‘Cikgu Lim’ recalls her stint on St John’s Island

IT HAS been more than half a century since Mrs Lim Siew Yong spent an idyllic two years living and teaching on St John's Island.

But the 84-year-old retiree still fondly recalls collecting seashells by the beach with her husband and son, taking in the fragrant scent of tembusu trees and being greeted as "cikgu" - Malay for teacher - by villagers there.

Her story is one of 80,000 contributed by Singaporeans to SG Heart Map, a cartographical collection of memories of favourite places. So fond are her recollections that she penned a 26-page account of her time on St John's Island.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu paid a visit to Mrs Lim yesterday at her home in Lorong Chuan.

Ms Fu, co-chair of the SG50 Environment and Infrastructure Committee, said that she was moved by Mrs Lim's story, which documents her time befriending the villagers and teaching in a small primary school.

"The story helps us trace a part of our history that is perhaps not so well known to Singaporeans," she said.

St John's Island was formerly a quarantine centre for cholera patients, a holding place for political detainees and later a site for a drug rehabilitation centre.

Mrs Lim's stories shed light on the island's village life then. She and her husband - both teachers - had moved to teach in the Southern Islands in 1962, attracted by the subsidised rent there for spacious and luxurious teachers' quarters, she said.

Mrs Lim was moved by the warmth of the villagers who helped her family move into their new home.

She also loved the tranquillity of the island.

"There were no cars and buses. It was like a little paradise with trees all around you," she added.

The Lims moved back to mainland Singapore in December 1963, so that their then four-year-old son could get a kindergarten education.

SG Heart Map was launched last November and has been collecting stories via its Web portal, contribution booths and roving vans.

The stories will be used to create a giant composite map of the 50 most iconic places, which will be unveiled in November.

Further details will be released later.



This article was first published on May 9, 2015.
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