Film / Book Reviews

A legacy of faith – Tales of a Chinatown boy

Ng Fook Kah is a well-loved member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church. In his autobiography, “Journeys of an Octogenarian”, 89-year old Ng writes of the people and events that have shaped his life.

Journeys” is written with candour, describing people and experiences with touching honesty. Calling it a “people story”, Ng­ (known as ‘Papa’ to many) plays storyteller to his family and friends as he weaves their stories into his own.

A youth spent in hardship and turmoil

Ng was born in 1932, in Chinatown’s infamous Sago Lane, known for its “death houses”.  As a young boy, he lived among coffin makers and undertakers, rickshaw pullers, lion dancers and Chinese opera troupes. The sights and sounds of funeral processions and Chinese rituals were familiar to the Chinatown “street urchin” who lived just four doors from these death houses. Grandma was a “sew-sew woman” who fixed buttons for a living; grandpa was kepala (chief) in the Carpentry Section of the Singapore Municipality, while father was a plain-clothes mata gelab (detective).

Ng lived through some of Singapore’s most tumultuous times—the Japanese Occupation, British colonial rule and Singapore’s transition to independence. During the Japanese Occupation, Ng worked as an apprentice blacksmith in a Japanese factory, “pushing bellows day in and day out” at a furnace, till he almost went “berserk”. Events in later years left a deep impression on Ng, including the fire at Bukit Ho Swee in 1961, which destroyed lives and homes, but miraculously, left him and his home unscathed.

A student in Raffles Institution (RI) (Class of 1950), he was a determined young man who joined the RI Cadet Corps, trying hard to “come alongside the elite class of 1947”. He later graduated from New Zealand’s Otago University Dunedin as a Colombo Plan Scholar, and was awarded a Fulbright Visiting Scholarship. In recognition of his service to Singapore, he was later conferred the Public Administration Medal, Silver (1975), Public Service Medal (1982), and Public Service Star (1989) by the Presidents of the Republic of Singapore. In addition, as a grassroots leader in Ulu Pandan Constit­uency, he was awarded the Long Service Medals (Bronze and Silver).

Ng also recalls happy times like watching his first English movie “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” at Roxy Cinema with a Magnolia ice-cream, owning his first car and meeting his sweetheart Anne Wong, who was a teacher like him.

Ng’s father had high hopes for his son to be a “modernised undertaker entrepreneur” in the lucrative undertaker industry in 1948. Unmoved by the prospects of success and wealth, Ng chose a career in education instead. This was a decision that led him to people who impacted his life greatly.

God’s connections

Anne was a student at Fairfield Methodist Girls’ School. It was through Anne’s classmate, Daisy Yim, that Ng and Anne were introduced to KKMC in 1952. With deep gratitude, he recalls what he considers “divine appointment”, when Daisy’s father, the late Yip Weng Fatt, led them to worship at KKMC. It is here that the “Chinatown lad and lassie” first ‘met’ God and were baptised on Palm Sunday in 1955.

As young Christians, Ng and Anne experienced the “turning point” in their lives, when they joined the Tiong Bahru LifeGroup. Here, they were “shaped, piloted and anchored by the Word of God”. He recalls that his life had been given “a new lease in the tapestry of love”. The love they felt from the LifeGroup was the catalyst to a vibrant life of service for God.

Ng and Anne also cherished the loving and warm fellowship in their Adult Sunday School Group, one of the earliest LifeGroups at KKMC. He has fond memories of him and his family traveling to KKMC with fellow church members, in a private bus specially chartered for Tiong Bahru residents. Three years after joining KKMC, Ng was baptised. Ng and Anne married in 1961, and in 2011, they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Rev E.S. Lau (father of Earnest Lau) is fondly remembered for officiating two momentous events in Ng’s life in KKMC: his baptism and marriage.  The couple were blessed with three lovely and God-loving daughters—Rebecca, Gracia and Rosita, of whom he is extremely proud.

Following in their parents’ footsteps, Rebecca and Gracia pursued successful careers in the education service. Ng’s eldest daughter Rebecca is a school principal, and conductor of KKMC’s children’s choir, while her husband, Andrew Chew was also a leading figure in the education service. Gracia is now in a mission field in Southeast Asia. His third daughter, Rosita, is a lawyer who is active in the arts.

Not all was rosy in Ng’s life, however. He recalls, with profound sadness, the death of his mother after giving birth to his youngest brother, and his being away at university in New Zealand when his father passed away in 1957. Perhaps his most painful moment was the passing of his beloved Anne. In his eulogy at Anne’s wake, Ng shared that he asked for God to grant him three wishes before Anne died—for her to have her favourite chilli crabs, celebrate his 80th birthday and their 60th wedding anniversary. Unfazed when none of his wishes were granted, Ng used this opportunity to glorify God who told him that, “Your way is not my way”, and that “(your) citizenship is in heaven”. Such was the faith of this man, who continued to love and serve God fervently.

Ng served in many ministries at KKMC, including the Mandarin Ministry, the Seniors Ministry and LifeGroup Ministry. He was a local preacher and was also a member of the TRAC Board of Seniors Ministry. He was among the pioneering leaders in The Boys Brigade, teaching Bible study in Raffles Institution. In a moving message to The Boys’ Brigade 60th Company in 2013, he urged the boys to “stand in stark contrast to all in Singapore as righteous persons”.

Ng recalls the miraculous beginnings of the KKMC Mandarin Ministry in 1985. As new residents settled in the Little India neighbourhood, Ng and fellow church leaders prayed for opportunities to reach out to them. With God’s help, they made the bold decision to start a Mandarin ministry, even though there were no Mandarin-speaking leaders then! Today, KKMC’s vibrant Mandarin Ministry is a testament to God’s love and providence.

A record of God’s handiwork

As the chapters draw to a close, we see a bigger picture beyond Ng’s life story. “Journeys of an Octogenarian” is a record of God’s handiwork, a time capsule of his miracles and lessons, to be remembered and applied even to our own lives.

The last page is read, but Papa Fook Kah continues to thank and praise God for each day of his “sweet, sweet, life”. This book of life’s lessons is an inspiration for us, to live for God and keep the fire going for future generations. May God’s unfailing love be proclaimed in our lives, as “One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4).

If you would like a copy of the e-book, please write to Ng Fook Kah and his family to request for a copy at ngfookkah89@gmail.com.

Grad-Pic-Otago-Uni
Graduation at Otago University
Ng-Anne-2013
Ng & Anne, 2013
Boys-Brigade-top
Guest-of-Honour at Boys' Brigade 22nd Anniversary
Breakfast-with-Love
Breakfast with Love

Corinne Tan worships at Kampong Kapor Methodist Church. Photos from the book, Journeys of an Octogenarian, are reproduced with permission.

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