SINGAPORE - She wakes up at 2am every day to prepare for her noodle stall and gets home at 9pm.
Constantly on her feet in front of a hot stove, she has only one rest day a month.
Madam Lee Saw Ping, 46, wanted her three daughters to know the value of hard work. From a young age, she made them help out at the stall after school and every weekend too.
Madam Lee's tough love worked.
Yesterday, her oldest child, Serangoon Garden Secondary student Lee Kai Ying, 17, received her O-level results and did well enough to qualify for her dream course in polytechnic.
She scored 15 points for L1B4 (language and four best subjects).
In Singapore's best showing in at least 20 years, 83.3 per cent of students who took the O-level examinations last year scored five passes or more.
Kai Ying's twin, Kai Jun, is pursuing business in the polytechnic foundation programme which she qualified for with her good N-levels results last year.
The twins have a younger sister, 14, and they take turns helping out at the stall.
Their parents have been running the popular noodle stall, selling wonton mee and shredded chicken hor fun at Block 631, Hougang Avenue 8, for 19 years. They live in a five-room flat nearby.
The punishing job has taken a toll on their father, Mr Frederick Lee, 45, who is now unable to keep the long hours because of back pain.
Madam Lee said that her daughters are self-starters.
"I depend on them a lot. Although it hurts to see them work so hard, it's good for them to suffer a bit.
"They need to know the importance of studying hard and that it is not easy to earn a living," she said in Mandarin.
Kai Ying said: "Of course, we want to go out and play but I can't bear to see my mother and grandmother, who is already 69, with no one to help them."
She usually spends up to three hours a day at the stall and up to eight hours on weekends.
This meant less time for studying, hanging out with friends and sleeping-in during the weekends, lamented Kai Ying, who enjoys online games and exercising.
But she never gave up on her studies.
While preparing for her O levels, the normal academic student cut back on her time at the stall to an hour a day after school.
After she finished at about 7pm, Kai Ying would take a nap and wake up at midnight to study for a few hours before preparing for school.
Madam Lee recalled: "She studied very hard. I was worried that she would go mad with studying.
"But I'll support her in her wishes to pursue her education."
The twins started at the stall when they were 10 by helping to prepare dumplings but were soon roped in to take orders.
"We were excited to help out at first, but we changed our minds after a month. (But) our mother is quite strict so we are still working there," Kai Ying said with a laugh.
The girls get $10 a day as pocket money and they started getting paid for their work only last year. Their grandmother gives them $30 to $50 during the weekends.
"It gets very busy over the weekends and some customers can get nasty because they are impatient," said Kai Jun.
The twins also hold down part-time jobs.
Kai Ying recently worked as a retail assistant, while Kai Jun has been a banquet server for the past year. "We don't want to ask our parents for extra money for shopping.
"Besides, I will need to spend more money when I start going to the polytechnic," said Kai Ying.
Madam Lee, who makes about $3,000 a month, said: "It's not easy to make ends meet. Rent and costs are high and we can't just raise prices."
The twins admitted that they used to be poor students but turned over a new leaf after they entered secondary school.
They saw how hard their parents worked and were determined not to suffer as much.
Kai Ying, who is hoping to pursue biomedical science or veterinary technology, said: "I study hard so that I don't have to end up working at the stall in the future."
Added Kai Jun: "Maybe we can start a franchise.
"We hope to earn enough so that our parents don't have to work any more."
Of course, we want to go out and play but I can't bear to see my mother and grandmother, who is already 69, with no one to help them.
- Kai Ying
By The Numbers
30,964 - Number of students who sat the O Levels last year.
Number who passed at least one subject: 30,940 or 99.9 per cent
Number who passed at least three subjects: 29,705 or 95.9 per cent
Number who passed at least five subjects: 25,789 or 83.3 per cent
2,133 - Number of private candidates, of which 89.5 per cent obtained a certificate (at least a Grade 6 in one subject)
20 - Maximum number of points needed to qualify for junior college with L1R5 (language and five relevant subjects)
For polytechnic entry, the L1R2B2 (language, two relevant and two best subjects) score is taken into account
This article was first published on Jan 13, 2015.
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