Take 5 – 25 July 2016 by Mr Marcus Quek
Good morning Mdm Tan, Mr Lee, colleagues and Gessians. It is my pleasure to deliver this morning’s Take 5.
Allow me to share with you a group of people who epitomises RESILIENCE which impacted me over the years.
When I was in Primary school, my form teacher taught us to appreciate the people who helped build our schools, hospitals, libraries etc. during a school trip. They were a group of women known as the Samsui women.
Samsui women, also known as hong tou jin (红头巾; Mandarin for “red headscarf”) after their trademark red headgear, were female immigrants mainly from the Sanshui (“Samsui” in Cantonese; meaning “three waters”) district of Canton (Guangdong today) province in southern China.
They started arriving in Singapore in large numbers in the mid-1930s and many found work as general labourers in the construction industry. They were hired to carry building materials and clear debris and a typical workday involved waking up before dawn to prepare their breakfast-cum-lunch and then assembling with other samsui women to go to work.
Samsui women usually began their workday at 8 am. The work was physically demanding: They dug soil and carried earth, debris and building materials in buckets hung from shoulder poles. They do not have the luxury of machinery to help them with their work. Work only ended at about 5 to 6 pm, after which the women went home to prepare their dinner using wood gathered for fuel.
For such demanding work, we would expect them to have a heavy dinner right? Not really. Their meals were sparse and usually consisted of cooked rice, some bean cheese and just a bit of pickled or fresh vegetables.
Despite the demanding working conditions, Samsui women displayed RESILIENCE in every aspects of their lives. They went to work day after day, laying brick after brick all the way into the 1980s.
They were also very thrifty, as their main purpose for coming to Singapore was to earn money to send back to their families in China. Hence from sharing accommodations to repairing damaged clothes themselves, samsui women were determined to save every cent they earned. They would also go to Upper Chin Chew Street (which they called tau fu kai, Cantonese for “beancurd street”, after the beancurd shops in the area) to find work on an ad-hoc basis, for which they were usually paid 50 to 60 cents a day. They generally made their way to work on foot to save money. The footwear they typically wore were pieces of rubber cut out from used tyres, which they made into sandals by adding straps.
It made me reflect that even though most Samsui women did not receive much education, they are able to demonstrate resilience in their lives by not giving in to the hardships (which is doing the right). Now in today’s context, let us ask ourselves the following:
• How do we, as a generation, match up to our forefathers who had built the nation?
• Can we be as tough and resilient as them?
• Instead of forging on, do we often find excuses for ourselves whenever we chose to give up?
• And lastly, have we grown “soft” from the comforts of life? (Eg: No air-con, cannot study)
GESSIANS, I urged you to reflect upon the questions I just posed. You DO have the resilience in you which is constantly observed being demonstrated in your passions, such as your CCAs. All you need is to remind yourself that you have that value and it is up to you to apply it in all aspects of your life conscientiously.
And in the spirit of the never-say-die attitude, ONWARD!