Ker Pog Ngoh Session 2 Interview

In this second session of her interview, Ker Pog Ngoh discusses her early childhood, her family’s socioeconomic status, and her views of traditional gender roles, inter-ethnic tensions, and the Communist movement, from the 1950s to the present.

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This transcript is part of a group of transcripts.

Ker Pog Ngoh briefly discusses her childhood pastimes, enjoying treats and watching early television shows from abroad such as Tom and Jerry, at her neighbors’ place. She notes that the government strongly encouraged people to pursue home ownership through HDB flats, and that her family upgraded homes twice by the 1970s.

She then turns her discussion towards her personal encounters with the Communist movement. While she admits to being unfamiliar with the term “Cold War”, she shares how both her brothers who were educated at Chinese schools came to be influenced by Maoist thoughts. They were opposed to the ruling PAP government and tried to convince their parents to support the Chinese Communist movement by purchasing goods from China and to vote for opposition politicians. While their parents did accede to the first, they still supported the PAP. Ker recalls that her parents also quarreled about their sons’ Communist leanings after the oldest was arrested for protesting. Her older brothers were born in Malaysia prior to Separation, and were required to serve in the military to gain Singapore citizenship, which her oldest brother wanted to avoid.

Her family’s unfortunate encounters with the authorities as a result of her brothers’ Communist activism marred her views of the ideology. She grew to see it as a system that encouraged adherents to do “improper” things that disrupt the peace of the society. She also recalls the 1964 racial riots between the Chinese and Malay communities. As she had grown up in a fully Chinese village, she did not understand the Malay community that was clashing with the Chinese. However, her friends who lived in more ethnically diverse villages noted having amicable ties with the Malays.

Ker then discusses the issue of gender norms in the 1960s and beyond, explaining how when she was younger, she accepted the hierarchical relations between men and women, believing that males were more intelligent than females because they performed better at the sciences. These views persisted even though she herself had pursued a career in the auxiliary police and security industry as an administrative staff member. These views changed only in more recent times, long after her marriage, where she now sees both genders as equal. She contrasts this with her mother’s generation, when families had inadequate access to birth control, even as the government pushed for citizens to use protection; such that the birth of her sister was an unplanned pregnancy that her mother could not terminate. Ker’s reflections thus show that while Singapore was within the orbit of the Cold War, the Cold War did not singularly dominate social life in the country.

Transcriptionist: Yong Jie Li Jeremy

Interviewee: Ker Poh Ngoh 

Interviewer: Yong Jie Li Jeremy 

Session: 2 of 2

Location: Choa Chu Kang Avenue 4

Date: September 30, 2019


Q: Can you tell me what your parents worked as?

Ker: My mother didn’t work. Oh, she do some wash clothing. After a few times, she gave up, she say very tiring. Washer woman. She went to houses wash clothes for family. The clothing are very thick, the labourer clothing, very tiring [to wash].

Q: How much did your father earn?

Ker: Hundred plus. 

Q: A month?

Ker: Ya. Can feed a whole family. Not really a lot but enough for us to survive, but not full in a way that really full up, able to go on with life. During our young, very greedy, want to eat something, have something but couldn’t. 

Q: What were some things you wanted when you were young?

Ker: Luxury thing. I remember Nescafé, somebody give us, treat as so precious, hen hao he [nice to drink]. My mum make Kopi O [black coffee traditionally served in Singapore], more fragrant. – Nescafé more like western style, have not tested before, so luxury. 

Q: What other luxury items did you want?

Ker: When we’re young, we’re not influenced, no T.V. Our house is common corridor, two doors facing each other. We open the door because we want to feel more air. So it happens when we saw the door open, they watching T.V., we stand outside corridor.

Q: Whose? 

Ker: Somebody house. 

Q: Someone who has T.V.?

Ker: Ya. They open their doors. Not only I, a lot of children stand like that. If we make a lot of noise, they close the door, watch halfway. 

Q: Growing up you had no T.V. What about radio?

Ker: Radio–no. Radio only when in Geylang, one whole family subscribe then. But all this in dialect, Mandarin. English [programmes] I never heard [was available] because nobody understand [the language]. When we shifted to Dakota Crescent, my neighbour is Indian, they had T.V. Black and white. After dinner, go to the house, sit down, watch Tamil, Hindu. We don’t understand still enjoy. 

Q: Even in Dakota Crescent, you did not have T.V.

Ker: No, only much later. 

Q: How much later? When you were in your twenties?

Ker: No. Secondary school. 

Q: Around the mid-1960s?

Ker: Ya. I was so happy, everyday watch cartoons. 

Q: What cartoons did you watch?

Ker: Tom and Jerry.

Q: What language was Tom and Jerry in?

Ker: English. 

Q: Did you understand it?

Ker: We only follow action, don’t understand. 

Q: What other cartoons did you watch?

Ker: Only Tom and Jerry. 

Q: Were there other shows did you watch?

Ker: In Cantonese, those Hong Kong movie.

Q: You said you were happy when you watched T.V. Why?

Ker: That was the only form of entertainment we have. No other entertainment. 

Q: Were there a lot of people who had T.V.s in the 1960s?

Ker: Not many. Because we stay in the housing estate, more people are staying. It’s not a necessity. People got spare money then they buy. Fridge is a must. 

Q: Did you have a fridge?

Ker: My Dakota Crescent–yes, Geylang—no. My mother go market every day. 

Q: Were there a lot of people moving into these sorts of H.D.B. flats [Housing Development Board] at the time?

Ker: Yes. 

Q: Why did that happen?

Ker: They scared of fire, so they feel safer, they much favour. Every time on the run for fire. 

Q: After secondary school did you go to other schools?

Ker: No. Work for government. 

Q: You shifted to Upper Boon Keng in the 1970s?

Ker: I think late sixties. Because it’s also rented. 

Q: Why did you rent the space?

Ker: They never said sell. The government borrow. Only later on then they encourage you to buy. Only later Lee Kuan Yew encourage you to buy a house. 

Q: How did Lee Kuan Yew encourage people to buy houses. 

Ker: –

Ker: My mother protest [for the release of the son who had been arrested], my father come back, wah, very big quarrel. Scold and scold. 

Q: Can you tell me about that argument?

Ker: My father scold her, “Why you go and–“ Then argue. 

Q: Your mother was organized by the Comm–

Ker: They instruct her to do this, to go and protest. 

Q: Did she contact them after she was released?

Ker: That one I don’t know, I don’t think so. She didn’t go. Maybe quarrel with my father then stop. 

Q: Do you think that your parents influenced certain beliefs you had [about] the world?

Ker: You say that, but my brother influenced my parent to buy thing from China. It’s the other way leh. My two brother keep on asking my [parents], to elect the opposition. Don’t vote P.A.P.! The two son influence the parent. 

Q: Did your parents listen to them?

Ker: Voting, no. But some of the thing they buy, made in China. 

Q: What sorts of things were made in China that you could buy?

Ker: Toothpaste, toothbrush, towel. 

Q: These are everyday items?

Ker: Yes, necessary [sic]. 

Q: What’s so interesting about these products? Have you seen them?

Ker: They’re cheap. China product cheaper. 

Q: Did they look different?

Ker: Different don’t know, we just use it. My parent bought, we use. 

Q: If I were to present you a toothbrush that was made somewhere else–

Ker: –When young, I don’t know, whatever is available we use. 

Q: Which was the opposition party at this time? 

Ker: Communist, the star, Xia Ding. The Communist is the star logo. Li Xiao Zhuo. Li Xiu Zhuo.  

Q: Can you describe the opposition for me?

Ker: I know the Communist got one star logo. I think so. Pass away, very old already. 

Q: What year was this election?

Ker: Every election, ask my mother to vote this. 

Q: 1960s to 1970s?

Ker: Ya.  

Q: Do you remember some of the events in Singapore where Communism were very popular, [like in] politics?

Ker: My brothers’ time–schools. Got a lot of people join. 

Q: What sorts of people joined them? 

Ker: Those Chinese school. They very influenced by Chinese. 

Q: What about other races or ethnicities?

Ker: In English school, I hardly heard there are Communists. My two brother is from Chinese school. 

Q: What were some events where the Communists were very popular? One event was election?

Ker: Ya, election, they come and talk. 

Q: What did they talk about?

Ker: I don’t know, when I young I hardly go out. No T.V., no news, no radio, I hardly know about the world. 

Q: Do you know about the other events where Communists appeared?

Ker: The roadside, where Communists arrested by the police. I hear this slogan, “Xia ding jue xin, bu pa xi sheng,” They not afraid of sacrifice. 

Q: Can you explain what this slogan means?

Ker: They are determined not to be, they are decided, not afraid of sacrifices. Willing to sacrifice themselves.  

Q: For?

Ker: Don’t know. They just say. They make up their mind, not afraid of sacrifices. 

Q: How do you think they can sacrifice themselves for the Communists? 

Ker: They get arrested they also sacrifice. 

Q: What do you think they were arrested for?

Ker: I don’t know. Maybe they destroy something. 

Q: Which government was this? 

Ker: I think Lee Kuan Yew?

Q: So the 1960s?

Ker: Ya. 

Q: Were these arrests at the roadside common?

Ker: During the Communists. 

Q: Did you see them?

Ker: I saw once. 

Q: Did you hear about them?

Ker: This word?

Q: About them getting arrested. 

Ker: We don’t have. We don’t have newspaper, T.V., radio. 

Q: When you saw this event, how did it occur to you? How did you chance upon this event? Where were you?

Ker: A lot of people gather to look. They were arrested, go into the police car, then they say this slogan. Maybe they try to encourage among their people. Among their own people, they encourage.  

Q: Did you feel encouraged?

Ker: No. I’m not really like Communists. Maybe because my brother was one of them, I don’t like. Because of them, my mother got arrested. They don’t bring peace to the country, destroy things. 

Q: When you were growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, what did you think the Communists would do to the country?

Ker: They create havoc. There’s no peace. Every day like destroy the public property, traffic light, police car they also. 

Q: Did your brother take part in this, so get arrested?

Ker: Yes, destroy the traffic light, my eldest brother. 

Q: How did you know about this? Did he tell you?

Ker: When he arrested, the policeman say. 

Q: What about your younger brother?

Ker: Someone told him, he pack, take everything run. 

Q: That [second] brother was arrested–

Ker: –No. Second not caught. 

Q: Only one brother was jailed.

Ker: Ya. One policeman came to our house, search our house. Couldn’t find anything, couldn’t find my brother. 

Q: Growing up, what was your impression like of [Communists]?

Ker: I don’t know what is Communist mean. They just against the government. 

Q: When was the first time that you heard about the term ‘Communist’?

Ker: When my brother was arrested. Then slowly I came to know. I had a bad feeling that this is create problem for the country. A country become so peaceful then it create not peace, everybody destroy everything, throw rotten egg at school. My second brother do that. He got expelled from school, but not arrested by police. He told us the story. 

Q: How did you feel after hearing that story?

Ker: When young, I didn’t say. In my heart, I thinking, “Why you go and do that? Proper thing don’t want do, do unproper thing.” 

Q: Did anyone around you—the government or the media—tell you [about] Communism?

Ker: No, we never hear anything. 

Q: Your neighbours?

Ker: No. Nobody mention. 

Q: There’s another word I’d like you to consider: leftist. Have you heard of it before? 

Ker: No. 

Q: Who was a Communist?

Ker: I think my brother got influenced by Mao Zedong. They only talk about Mao Zedong, Mao Zedong. Must be the China people. 

Q: Besides school were there other ways that people could become Communists?  

Ker: Maybe the student are more easy to influence. They’re innocent. Their mind is still naïve. I find that English school nobody heard of that. Only Chinese school, they’re easy. Their language are more similar, that’s why easy influenced. English we don’t study the Confucian [sic]. Even Chinese also got Confucian, community. Community right? My friend who also arrested, sent back to Taiwan, Guang Mindang [Guomintang], also Communists. Under what? Sun Yat-sen? 

Q: Sun Yat-sen was connected in a way–

Ker: –Confucian. 

Q: Did people have similar views as you on Communism in Singapore?

Ker: I think so. People want to have peace, united, not to be separated. 

Q: How do you think the Communists would separate the country?

Ker: No, I also afraid that Communists would follow the Mao Zedong, the Communist their system, I don’t want. 

Q: What was the Mao Zedong system?

Ker: Like everybody equal, poor or rich also equal. Everything they divide. 

Q: What do you think about that? Do you remember hear about this idea from?

Ker: –

Q: Do you like it?

Ker: No. 

Q: Why not?

Ker: The poor or rich you also have the same thing. You work hard, not work hard, also have the same. Nothing to look forward, to make yourself better. 

Q: Did you want something to look forward to?

Ker: Ya. Like better yourself. Work hard, have more savings, go holiday. Better life is very important. 

Q: How does this good, better life look like?

Ker: When you’re old, don’t have to depend, have saving to go on holiday. 

Q: Is this something Communism wouldn’t have?

Ker: Communist they all equal, don’t have. 

Q: The other thing you mentioned is that the Communists will not create peace in Singapore. 

Ker: They destroy the property. Instead of peacefully join, they go against, destroy. 

Q: How did your brothers explain–

Ker: –He didn’t explain. I think he might have regretted. My second brother didn’t. But my eldest brother he’s a– They were born in Johor. When Singapore and Malaysia separated. National Service, she [sic] didn’t want to go National Service. She [sic] go against. Later on regretted, wanted to join National Service, so he can get citizen. 

Q: What is citizen?

Ker: I.C. [Identification Card]. He protst, don’t want to go. Few weeks later regret, apply go National Service but the government don’t. That time is limited, over already. 

Q: Was this your first brother or–

Ker: –First brother. 

Q: What was this issue with National Service?

Ker: National Service, serve the country, the chances of getting the citizen is better. 

Q: What were the benefits of citizenship?

Ker: A lot of things subsidise. 


Q: Was this a new thing—National Service?

Ker: I think it’s a good thing, need the country protection, is a good thing. 

Q: What do you think the country needed protection from?

Ker: We’re surrounded by Malaysia, Indonesia. Singapore is just [laughs]. We must stand our own, to defend ourself. We need army to defend. Our country is so small. Correct anot? 

Q: We’re surrounded by Malaysia and Indonesia. How is that related to self-defense?

Ker: At least we do National Service, we show them we’re strong, able to defend the country. 

Q: Were there other people who [protested National Service]?

Ker: Maybe, but I don’t know. 

Q: There was a choice [for your brother to join National Service]?

Ker: Ya. But he doesn’t want. 

Q: What citizenship did he have?

Ker: Now, after many years then Singapore citizen. 

Q: Before that?

Ker: Blue I.C. Is a Malaysian, or P.R. [Permanent Resident in Singapore]? 

Q: Did you know about these countries [Malaysia, Indonesia] when you were growing up?

Ker: During primary school, not aware. 

Q: Besides China, Southeast Asia, did you learn about other countries growing up?

Ker: No. 

Q: Were there a lot of Communists in Singapore at one point in time? 

Ker: Lim Yew Hock time. After Lee Kuan Yew take over, starting–yes. Then slowly, step in and control it by being very strict, no hanky panky business. My mother wrote a lot of letters he doesn’t appear. Lim Yew Hock very lenient. Everything can one. Can bring food for the children, they not suffer. Prison and home life no different. [Lee Kuan Yew] took over and ban all this. No hanky panky, in fact he arrest all the Communists. 

Q: How did he do so?

Ker: I don’t know. My mother know more. Some of them put, jump island to island, no communicate with the rest of the world. 

Q: May I know more about the letters your mother wrote?

Ker: I don’t know. She went to letter writer to write, type, send to the Lee Kuan Yew to ask for appeal, release. 

Q: What problems do you think Singapore faced in the 1960s and 1970s?

Ker: Gangster, Communists. A lot of gangster fighting. Lee Kuan Yew able to control. Now no more gangster, very good. I admire Lee Kuan Yew. This Malay and Chinese riot, also control very well. All become united, harmony. 

Q: Tell me more about this riot. 

Ker: Riot that time I stay in Dakota Crescent near Geylang Serai, a lot. I saw them fighting on the road. They throwing chair. Malay and Chinese. I don’t know how it started. That time I only primary school. The school ask you all to bring food: milo, biscuit tin to store in school, in case got curfew cannot go home. Whenever they announce news they must ask the family to take the children home. When this happen, my mother ask my sister to stay in school, not to go home, until I finish school. Because easier. My mother got other children to look after, easier for her to ask my sister stay in school. After the thing happen, all the parents stay in school, you know? They stay in school didn’t go home. 

Q: How long were these riots?

Ker: Not very long. One time they announce that something is starting to riot. The school give instruction to stay first, see. But my sister, all the parent quickly take home, take all the children home because they don’t understand. That time most of them not educated, don’t understand the instruction, so they carry and rush home. 

Q: What did you feel about this riot? 

Ker: We were worried, scared. My brother keep one water pipe at home, in case they need to fight, defend ourselves, because we were near these Geylang Serai, a lot of Malay. Second brother. We have no other weapon, we only have water pipe, metal, to fight. I remember he must my mother to keep one. But I know a lot of curfew at night. A lot of police, patrol station, nobody allowed. They say silent, what time to what time, not allowed to go out. We stay indoor, everybody. Worried anything may happen. Nobody– You can’t even go down to play. Worried there’s a blood shedding, fighting. 

Q: Amongst who?

Ker: Those people. 

Q: How do you think you would be involved?

Ker: We don’t like to see this bloodshed. I saw them fight, first day, throw the chair. Worried the second time this thing happen, more serious thing happen. 

Q: Who do you think would have fought you? You said there would be fights? 

Ker: Face Malay people because this is the time Malay and Chinese fighting. 

Q: How did that event make you feel about Malays?

Ker: I don’t really feel that, because I don’t stay in a Malay kampong. What I really worried is we no security to go out. I don’t stay in Malay kampong so there’s no. But my friend stay in Malay kampong he said okay leh, Malay all very friendly, “We feel so okay leh.” The Malay are very good because all the while they stay like family together. This happen they also not scared because they are very close, they very kampong, look after each other. I don’t feel that. I don’t stay kampong; my neighbour all Chinese.  

Q: In Dakota Crescent? 

Ker: Ya, all Chinese. 

Q: What about other ethnic groups? 

Ker: No at all. Our area only all Chinese. 

Q: When you were fifteen to twenty-five [years old; from 1970 to 1980], how did you feel about this period of Singapore history?

Ker: More peaceful. 

Q: Gangsters, Communists, racial riots–did they occur in the 1970s?

Ker: Gangsters–no. Communists–no more, only on election then they do the rally. That’s all. 

Q: Who were they, that came out for election?

Ker: Lee Xiao Zhuo, or Lee Xiu Zhuo, pass away already. 

Q: Besides that, they didn’t show up for anything else?

Ker: No. 

Q: What about racial riots? 

Ker: Also no more. 

Q: Racial tensions?

Ker: No. 

Q: Why do you think the 1960s and 1970s were different?

Ker: I think the government is doing a good job, they’re able to control all these. 

Q: This was also a period when you ended school and entered the workforce?

Ker: Ya. 

Q: Immediately after ‘O’ Levels?

Ker: Ya, immediately after ‘O’ Levels. [At] Cisco. 

Q: Seventeen [years old]?

Ker: Ya. 

Q: How did you find out about Cisco?

Ker: Advertise, apply. Can work a clerk or can draw. I’m good at drawing. Straits Times, I think. 

Q: You started reading at this age–

Ker: –Newspaper is no, when [I was] school[ing]. Only when apply job then buy newspaper to apply for job. 

Q: What sorts of jobs did [newspapers] advertise? We could start with Cisco. What was it?

Ker: Cisco is a security, they carry gun. Training the gun shooting. They work to protect the bank, they carry the cash, bodyguard, so need gun. 

Q: Were there other places they defend?

Ker: Embassy, protect those hawker inspector that go on raid. They does more like secondary police. Maybe the manpower of police is not enough, they ask them for help. 

Q: They’re not the police?

Ker: They’re not. They can’t arrest people, can only protection, bodyguard. 

Q: You joined them as someone who was part of their operations?

Ker: I didn’t really join them. I was there, they went on riot–this hawker centre. They came back, policemen, with all those fruits they raid–rambutan, we bring home and share. We bring to the office, we take home. Hawker centre illegal license

Q: You said something about drawing for them?

Ker: I join as a main office, work at the main site, sometimes they need to do the magazine draw the picture. I in charge of the personnel record. The policemen personnel. It record, one person file very thick. They got two type. One is pension, after [pension] demolish already it become C.P.F. [Central Provident Fund], have to calculate half-half between their leave, last time, early years they got twenty-one days. If pension they got more leave. Now they change to C.P.F., got less, fourteen days. 

Q: What did you draw?

Ker: For example they’ll say, “Want the policeman to think.” Then sit on the chair and think. Sometime draw poster, color ah. 

Q: Can you describe the image for me?

Ker: They ask the policeman to sit on the chair, I draw. 

Q: Why do you think you had to draw the policeman?

Ker: They ask me to draw. They want the magazine to ask the policeman to think. I don’t know. 

Q: What were these publications about? 

Ker: For the policeman to read. 

Q: Do you remember the contents?

Ker: I don’t get to read. 

Q: How long were you in Cisco?

Ker: Five, six years. 

Q: After that, what did you do?

Ker: After that, married go Malaysia. Married a Malaysian. 

Q: You married in the 1970s?

Ker: 1976 or 1977, around there. 

Q: Describe your marriage. 

Ker: My marriage is so-so. I married in Malaysia. Malaysia more boring. Transportation not easy, here got buses everywhere, Malaysia only got one car. My husband go to work, whole day, I stay at home, cannot move at all, facing the four wall. 

Q: How did you meet your husband?

Ker: When he got the speeding ticket, ask me, when to see my friend. 

Q: You were still working in Cisco at the time?

Ker: Ya. I ask my friend, because Cisco was quite near to central police station. 

Q: What year did you meet [your husband]?

Ker: I think 1975. Very fast, one year. Most people marry early, my sister all marry early, early twenty [twenties].  

Q: Early marriages were a norm?

Ker: Ya, it’s a norm for our generation. One of my friend also marry early. 

Q: Why do you think so?

Ker: I have no idea, now people don’t marry early because education, career must come first, earn a lot of money then marry. 

Q: Back in those days–

Ker: –We don’t think of all these, know each other then marry. 

Q: When you were growing up?

Ker: Growing up, yes.

Q: When you looked at the adults, for instance, your mother?

Ker: Ya. Very early. We all marry very early. That’s a normal for us. 

Q: Even the men?

Ker: My husband older than me ten years. 

Q: What about the men around your age? Did they marry early as well?

Ker: Men, no, not so. Men not so early. It’s the lady. 

Q: Why?

Ker: At that time we don’t have higher education, we’re satisfied, not much of career-minded. We just contented, okay lah, just marry. No money also marry. Later on then worry! [Laughs] We don’t aim for high, just contented with what we have. 

Q: Growing up, did you have a plan for higher education, a career?

Ker: I don’t have a crave, finish ‘O’ Level just start work. All my family not high-flyer. We don’t crave. 

Q: Do you think women and men had different ambitions in life? 

Ker: Now, I don’t know. But last time, yes. Men is the one who go and take care of family. They need to be higher education, take care of family. We believe that woman married, not important–career, they have a husband to take care of. During our time, we are contented as a housewife, not like now. My son side, the husband and wife must go to work, more career-minded. 

Q: How would you describe the opportunities for women and men in Singapore society? 

Ker: During my time, I think men got more. Now then equal. Women is equal to men. 

Q: Does this mean in the past you did not think they were more equal?

Ker: Women got less educated. Now women more educated, more career-minded, they fight for the right. 

Q: Why do you think women had less education?

Ker: I don’t know, their thinking. Some most go to school. Daughter after marry is belong to somebody else. 

Q: What options were there after secondary school?

Ker: Pre-U[niversity].  

Q: Did you thinking of going to pre-U?

Ker: No, don’t have that type of thinking, just go to work. 

Q: What about work opportunities?

Ker: Because my family is not well-off, I need to work to help my father, who is struggling so hard, he have asthma, have to take medication. 

Q: What about work opportunities for women and men?

Ker: I find all the high-flyer are men, all the head of the department are men. My Cisco, all the head of the department all men. The lady all the assistants. 

Q: What did you think about that?

Ker: I think men are more superior. [Laughs]. 

Q: Why do you think they were more superior?

Ker: They are more capable. Their thinking, maybe they’re smarter. At that time the thinking is, you study, guy are more good in math and science, the lady is history, humanity [humanities]. Men are better than lady, their brain are smarter. 

Q: Growing up in school, did you feel like people talked about boys and girls in this manner–boys were good in science, girls were good in the humanities?

Ker: I heard only. I not good in science, I not good in maths also. 

Q: What did you think of this description of men’s and women’s abilities?

Ker: Before, I accept it. Now, no, is now equal. 

Q: But growing up, you felt that was the case [that there was a hierarchy]?

Ker: Yes. 

Q: Why do you think that was the case?

Ker: I see all those higher one are all men, no woman. Everything the M.P. [Member of Parliament], minister, all men right?

Q: Were there any women?

Ker: No. 

Q: Do you think the Singapore government had anything to say about this state of gender relations in the 1970s? You said there were no women in politics, and you felt, in some ways, women had certain ambitions that were different from men. Do you think the government had anything to say about these things?

Ker: [Shakes head]. 

Q: The government had nothing to say? What did society have to say? Did the government talk about gender and women?

Ker: I think they should have. Later on, I see some woman M.P. Society come to accept woman. They see the world there is some woman, they accept. 

Q: What do you mean by ‘see the world, they accept’?

Ker: They see the woman as the president in the world, become that. 

Q: Can you tell me if Singapore compared itself to the world in terms of gendered relations in this period? Growing up, did you hear about women in politics in other countries? 

Ker: When I was young, no, I don’t hear of women in politics, only men. Only when I adult, then I slowly see and hear. 

Q: The [Singapore] government in the 1970s talked about feminists in other countries. Do you know the term feminism?

Ker: What does it mean?

Q: In this context, it would mean women challenging the government for more rights. Did you hear about this in Singapore or any part of the world?

Ker: No. 

Q: Did you hear about women in China, America, Malaysia–anything about them?

Ker: I heard the woman from China, the government let the immigration let them come in, and homebreaker. 

Q: Homebreakers in Singapore?

Ker: Ya, woman come and work then men then break the people home lor. 

Q: Was this something that was popular at that time? 

Ker: [Nods]. Always hear on the news, “Wah! Sure must be China woman!” I see, I feel. My brother get a China woman, the wife divorce. This woman come and work here, know my brother. My friend also brother, got no wife, but also. This woman got a husband. Also come, pretend, bluff, pretend to get a false name to marry my friend’s brother. 

Q: What did you feel about that?

Ker: They are coming all the way to benefit from the country, Singapore. They get money, return to their homeland. The government don’t know until the citizen voice out. They lose the vote, then they realise they make a mistake. They don’t realise the hospital, food court is very crowded. 

Q: Are you talking about now or the 1970s?

Ker: Seventies. 

Q: Did you hear about birth control pills?

Ker: Don’t know whether my mother have. He [She] have my brother and my sister ten years difference. He [She] have my sister but want to get rid, but he [she] have no birth control. Try medicate to make come out but in the end have my sister. She try to get rid of my sister. She take some pineapple, don’t know what, the Chinese medicine. 

Q: Was this something a lot of women practiced in the past?

Ker: I think so. In the end she kept it. 

Q: Which sister was this? 

Ker: My youngest. 

Q: How did she feel about this self-medication process?

Ker: After having my brother, she feel so old, have another child, so she try to get rid, but she couldn’t. Nothing happen to my sister. After that, have birth control start. At first is no. Before my sister is born, have birth control. The men use condom. My father don’t like it. Don’t know why he don’t like to use. 

Q: But this condom was frequently used?

Ker: He get it from the clinic, they ask you to take. The government don’t want too many. 

Q: This was the 1960s?

Ker: Ya. 

Q: She’s probably born in the late 1960s, early 1970s, for her to be fifty-something now? 

Ker: Ya. 

Q: Did you know about this birth control pill, growing up?

Ker: I heard. I don’t know when my mother use, she take from the polyclinic. That time the polyclinic encourage those birth control. 

Q: Did you think of using the birth control pill?

Ker: I didn’t use. 

Q: When was your eldest son born?

Ker: 1978. Second, 1981. [The youngest] is 1995. – After born in Singapore, they get their passport, I go to Malaysia.

Q: So all your sons are Singapore–

Ker: –Singapore citizens. 

Q: Do you know this term ‘Cold War’?

Ker: What is it?

Q: Have you heard about it? 

Ker: I heard of it, but I don’t know. I know Japanese world war. My mother shave his [her] head, disguise herself as a man to run errand for my family, five years old, she do everything. Five or ten? Ten years old, sorry. Disguise as a man, later the Japanese rape. Wear a man shirt, run the errand to buy this, buy that. But the Cold War, I don’t know. 


Interviewer: Jeremy Yong

Interviewee: Ker Pog Ngoh

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Transcript Notes

  1. Ker is likely referring to the May 13 1954 protests against National Service, during which time she was not born yet.

  2. The 1964 racial riots broke out during a procession to commemorate the birthday of Prophet Mohammed, over the opposition to the granting of special Bumiputra rights and economic protections to the indigenous Malay people, which was seen as discriminatory by the Chinese community.

  1. How does Ker’s recollections reflect the significance of education in shaping public memory of Communism in the Cold War era?

  2. Discuss how Ker’s social, educational and economic background shaped her views of the Cold War?

  3. Consider the significance of oral histories from women such as Ker who did not directly experience Cold War conflicts in Asia.