Thursday, June 12, 2014

Journey with Joseph Lim - Reunion

The year was 1983. I had finished my officer cadet officer course in the RSAF and gotten the rank of 2nd Lt as an Air Executive Officer.

I cannot really remember the month and date. Just remembered that my dad told one of my aunt and cousin from Malaysia had come to Singapore and requested to see me in the hotel where they are staying. I can't even remember the name of the hotel that they stayed in, just that it was a hotel just one street parallel to Orchard Road, the shopping hub of Singapore.

I went to the hotel and met them at the lobby....

It was in that hotel lobby that I came to know my real identity. The aunt and cousin that came to Singapore and requested to see me turn out to be my mother and brother.

My mom and my brother, Robert Ng, told me the events that led me to be adopted by my uncle in Singapore. This is what happened to my family in Malaysia.

My mother was married to a young man before WWII. Her first husband came from a well-to-do family and he spoke English and Japanese fluently. This is one of the reasons why they were not harassed by the Japanese during the WWII. However, when the war was over and the communist became rather active in Malaysia during those post war period, her husband was caught by some of the communist members and never found again. My mom and brother, Robert Ng (that is why his surname is different from us), went through some very difficult time until my mom met my dad.

According to Robert, my dad was lorry driver at that time. They got married shortly after they met. Though Robert came from my mom's previous marriage, my dad had treated him as his own son. Later, 4 more boys were born to the Lim family, with one of my brother being a down syndrome child. I am the youngest in the family. Having 5 boys to bring up is a tremendous financial stress on the family. To add to this financial stress, my dad was diagnosed with cancer.

The cancer wiped out our family's saving. My grandmother, uncles and aunts rallied around to provide whatever financial resources for my dad's medical treatment. It was during those difficult period that Robert managed to witness to my parents and both of them come to know the Lord personally.

Robert shared with me that he visited my dad on the last day before he was called home to be with the Lord. Dad was unusually alert on that day and even asked Robert to go specifically to a certain Indian store to buy him a packet of Indian fried noodles. You see, my dad was suffering from stomach cancer and could hardly eat at the last stage of his life.

Though Robert was surprised with my dad's request, he went nonetheless, to buy that Indian fried noodles. Even more surprising was that my dad managed to finish more than half (or almost all?) of the noodles, which is rather spicy. After he finishes the noodles, he gave his last word to Robert. He told Robert that he had treated Robert as like his own son when he married my mom. Now that he is going to be with the Lord, Robert will become the 'Man of the house' and my dad requested that Robert takes care of not only my mom but all the brothers in the family like his own biological brothers. Robert accepted that heavy responsibility of being the 'man of the house' even though he was still going through his college.

With dad's passing, mom had to start working in order to feed 4 young boys while Robert was already in college. Life was very tough to say the least. I understand that mom had to go from house to house washing clothing to feed all of us. Two of my brothers were in school while my down syndrome brother and me was left at home so that my mom can go about her clothing washing jobs.

It was during those very difficult years that my grandmother made a proposal to my mom. She told my mom that our oldest uncle in Singapore (who will eventually become my adopted father) does not have any son and it will be a win-win situation if she can give me to my uncle.   Even though my mom do not like the idea, the financial burden is just too much for her to shoulder alone and she recluntantly agreed for me to be sent to Singapore and be adopted by my uncle.

However, one of the conditions for the adoption is that both parties (my mom and my adopted family) is not supposed to tell me about who my real family is. This is why when I started visiting my relatives in Malaysia almost yearly in my early years before going to Pre-University, I never knew that the aunt and cousins that I will see occasionally in my visits, are actually my mom and brothers.

Why do my mom and Robert chose to come to Singapore in 1983 to reveal the truth to me? Why break the silent after so many years? Well, that was the year that I am 21 years old and considered to have reach the 'independent and matured' stage of a young man's life. However, the other more important reason as stated by my godly and wise brother, Robert, is that he wants me to know that I still have a family back in Malaysia  if and when my parents in Singapore pass away. Robert had been keeping his promise of taking care of my mom and the other older brothers for many years. However, he felt that he had an 'unfinished task' at that time. And that 'unfinished task' is me. Until he 'brings' me back to the family, he has not completely fulfil the promise that he had given to my dad on the day when my dad went back to the Lord.

When my mom and Robert relate all these family history to me in that hotel lobby, I really do not know how to react.  I don't remember having any emotional outburst like one might see in the movie. I can't even remember if we did go for a dinner after that serious talk. Maybe we did? Maybe we did not? I think my mom and brother did visit my adopted parents before they went back home to Malaysia.

I remembered that there was even more tension in my family for awhile after my mom and Robert went back to Malaysia. Eventually, I have to assure my adopted parents that I will never leave them in Singapore and go back to my biological family in Malaysia.

As I look back at this reunion, I want to thank my brother, Robert Ng, for keeping his promise to my dad and came looking for me in Singapore. This action of his is part of the plan that our Heavenly Father had orchestrated to let me know I had my family that will stand with me when I encounter some major relationship setback a few years later.

It is also a beginning of a long journey of inner healing of my emotion in the years to come. My lack of emotional outburst or expression spoke alot of where I stand as far as emotional well-being is all about. And I had also recall that in those years as Christian, I had never been calling God as my Heavenly Father. This is probably because of the lack of a healthy father figure in my life from a very young age.

But, He has never forgotten me. And He started to bring me through a series of healing stretching over some years where eventually calling Him as Father become so natural even though I will be walking to a very dark period of my life a few years later.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Finishing Pre-University and entering into the Military Service

As Father drew me back to Him, I was also entering into the last year of my Pre-University studies.

Our home was small where there is hardly any room where there is a quiet place to prepare for my exam. So, what I did was after school, I will spend a couple of hours in school studying. Than I will head home at three o'clock, study for another couple of hour, had early dinner and sleep till about ten o'clock. I will wake up and study till about three or four in the morning before sleeping for another couple hours and start another day. It has been quite difficult doing that as sometimes I will fall asleep in class due to the lack of sleep.

During those period of studying for the final exam, I want to thank specifically Pastor George Seow and Pastor Alfred Yeo for helping me. Pastor George was the pastor of the first church that I attended. He allowed me and other students who do not have a qiuet place to study to go to church to study and even sleep over night there. We spent many nights sleeping in the church after spending the whole evening studying in church. Pastor Alfred was a chaplin in the Singapore Armed Force. When he heard that I did not have a quiet place to study, he opened up the military chapel for me. I was allowed to stay in the chapel to study and even stay overnight in the chapel.

That was the year that I came acrossed many biographies of early missionaries and began to feel a pull in my spirit for the mission field. My relationship with God begin to develop though I was still not able to address God as my Father.

Towards the end of that year, I remembered two things that happened in during my quiet time. I had the habit of waking up early (like five in the morning) since I was young. And I do most of my quiet time during those early quiet moments in the house. I remembered one morning during those short quiet time, our small little house was entirely engulfed in a bright light for a few minutes! I felt His presence so strong and also His peace. I do not remember if He has spoken anything to me during those few minutes. I just knew from that moment that He will never leave me or forsake me. Not some kind of theory or learning from a pastor but a directly assurance from Him and burnt into my spirit.

The second thing that I did during one of those short daily quiet time was that I told God that there are 3 things that I prayed that He will grant to me. First, I want to get into National Univeristy of Singapore to read law or history or geography. Second, I want to join the military as a fulltime military officer as I just love being part of the military service. Third, I would like also be a missionary or serve full time in the ministry.

Another person that left a deep mark in my life in my last year of Pre-University year was Mary Matthews, our class form teacher. She knew that my family had been facing serious financial problem for a number of years now. And she knew that I have problem paying the 300 over dollars for my GCE A level exam fees. And what she did was totally unexpected and showing that deep love of Father flowing out of her life. She helped me to calculate my exam fees and than proceed to pay the full amount on my behalf. Than she just work out a repayment plan that I can pay her back every month from the small income that my dad gets from driving a cab. As I write this blog, I realised that what she did was one of the early incidences where I experience His unconditional love and how He is using me to do the same now. And what she did so long ago is like the sponsorship program that Father use me to start in the rural area of China for the last 10 yrs. He has been working and preparing me since I was so young.

The day came for the GCE A level exam to be released. I was so thankful to get 3 As, 1 B, a B3 and passing grades for two other subjects. A result that was good enough for me to get into NUS's Arts and Social Faculty though it was not good enough for Law (managed only to pass my English Language). I was so happy. I went home to tell my dad that I have not only passed my Pre-Uni studies but also able to get into NUS. He just gave me a very simply reply, "This is your life. How you live it, it is your decision." I was totally hurt and dumbfounded. I cannot said what was his intention when he said that. But, what I received was that he does not care if I pass or fail or get into the University because it is my life to live and he has nothing to do with it. The gap between my parents continue to widen and I shut them out of my world.

[I want to make it clear here that as I write these blogs recalling my childhood till who I am right now; it is never my intention to keep record of the wrongs of anyone that had done to me especially my adopted parents. As I shared about theirs and my failings, the purpose is to trace the path that I had taken and also that all of us are fallen and as such there are failures in our lives that will have effects on others. I do not want to write a blog that seems to reflect that all of us are always good and achieving great things for Him. But rather that in all our failings, He is a God who never change, His Will will be done on earth as in Heaven, He will never forsake us or leave us. That as we see our failures and taste of His goodness, it will cause us to come to a point of repentance and love Him back (hopefully) with that undying and unconditional love.]

Having received my GCE A level results and knowing that it is good enough for me to get into the University, I moved on to the next phase of the life of every young abled-bodied man of Singapore i.e. to be enlisted into the Army for 30months. I was recruited into the Basic Military Training but because of my flat-footed condition, I know that I will not make it into the combat vocation. It was quite a disappointment for me, as I wanted very much to be a combat military officer. During my BMT, I went ahead to apply for a place in the National University of Singapore though I know that it is quite impossible for me to continue my studies because of my family’s financial situation. After a couple of months, I was informed that the University accepted me and they will keep a place for me for a period of 5 years. I was elated but troubled at the same time as there was not much of a reaction or joy from my parents when I told them that I have been accepted. One of my very good friends in the Victoria School heard about my situation and told me that his father has offered to pay for my University education. After much prayer, I felt led to decline the offer, though it was very good.

After finishing my first year in the military service, my parents told me that there is no way for them to see me through the University and they are hoping that I will start looking for a job once I finishes my compulsory military service.

That was the time that I decided to sign up with the Singapore Air Force as an Air Executive Officer. I was accepted by the Air Force and started my military officer training in 1982.  The salary that I draw from the Air Force as a cadet officer was much higher than what a person who work in the commercial sector who hold the same educational qualifications i.e. A level graduate. When my mother knew how much the Air Force is paying me, she demanded that I should give 50% to her for family expenses. And for the next 4 years when I was in the Air Force, I have to surrender 50% of my salary to her on the day that I receive my pay. I felt that I was being raised in the family for the only sole purpose to become the money-earning machine for the family, being taken advantage of.

Yet in those years of trying relationship with my parents, I received the call from God to go into mission. It happened when I had just finished my Air Force Cadet Officer training. I attended a series of evening youth leadership meeting held in DBS Auditorium. One of the evenings, Frank Hustein, the former AOG denomination leader of Australia, who moved strongly in the prophetic ministry pointed at me out of the hundreds attending the even conference.  This was what he said, “Young man, I saw you standing at a door. When the door opens, there is a great harvest field. If you remain humble, the Lord will use you.” My tears just flowed freely that evening upon hearing this prophetic declaration. God did not reveal when He will called me into direct mission work. But, something changed in my heart. All I can think of was mission. Career in the Air Force does not attract me anymore.

I know that God is going to bring me into an exciting journey. I do not know when I should leave the Air Force or what to do. But I knew that some day, I will leave everything behind to go into the mission field.

I was just not prepared for some of the challenges that will come my way when the time come for me to leave the Air Force.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Pre-University Years - He found me and I walked away....

Having passed my GCE 'O' level with an unexpected 3 As, I got into Victoria School to do my Pre-University studies. That was also the year when the Ministry of Education was experimenting a 3 years Pre-U education for students who were deemed to weaker academically though they make it to the Pre-Uni education. I was one of those 'students' and Victoria School was selected for this experiment. It was like getting a double strike even before you start a game. However, for a boy who spent his primary school and secondary school years in the neighbourhood school, this is still a major event of his life.

I went to the Victoria a week before school term open to confirm my acceptance by the school. The person who handled the registration of all new students was the discipline master of the school. He took my GCE 'O' level result slip and acceptance letter, looked them over and looked at me from head to toe (I was wearing a t-shirt and a pair of jean). He told me sternly in front of others that this is a school and he expect me to cut my hair and wear the school uniform of my previous school on the 1st day on the school year. I felt a little humiliated but realised that I am stepping into a real school so to speak.

On the first day of school, I realised that I was the only one from my previous school that was accepted by Victoria School. I had no friends at all and feeling quite small even in my class because most of them came from schools that were way beyond the standard of my previous school. Some have not even heard of my previous school until they met me! I have to start making friends all over again.

On the home front, things were not getting better too. As mentioned in the previous blog, my dad was diagnosed with throat cancer, which caused him to be able work for 3-4 days a week only. This was followed by my mother suffering a minor stroke that left her with certain degree of difficulties in balancing, walking and using of her left hand. Financially, we were just at rock-bottom. My older sister did not do very well in her 'O' level, started working as a clerk to support herself and help out in the family.

On my side, I just felt more and more distance from my family because it seems that I am wired differently from them. There seems to be no common ground for much conversation in the house. I just felt the heaviness in our home. I remembered spending many weekends wondering around the shopping malls on my own, borrowed a friend's bicycle and cycled for hours till I have to go home. I am not saying that my parents or my sister were at fault. It is just like I am a 'square peg in a round hole'. I really do not know how to explain. I was so quiet at home that I remembered my dad told me once that if I continue this way, I will go crazy eventually because sometimes, I will not speak throughout the day while I was at home.

 Having finished my secondary school also means that my 'career' in the NCC is over, which is like part of my identity is finished. Through a friend, I join the Venture Scout, which is for youth in Pre-University. It was through one of the scout activties that I got to know a girl called Wong Siew Fan, who was from the Red Cross Uniform group. I got to know her through one of those combined Scout/Red Cross activities. I remember her name up to now because it is her who invited me to the youth meeting in Moriah Assembly. God used her to draw me to Him.

When you are 16yrs old, lonely and a girl invite you to church, what do you do? Of course, you will go! And went, I did. I took the old bible given to me by my old secondary school mate and started attedning the Saturday youth meeting. it was totally a refreshing experience for me. For the first time, I felt being accepted as who I am. Experiencing true friendships with a number of brothers and sisters which continue up to today.

I do not have one of those dramatic conversion experience. It is a gradual process where God draws me to Himself. I started learning about giving offering and even tithing whatever little allowances that I received from my family. There were days when I was left without any money after I gave my offering or tithing. And I remembered distinctively that I had to walk to church once when I was totally out of money. Yet, in those time of lack, someone in the youth meeting will pay for my dinner or I will find $10 or $20 slipped into my bible without knowing that I was totally broke.

I became active in the youth meeting, starting with ushering and eventually even did some worship leading when I am tone-deaf. And I spend all my weekends in church or with the members of our youth group. Sometimes, we will spend the night at the beach after the youth meeting just fellowshipping and talking about God and about our future. And I spent many weekends sleeping over at Gordon's place. I got involved with the Wednesday bible studies and the Friday Prayer Meeting. So, apart from school, I am in church for two evening and the entire weekend in a week. Yes, I was active in church but I made a grave mistake of staying away from home too often.

You see, in the 70s and up to early 80s, becoming a Christian is considered stepping out of one's tradition and culture. Christianity was viewed as a 'western' religion or at best a religion for the rich and educated, not for the common Chinese folks, which I am definitely one of them. By becoming a Christian, my parents were already upset though they did not openly opposed me. But, by spending more time in church than being at home, I drove that wedge that was already in existence between my family and me even deeper. It was no fault of their. It was my youthful rashness and uncontrolled zeal  that caused my parents and sister to have a negative view of God and Christianity.

In my second year in Pre-Uni, just decided to walk away from God and the church. I can't remember what was the cause but I simply stopped going to church. But life without God was really meaningless. I was still struggling with the family financial situation and remembered that for a certain period of time I had to even go door-to-door in the HDB apartment near my home every evening to sell fund-raising stickers for a community centre to earn extra pocket money.

It was in that year where I sunk to my lowest point. During the school holiday, I took up a temporary job as a bell-hop in a 2-star hotel in a not so good neighbourhood. The pay was low and I have to be on rotating shifts. Than one of the night manager introduced to some of us another way to make extra money if we work with him. Basically, he told us that whenever a male client checked into the hotel, after we bring their bags to their room, we are to simply ask these male clients if they wanted the service of a prostitute. If the client said yes, we will pass on the information to this manager and he will arrange for everything. For that, we will get a cut from every deal done. The money was actually good. On a 'normal' day, each of us can make an extra $30-40, which was alot at that time and more than the salary that we get as a temporary bell-hop, and on a good day, we can make up to $100 each.

I was in that bell-hop job for more than a month, getting all the extra income at the same time. But, I was miserable because I have walk away from God. Having more pocket money but feeling totally lost again.

I went back to school after the year-end vacation and started my last year in my Pre-U studies. Still feeling totally miserable. I was so ashamed of what I did to get extra income that I dare not tell anyone in my class how I got my pocket money. Finally, one morning between classes, I just told a classmate who is a Christian that I can't take it anymore. I need to get back to Him, I need to go back to church........


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Adolence Years

After finishing primary school, I got into a neighbourhood Secondary School called Maju Secondary School. It is not just a neighbourhood school but also one that have many students that came from very complicated family background so to speak.

Being an introvert, I have very little friends in the 1st two years of my secondary school life. As mentioned in my previous blog, we had moved to another rented apartment in Geyland Bahru as the government was demolishing the flats in Old Airport Road as part of their effort to eradicate the gang activties. When we moved to Geyland Bahru, we were seperated from my neighbourhood in Old Airport Road and I was rather lost in having to start making friends again.

I joined the National Cadet Corps (NCC) due to my interest in the military and did quite well. It seems like I begin to find my identity in the NCC and even attained the rank of SSG, which is the 2nd highest rank a secondary school student can attain in the NCC in the school. However, I notice that there was something 'wrong' with me physically as no matter no much I train in my running, I just cannot achieve the running standard set for my rank in the NCC.

When I started Secondary 3, I was 'streamed' into the Arts stream and put into the class that was ranked almost at the bottom of the school. I had classmates that brought pornographical books to school, at least 2 of my classmates were already involved in the local gang. Smoking (though not in the class) and using foul language in the class is common.

It was also in that year that my adopted father was diagnosed with throat cancer. He went through a series of treatment that depleted whatever savings that our family had and we had to asked our relatives in Malaysia to help us financially. After the series of treatment, he was not able to drive taxi every day though the cancer is brought under control. He was doing only 3 to 4 days of work and this caused our family financial situation to spiral further down the slope. It was in that year that I realised that I had to start working during the school holiday in order to have some pocket money when school starts and also contribute somewhat to the family.

That was also when Mrs Chan, my history teacher, who made an impact in my life, which possibly laid the foundation for me to come to know God at a personal level. As mentioned, my class was one of the worst class in the school. Even our form teacher do not put much effort to teach and guide us because it was quite obvious that there was much future for any of us in that class. However, Mrs Chan was different. She never see us that way. She taught us as though we were the best class in the school. She was strict but yet she treated us with respect and thus in turn gain our respect. It was from her that I come to love history so much. I was fascinated by the stories of the different empires and what the various kings, emperor and sultans did for their country, both the good and the bad.

I was not sure how she knew, but she found out that my adopted father had cancer and knew that i needed a holiday job to earn some income. Her husband was the factory manager of Philips that produce the comms set for taxi at that time. When the school holiday was approaching, she asked me to call her husband saying that there will be a job waiting for me if I am willing to work in the factory. I was so happy! That was my first job - assembling comms set in a factory for 8 hours a day.

What Mrs Chan did caused me to feel that someone care enough to reach out to a boy that was searching for an identity. And she gave me the love for history and later on for geography, both subjects which I eventually gotten 'A's in the O level examination.

However, I was still very lonely and searching for something that I can hold on to. I was not sure what I was actually searching for. I started running in the morning partly to try to be able to run faster but more so that running on the road in the morning gave me the sense that I am going somewhere and that there is a objective in my life. On weekend where there was no school, I found myself walking aimlessly in the mall on my own and if I have some pocket money, I will watch a movie on my own.

Talking with my parents and my adopted sister seems to become harder and harder as I grow up. There seems to be nothing in common that we can talked about.

Once when both of my parents were not around, which was very rare, I dug through all the boxes under my parents' bed where they kept old stuff and documents. In one of the boxes, I found something that I had been looking for. It was a copy of my original birth certificate. That certificate showed the hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where I was born in and my biological mother's name and address was recorded in the certificate. I was so happy and copied my biological mom's name and address on a paper before I put everything back into the boxes.

With what little information I had gotten about my biological family, I wrote a Chinese letter and mailed it to the address in my original birth certificate. After mailing that letter, I waited at the letter box every day at the time where I know the postman will come by for 2 weeks. I waited there because I was anxious to receive a reply from my biological mom and also I do not want my parents to know that I have found out who my mom is (at least in name) and had written to her. Everyday, for two weeks, I waited faithfully at my mailbox but nothing came. On the third week, there was a letter in my mailbox when I came down to check the mails. I was excited and open the letter box. BUt when I took out the letter, I went into total disappointment. It was not a reply from my biological mom. It wa my letter being sent back with a stamp "No such address. Or unit had been demolished" stamp on it.

I lost the only possible contact I had found of my biological family. I wanted to cry but instead I buried my disappoinment, pain and loneliness deep in my heart. I never told my parents that I did try to write to my biological mom.

I buried myself into studying history and geography, which I loved intensely. But, I had no love for Maths and Human Social Biology. I just cannot understand the simple concept of Maths and as for Biology, we had a teacher from India that taught us and because I cannot understand his ascent, I gave up on this subject. Whenever I had these two classes, I will day-dream instead of listening to my teachers. Sometimes, I will try to sneak in a book to read while I was in those classes. It was durng these day-dreaming periods that I came into contact with the bible.

One of my friend, Victor Keh, saw me always day dreaming especially during the Biology class and pass me his old bible. I remembered that he was a Catholic but not a very good one because he smoke and used foul language openly when in the presence of the teachers. But, he passed me his bible because he said that I would love the Old Testament especially because it is really a history book with kings, wars and all the actions. I started reading the bible from Genesis and was fascinated by the stories inside. I will read the Old Testament while my Biology teacher was teaching. That was also the bible that I will bring to church eventually for a few years when I was invited to attend church.

In my last two years of secondary school, I spent my holiday working in the Philips factory, a factory making cupboard boxes, waiter in a small coffee house and hotel. I did my best in my history and geography subjects and a couple of other subjects but knowing that I will fail totally both in Maths and Biology, while at the same time started reading the Old Testament.

When the O level results were released, I had gotten As for History and Geography, passed my English with a C, B for Arts and another A for my NCC activities but failed completely in Maths and Biology. This result is good enough for me to get into Pre-University. I was one of the 4 in my class those results were good enough to go on to Pre-Unveristy and was posted to Victoria School to do my Pre-U.

I want to thank Mrs Chan who treat us not as bad and hopeless student but taught us like one of the brightest in school. She gave me the love for history and prepared the way for me to read the Bibile from the Old Testament instead of the usual Gospel of John for those who do not know God. I want to thank Victor Keh for passing me his bible and encouraged me to read it when he saw me daydreaming during class.

I believe that it is through these two person in my secondary school years to pave the way for me to come to know Him eventually. He started searching me out when I was still not sure what I was searching for. He was already preparing me for the next stage of my life where I will come to know Him in the Pre-University years without me knowing.

In the meantime, I was still fighting the loneliness and sense of lost and disconnectedness that seems to haunt me since I was in primary school....

I was excited about going to Pre-University. But, I have to start making new friends again. And I was not sure if I can fit into Pre-University life. All I knew was that most who attend Pre-U are smart kids and I am not one of them. Most of them are prime and proper while I am use to foul language and rough behaviour. Most of them come from financial stable family while I have to work in the holiday to help support myself. Most of them live in proper home while I was still living in a government rented apartment for the poor.

So, I was very apprehensive as the day come closer to starting Pre-Univeristy.....

Yet, Father had something instored for me that I had never expected.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Journey Begins....

The bible said that we are all traveler on this earth and our final destination is Heaven, if we have a living relationship with our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.

My journey begins very early in my journey here on earth. I am not sure when I journeyed from Malaysia to Singapore. Some of my relatives said that I came over to Singapore when I was only a months old. Some said that I came when I was between 4-6yrs old while one even mentioned that I came when I was almost 12yrs old. I am not sure when I came to Singapore but definitely not almost 12yrs old.

I believe I came to Singapore when I was about 4-5years old before I started school.

What I can remember is that whenever I quarrel with my sister, I will say that I wanted to go back to Malaysia. Why? I was not sure. Just know that I have this urge to go back when I was not happy. I remembered also that there was a period of time where I was confused as to who I am living with.

I remembered at one point, I was asked to call my supposed dad 'uncle'. After a few months, I was told to revert to call him 'dad' from then on.

At the age of 8, I became a Singaporean by registration, meaning that I was not born in Singapore. My parents never tell me why I was not born in Singapore when they are Singaporeans themselves. Nor did they tell me which part of Malaysia was I born in.

Nothing was mentioned about my early years. There was no baby photos of me that I can remember my parents ever show me. Nor was there any photos of my parents and me when I was a baby. At least I cannot remember having any. Now that I search deep into my memory, I think there was a family portrait of my parents with my older sister and me when I was less than 10yrs old. But, I cannot remember where is that portrait as I have not seen it for more than 40yrs now.

My childhood years from 6 years old and below is practically empty as I do not have any re-collection.  It was like I really started living when I started my Primary 1 education. That is the time when I can still have some memories of my classmates.

What I know is that something is not right with me because I do not seem to have the same thought pattern with my parents. There seems to be nothing in common that we talk about. And there was very very little family outings and we actually do not have any photos of us being out as a family.

I just remembered that I grow up as a shy and insecure boy. We live in a rented apartment in very poor neighbourhood called the Old Airport Road until the early 70s. It is an apartment with only one living hall that double up as bedroom, one kitchen and a toliet. All the families living in that estate were from the lower strata of the society.

My dad worked as a taxi driver though I know that he had also worked in the local coffee shop before as the 'Tau Qiu' (in Hokkien means the guy who makes the coffee and other cold beverages, a pretty important position in the local coffee shop at that time). My mom was a homemaker. Life was difficult in those early years. My bed was just thin mat on the floor for many years. Now, I used to joke that one of the reasons why I have a flat back on my head is because of the years of sleeping on hard floor with only a mat and a pillow.

I remember started doing family chores by 7-8yrs. Waking up in the morning to help make coffee for the day, sweeping and mopping the floor, washing and hanging clothing and eventually some simple cooking by 12yrs old.

I went to a neighbourhood primary school. Making friends in school has never been easy for me. As mentioned, I was shy and insecure. I do not initiate conversation easily and if I was ever asked to stand up in class to say something I will stammer and shake uncontrollably. My dad used to give me 50 cents every day to buy some food in the school canteen. As I grow older (may be Primary 3 or 4), the 50 cents was just enough for me to buy a bowl of noodles and drink during the canteen break. Seeing my classmates being able to eat more and have candies caused me to become even more inferior. And I remembered that sometimes, I will steal 50cents to 2 dollars from my dad's coin box just to be able to buy some candies or show my classmates that I was not that poor. I knew that stealing was wrong but the need to feel accepted or at least not that poor in the eyes of my classmates had driven me to steal from my dad's coin box.

My results were very good in my class. I was usually ranked middle in a class of 30 students. So, I was not smart, coming from a poor family and at the same time knowing that something did not fit quite right between my family and me.

It was at the age of 12 that my worst fear was confirmed. I was a adopted son that my parents adopted from Malaysia. How I found out is that during those years in Singapore, every child will get their own identity card at the age of 12. To get that identity card, the parents have to show the birth ceritificate of their child. For me, my dad had to show two documents, my birth certificate and my adoption paper to the teacher helping in process my identity card.

I cannot remember how I felt when seeing that document. All I know is that it confirmed that I was adopted. But who was my biological parents? I have no idea as the adoption paper do not have their name and the names of my parents in my birth ceritificate has already been changed to my present adopted parents.

All these had caused me to become more insecure because I was at a loss of who I am really. Where did I come from? Who were my parents? Why did they not want me? Why did they give me away? And how was my adopted parents related to my parents? Do they know each other? Is my name even real? Was that why I was asked to called my adopted dad as 'uncle' for that short memory that I had about my earlier childhood?  Are my biological parents alive? Do I have any other sibling? And most of all for boy at 12, I am different from all others in my class. They have and were living with their real parents but I do not know who I really was.

My adopted parents did not talked about my adoption and who were my parents even after they know that I have seen the official adoptation paper. They just keep mum about the whole issue. That drove a deep wedge in my relationship with my adopted parents.

I passed my primary school when went on to a rather notorious neighbourhood secondary school.

Still having not many friend. I did remember that my immediate neighbour that live opposite our house were my closest friend where we played often. It is also in this family where I learn to earn some extra money by helping to assemble zipper together at the age of 10.

As I move on to secondary school, we had to move because the government was rebuilding that whole neighbourhood as part of the way to get rid of the local gangs that were active in those areas in the early 1970s.

The happiest times I had in those early childhood years was when my dad will send me to the school in the cab that he was driving when it was raining or whenever he was near our home when it was time for me to go to school. Though it was not often, but I was so happy to just sit in the front seat of the cab that he was driving to go to school. The other happy memory was whenever he will bring me to a nearby coffee shop to have a packet of chocolate milk. Just that as a father of that era, he had never held me or my hand......and no verbal affirmation of any kind.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Honoring People _ habib Hussien

All of us have teachers that made an impact in our lives or their teaching stays with us for a long time. I have a few of these teachers in my secondary school and Pre-University school.

I remember this one teacher in my Pre-U who taught us in our GP (General Paper or English lesson for those who do not know the syllabus of Singapore schools). He was a tall Malay gentleman. And his teaching technique was considered very creative in the early 80s. For example, once he came into the class, wrote a statement on the blackboard and asked the own class to compose an article from that statement he had written. After 40 mins (the length of our class), we expected him to collect all our compositions for grading. However, he asked the whole class to throw away what we had spent 40 mins squeezing our brain writing! His explanation was very simple. He just wanted us to exercise our brain. The grading is not important.

One of the thing that he taught in the class that stayed with me till now is his explanation of 'assumption'. He taught that each written sentence has 3 meanings to it. First, the meaning of the sentence itself. Second, the meaning of the sentence from the writer's point of view. Third, the meaning of the sentence from the reader's point of view. And how it is so dangerous for a reader to assume what the writer means if the reader do not know the background of the writing or know the writer personally. And how in most instances, such assumptions by the readers are proven wrong when the one get to know the writer or when the writer offered a clearer explanation of why he/she wrote certain sentences.

To make us remember the danger of assuming what others are thinking, saying or writing, he offered a very simple meaning to the word 'assume'. He said that to assume will always make an "ass" out of "u" and "me"! We (at least I am up to now) were totally blown off by his creative way to drill into our mind not only the meaning of assumption by also how it can hurt others and ourselves as most assumptions are wrong.

Over the years, I have made so many assumptions when reading or hearing what others wrote or say. And in most instances, it really made an "ass' out of the other party and me, and in worst case, hurting the other parties.

So, the next time we want to make any assumption, just remember the meaning of assume as offered by my GP teacher, though it is somewhat crude.

Honoring People - The Unknown Man

I had an brief encounter with this man years ago while I was still in my Secondary School or probably Pre-U 1.

I do not know his name and definitely cannot remember how he looked like. My encounter with him was probably only 5 minutes or so. But God used him to protect me from walking down the wrong lane.

As mentioned, we were in serious financial problem when I was in my Upper Secondary School years and all through my Pre-Uni years. Every school holiday, I will look for temporary jobs so that i can earn pocket money for the holidays and also to buy some school essentials. So, I had worked in paper-box factory, factory that assemble comms set for cabs, bell-hop in hotel, waiter, sale promotor etc.

During one of the school breaks, I was very desperate to get a temp job but do not seems to be able to find one. After looking through the chinese paper, I found a job opening in a local bar at Bras Besah Road. It is a opening for part-tme dishwasher in that bar. Yes, I was desperate enough to even consider working in the bar and I reasoned that there is really no harm because it is just a part-time job.

I remembered walking down that lane beside Bras Besah Road until I found the bar. It was day time when the bar was still not open for business yet and so, only the back door was opened. I entered into the bar, which was almost in total darkness (first and the last time) and found a small room where this man was sitting inside. He might be the owner or the manager, I don't know, but definitely not someone to mess with.

He asked me what I wanted and I pointed at the job vacancy that the bar advertised on the chinese papers while my heart was racing away. He looked at the advertisement and look at me. He just replied that I was not suitable for the job and ignored me completely. I walked out of that bar thinking how can I not be suitable for being a dishwasher? Am I not tall enough? Or look too skinny? Or look too young? How can I be disqualified from being a part-time dishwasher?

Yet as I look back at my brief encounter with this man in the local bar, I am so glad that he did not give me the job. If he has given me that part-time dishwasher job, I might live a very different life now and might have even walk away from God.

I am glad that God even used this non-believer to protect me from falling away.