Huang Chih Mei
We were on our flight back to Singapore from Taiwan. I picked up a complimentary copy of the Straits Times before boarding the plane. My eldest daughter glanced at the front page and read out loudly, “Papa, 12 days; Korkor, 10 days…are they going to jail, again?”
I quickly surveyed those fellow passengers nearby, no one seemed to raise an eyebrow. I presumed they were either tourists or Singaporeans who were not quite on the radar of this island’s political watch. For me, I was apprehensive that we were just in time to send them off to prison the next day.
Our kids are great, especially the eldest one who was born when her father was in jail. My then obstetrician was a bit fazed for a moment after sewing me up and looking for the new father for the customary congratulations. He ended up shaking my hand.
We have our kids late, but we always feel thankful that they came at the right time – just when things are getting more difficult and challenging for us, they are best in keeping things in perspective for us.
Several years ago, we met Malaysia’s DAP politician Lim Guan Eng and his wife Betty when they were invited to speak at a public forum organised by the Open Singapore Centre. During our private conversation, Mr Lim mentioned that their young kids were told that “papa went to work” when he was jailed for 18 months. Subsequently, their children were frighten and didn’t want him to leave the house whenever he told them he was going to work. We didn’t have kids then, but I sort of learned that it’s better to tell children the truth although they might not fully understand why.
Most parents will naturally think of what they can best provide for their own children. But we never know where life will bring us or what fate might deal with our dearest in future. To impart them a positive attitude and right values would go a long way than giving them things material.
Our children are involved in some of their father’s activities and they are familiar and comfortable with the people who participate in these activities, too. Apparently, they come to know that these are decent and interesting people to be around and there’s nothing sinister or needed to be fearful about. Our youngest boy always enjoys “going to the democracy place to light candles”. In Singapore, these are certainly rare occasions that not every child gets to experience.
Before I embarked on my Ph.D. program in the U.S. decades ago, I was rather hesitant and uncertain about the prospect of continuing my miserable student life for a few more years in a totally different university located up north that the weather can get really icy cold in winter. That was about the same time I met my future husband. He was all very encouraging and saying things such as “you’ve got to have dreams in your life.” – the kinds of words we frequently wrote for our composition class in school but we don’t actually believe in them. I couldn’t help to take a second look at him.
Indeed, I had my share of middle class prejudice such as that I would have readily agreed with the opinion that those who cannot provide for their own children financially should not have more than what they can afford. To respect each individual’s reproduction rights is just one of the things I have learned over the years. With a life partner of beliefs, I am glad to be exposed to pluralistic ideas as well as humanitarian values and become a more sensible person.
The fact that I am from Taiwan, another Asian country with its own authoritarian past, has somehow equipped me with the ability to empathise with the present Singapore and continue to be hopeful about its future. What we are going through right now is certainly not the best arrangement, but I always believe that the process itself is as significant as its final destination, because often times our best human qualities are redeemed through these unenviable tasks and challenges.
It has become increasingly clear to me that my own destiny and the wellbeing of my family are closely tied to Singapore’s political development. To me, it’s very important to see Singapore democratised soon.
Dr Huang Chih Mei, Dr Chee Soon Juan’s wife, has also written about Ms Chee Siok Chin in Butterfly in the strong wind.