It’s Singapore’s polling day today. It’s also the year we celebrate our golden jubilee. Singapore has marched from third world to the first in short span of 50 years. Many of us take what we have for granted, demanding more and more. Reading this book makes one appreciate what we have now.
I found this book, my cousin’s literature book from secondary school in my library. First published in 1966, the story is set in Chinatown in the 60s, where poverty was prevalent and secret society collected protection money called ‘squeeze”.
Ah Ong is a twelve year-old boy of a widowed mother working as a construction worker with samsui woman. He helps support the family consisting of a grandmother and three younger siblings. He longs to be a towkay and become rich, so that his mother can stop work, and his younger sister can fulfill her ambition to be a teacher.
The book describes everyday Singapore in the 60s, from the street hawkers of Chinatown, to firecrackers during Chinese New Year, how nobody bats any eyelid when a twelve year old boy approaches business owners and traders with business proposals, except for a American tourist who commented, “Are you sure it’s all right? They look rather young to be running a business like this,” to which her husband replied. “Boys grow up fast in the east.”
I really enjoyed the book. You can’t help liking Ah Ong and rooting for him as he fights off bullies and secret society members. He faces life with a mix of resignation and optimism.
The only glitch I have with this book is the names of the characters. If Ah Ong’s sisters are Jade Bead玉珠and Golden Bead金珠, and his friends are Worthless and Ugly, why isn’t his name King? (Assuming Ong is 王 in Hokkien. )