Colonial tales on bourgeoise terraces
These days, I try and spend as much time as I can with Grandfather. Tonight we are out sitting on his French veranda, and I listen as he tells me stories from his younger days.
Great-grandfather first settled in Singapore when they came over from China in 1929. Grandfather was only five years old then, and he attended the Geylang English School on Lorong 27 for a couple of years before the family moved again to Penang.
Grandfather had an art teacher called Mrs Hubbard who couldn’t draw. She was a fat Eurasian lady who caned him on his first day of school because he was fidgety and couldn’t sit still.
During a free-hand sketching lesson, Grandfather drew a duck on a piece of paper and a “busybody” handed it to Mrs Hubbard. She was very pleased with him and from that day onwards, Grandfather became her pet student. He was very popular.
The other pupils in class knew he could draw, so they bribed him with their sister’s lunches – bread with butter, rice with egg, but he never accepted.
King George V’s birthday cake
Grandfather tells me that birthday cakes were flown in from England for King George V’s birthday. Everyone had to queue up to have a piece of cake.
Once, he drew a picture of King George V to show off to his friends. The drawing was taken to the headmaster, a tall blue-eyed spinster from England who walked really quickly. He was sent to the headmaster’s office because no one believed he drew the portrait.
“Did you draw this?” the headmaster asked.
“Yes,” Grandfather trembled.
“Then draw it for me again,” he said.
Grandfather was given a fresh sheet of paper and told to sketch King George. He was also offered a glass of coffee, which he drank quickly but preciously. The headmaster was pleased with what he saw, and the picture was published in the school magazine that year.
By the end of Primary 2, Grandfather had to leave the country because his parents were packing up to migrate once again. Mrs Hubbard was so sad that she refused to issue a leaving certificate, but in the end, she gave in.