Learning > Inspiration

Merdeka Generation: 'Son of Ubi' firmly rooted in the area

While the pioneer leaders were the architects of Singapore, everyday heroes helped build society here. This is another story of our Merdeka Generation, those born in the 1950s who lived and persevered through a tumultuous period.

Cara Wong on 13 Feb 2019

The Straits Times


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From growing up on a poultry farm to seeing high-rise Housing Board blocks being built, Mr Low Ah Sai knows how much the area around Kampung Ubi has changed over the past 50 years.


The 64-year-old easily rattles off the names of the area's former streets, now long gone, and knows what used to be on the site where HDB blocks now stand.


"My roots have grown deep into the soil here, I can't run away," he said with a laugh. After all, he was born in Ubi and has lived in the area all his life.


The youngest of four children, Mr Low began life on a Kampung Ubi farm located near where Geylang Police Station is now.


He grew up helping his parents on their 2ha farm, rearing chickens, ducks and pigs, and growing vegetables. His life revolved so much around the farm that his mother did not want him to apply for a passport, he said. "She told me, why go through all that trouble? It's not like you're going to go anywhere."


He recalled how he had to sneak out of the house to get his passport done when he was in his 20s.


Things changed in the mid-1970s, when the area was redeveloped and the family had to give up the farm, moving into a nearby HDB flat.


With little education - he had dropped out of school after Primary 6 - Mr Low became a lorry driver, and then a bus conductor.


He married his elder sister's colleague, and the couple moved into another HDB flat in the area, and had three children.


Life changed when he was just 34 years old. One night in 1988, he crashed into some shophouses while driving a bus. The next day, his badly injured left arm had to be amputated.


"It was only when I woke up that I realised my arm was gone," he said.


"When I returned home, I would secretly cry at night."


Mr Low's youngest child, a son, was then less than a year old.


After the accident, he and his wife swopped roles - she became the breadwinner, working in different factories, while he became a house husband, doing the chores and caring for the children.


"We had to make it work with just $450 a month for all five of us. But I'm thankful my wife was hardworking, she didn't complain."


The family made do with the bare minimum, said Mr Low. "But my children were very good; even as their friends were eating fast food like KFC, they knew we could not afford it and they didn't ask."


To supplement the family income, he took on odd jobs such as working as a helper for an ice-cream seller.


His wife retired in the late 2000s, after his four grandchildren were born. His two older daughters, now aged 36 and 34, are married. Only his son, who is 32, still lives with the couple in their Eunos Crescent flat.


With his children grown up, Mr Low found himself with more spare time, which he spends meeting friends and on his hobby of collecting items such as phone cards.


He has also found joy in volunteering. This started in 2010, when an activity centre for the elderly, Shan You Wellness Community, opened just down the road from his home. Curious, Mr Low walked over to check it out on its opening day.


"They said they were giving out free food to the elderly, so I sneaked in and tried to get the free food too," he said. "I was about 50-plus then, so I thought why not? I wasn't working, and I should qualify as an elderly soon," he added.


He approached the centre's workers to get a free meal but they saw he was well and fit, and said he could help out at the centre.


Now, Mr Low not only spends time with the elderly there, but also helps with administrative chores, like setting up the tables and chairs or being the "tour guide" when the elderly go on outings. He spends whole days at the centre, which is open from 9am to 6pm on weekdays, and half day on Saturdays.


Ms Jennifer Lee, Shan You's communications manager, said Mr Low is often the first person to be at the centre and the last one to leave.


"He told me that helping people is very easy, whether it's with one hand or two hands. As long as you have the heart to do it, it's all fine," said Ms Lee, 44.


Mr Low said: "My friends asked if there was any money involved in it, and they didn't believe me when I said there wasn't.


"They said only a silly man would do such things for free, but I think it's important to do such things for the community."


Mr Low, who now walks instead of cycles to the centre, intends to keep helping out there.


"I just live life day by day and be happy. It's good to have things to do, time passes very fast.


"I'll do this for as long as I can."


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.



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