Had it not been for Sim Siew Tin’s Ah Gong , Siew Tin’s grandmother would not have survived the war. Siew Tin shares the story of how his grandfather had left an indelible impression on him – as a pharmacist and a grandfather.
Photo credit: Sim Siew Tin
Wee Boon Chit was my Ah Gong (maternal grandfather) who hailed from Jin Men, China, was the son of a successful businessman. Ah Gong decided to seek a new future for himself in Singapore when his mother passed away.
Ah Gong was an innovative pharmacist who combined the best medical practices from the East and West. In 1930, Ah Gong officially opened the famous Nanking Dispensary and Clinic at 148 Cross Street, Chinatown. Ah Gong’s belief that the best medical treatment should be made available regardless of wealth and status made his clinic extremely popular, and there were long snaking queues leading to it.
Ah Gong was a man of great values.
To save costs for his patients, he concocted some of the medicine using natural herbs and ingredients He produced a miracle cure-all powder for skin allergies and antiseptic lotions, working into the wee hours of the night.
Ah Gong believed that a successful entrepreneur had a greater responsibility to give back to society and so he chose to live on the upper floors of the clinic instead of his luxurious bungalow in Katong. I remember one night when a woman with a sick baby came knocking at the door of the clinic. The wailing of the baby woke me up and Ah Gong went out of his way to treat the baby. My mother and her six siblings helped out at the medical hall, grinding calamine powder and preparing natural remedies whenever they finished their school work, to show their support and love for their father.
World War II came in 1939 when my mother was just 9 years old, and it was the most traumatic year for her. Fortunately Ah Gong had cleverly designed an underground air raid shelter below the Nanking Dispensary in anticipation of the shelling by the Japanese. Ah Gong and his family would scramble into the basement whenever the wailing warning signals went off. The Wee family survived on tapioca, sardine and yellow bean rations (see picture of Provisions Purchasing Card) during the war.
Ah Ma (Grandma) came from a wealthy family from Jin Men as well with herfamily. Despite her privileged background, Ah Ma ate the skins of the tapioca during the war so that her seven children could have more pieces of tapioca. The older girls in the Wee family had to smear charcoal on their faces to avoid being captured and tortured by the Japanese soldiers.
Ah Gong always taught us to be grateful for small blessings and that one should give, not merely because of the ability to give but out of a willingness to give. His mission was to improve the quality of life for disadvantaged people regardless of race, language or religion.
When Ah Gong passed away in 1975, the whole of Cross Street was closed by businessmen and shopkeepers in honour of him.
On the day that he set foot on foreign soil in Singapore, he could never in his wildest dreams, have imagined the extent of the contribution he would make to the locals here. He left an indelible impression on me as a young girl. I remember the stilt walkers, the white uniformed band playing farewell songs and many people lining up the streets of Chinatown to pay their respects. His funeral was even captured on 16mm film. Through his honest endeavours to better the lives of those around him, whether they were from his native country or not, he left an indelible mark of his kind and humble nature upon each individual whom he came into contact with. He had treated everyone as his family and had made Singapore his Homeland.
Sim Siew Tin’s story first appeared here on the Singapore Memory Project portal.
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