May 20, 2010

The Passing of our Great Architect

Goh Keng Swee Pulau Samulun
Photo credit: PICAS

The news got across to me in a most unusual way. I guess most people came to know the demise of our great architect through the local radio, TV or newspaper. If you are tech-savvy your source could be Twitter. Not for me. I did not receive the news from the local media, or internet.

Friday evening. Hong Kong. I was holed up in the room after my shower and the TV was running to add that bit of gaiety to the pigeon-hole. Then it came, the news delivered, as a matter-of-fact, by their local station.

It was like a fast-moving documentary, over in less than a minute (I think). The archival footage of our great architect (现代新加坡首要建筑师 by Zaobao) was playing, but I would not have known what had happened - Cantonese sounds Greek to me, exacerbated by the rattling newscaster - if not for the Chinese subtitles. I managed to pick up "Singapore" and news of his demise - 新加坡元老逝世.

If you think substituting Wu Qingrui for Goh Keng Swee is bad enough, wait till you hear the Cantonese rendition of his name 吴庆瑞 which is Ng something something (told you newscaster was rattling). For a while that got me confused - I thought Ng is Huang (黄), like our Education Minister Ng Eng Hen. I wonder how Ng is read in the different dialects?

Like other founding fathers, the great architect faded into obscurity after his "retirement" from politics. We almost forget he was deputy chairman of GIC, amongst other directorship and chairmanship. Younger Singaporeans should be forgiven for not recognizing the slight balding man on screen on Friday. After all, my history syllabus in school taught me more about Malaya than post-war Singapore (though that might have changed today). What I knew can be summed up as a few major players taking the hot seat (Lim Yew Hock and David Marshall come to mind) and for the finale, Lee Kuan Yew shedding tears watched by residents lucky enough to own a TV.

Very possible the great architect's last major appearance - on a book cover. Can you spot him? Or have the aura from our great leader already blinded you? (Photo credit: Penguin Books Australia)

We are lucky each of our founding fathers is unique and easily identifiable: Harry is tall and dashing. The rest is either bald, Sri Lankan or short. Other ministers like Ong Eng Guan and Ong Pang Boon, I'm not so sure I can identify them.

Much has been said about his achievements. I heard the mediacorp documentary on Saturday about him was good, kudos to the production team (let's hope they did not work day and night to rush this out, such documentary should be "on standby" for a leader with failing health). Not much has been said about his shortcomings or failed policies. The controversial streaming in primary school could be one, though that did not really affect me. From what little was revealed by his widow Dr Phua, Dr Goh was quite a thrifty stingy person. Makes me wonder, the fact that I was conscripted at the turn of the century with a paltry $240 allowance and still have to pay for military items (trash bag, ziplock, candles etc.) could very well be his legacy. Just like the MID. vehicle plates carried over from his Ministry of Interior and Defence days.

I have blogged about his factories and you can see him officiating at an opening in my Tanglin Halt chocolate factory article. The (topmost) cover photo* of him standing on the bank does have some personal relevance. Chun See might remember the bridge as the one he "blew up" a few years after the photo was taken. By his time, the rolling hills in the background should have been levelled. In December 2008, Chun See drove the few of us to Jalan Samulun to revisit the bridge after exploring the Jurong (Railway) Line at Shipyard Road. Peter volunteered to brave the terrain to have a good shot of the bridge which you can see in Chun See's article.

* The cover photo shows the great architect having a respite (he might really be "taking five", our military slang for smoking break. Look between his right fingers, you can see what appears to be a cigarette).


Anonymous said...

Not sure, but I think the pronunciation might have sounded like "ng hing sui" (it's not quite Ng Heng Suay, in case you misread me), based on checking the pronunciation against CantoDict. Words homophonous with "five" are generally homophones in each dialect. Wu, Ng, Goh, etc. regardless of whether it's 五 or 伍 or 呉.

黄 = Ng, Ong, Wee, Wong.

I might be mistaken about the "Ong" pronunciation, or maybe just that I'm not sure which pronunciation maps to which one, except for Wong, because I'm more familiar with my mother's tongue

Lam Chun See said...

My mother's (and her siblings of course) surname is Ng and 吴 in Chinese. She was Khek. I thought Goh Chok Tong's surname is also 吴 in Chinese?

Please allow me to share some memories here of Dr Goh Keng Swee from the perspective of a secondary school student during the time when he introduced full-time National Service back in 1967. Of course we were terribly upset (that's putting it lightly actually) by that announcement. This was aggraveted by all those horror stories we heard about army life under the Israeli trainers. At that time, the name Safti spelled terror in our minds. Little did I realise that I would be spending 15 agonising months in that place of torture which I blogged about here.

Anyway, my views of the necessity of NS has changed obviously. But your young readers can understand our frustration at that time. We were particulary upset that whilst we were slogging buckets of sweat in old Safti, many 'foreign talents' from our neighbours up north were occupying places meant for us in the university and stealing our girls in the process, and snatching up the choice jobs two years ahead of us.

And judging from the vociferous comments posted by young readers on my article about NS; Duty Honour Country, I can surmise that young people today are just like us forty years ago.

By the way, I believe Dr Goh was my father's classmate in ACS.

Victor said...

Chun See said: "...and stealing our girls in the process...".

And he took sweet revenge by taking back one of their own. (His wife is from Ipoh.)

Icemoon said...

Yup, Goh is Hokkien for Wu. We are disoriented when Goh Keng Swee becomes Mr Ng.

Dr Goh was Malayan born but raised in Singapore. He studied in ACS. Lau Lee said he is the rare or only Singapore-born Singaporean in the cabinet, hah.

Sentiments have not changed about NS. We are now competing with our neighbors further away on the globe who not know what is 'nasi lemak'.

Icemoon said...

> And he took sweet revenge by taking back one of their own.

And he really "take his time" doing it .. until sister got worried, haha

fr said...

Ng Eng Hen (Huang Yong Hong) is Wong Wing Wang in Cantonese.

Lam Chun See said...

Icemoon. That Picas foto you used. It looks like the Sumulun Bridge that we recced the last time - rmember ... when we went to check out the Jurong Line. Wonder if its the same one.

Icemoon said...

yes i believe it is the same bridge. which is why I used it for the blog.

Thimbuktu said...

Hi Icemoon, appreciate to link your blog topic "The Passing of our Great Architect" as your related post from Second Shot. Thanks.

Icemoon said...

Thanks, Thimbuktu.