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Learning from Singapore’s Pioneer Generation Part One: Mr. Wu Cai Yi

By Won Young Yoon and Parthiv Gajjala

These excerpts are written by a 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 purpose of this local service was originally to include residents of elderly homes in the SG50 celebrations 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. Here is a reflection by the service’s chair, Won Young Yoon:

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.

This is a memoir I wrote. it 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 me 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. I was extremely tired in school with all the challenging workload, but after hearing the stories of the pioneer generation, I was reminded of the importance of resilience.  I learned that though I may confront challenges, with an optimistic attitude, and perseverance I can achieve anything I want.

 

 

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