Learning > Nostalgia

Samsui Woman

Ng Moey Chye - Samsui Woman


Publisher: National Heritage Board


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At 81 years old, Ms. Ng does not allow her age to slow her down. She continues to support herself by collecting used cardboard, and once a week she will make her way to the Apex Club of Singapore’s food distribution point to receive a package that includes vegetable and bread. She prefers to see the silver linings in her life and is grateful for her health and the young volunteers for helping the elderly. “Society still has a heart,” she says.



It may be hard to imagine 85-year-old Ms. Ng Moey Chye carting bricks up a construction site. In her younger days, however, Ng would awake at dawn and walk from her quarters at Chinatown to Collyer Quay. There, she would carry out a multitude of tasks that is typically carried out by heavy machinery today at construction sites across Singapore.



Born in Singapore in 1932, Ng was given up for adoption by her parents and never went to school. After witnessing the unhappy marriage of a childhood friend, Ng chose to become a Samsui woman, prizing her independence above everything else.



Samsui women were so-called as the movement originated from the county of Sanshui (Samsui in Cantonese) in Guangdong Province, where women dominated the workforce during a silk industry boom in the mid-19th century. Wearing a distinctive red headscarf or hong toujin (红头巾), the Samsui women were a sisterhood of mainly Cantonese or Hakka women who took a vow of chastity and supported themselves through manual labour.



Hale and hearty even in retirement, Ng now lives in a flat in Redhill and collects used cardboard for sale.


C3A thanks Mdm Ng Moey Chye for permission to use this article.

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