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Mar 6, 2012

House of an Old Guard off Holland Road

50 Oei Tiong Ham Park Driveway

I accidentally stumbled onto this driveway with a wounded mushroom somewhere off Holland Road during one of my KTM railway explorations last year. Do you know the significance of the place? Clue: one of the Old Guards is living or used to live here. Today, there are reputedly four members from Singapore's first cabinet in 1959 still with us: one needs no introduction, he is the Primus inter pares; another was spotted at a recent Old Guard's passing; the third keeps a low profile; the last vanished without a trace. Who am I referring to?

Yong Yuk Lin at 50 Oei Tiong Ham Park
I was surprised to see a name on the address sign. Who is "Yong Yuk Lin"? The name rings a bell.

When the first PAP cabinet was sworn in on June 5, 1959, the first batch of Old Guards was born:
  • Yong Nyuk Lin (Minister for Education)
  • Ong Eng Guan (Minister for National Development)
  • S Rajaratnam (Minister for Culture)
  • Ahmad Ibrahim (Minister for Health)
  • Ong Pang Boon (Minister for Home Affairs)
  • Dr Goh Keng Swee (Minister for Finance)
  • Dr Toh Chin Chye (Deputy Prime Minister)
  • KM Byrne (Minister for Labour and Law)
  • Lee Kuan Yew (Prime Minister).
We didn't have foreign affairs and defense till 1965 as they were still under the British.

Indeed "Yong Yuk Lin" rings a bell. The name, even when misspelled, will not be foreign to the younger generation familiar with our political history. The "N" probably dropped off from the sign due to exposure to the elements or somebody removed it deliberately.

1959 PAP Legislative Assembly
Led by Chairman Toh Chin Chye and Secretary General Lee Kuan Yew, PAP Assemblymen on the way to Parliament House for swearing in ceremony. Yong Nyuk Lin is fourth on right row, behind Lee, Goh Keng Swee and Ong Pang Boon. (Source: NAS)

Yes, the name refers to Yong Nyuk Lin, our first Minister of Education. By coincidence, he is the brother-in-law of our first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. His wife - Kwa Geok Lan - is elder sister of the late Mrs Lee Kuan Yew nee Kwa Geok Choo. This can be gleaned from the following newspaper sources. The Straits Times of 1 March 1975 writes:
Mr Yong Thean Yong, father of the Minister of Communications, Mr Yong Nyuk Lin, died yesterday at the age of 82. The funeral will take place on Sunday, the cortege leaving 50 Oei Tiong Ham Park at 11.45 a.m. for Mount Vernon crematorium.

Mr and Mrs Yong Nyuk Lin
The engagement between Yong Nyuk Lin and Kwa Geok Lan in 1937 and their wedding subsequently in 1939.

That's right. When I wrote "somewhere off Holland Road", what I meant was Oei Tiong Ham Park at 5 1/2 milestone Holland Road. I turned into the private housing estate from Holland Road after exploring the KTM railway tracks nearby. In 1975 either Yong Senior or Yong Nyuk Lin would have been the occupant of the house. Today the name on the address is a reminder to us of an important person, an old guard, a pioneer in our political history who is or was the occupant of 50 Oei Tiong Ham Park.

50 Oei Tiong Ham Park
50 Oei Tiong Ham Park that looked empty during my visit. Could Yong Nyuk Lin be the current occupant (he could be the owner but reside elsewhere)? Oei Tiong Ham Park was developed in the 1950s and this antiquated house could be one of the early designs (the estate was developed in a few phases).

51 Oei Tiong Ham Park
The neighboring bungalow on the right of 50's driveway has a similar design and is owned by a certain J. K. L. Lim and Dr C. K. L. Lim.

It is fair to say Yong Nyuk Lin played a significant role in our post-1959 history and his contributions, which you can read from Infopedia, were not any less than Dr Toh Chin Chye. His policies did impact people's lives when he held the various portfolios of Education, Health and Communications. Even after his "retirement" from ministerial life, he oversaw the construction of Marina Square and served on Presidential Council for Minority Rights. Some examples of his legacies when he held the ministerial portfolios, you'd be surprised how much our day-to-day living revolves around them:
  • He split schools into morning and afternoon sessions; this increased the school populations.
  • He introduced multilingual integrated schools and the first Malay and Tamil secondary schools.
  • He introduced effective immunisation campaign, school dental clinics and bi-annual checkups for primary school students.
  • He was involved in creation of Singapore Airlines, expansion of civil aviation and port facilities and early studies of feasiblity of the MRT.
  • He consolidated the 11 bus companies into 3 and created the SBS monopoly.
  • He implemented the Area Licensing Scheme (ALS), forerunner of the ERP.
  • He introduced school buses and bus lanes and suppressed pirate taxi trade.
Yong Nyuk Lin and Lee Kuan Yew
Yong Nyuk Lin, member of Presidential Council For Minority Rights, greeting then Prime Minister - also his brother-in-law - Lee Kuan Yew in 1985. (source: NAS)

Every now and then when an old guard departs, we would hear comments from the younger generation that they do not know much about this old guard. With the flag at government buildings flying at half-mast for the fourth time in six years, the contributions of the old guards, even of Dr Goh "who made the greatest difference to the outcome for Singapore", are not well-known before the state media releases a "special report" upon their demise. No doubt these reports, even the "special documentary" aired on TV, were prepared in advance but embargoed till the fateful date. Why are the younger generation perpetually playing catch-up?

2 comments:

fr said...

I remember I often heard Yong Nyuk Lin's name being mentioned during my younger days.

I only remember him as Education minister, but I was not aware of his contributions and accomplishments you mentioned.

I guess sometimes it it is like that - people pay more interest after the person is gone be it an actor, politician or some others.

Icemoon said...

It is sad if the next Old Guard to go, we cry 'too little too late'. Certainly it is not too late to know more about our political pioneers when they are still around.