An Amah Says Farewell

amah-and-washing_smAn Amah in Singapore in the 1960s multi-tasking to dry the clothings after the laundry while a sarong tied to her back to look after her charge.

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Many of my Britbrat friends who were brought up by Amahs in Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s.

Tim Light shares his memories of  “1960s Singapore Amahs blog”  here

Shona Trench with her Amah2_sm

At the “Good Morning Yesterday” blog ,  a Britbrat Shona Trench would like to contact her amah Chew Joo Keng (Margaret). Shona writes:

“Hello, I am a British expat, living in Singapore now for four years, with my husband and two teenage children. I was born here in 1961, as my father was a photographer in the RAF and was based at RAF Seletar. I just wondered if you would be able to help me?

An Amah Says Farewell

While digging through old memories and newspaper articles at NewspaperSG,  I chanced this report in The Singapore Free Press dated 5 May, 1951.

Bee Wickerson writes from England:

Standing on the deck of the trooper that was to take me away from Singapore and home to England, I stared across the waters of the Singapore roads to where the lights of the city winked rather solemnly at me.  I wondered when next I should see it all.

A steward appeared in front of me and presented a slip of paper.  Curiously I looked at it, reading with growing astonishment, my own name and that of the ship.  I looked up with the obvious question hovering, and I saw Ah Seon.

It had been Chinese New Year and my own embarkation hurriedly put forward a day; and therefore my farewells to my amahs had not taken place.

Off they had gone to their feasting and merry-making, expecting to find me still in the house on their return.  But, when they had returned, I had already gone.

Yet Ah Seon had a tenacious nature.  She had made enquiries and ascertained that the ship was not actually sailing until the following day and that we were lying out overnight.

Whatever the cost, she had made up her mind that she would find us.

I shall never forget her as I saw her standing there on the deck before me.  A sad, white-faced woman, clutching her woven basket and her neatly rolled, black umbrella, she swayed slightly against a sudden lurch of the ship.

“I come, Mem.” she said.  “I no say bye-bye to John and Jane.”

“Come and see the children.” I cried.  “They are little sakit.  And first a taxi, Changi, Singapore.”

I gave her a seat and she sat down to gaze longingly at Jane as the baby stirred gently in her bunk.  I had no heart for discipline and routine.

“Pick her up, Ah Seon,” I said.  Before I had ceased speaking, Jane was being rocked in Amah’s arms, being crooned to in a soft Chinese harmony; and she was laughing, delighted to see Ah Seon.

Trying to waken John was another sort of task.  He was too tired after a long day and turned over sleepily.  Sadly Ah Seon murmured,  “Never mind … Night, night, John.  Tomorrow I no see you.”

Then it was time for Ah Seon to leave as she make her way home.  There was quite a swell when she made a shaky descent from the ship into the launch that was tossing and pitching in the churning water below us.

She turned at the bottom of the gangway and waved slowly.  I admit to a hot pricking behind my eyes as I replied to her farewell salute.

She threw her basket on to the launch and her umbrella.  Her spot clean samfu was spattered with spray as the launch bumped brutally against the ship’s side and then she jumped, landing fair and square, and hurried beneath the shelter of the small craft.

She had gone.  Across the waters came the faint chug chug of the petrol engine, and I believe I heard, “Bye Bye Mem.”

“Goodbye, Ah Seon,” I said, “and thank you.”

I was amazed, and wondered anew at the determination and the enterprise that had been my Amah’s farewell.

(Source:  NewspaperSG)

Returning from the ship to Collyer Quay in a sampan.

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Photo Credit:  Stone Family collection with thanks.

2 thoughts on “An Amah Says Farewell

  1. How sad – I wonder if any of the family ever went back in later years and found her? We did with our Amah and still keep in contact after she died with her children and their families in fact the family saw them this Summer in Singapore!

  2. Thank you for sharing your memories of your Amah and contact with her family in Singapore, Sharon Evans-Campbell. Best regards.

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