These excerpts are written by student volunteers at Memoirs of the Pioneer Generation: a student-led service initiative where selected High School students interview Singaporean senior citizens to capture their oral history. Students start by building relationships with the residents of elderly homes, visiting them on a weekly basis. While engaging in friendly games and discussions, students jot down the thoughts and experiences of the residents. The collection of scribbles eventually transform into stories by the students, which are then published on social media as well as on posters for the walls of the elderly homes.
The purpose of this local service was originally to include residents of elderly homes in the SG50 celebrations in 2015 by making them feel proud of their contributions to Singapore. At the same time, the service also aimed to provide residents with mental stimulation and help the residents learn more about each other.
According to Won Young Yoon, the chair of this local service, the senior citizens aren’t the only ones who have benefited: “The elderly enjoy when we talk to them every week, but it has also really helped me. The residents always give great advice to me about the things I worry, and I feel more relaxed after listening to them. I would not have got these valuable tips as I don’t have access to my grandparents or their generation because I’m living abroad. I live in a world of students my age. This service changed that for me. I also feel more confident about interviews —both as a subject and as an interviewer.”
Mr Wu Cai Yi
By Won Young Yoon and Parthiv Gajjala, Grade 11, East Campus
This memoir is based on accounts by Mr Wu Cai Yi, a senior at Happy Lodge, and an embodiment of the pioneer generation.
Life is not easy. But it is not hard either. With hard work and perseverance, anyone can succeed.
Singapore was poor in the 1960s, but we have transformed into one of the strongest nations in the world. Wu Cai Yi that is my name. Singapore has been my home for 53 years now. I originally started working as an accountant in a British Trading company back in Malaysia, but I did not like my work. I was inspired to become a salesman instead. I approached my boss to discuss the logistics of becoming one. Sadly, I was put down. He must have believed I did not have the skillset required. However, I persisted, saying that with hard work and perseverance, I could make it in the field. Eventually, my boss was impressed with my willingness and agreed to send me to the Singapore branch. This was one of the happiest moments of my life. It was the year 1965. Within the two years of living in Singapore, my sales numbers rose to become one of the highest in the region. You see? To the students around the world, I want to tell them that with hard work, dedication, and perseverance, anything in life is possible to achieve.
Life was not always stable for my family and me. When the Japanese came in the 1940s, they were spreading terror in cities and villages in Southeast Asia. Ah, I remember one particular day when the Japanese soldiers came to the entrance of my padang and knocked on the door. From my point of view, they looked very tall. I was scared out of my wits. As I made way for them, they asked my mother for rice … I was so frightened. But you know what? I thought they would speak Japanese. When they spoke in fluent Mandarin, my whole family was very surprised. We eventually got to know that most of them were from Taiwan, because the Japanese colonized it, and imposed conscription on all the men. The more surprising thing was that British soldiers were running away so fast when they came. Until then, we all thought that the British were the superpower of the region.
Happy Lodge has been my home for nearly 20 years now, close to a quarter of my life. I have three sons. One was born in 1965, the other was born in 1969, and the youngest was born in 1972. My eldest son works in the Singaporean Enforcement Army; my second son works in the bomb disposal squad of the army. My youngest son works for Starhub. He visits me the most. Sometimes, I recall times that were hard, and we didn’t have enough money. But my proud, my proud children studied so hard, and now they are all doing very well.
Hearing such an amazing and emotional story made us connect with him at another level as if we had known each other for years. The senior citizens were not the only ones that had benefited, but this conversation also helped me. We were extremely tired in school with all the challenging workload, but after hearing the stories of the pioneer generation, we were reminded of the importance of resilience. We learned that though we may confront challenges, with an optimistic attitude, and perseverance we can achieve anything we want.
The Changi Fisherman: A Short Story for Mr Zhu Yinxin
By Wei Ye Li, Grade 11, East Campus
It rained one afternoon, the sun emerged when we pulled in to Happy Lodge. A bottle of water, a notebook and a pencil, I was prepared to meet with Mr Zhu again. The hall seemed empty and dimmed from the overcast weather, but the liveliness was underlying in the gentle clatter.
We began to chat about his careers and Singapore back then...
First person narrative: (Translated from Mandarin notes)
I was so into fishing that I could stay on the deep sea fishing ground for two weeks without going home.” I would stay on the fishing ground overnight with my best friends, lying on the fishing deck and smoke. Back then, the summer night was cool with the gentle breeze; I would lie there, mesmerized by the scent of sea salt and the sound of waves, unaware of time passing away…
My mother even called the police and reported me missing, all because I stayed on the deck for too long. “ I really enjoyed fishing back in the 70s and 80s, all I needed were just two feet of fish wire and some patience. At my best days, I could fish up to four giant sea bass, each weight at least twenty kilograms. Sometimes we would fish manta ray. They were round and slippery. When they were pulled out of the sea, their smoothness would glitter with bright sunshine. We used to call them “Demon Fish,” and that’s still the saying nowadays. You may wonder why all I know was that there used to be people reporting the death after eating manta ray. The most memorable and fulfilling moment was when I pulled the sea bass out of the water, all scales of silver, its golden eyes protruding.
Life was simple with fish. I would trade two or three of my sea bass to my fishing organization and save the rest for the evening sizzle. All fishermen would gather together every evening for the local delicacy.
In the beginning, I was not a good fisherman, and I had been a construction worker for ten years before getting into the fishing industry. The guru told me that observing the tide is crucial for fishing. Fish would come in continuous flow if the tides were coming, and that’s when the supply was the most abundant.
I could still recall that one day a group of tourists from Hong Kong came to the fishing ground and took many photos, I still remember vividly clutching a fish in each hand, but those tourists never came back again. I would love to see how I looked like back then.