Monday, January 5, 2009

Mum a fighter till the end

Sim Wong Hoo's sister has written a book about their mother who brought up her 12 children alone

She reared pigs and grew fruit in order to provide for her 12 children, one of whom is technology multi-millionaire Sim Wong Hoo, 53, founder of Creative Technology, the renowned Singaporean multimedia company.

Now one of Mrs Sim-Tan Siok Kee's daughters, Madam Sim Siu Yok, 64, has written a book about her, a widow who worked hard to raise her children single-handedly after her husband died at the age of 63 in 1969.

Now aged between 50 and 66, the children work in administration, engineering and business.

The Chinese-language memoir, titled My Mother, is published using funds from the Sim-Tan Siok Kee Foundation, set up in 2007 by Creative's Mr Sim in memory of his mother, who died in 2006 at the age of 94.

He attended the launch of the book yesterday morning at the National Library Building, where he spoke briefly about the hardship his mother faced when he was growing up.

Madam Sim was inspired to write her mother's story to teach youths about the sacrifices of their elders, even though she did not complete her primary school education. The fourth of seven daughters, she is a mother of two and a retired doctor's assistant. She wrote the book over two years.

Life was hard for the family, who lived in a kampung in Bukit Panjang. An elder brother died of fever when he was only one year old after he and his mother were caught in a downpour.

'At the time, there was nowhere to seek shelter, nowhere to find a doctor. The neighbours tried to give him home remedies, but he died,' says Madam Sim in Mandarin. The family was so poor that three of her sisters were given up for adoption. Happily, her mother was able to reunite with her long-lost daughters over the years.

Her father was a labourer before he helped run her uncle's provision shop, so the family could get essentials such as rice and oil. But they still needed money for books, clothes, shoes and other household items. As their father earned less than $200 a month, their mother helped contribute to the household income by rearing animals and growing vegetables and fruit.

'These we could not eat. They were sold for money,' recalls Madam Sim.

When her father died, her mother had to do even more: She went from door to door to sell eggs.

More than steely resolve, her mother had compassion, too. Madam Sim recalls that when she was 10, her parents did not give her pocket money to buy food at school.

'When you go to school and see people eat, you want to eat, too,' she says.

Driven to desperation, she started stealing the money she discovered her father had hidden under the bed.

'When he found out what I had been doing, he wanted to beat me but my mother understood that kids need money. My father listened to my mother, so he didn't beat me and started giving me some pocket money,' she says.

Though life became better when her children started working, her mother was a fighter until the end.

She suffered a stroke in 1998 yet went on to live until 2006, despite doctors' pessimism about her condition.

The proceeds from the book will benefit the Young People's Performing Arts Ensemble, a non-profit theatre arts company that promotes Chinese culture to the young. The initial print-run is 3,000.

Says the ensemble's artistic director, Ms Ma Gyap Sen, 50: 'Siu Yok had the desire to write about her mother and it is great that it relates to our theme this year. We hope the book will teach young people not to take everything for granted and help them forge a connection with their elders.'

The ensemble launched the book yesterday to kick off their year-long series on filial piety, which also includes a health talk next month, a play in March and a holiday camp in June.

Says Madam Sim, who will promote the book in secondary schools: 'My mother was special and she lived in a time when Singapore was very poor. I wanted to write her story so that young people can learn from her story and about what life was like then.'

Wo De Ma Ma (My Mother) costs $10 and is available at selected Chinese-language bookstores. Call the Young People's Performing Arts Ensemble on 6336-6776 for details.


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