM
"Chee Kiter" , "Goh Jean"
"Chee Maureen" , "Chee Meeding" , "Chee Kuan Tsee" , "Chee Ping Chian" ,,
Message contains attachments
Dear All,


Actually, I am not concerned about the addressing protocol, us all being seniors. Evidently, my brother is
concerned about Americanization taking over our tradition, which is fine indeed. But he also touched something
I think worth writing and sharing abit since we are on this project.

The Clan-tree in Chinese culture is a reflection of the core teaching "Ying Shui Si Yuan 飲水思源"

(when you drink water, think/remember/cherish/appreciate the spring from which it came" tied to filial piety.

Standing usually at a higher level than that of the ancestral tablet on the Confucianist altar, is the
"Tien Di Jun Ching Shih 天地君親師"("Heaven Earth Emperor Parents Teacher") tablet, "Parents" to be taken
as including all direct (grand, great grandetc.) ancestors. So the clan-tree is also to help the linear remembrance.
The "web"-part is however a little complicated.

Since the villages in the hundreds of years of Chinese civilization remain basically the same, and they are clannish,
one 5-year old child can actually be the grand-uncle of a fifty-year old person. Evidently, there is a conflict of "respect
to elders" vs. "generational ranking" to resolve. Also, a young man may well be the grand-uncle of his wife or
a son-in-law of his nephew, all through marriage. Hence we also speak of "Yi-deng Ching一等親"(first degree kin)
"Er-deng Ching二等親"(second degree kin) and so forth, the higher the degree, the more you are left to formulate
your own protocol of address and inter-relationship, including marriage.

Generational ranking can cause problems, can you imagine someone with the same surname, a juniorly-ranked relative,
asking for a $$$ cheque? (Those days they may actually help, at least surely at the clan "office"!) Or indeed, as happened
in history, you joining the line waiting for execution because someone in the "family" caused trouble for the emperor?
But of course, our project is the mere four generations of the progeny of Chi/Chee Kwee Kin, with easy-enough
clear-cut generational rankings, whether Chinese, American, Singaporean, and maybe a surprise somewhere!

Let's just continue with making contacts, and hopefully we can arrive at a place where we can see and know each other
on paper or via the blog or in person or whatnot. Should be fun. I am for anything workable and effective.
But do do the blog (Mau).


Jean, you are sure part of the Chee clan, even if half, they (traditional Chinese)
used to not even record names of girls, or even wives of the clan in the genealogies!

Subject: Fw: FW: Chee clan
Date: Fri, 13 Mar 2009 12:37:42 +0800

Hi Jean,
I noticed that your email address is not there, so I am forwading this to you.
Sounds like my husband is getting a bit serious, but you have always been following the proper protocol and call me "Auntie Kiter".
Actually, I don't really mind and for people who have been staying overseas for a long period of time,they may not be conscious of the need for protocol.
I suppose David also takes in in a light hearted way. Hope nobody is offended.
I would be willing to help in doing anything for the Chee clan as I am also a Chee.
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Thursday, March 12, 2009 11:53 AM
Subject: Re: FW: Chee clan

Dear Maureen, Ping Kong, Jean etc., etc.

Since we are on the Chee Clan and Family Ancestry I like to point out the protocol of addressing one another.
I am David Chee's eldest brother. Our father Chee Siew Kee is your father/uncle Chee Siew Oon's 5th Uncle.
So we are your father's "tang xiong di" or first cousin.

"Cousin Big Ears" is therefore your Uncle David, unless we follow the ang mohs who call one another including their elders by first names.

Regards to all

Your Uncle Kuan Tsee

Institute of Mental Health, Singapore | Visit us at
Vision: To be the leading mental health centre in Asia by 2012

Privileged/Confidential information may be contained in this message. If you are not the intended recipient, please notify the sender immediately.

" src="" width="16" height="16">Chee David

          Chee David

          10/03/2009 21:40



Chee Kiter , Kuan Tsee CHEE/GP2/IMH/NHG@NHG


FW: Chee clan

Subject: RE: Chee clan
Date: Tue, 10 Mar 2009 06:38:17 -0700

Dear Maureen (and All),
Great to hear from you! The blog idea is perfect if you can do it. As you can see, I don't have
much information on your granddad's side. A blog will help gather more info. for sure.
Good to know about Peter too. Maybe Jean would like to get serious about planning a
trip to Fuzhou. Fuzhou is within reach now from Taipei. I was in HK and Shenzhen a week ago,
didn't go to Fuzhou as I didn't have the reliable info.

Date: Mon, 9 Mar 2009 18:40:35 +0800
Subject: Re: FW: Chee clan

dear cousin big ears
i regret it took me so long to reply to your letter, but when i got back to the united states, my brother ping kong was in china, and he just returned this evening.
ping kong tells me that the name of the town is hu long ( i think this is the phonetic spelling) from what he says, i believe the chinese name for the town is
pingkong also says that we have a cousin name peter who lives in fuzhou who knows more about the town, which by the way is becoming ever technologically advanced by the day.
peter will also arrange for a trip to the town for interested chee family members.

on another note, i thought perhaps you and i can start writing a blog (which i will be happy to create) and invite other chee relatives to include their memories of our oral history. i agree with you that it is important to preserve this.

hope to work with you on this. now that i am back, i will continue to email you regularly. i hope you do not mind the inclusion of my siblings and cousin jean in our communications.

numbers 6:24-26

cousin mau

--- On Sat, 7/2/09, Chee David wrote:

From: Chee David
Subject: FW: Chee cla[IMAGE]n
Date: Saturday, 7 February, 2009, 8:36 AM

Subject: Chee clan
Date: Fri, 6 Feb 2009 16:32:40 -0800

Dear All,

It was so good meeting up with you that day after so many years - no matter how much
we remember of those childhood "feast days" of Orchard Rd. house, or of each other,
there is always now a face and name to reconnect with!

I am back in Taipei to a whole lot of commitments and other planning work to do, so will
not be continuing with that paper on grand/greatgrandfather for a while, but if you have
further materials to send me, please by all means do, especially the updated Foochow
location/name of his grave-site. And Jean, do plan the trip!

I have been thinking of how and what we can do with an English-version "genealogy".
It should be useful especially with many third, fourth generations not knowing any Chinese,
perhaps not even having their own names in Chines! I actually wrote the article on grandfather in
English simply because I realized that some of my own kin can't read Chinese.

Maybe we can produce a little booklet in English, say beginning with a chapter on where the Chee
ancestors hail from within China itself, a chapter on Chee Kwi Kin the emigrant, a chapter on
Chee Pek Liang - the oldest son, a chapter on the Chee genealogy-tree listing all progeny of
Chee Kwi Kin, and finally a collection of photographs of each family and whatever
pertinent stories that anyone is willing to contribute. We can allocate responsibility to volunteers,
and I a sure there are many with so many retired Chees now! Perhaps Maureen or Ping Chian
can write on Chee Pek Liang; I know my sister-in-law Kiter is happy to help with gathering and
collating names and family photographs etc. Think about it. Printing is easy, we can do it the
term-paper style (in Taiwan).

Thanks to Jean for organizing the lunch and sending me the added Chinese material.

Do stay in touch!

Blessings for a great New Year!

"Elephant Ears" David