Sunday, April 14, 2013

Chapter 14: Money Mattered

Getting enough money to feed the family had always been the main concern of my parents. My father who worked as a tailor did not enjoy a minimum wage but his income was solely dependent on the number of pants or shirts he made each month. Every month, it was a challenge to make sure there was enough food on the table to feed a family of eight (beside my parents, there were my grandfather and five boys before my youngest sister was born).
The pressure was even more evident when all the boys had to attend school. To supplement the income, my parents had to take on additional jobs. Every morning after getting ready the breakfast for the boys, my parents would rush off to tap rubber at the nearby rubber plantation. After the tapping, my father would clean up and rush off on his bicycle to start his tailoring job. That left my mother alone to do the latex collection, filtering the latex milk, adding chemicals to initiate the coagulation process and finally rolling into sheets. By the time she came home in late morning, it was time to prepare lunch for the boys who would soon be back from school. During week-ends, the boys also joined in the rubber taping work. The kids were however not allowed to do the delicate task of removing a thin layer of the bark along a downward spiral direction on the tree trunk using a special sharp knife. We were only allowed to help in the latex collection all the way until the sheets were rolled and hung up for drying.

At times, my mother also took up job as house keeper for the expatriates who lived nearby in the government quarters. In those days, the British colonial government liked to build quarters on Signal Hill which commanded good view of the sea.
Of course, my father literally worked non-stop 24/7 all his life. Everyday after coming home and after dinner, he would immediately proceed to do his tailoring of the items taken from the shops or items ordered by friends and acquaintances. My parents worked very hard.
As a young boy, I also understood the need for more money. I took up my very first job at the age of 15 when I was in Form II. My uncle (my mother's brother, Yee Tshan Fah) took me as a helper during the school break. My uncle then was a contractor doing construction and restoration of graveyards and tombstones at the cemetery. My main task was to trace the Chinese words or calligraphy onto the tombstone and later paint them using gold paint. I was paid 4 dollars a day. I remember at numerous times, I was left alone in the cemetery during lunch break when my uncle went out to buy packed lunch. I do remember sleeping alone on some of the covered burial chambers during those times. Surprisingly, there was no "fear" then!

P/S: One of the satisfactions was when the expatriates whom my mother worked for turned out to be my colleagues or co-workers. In 1972 - early 1973. I worked as a trainee draftsman in PWD Structural Section  (before going to university) where one of the expatriates worked as a senior engineer. In 1978 -1984 when I worked as an engineer in the KK International Airport development project, the other expatriate whom my mother had worked for worked as an M & E consulting engineer for the same project.

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