‘That’s The Story Of My Life’ Feature: ‘Still Working’ By Jessie Seng

‘That’s The Story Of My Life’ was a recent production held in collaboration with the National Library Board. Nine performers were trained by Kamil Haque in the art of staging their personal stories, after which they performed for the public. In this series, we share some of the stories told by the performers.

‘Still Working’, written and performed by Jessie Seng
Inspired by ‘Cooling-off Day’ by Alfian Sa’at

Jessie Seng

Biography: A PG (Pioneer Generation) who loves reading and writing, both of which have influenced her personal development. Perhaps keeping journals of her life journey is her best practice in telling stories. She was with Theatre For Seniors for three years and is presently participating in various NLB’s arts and cultures programs.

*****

(Enters an MRT and is offered a seat.)

Thank you, thank you.

(In Teochew) You think I like being offered this seat here, ah? But I will take the seat anyway since it is offered.

You don’t understand? Ok, speak ang moh….

You know ah, I wish to walk into this train reading my handphone just like you young people…forget about “Mind your steps and the gap.”

I come from a family of PG, Pioneer Generation. I’m a proud PG. My father came to Singapore at the age of 13. He worked as an artisan. My mother came later when my father returned to China to marry her.

They had seven children…too many mouths to feed yah. So growing up my mother worked as an amah with the British families during the 50s and 60s. When the British balik kampong she retired.

When we were old enough to put food on the table, my father retired too. I remember retirement was painful to them. Probably more tiring than working actually. I remember sometimes they complained that they were just sitting around and waiting to die…but I was glad that they had a respite before they passed on.

Life was tough and harsh then.

From my father, I learnt resilience in creative way. And from my mother, life satisfaction. My mother was insistent that I attended an English school to study English, so as to help her communicate with her British bosses. Without that decision, I would never have a good education. My two older sister were cut off from further education because of financial difficulties. I survived the odds from the time I sang “God Save the Queen” to “Negara Ku” to “Majulah Singapura”.

I must say, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

During my working life, there was an event which awakened in me the plight of some PG.

I visited a colleague’s mother’s funeral in a parlour at Sago Lane. She was a samsui woman. One of the many hordes of early immigrant women from China who built this country.

Well, I was there to pay my respects and I remember seeing my friend standing over the body of his mother, and barely inches away, in the same dingy eerie parlour, I saw other bodies lying on wooden planks raised up across two long wooden stools. Candles and joss sticks burning on the floor. He could only afford a cheap funeral for his poor mother. A feeling of bleak gloom and desolation overwhelmed me. Later, I learnt that the Sago Lane parlour was the valley of death for many samsui women. Those women worked till they dropped dead. Literally, in some cases.

In our day, among my contemporaries are some PG who are not better educated. Many of those people were just like those samsui women. They could not afford to sit back and dream, plan and look forward to the next stage of their journey. They were stuck in the mundane level of survival needs.

Today, thank God! I’m on the way in the quest of ‘ageing well’.

Today, I’ve accepted myself as a PGBB…Pioneer Generation Baby Boomer lah.

The saying “a woman is as old/young as she feels” it is a great consolation indeed.

However, I still have the underlying feel of ageing….and so I resort to anti-ageing skincare cosmetics and dyeing my hair. Some of my friends go for cosmetic surgery like face-lifts and surgeries to lift up their drooping eyelids. Some rich ones take bird’s nest, gingseng, tongkat ali and gingko nuts for longevity and youthfulness.

You don’t know what good feeling it is to have someone say, “Oh, but you look young for your age” or “You don’t look like a PG, you look younger”.

A few years back, I applied for senior citizen pass card, the lady at the counter asked me, “Ma’am, are you 62 years old, show me you I/C…oh you look young.” Wow, that was the best birthday gift I received that year.

Growing old in this high-tech first class world sometimes is uncomfortable for me. I hate remembering passwords and pin numbers. Just the other day, I was at the ATM, I forgot my pin numbers…aiyoh lao liow lah.

The government bemoaned the greying of population especially the BB. They keep pushing the retirement age beyond 65….ahaha it means age is just a number to be adjusted anytime! Oh, oh, then I can still carry on working mah.

I read somewhere that the history of mankind is not only the biography of great men and women, but a collective narratives of common men and women. It’s been…I don’t know how many years since that day I was at Sago Lane. I still remember how it changed how I saw life then and how I see life now.

This country, my country was built on the sweat and backs of people like my parents. People like my friend’s mother.

Ooooooh is this Tampines station….wait…wait….

(Exits train.)