Saturday, 31 January 2015

Candle 40: Loke Ying Lee

The following letter is from one of my juniors, Loke Ying Lee (Michelle) who wrote in response to my last blog post.  I am honoured that she has chosen to share her story on this blog, warts and all.  Our lives are enriched by the different paths we take, and there is no one "perfect" template in our quest to become all that God has created us to be.

Michelle Loke Ying Lee with her beautiful daughter, Chloe.

Dear Joanna

This is Loke Ying Lee, ex BBGS, 1979 - 1989 and perhaps I should have stayed to do sixth form at BBGS just like you.

I just read the story about your 1989.  I was touched by your courage to finally tell your story.  I felt that your year seems to have been a particularly fine vintage.  Perhaps it is the effect of juniors looking up to seniors.  You might have bemoaned your physical appearance.  I always thought you and Tomasina were equals as shining lights for the rest of us.

For a very long time, I kept my silence about my story.  It hasn't been anything nearly as glorious or glamorous.  Far from it.  I made mistakes, some of which led me to end up as a single mum.  But I am learning to forgive myself.  And I understand now, why you have been collecting BBGS stories.  Here is mine:

I wasn't supposed to go to BBGS.  In the dying days of 1978, my Singaporean aunt dragged my mother to see a school government official and somehow persuaded him to re-assign me to BBGS.  Asian tiger aunt at work, even then!

Being a born blur sotong, I got lost on my first day of school, Standard 1.  I couldn't find my way back to class after recess.  I'm pleased to say that my geography classes (thank you Mrs Abraham) helped me somewhat.  I can now read a map and have successfully navigated (more of less) my way around three continents.

By the time I got to Form 1, I still had a lisp, and couldn't pronounce 's' at the end, as in 'ass'.  That year, we had Mrs Aziz for English.  I was sufficiently terrified and respectful of her that I instinctively rewired my brain to address her correctly as 'Mrs Aziz', rather than 'Mirthirth Athith', which would have drawn such a petrifying glare from her that I would not have progressed to Form 2 to receive my much needed geography lessons.  So thank you, Mrs Aziz for the instant elocution lessons.

Choral speaking was, of course the main activity which we BBGSians learned to present, and speak well.  I don't remember being any good personally, but I do remember having superb tutors (haha - you!) and we sailed through those friendly competitions.  Thinking about it, this was probably what taught me to appear confident at presentations in later life.  

Perhaps the most painful part was growing up, and finally understanding the disparity in wealth levels among the little girls who had grown up together.  I estimate probably 80% of my graduating class of '89 (Form 5) went abroad to study.

I wasn't, am not, all that smart.  I didn't have a scholarship to fall back on.  Being poor and stupid is an unfortunate combination.  However, I had learned two more skills from BBGS:  sheer tenacity and the most useful - how to cook (thank you Miss Yeap for convincing me that cooking is better than learning to balance the books).  With that, I eventually graduated with a degree in Law and a Financial Analyst charter, survived in the world of asset management and raised a reasonably healthy daughter on home-cooked meals.

Looking back, I am grateful my aunt engineered my move to BBGS.  My regret is that I have been away for more than 20 years during which time the school has been demolished and most of my classmates have dispersed to the four corners of the earth.  I haven't given back at all.

This has been my story.  And now with my daughter at Uni, I begin my 'second life'.  If anyone wants to contact me, they can look me up at  I might be a bit different (older, for a start) from what they remember but there is still a bit of the dorky, blur sotong Ying Lee in me.

Nisi Dominus Frustra

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