The Uplifting Changi Murals and Stanley Warren

In 1958, there was an international search for a mysterious artist. The only clue was that the artist was a prisoner of war in Singapore after the Fall of Singapore in February 1942, which was described by Winston Churchill as the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history.

Five large murals of scenes from the New Testament were discovered in Changi prisoner of war camp in Singapore. These murals touched many hearts and shocked the world. Who was the artist who painted the near life-size murals in the chapel of St. Luke there? Who was the artist who yearned for hope and peace in the darkest days of despair through his biblical paintings?

Last week, Lorelle vanFossen highlighted an extensive search using satellite images in Google Earth for the aviator and balloonist Steve Fossett, after he was reported missing flying his plane over the Nevada desert in 2007. In the non-digital age in 1958, the search for the prisoner-of-war artist proved difficult. He could have been any of the 50,000 allied soldiers detained by the Japanese. Was the artist British, Australian, Dutch, or Indian? Was he still alive? Did he later get sent to build the Death Railway in Thailand and Burma and manage to return? Continue reading

Changi stones and Prisoners of War in Singapore

My reader Hazel Bateman left a moving comment in my story of a British veteran who served in Singapore in 1955. Hazel’s eloquent comment made a compelling story of the World War Two:

“(…In Southampton), my mother went down to greet a ship bearing soldiers who had been Japanese prisoners of war. These men were in a dreadful state when they disembarked and were greeted with stunned silence. My mother never bought anything which had been manufactured in Japan for the rest of her life.”

From the comment by Hazel Bateman on 5 November 2013.

Continue reading

Story of a British veteran’s Pingat Jasa medal from Malaysia

In the past two months, my blog was transformed into a Jungle Warfare zone for a brutal war that happened before I was born. My posts about Malayan Emergency from 1948-1960 since the death of the Communist guerrilla leader Chin Peng received interesting feedback. In How much was Chin Peng worth? my reader Ruby left this comment:

“My father fought in the Malaysian uprising (on the British side). Well, he spent his National Service in Singapore; not sure he did much actual fighting. He got a medal for it recently – from the Malaysian government.”

From the comment by Ruby on 20 September 2013.

This comment was too good to believe for any blogger. With Ruby’s help, now I’ve got an intriguing story from a British veteran who served in Malaya in 1955. Continue reading

Recommending 3 inspiring Chinese culture blogs

Today I am going to share with you three sites that I visit frequently about Chinese languages and culture. In my blog, I have talked about my experiences in Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and in England, and my family ties with the mainland China. I have moved from many places. I now eat more pasta than rice. I am known by my English name. However, my connection with my root is still strong. I enjoy reading stories about other people’s Chinese experiences. I read for pleasures, and I also read to be educated.

Surprisingly, most Chinese related sites I visit are written by people living outside of China, or visitors to China. I am attracted to people with an outsider’s experiences, and as a permanent outsider myself, I always find their stories or perspectives fascinating. Continue reading

A rather messy war in Britain during Halloween

In the past two months, since the death of the Malayan communist leader Chin Peng on the 16th of September, I have written nine challenging posts about Communism and the brutal jungle war in Malaya and the suffering of the Batang Kali children who travelled without a suitcase. These are challenging to me because I had never set out to write about major historical conflicts on my blog. When I started blogging in English less than two years ago, I had never anticipated that one day I would handle such a sensitive and emotional subject, as the pains of the Batang Kali children are still clearly felt though Communism is already dead in Malaysia.

While I am still reading about the Malaysian history during the Malayan Emergency period while reading War of the Running Dogs: Malaya, 1948-1960 by Noel Barber, and Jungle Green by Arthur Campbell, I have also noticed the change of the season. The warm summer has faded into a rather chilly autumn. In Britain, our clocks moved one hour backwards on the last Sunday in October. It delighted me last weekend as I felt I had earned one extra hour’s sleep. Continue reading

Batang Kali: The voyage without a suitcase

Lim Ah Yin still remembered vividly the evening of the 11th of December in 1948. That was the turning point of her life as a 11-year-old child. Her childhood ended on that day.

Lim Ah Yin’s father was taken away by the British troops, and was shot dead the following day in Batang Kali of Malaya during the Malayan Emergency. Her mother, who was eight months’ pregnant, was spared. However, when Lim Ah Yin first heard of the gunshots, she thought British soldiers had killed her mother. She was distraught. “What about me and my little sisters?” Lim Ah Yin loved her sisters. Continue reading

Batang Kali: Story of a dispersed family

LIM Kok used to be running around the rubber plantation where his father worked in Batang Kali in Malaya. His father Lim Tian Swee was a proud man. He drove a lorry. Every early morning when it was still dark, he would pick up his workers from the rustic villages nearby to take them to collect rubber latex in the plantation. For other workers, Lim Tian Swee was their supervisor, so he was nicknamed Lam Kow, an honorific name for ‘the head’. One day, the nine-year-old Lim Kok did not jump onto his father’s lorry for a trip to the plantation. A day later, Lim Kok’s uncle told him that his father had died.

He was beheaded. Continue reading

Batang Kali: “Heaven knows the truth.”

A Chinese tear-a-page calendar is hanged on the wall in Chong Koon Ying’s front room. The much cherished traditional Chinese lunar calendar informs her of Chinese festivals such as the New Year, Dragon Boat Festival and Tomb Sweeping Festival. Last year, when I visited my mother in Singapore, I also saw a similar Chinese Lunar Calendar on the wall in the kitchen, even though my mother is illiterate and she could not possibly understand the Chinese characters embedded in the calendar.

People of a certain age are particularly fond of the Chinese lunar calendar. It relates to their culture and tradition. It reminds them of their ancestors’ ways of life thousands of years ago. Traditional people observe the rules set out in the calendar in their everyday life, from farming, entertaining guests, travelling, moving furniture to worshiping ancestors. By adhering to the rules, Chinese people feel attached to their root, usher in happiness, and avoid misfortunes. Continue reading

Batang Kali: Inspiration from a historian

When the writer Mr QUEK Jin Teck moved to a new village called Ulu Yam in Selangor in Malaysia in 2005, he was trying to retreat from a hectic life as a social activist, and was ready to retire due to his ill health. Mr Quek was a historian with 9 major books into Malaysian history, including the War of Resistance against Japan in Malaya and his research into Lai Teck the Spy (马新抗日史料: 神秘莱特).

However, with a twist of fate, Mr Quek did not retire quietly. Instead, he shouldered a massive burden in 2008, culminating in a moving campaign in Malaysia to bring justice home to the families whose fathers and sons were brutally killed by the British troops, on the 11th or 12th of December 1948, six months after the 12-year Malayan Emergency was launched. Continue reading

“No Woman, No Cry”: A mother’s torturous road to justice

When I did an introductory arts course with the Open University a few years ago, one of the modern arts we analysed was Chris Ofili’s No Woman, No Cry painting. Chris Ofili is also known as the “Elephant Dung Artist,” as he created his work using elephant dung, including one inspired by the grief of the parents of Stephen Lawrence.

I arrived in London on a grey day in May 1996 and Stephen Lawrence was the name I constantly heard during the years I was trying to grips with the British culture. “Who was Stephen Lawrence?” As a foreign student I often wondered who this fine young man was and how his murder rocked the nation. The murder of Stephen Lawrence dominated the press for two decades. Continue reading