Butterfly in the strong wind

June 10, 2008

By Huang Chih Mei

As a child, my husband and his family used to live in a magnificent villa right next to the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, formerly known as Wan Qing Yuan. The already demolished villa with a big compound was built by their grand father who was a medical doctor trained in the University of Edinburg. However, they had to move to a 3-room flat in Toa Payoh with their mother after their father left them due to his own folly resulted in subsequent financial difficulties. Siok Chin was then only 2 years old.

I heard stories from my mother-in-law that Siok Chin addressed her own father as “uncle” when she first met him at their grand father’s funeral which got him really mad. But she never knew how her father looked like until that very encounter.

When she attended the nearby PAP kindergarten, my husband Soon Juan, being 4 years older than Siok Chin, was frequently the one assigned by their mother to walk her to school. These two younger siblings of the family do share common interests in many things such as reading, sports, religion, political conviction, and now their fate in the ultimate baptism of fire – imprisonment.

When I visited Soon Juan in jail during his previous prison terms, Siok Chin always told me to bring our kids to see her in jail when it’s her turn. She was prepared, as it seems to be unavoidable eventually for those who have determined to stay on the cause of fighting for freedom and injustice in Singapore.

For Siok Chin, one of her main worries in going to jail was how to inform her elderly mother and whether she would be able to cope with the reality that 2 of her children are jailed at the same time. Unlike Siok Chin, her brother tends to get away from the usual motherly berating. When inquired by my mother-in-law about what happened in court with Lee Kuan Yew, he told her, “Mr Lee asked me, how…your mother?”

A caring daughter, Siok Chin repeatedly reminded me that her mother’s birthday falls during the period of her jail term and whether I could arrange something on her behalf.

For a long time before she stepped into the opposition political scene, I knew Siok Chin was seriously hoping to be able to adopt a little girl, in addition to her monthly sponsorship to a school-age boy in Africa. She is a great aunt to my 3 kids, but she loves children and I think it’s natural for her to want to have a child of her own. She checked on the information on oversea orphanages, and the laws and regulations regarding adoption in Singapore. In the process, she was often frustrated by the procedure and the prospect of an unmarried woman becoming a single adoptive mother.

Not long ago, when I curiously asked her about that adoption dream, she smiled wirily and told me that she has no dreams for herself nowadays.

I cringed whenever the local newspapers published the most distasteful and unflattering photos of Siok Chin, portraying her as angry and aggressive. Their portrayal is the exact opposite of the Siok Chin I know – a real woman with a strong sense of justice and a beautiful heart.

Dr Huang Chih Mei is Dr Chee Soon Juan’s wife and Ms Chee Siok Chin’s sister-in-law. Ms Chee is presently serving her 10-day jail sentence for contempt of Singapore’s judiciary in Changi Women’s Prison.

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