Han Suyin's many-splendored act of love here

Han Suyin's many-splendored act of love here
Madam Chew Hui Im with a portrait of Han Suyin, at the launch of the translation scholarship fund at NTU last month. She said the author, who adopted her, was "Godsent and without her, I wouldn't be who I am today".

SINGAPORE - Fifteen-year-old Chew Hui Im was helping out in her father's porcelain and earthenware shop at 236 Beach Road when an elderly English woman walked in and asked why she was not in school.

The young shop assistant had left school a year earlier because her widowed father found it a struggle running his business and raising six children, including herself - the third child.

The woman asked if she wanted to go back to school, and the girl said yes.

The next day, the woman returned with Han Suyin, the China- born Eurasian doctor whose best- selling novel, A Many-Splendored Thing, had been published a year earlier.

Han had just moved from Hong Kong to Malaya with her second husband, Leon Comber, an officer with the then Malayan Special Branch.

That was 60 years ago, in 1953.

Madam Chew, now 75, and a retired teacher, remembers only that the Englishwoman was Mrs Hill, but the day her life changed remains vivid. "I didn't know who Han Suyin was then, but she was a beautiful and elegant woman in a cheongsam who talked to my father about supporting me in school."

Last month, Madam Chew initiated the Han Suyin Translation Scholarship Fund which was launched at Nanyang Technological University to mark the first anniversary of the doctor-turned-writer's death.

Han sent the young girl in the Beach Road shop back to Stamford Girls' Primary School, paying her fees and more for several years, and adopted her.

She had another daughter, Tang Yongmei, whom she adopted in China in 1940, two years after marrying her first husband, Tang Baohuang, a Kuomintang officer who died during the Chinese civil war in 1947. Yongmei, now 74, is an educator living in New York.

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