Thursday, December 22, 2011


SMRT CEO Saw's personal transport in case of breakdowns!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Journey to retirement - chapter 4 -   Life as an entrepreneur.

When I left American Marine to embark on my very first business venture, the business that my partners and I planned was the most unusual business that anyone could have thought of doing. It was manufacturing parts for one of the largest casket company in USA. Our new company was to supply wooden parts to this company in USA for assembly.

From a business point of view, it was a fantastic business as the profit margin was high and the manufacturing was relatively simple compared to building luxurious yachts. However in a Chinese society this kind of business was taboo and considered bad luck, especially in Singapore where the majority of Chinese are highly superstitious.

The company was owned and managed by the three of us - an American called Anton who was in charge of marketing, an Englishman called Tony who was in charge of finance and myself in charge of design and manufacturing. We rented a small manufacturing facility in Upper Bukit Timah Road. We hired ten employees and the business was pretty successful for the first two years.

Unfortunately, the two major shareholders, Anton and Tony, did not get along. They were constantly at odds with one another that resulted in heated arguments and at times almost to fist fights. During the 1970s, overseas telephone calls were very expensive, about S$1.50 to $3.00 per minute which unlike now are practically free. At times, these two persons could argue and shout across the globe at each other over the phone for an hour. A substantial part of the profit was wasted on unnecessary telephone calls.

Eventually they had enough of each other and decided to terminate the business. Since the two of them had the controlling interest of the company, there was little I could do to prevent them from closing the company. I did not have the financial resources to take over nor the marketing expertise to run the company. Trying to get a local investor was impossible as potential investors would shy away and no one would want to talk to me.

Some of the caskets and furniture that we manufactured in Singapore for assembly in USA.

The two major shareholders left me to wind down the company as they could not stand the sight of each other. The winding down of a casket manufacturing company was an experience.  I was mocked, scolded, phones slammed when I tried to give or donate the caskets away in Singapore. In the end I had to cut them into small pieces and throw them away. Only a few pieces were taken by a friend who used them as coffee tables.

The failure of my first business venture taught me a great deal about human relationship and reality. I learned that having a profitable business does not necessarily meant a successful business. A profitable business can only be successful if the people involved in the business are at peace with each other. The ability to interact and get along are much more important than just making a profit. In a way, the same goes for families or countries.

While I was busy winding up the casket manufacturing business, I was planning my next move. My bad experience with the PAP psychopath left me with little respect or trust for the Singapore government. All the propaganda about how the government will narrow the gap between the rich and poor were pure nonsense. If you are not well connected or related to the Lee family, you are expendable. Singapore was fast becoming a two class system - the rich elite and the poor working class. Singapore has no place for the middle class and if there is any, it is fast diminishing.

I knew with my lack of tertiary education and zero elite social connections, Singapore was not a place for me to excel. I decided to try my luck in America where there is a level playing field. Armed with limited fund but full of enthusiasm, I packed my bag and told my wife that I shall be away for 6 months to start a business in Hawaii, USA. Most people thought I was out of my mind.

During the 1970s, there were no long haul 747s, only 707s which took forever to get to your destinations. Besides the tickets were expensive. There was at least one stopover in Hong Kong or Guam for refueling before arriving in Honolulu. During the stopovers in Hong Kong, I would not stay at hotels but would spent the night walking the streets and resting at the airport in order to save the little capital I had. That was life without much capital.

When I arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1979 I was met at the airport by Mort Gazley, a friend whom I knew when I was in the casket manufacturing business. We decided to start a business selling souvenir items, i.e. beach mats, tote bags, etc. to stores along Waikiki Beach.

To our surprise, the souvenir business went off to a remarkable start. We had more than 300 accounts within the 1st year. We worked 12 hours a day - 5 hours making cold calls to retail outlets along Waikiki Beach and the rest doing presentations, artwork and orders to factories. Most of the orders were for beach mats that I customized for individual customers.

During the 1970s and 80s, PCs and laptops were unheard of. Chips were not invented yet and computers were operated by jaguar cards. A computer with less than 1G memory would occupy a space of 10,000 sq feet.  Only giant international companies could afford to have computers.

All the presentations, artwork and designs had to be done by hand. Fortunately I was able to draw fast and that impressed  my customers. I was able to make the presentations on the spot during the meetings.

We had a great time doing all kinds of crazy exhibitions and promotions in Hawaii.

The initial manufacturing were done in Singapore by a small factory but soon demand outpaced  production capacity,  I had to scout for another manufacturer in Johore Bahru but even that factory reached its full capacity within months.

I was forced to look elsewhere for manufacturing capacity to meet the demands from Hawaii. My Mandarin was poor but nevertheless made a trip to Taiwan to look for additional suppliers out of desperation. It was a bold move as I did not have a friend or any contact in Taiwan.

When I arrived in Taiwan, the first place to I went was the trade department in Taipei.  At the trade office they provided me with a list of potential suppliers.

 Back in the 1970s and 1980s, few Taiwanese could speak English, especially factory bosses. With my poor command of Mandarin, it was difficult to communicate. In addition, most of the factory employees spoke mainly Taiwanese, not Mandarin. Nevertheless, with a combination of sign language and poor mandarin,  I managed to get my messages across. After a few months my Mandarin had improved enough to effectively communicate with the Taiwanese at ease. 

The Taiwanese were impressed that I was willing to work late to rush out the new designs using the jaguar cards. I was traveling almost weekly from Hawaii to Taiwan and back in order to keep up with the orders. 

The Hawaiian Mats business was successful beyond our dreams. Within two years we had more than 500 retail outlets selling our products. We managed to obtain the licence for the Winter Olympics, orders for the Ted Kennedy campaign, the Democratic Presidential hopeful in 1980, the Army and Air Force shops, and big corporations logos, etc. We had 5 factories working full time to cater to our orders.

Unfortunately,  success had gone to our heads and my partner was fooling around at night clubs along Waikiki splurging on beautiful girls.  On one of my trips to Taiwan to supervise some orders, my partner and his girl friend emptied the company’s bank account and disappeared during my absence. In addition, he took money from other companies and some of his friends as well.

It was a criminal offense but the FBI could not locate him or his girl friend. For me, it was a devastating blow. It was such a pity because we had a promising business. The profit was more than enough for the two of us. Yet my partner preferred to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs and be on the run from law for the rest of his life. Maybe he had plans to hide and retired in Mexico or some Latin American countries with his Latino girl friend.

In the meantime I had to manage the business all by myself. Fortunately, the business was not bankrupt because we had some accounts receivable and we had no accounts payable. But it  was extremely stressful and depressing. On a trip to Taiwan, the depression magnified to an extreme that I wanted to jump out of the plane. My head was not thinking right and filled with anxieties. All I wanted  was to get out of the plane. There was no explanation for the urge to jump out of the plane. Fortunately I still had the presence of mind to take deep breaths and begin to meditate.

I was traumatized by that event and realized that committing suicide was just a matter of a split second. My head was split between jumping or holding back. It was a scary experience.

After that incident, I decided that I have to take a break and a long rest to recoup before I do something stupid like committing suicide or hurting somebody.  I slow down the business by taking less orders and channel most orders directly to the factories on commissions basis.

I had ulcers and was taking Valium to calm me down. Whenever I felt my head exploding, I would jogged for miles and miles until I had control of myself, constantly reminding myself that I had lost wealth but I cannot afford to lose my health as well. It took me about six months to recover well enough to begin all over again.

Journey to Retirement - Chapter 5 ....

Encounter with a Legend and celebrity... another big break, followed by a bigger break!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Journey to Retirement - Working my way out of poverty.


CHAPTER THREE - Journey to Retirement - working my way out of poverty 

After my getaway trip to Malaya to escape from the shame of being expelled from school, I returned to Singapore  feeling lost and abandoned. At age 14, with no relatives or friends who cared or could offer help, I had not many options. I was too young to be legally employed. My alternative was to work as an illegal underpaid worker at construction sites or a helper at hawker stalls/ restaurants. None of these jobs offer any kind of future for me.

Fortunately a friend recommended me to take up a 5 year apprenticeship at Keppel Shipyard. The apprenticeship required that I worked for three days and study for three days each week. My salary was about $25 to $50 a month (present day $250 to $500) depending on the amount of overtime. It was a tradition inherited from the British where tradesmen were trained through five years apprenticeship. 

It was my only hope to redeem myself and to prove that I was employable. Besides I need to stay away from nasty looks from my neighbors and relatives. I was treated like a leper.

The shipyard offered me a new environment and hope. The people were less bias and did not know much about my past as a student failure and a bastard child. I had a great time working in the shipyard, learning all kinds of trades - carpentry, electrical work, welding, etc. and actually having some money in my pocket. The sound of the coins in my pocket was music to me. 

Although I was in the paint shop department, I mixed around and helped out whenever I had the spare time. I found it much easier to pass time working than to idle around doing nothing. Most youths today prefer to act blur than to do more than the minimum required. This is a unique Singapore culture called, “kiasu”.  It is a very wrong attitude in life. We should never shy from work.

One day, an English supervisor named Mr. Moody walked by and saw me helping the carpenters building a cabinet. He stopped and said, “That’s  bloody good work, lad.” When he found out that I was actually from the paint shop, Mr. Moody immediately transferred me to the carpentry department as he thought that I would have a better career as a shipbuilder  than as a painter. In those post colonial days, the British supervisors' orders were unchallenged.  I got my transfer the same day.

It was a new and exciting beginning for me. I got to study, learn to build and repair ships. Text books were provided and with my small salary, I was able to buy more books and drawing materials. I discovered fun in studying and a new found thirst for knowledge.

Some colleagues advised me to attend night classes to get my Cambridge “O” level as it was a requirement for any respectable jobs.  At age 14 years,  I knew I was far behind in education
and went all out to study. I studied shipbuilding on alternate days at Vocational Institute funded by the Shipyard and attended night classes to study for the Cambridge “O” level certificate five nights a week and in addition I studied a correspondence course for the City and Guilds Certificate in Shipbuilding.  Within three years I managed to pass all the examinations for Vocational Institute certificate in shipbuilding, the Cambridge “O” level and the City and Guilds in shipbuilding. I was so happy that I managed to catch up with my age group. However, none of my neighbors believed that I passed the “O” level. Fortunately the results were published in Straits Times. They suspected that I must have cheated.

By today’s standards, all those certificates are equivalent to toilet papers.  The “O” level in the 1960s was equivalent to a BA or BSc today.  Now, in the 2000s, you find graduates holding MBAs or PhD driving taxis. There is something wrong with the modern social system.  I prefer the “kampong style” days where kids spent their time happily playing and enjoying their childhood instead of studying 24/7 only to be over-qualified for their careers. What a waste of time and money. 

Keppel shipyard - I did my apprenticeship from 1964 to 1968 for $25 a month.                                                                  
Apprentice learning and helping senior carpenter in shipbuilding.

Bird-eye view of Keppel Shipyard - the apprenticeship program was stopped in 1970.

The time between 1950s and 1960s were historic landmarks for Singapore. Self governance was granted to Singapore.  Malaya merged with Singapore to form Malaysia. Two years later, in 1965, Singapore was booted out of Malaysia and became an independent republic.

The racial riots between Malays and Chinese in 1965 created chaos in Singapore. All shipyard workers were kept inside the shipyard for our safety. Gurkas mercenaries were sent in to maintain law and order. It was a sad experience to witness mob mentality where people destroy properties and killed for no reason other than the difference in color of skins and religious beliefs.

Although the apprentice’s salary was low, I had fun learning the skills of shipbuilding. It was hard work carrying all the tools and equipment, climbing through the hulls and cabins of big ships doing repairs. America was fighting the communists in Vietnam in the 1960s and we had a fair amount of damaged American war ships coming  for repairs. I had first hand knowledge of seeing the kind of damages that could be done to supposedly thick plated war ships. Trust me, you would not want to be in a war zone because there was no place to hide.
With my newly acquired qualifications, I resigned from the shipyard and got myself a job as a Design Assistant with the Industrial Design unit of the Economic Development Board. Singapore was undergoing a huge industrialization program during 1960s to replace the jobs that were lost by the withdrawal of the British and the huge Naval Base. United Nations sent scores of industrial experts to help in the industrialization of Singapore.

The team that I was working with at the Light Industries Unit of Economic Development Board.
 Four out of eight persons in this photo are quitters and have emigrated to other countries
( I was the 1st person standing on the left of photo)

I was very fortunate to be part of a team working for the  United Nations experts. They taught me new skills like industrial design, prototype making and production engineering. These skills helped me tremendously in my future careers.

Testimony in German by German United Nations Expert.  Standard statements saying what a great guy I was.

In 1972, I was shortlisted for an interview for the position of an industrial designer with American Marine, a yacht building company based in Jurong Industrial Park, Singapore.

For such an important job interview I decided to put on my best appearance. I never had a pair of leather shoes before because I was too poor to buy anything other than canvas shoes or slippers. I went and bought myself a pair of shining black leather shoes. 

When my name was called, I walked across the room to the two interviewers. Unfortunately, the pair of leather shoes I bought was a locally made cheap pair of shoes. That was all I could afford. As I was walking, I felt something wrong on my right foot. I turned and saw the heel of the right shoe had came off in the middle of the room. It was so embarrassing, especially for an important interview. I took a deep breath and backtracked a couple of steps aiming for the heel and stepped hard on it.  Fortunately, it fit right in and I was back to my normal walk instead of limping. I was traumatized but managed to put on a brave front.

The two interviewers were the company’s president and one of the directors - both English.
They were satisfied with my presentations but yet rather hesitant due to the lack of my formal tertiary education. At that stage, I cannot let the job slip through my hands due to the lack of an university degree. I made a proposal that took them totally by surprise. I told them that I would work for free on a three months probation. If they were not satisfy with my  performance anytime during the trial period, they could fire me without any cost to them. 
They laughed and said it was up to them to set the rules, not the other way around. However, they agreed to my proposal and I worked 15 hours a day to prove myself. Fortunately, they confirmed my position within one month and we had a very good working relationship and friendship since. In fact, more than 35 years after I left the company we are still friends. One of them is the God father to my eldest son.



   These were the type of yachts built in Singapore and exported around the world.
We took these yachts to Mersing, Malaysia for test runs every weekend. I was mistaken as a millionaire with so many luxurous yachts. Life was fun until the arrival of the NTUC  psychopath.
I had a wonderful time working at American Marine building yachts. Within two years I was promoted to Head of Dept in charge of production engineering and industrial design overseeing a workforce of 1,800 workers. My salary was very good, especially when compared to what I was getting as an apprentice. Together with my fiancee, we managed to purchased a 5 room HDB apartment and a brand new car. After more than twenty years living in a small rented room and sleeping on the floor with a straw mat  in the slum of Chinatown and a year in a rented flat in Outram Park, I bought my very own home. It was tough journey from a poor 14 years old apprentice to head of production overseeing 1,800 employees at age 27.  A small redemption that brought sparks in my mother’s eyes. One step away from poverty.

My fiancee and friend on one of the yacht during a test run in Mersing, Malaysia.

 Encounter with a psychopath. 

Life is full of surprising twists and turns. Just when I thought everything seem to be on the right track, disaster strikes. One night whilst I was working late at my office in the shipyard, I became an unwilling and unfortunate witness to a staged riot by NTUC unionists to frame a  popular labor activist by the name of Tan Wah Piow. I was at the wrong place and at the wrong time. The person in charge of that conspiracy was the NTUC assistant secretary-general by the name of Lawrence Quek. Mr. Quek was a politically powerful and ruthless lunatic who would stop at nothing to get what he wanted. It was an experience to deal with a merciless mercenary who would kill without provocation. To him, there was no negotiation, it was his terms or nothing.

On that late evening, Lawrence Quek with a group of  thugs came to destroy the union office that happened to be next to my office. I later learned that the plan was to put the blame on Tan Wah Piow as the culprit and have him arrested and possibly jailed for destroying private properties. The mission was to fabricate and implicate Tan Wah Piow.

When they discovered that I was a witness, Lawrence Quek decided that I, too, must be destroyed as co-lateral damage to keep my mouth shut.  First, Lawrence Quek approached the management to have me fired. When the management stood fast and refused, harassment started.  The car that I bought with my hard earned money was damaged, union workers were deliberately trying to scare me by dropping wood planks, tools, etc. on me. Union representatives hinted that I would be arrested under ISA and never be heard of by anyone.  By then, Tan Wah Piow had escaped to London under political asylum granted by the British government. Tan Wah Piow did not know me and we have never met but I was truly happy that he managed to escape otherwise he would be jailed like Dr. Lim Hock Siew who spent more than 30 years behind bars without trial.

My dream of an ideal family life was turned to nightmares by this psychopath. I knew that with a politically powerful psychopath like Lawrence Quek who was bended on destroying me, it was a matter of time before he succeed. It was a one-sided fight - with his political backing, only he can throw the punches and I was like a punching bag.  Lawrence Quek was nothing but a coward wasting tax payers money pursuing a childish game that had no positive contribution to the betterment of society.

Did I murder his wife or family?  No!
Was I a threat to his career? No!
Was I a national security threat? No!

I did not even know Tan Wah Piow and have never collaborated with him at all. I was a member of the simple working class with great admiration for the leaders of Singapore. Yet this psychopath, Lawrence Quek treated me like a terrorist and wanted me eliminated for nothing. What a waste of time and money for a high ranking official of NTUC who should be doing something constructive for the country.

In 1977, two of the company’s directors decided to resign from the company to set up their own business. They offered me a position as director in the new company with 25% sweat equity - no financial contribution from me. I took the deal just to get away from that psychopath. It was stressful to live in a society where a politically powerful lunatic like Lawrence Quek was allowed to abuse his position to satisfy his sadistic behavior without remorse or regrets. Lawrence Quek had converted an admirer of Singapore to a non-believer. However in hindsight, Lawrence Quek did me a great favor by forcing me to emigrate.

When my family and I eventually left Singapore for good, we thought that we would finally have some peace but ESM Goh Chok Tong started to brand us as “quitters and losers”. Other politically correct opportunists joined in the chorus and labelled us as being ungrateful, unpatriotic, to be jailed and banned from returning to Singapore, etc. etc.

In the frenzy, not one leader was intelligent enough to find the true reasons why we are quitters. The daughter of ESM Goh Chok Tong is herself a “quitter” as well as children of some leaders. What does that tells us? 

Next chapter 4 : Self-exile to Taiwan, China, USA and Canada.
Life as an entrepreneur

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Journey to Retirement  - Chapter 2..... How a school dropout emigrate to Canada.

Following the posting of my article,  “Retirement in Canada vs Singapore “ on Oct 5th, 2011, I received numerous comments - mostly positive views asking for advice on emigration to Canada accompanied by a fair share of negative comments calling us "quitters" to stay away since we are no longer Singaporeans.

One reader posted a rather comical statement that he too was a school dropout so he should qualify to emigrate to Canada.   

Being a school dropout or an illegitimate child is not a prerequisite for entry into Canada or any other country for that matter. These were mentioned in my article because they were facts pertaining to my background.

My mother gave birth to me out of wedlock when she was only seventeen years old. She was an uneducated and naive young girl who immigrated from Guangzhou, China before the 2nd World War and met my biological father during the occupancy of Singapore by the Japanese Imperial Army.

The man who fathered me was a much older man than my mother. He abandoned us before I was born soon after the surrender of the Japanese Army.  My mother, a helpless young pregnant girl,  went looking for him at his home town of Port Klang in Malaya only to discover that he already had other wives - 3 or 4 according to what she was told. It was whilst my mother was in Klang, Malaya that I was born in the toilet. The details of how my mother and I survived was unclear and better left unsaid given the lack of hospital and poor health conditions during post war era.

To avoid domestic trouble amongst his many wives, my father cleverly arranged to ship my mother and I back to Guangzhou, China to be taken care of by his 1st wife with promises of a better future for us.

My mother was too young and innocent to deal with a sly old man.  We fell into his trap and left for Guangzhou. We lived in a village near the city of Guangzhou for about two years. In the beginning life was tolerable as my father did send some money to his 1st wife to cover household expenses. However when the fund stopped, it was understandable that my "big mother" changed to an uncompromising wicked old witch. One day when my mother asked for food, she snapped, snatched me from my mother and threw me into a well. Fortunately, the commotion caught the attention of other villagers who came and rescued me. My mother then decided to run back to her home village where her relatives helped bring my mother and me  back to Singapore. 

Photo of myself upon arrival from Guangzhou, China. 
Photo of my mother, my elder brother and myself in 1949

I was two and a half years old when I arrived in Singapore from China. We lived in a small rented room of 8 feet by 10 feet at Tanjong Pagar Road with my grandmother and my elder brother. My grandmother was looking after my elder brother during the time my mother and I were in China. (now the house at Tanjong Pagar Road was demolished to make way for a road).

Photo showing my home at Tanjong Pagar Road that I lived from 1949 to 1969 when I returned from China.

There were five families with a total of 21 people in five rooms of various sizes rented out individually in the second floor of the house. The back of the house was used as a mass kitchen for the five families, there was a make-shift bathroom where the "door" was a piece of corrugated zinc sheet and a toilet with a pull-out bucket system.

There were only two water taps for the entire 5 households of 21 people - for bathing, for cooking and for washing. Toilet rolls were not invented then or not available in post-war Singapore. We had to use recycled newspapers that we cut into A4 sizes to be used for toilet paper and for starting fire in wood burning stoves. Cooking was done with firewood as there were no gas or electrical stoves.

Tanjong Pagar was a poor part of Chinatown in Singapore. The area was infested with gangs (08 and 24) and populated mainly by poor uneducated manual labourers, blue-collar workers (carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc.,) maids and prostitutes. Gang wars and pick-pockets were common sights in that area.
   - video showing Singapore Chinatown in the 1950s  where I grew up.

Life was tough but interesting as I learned to survive independently with hardly any money. Both my grandmother and mother had to work practically the whole day - 12 to 15 hours - to make ends meet to pay for food and rent. I hardly see them. They were gone soon after I woke up and returned just before I turned in with whatever food they managed to savage during the day. They worked as cooks, cleaners, general workers, hair-dresser, etc.  Arrangement had been made for my elder brother to be taken care of. I was left out because my poor mother earned only enough to pay for one child to be looked after. My brother did not fair much better as he only got food and a bit of money for schooling.

Fortunately, I was born a happy-go-lucky person and did not harbored any anger against my mother or the society. There were no self-pity or lack of self-esteem. Of course, there were times I felt a little depressed and angry when some less discreet neighbors, school mates and even relatives mocked at me and called my mother by derogatory names. I have never fought with anyone over these matters. Instead I would volunteer to get their drinks and then spiked the drinks with urine or spit before handing them the drinks.

Contrary to what most people thought, there were no hardship as I enjoyed my unrestricted freedom that today's children do not get to experience. I enjoyed my childhood days to the fullest - I got to play, learn to cook and interact with people. There were no pressure to study (too poor to buy text books), no home work, no expectations. I could do whatever I like because most of my relatives and neighbors labelled me as a good for nothing “wild kid” with bad luck. Once I overheard a relative said that I was a human debris that should have died in China. There were times I would disappeared for days living with friends or relatives and I was not missed. Several times, I hitch-hiked to Kuala Lumpur and Penang during school holidays to see the world outside of Chinatown, Singapore. I did not need to lie or explain my where about  because nobody cared.

To me, being born an illegitimate child was fated and being poor was normal as all the people I knew then were poor. Although I hardly had any money, I was never hungry. The society during the 1950s to 1960s was much different compared with today’s .

1950s - Wet market along the streets of Chinatown were individually owned. Anyone can be his/her own boss.
Today, citizens are educated and trained to work for others. Entrepreneurship and creativity is lost. 

1950s - cooked food stall on tricycle were common .
Today, citizens depend on being employed and have no idea on how to survive on their own.

 During the 1950s and on to the 1960s, there were lots of independently operated hawkers and street vendors selling all kind of cooked food, Chinese, Malay, Indian and others. Since the hawkers and street vendors were self employed they were more flexible and not governed by strict company rules and management. That was in contrast with staff working at today’s modern food courts. They were not permitted to interact much with outsiders and must work according to job descriptions. 

Most of the hawkers in the 1950s were more humane and kind to me as I was always very willing to help out for free during peak hours. I would help served their customers, clean the tables, wash the plates, etc. In return, most of the hawkers would give me food and whatever they could spare. I could get free unsold bread from the bakery, free bowls of rice with vegetables, free noodle soup from the hawkers. I was better off than most other kids because I always get to choose what I like to eat. I did not eat leftovers from customers but got freshly made food and at times I did my own cooking after learning from the chefs. I observed, asked and during less busy time I get to try cooking.  This is why I was able to cook at a very young age.

Small business in Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong account for more than 50% of the GDP. These countries encourage entrepreneurship and small cottage industries account for up to 70% of the work force. In these countries, citizens do not need to go through extensive red tapes to obtain licence to operate small business.If you have skills in trades like carpentry, machine operators, electricians, you could start your own business.  In the case of food industries, if you think you can cook well, you can start a small business stall with little capital. The test is in the cooking. 

In modern Singapore, most food are supplied by central kitchens with state-of-the-art commercial cooking equipment and distribute to food courts throughout the island. The hawkers’ personal touch is lost except for a limited number of celebrity chefs stalls or restaurants. 

Singapore's economy has changed to favor multinational companies and big local corporations. Small individual business are less attractive choice for the today’s youth. Renewal of licenses when expired were denied and the business be taken over by big corporations. Today, it is difficult to find small business entrepreneurs as there are few and scoff by the younger generations. Food courts and hawkers’ centers are owned and operated by big chains. There are no independent taxi drivers like in the 1950s as taxis are owned and controlled by big corporations.

The main aspiration of today’s youth is to study hard and hope to qualify for a scholarship and be set for life. Next alternative is be employed by big corporations or the government in top or middle management positions. Those who fail to make the academic grade will be left to fill the less desirable working class jobs or socially demeaning jobs. Singapore has become a society not favorable for entrepreneurship or creative work. Self actualization or individualism is taboo in Singapore. MM Lee has repeatedly said that individualism, freedom of speech and western democracy are not for Singapore. The gap between the rich and poor is getting wider and wider. 

By age seven, my mother tried to register me in a primary school but was initially rejected because I was born in Malaya and not a Singapore citizen. My mother had to pay "coffee money" or a commission to a corrupted official to get me registered in Trafalgar Primary School . At that age I had not read a single book or learn to read or write. All I ever did was to draw on discarded carton boxes and blank spaces on waste papers with short pencils thrown away by others. In today’s society most children are well prepared and parents spend tons of money on baby gym and kindergartens at ages as young as two years old. It is almost impossible to find a child who does not know ABC or has not read books.

The alphabet and English language were foreign to me. Going to school and studying was a new experience to me. By today's standard, I would be a laughing stock - at age 7 and not able to speak English, Mandarin or know ABC. I would have been put in classes for the mentally challenged. I got along by sharing and looking at my classmate's books. Somehow I was always fortunate enough to just make the grade to the next level. Since I did not have any textbooks I did not need to prepare for examinations like others. While most classmates studied hard for every examination, I continue to play and roam the streets. Neighbors and relatives believed that I must have cheated during the examinations.  On one occasion, my art work was rejected because the teacher suspected that I got someone else to do the work for me.

My aspiration to be a scholar came to an abrupt end in 1963 when I was expelled from school. The reason was a combination of poor academic results and unacceptable school behaviors (I fought with a school teacher). It was undeniable that I did fight with a teacher and threw him to the ground but  the truth was never told to the principal. 

A class bully was intimidating other classmates when the class teacher was out. I intervened and threw the bully onto a desk.  A teacher by the name of Mr. Chu happened to walk by the class as the bully landed on a desk and broke it. Without investigating,  I was immediately singled out as the aggressor and the bully became the victim. 

Mr. Chu was a 200 lb potbelly person, more than twice my size. He caught hold of me by the collar and gave me a slap across the face, then another.He shouted at me, "So you are a good fighter? Breaking school furniture? Want to fight with me?" Getting into a fight with a teacher was a nightmare but Mr. Chu was relentless and kept pushing and slapping me until I was forced into a corner. When I was cornered and with nowhere to go, I snapped and caught hold of Mr. Chu's hands and threw him to the floor.  

What Mr. Chu did not realized was that I was trained in martial arts by martial arts masters near my house in Chinatown. In the evenings I volunteered my time as an assistant for the martial arts masters during training. I carried their sticks and weapons, bring them towels, tea, etc. In return I got free lessons as their assistant and "punching bag". 

After Mr. Chu's heavy 200 lb body landed on the floor with a big bang, the entire class was silent. I knew at that time I was dead meat. It would have been funny if I was not the one who threw him.  Boy, he was stunned, embarrassed and  furious.  He struggled up and marched me to the Principal's office and told him that I was a bully terrorizing my classmates, broke school furniture and attacked the teacher. In the 1950s, students had no rights and not allowed to speak. The principal gave me a few strokes of the cane and a big lecture. By year’s end, together with a group of naughty students, I was asked to leave the school and given a school leaving certificate. 

I still keep the certificate because it was unique. It was a certificate that few students could get or hope to get.  What was interesting about the certificate was that the reason for leaving was stated as, "superannuated". With my limited vocabulary I had no idea what the word meant but  "super" sounded impressive and I thought it cannot be bad. Hey, I achieved something "super" when everyone had written me off. Later, I learned the word was not complimentary at all.

News of my expulsion from school caused a sensation in my part of Chinatown. My neighbors and relatives all claimed credit in predicting my academic demise. Almost all said, “ I told you so.” They further predicted that I would end up in jail as a drug dealer or a homeless scum bag earning minimum wage. A slim number of people who harbored some hope for me also began to realize I had fat chance of getting any academic qualification. I felt terrible that I had BETRAYED the very few who believe in me. My grandmother and mother were too depressed  and disappointed to talk to me.

I stayed away from Chinatown for a few months, roaming aimlessly in the northern part of Malaya, hundreds of miles from Singapore wondering what to do at age 14.

Primary three class photo at Trafalgar Primary School. I was standing 2nd row from top, 4th student from the right or 8th from the left of photo.

I managed to win some medals in swimming without any formal training or coaching.

I was the 5th person from the left or 6th person from the right of photo.
That was the year I was expelled from school.


Singapore from 3rd world to1st world status.
After 50 years same standards for the poor and homeless.

1950s - Singapore 3rd world country - seniors have to work - unable to retire.

2010s - Singapore 1st world country - seniors still have to work - unable to retire..

1950s - HOMELESS
2010s - HOMELESS


1950s - Taxi drivers need only driving license.

2010s - Taxi drivers may be holders of MBA or PhD.


2010s - Youths get maids to carry their stuff.
1950s - We carried our own stuff.  That was really me. No help.

     Next chapter - How I worked my way out of poverty