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Leaning from Singapore’s Pioneer Generation Part Two: The Changi Fisherman

By Wei Ye Li

It rained one afternoon, the sun emerged when we pulled in the 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.


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