Where were you on
news that Singpaore separated from Malaysia came on
radio at 10 am on Monday, Aug 9, 1965.
Malaysian flags were taken down from public buildings
and Singapore flags went up. My generation was
schooling then, children of a troubled era having
their future determined by its politics.
Hsien Chin, a civil servant then in Secondary 2, said
without hesitation that he saw The Sound of Music at
Orchard cinema that afternoon. It was the third time
he saw the film which, according to an old copy of
The Straits Times, was going into its 19th day.
"I heard about the Separation only after I got
home from the show. I really cannot recall having any
specific emotional reaction."
Kang, an accountant, who was in Secondary 1 that
year, was strolling out of the National Library that
morning when a passerby announced it. He could not
help saying to himself: "Oh good, now I do not
have to pass my National Language."
S.Vijayan, a police officer then in Secondary 2,
heard the news from somebody in the family, he forgot
who. He said: "I had no reaction beyond sensing
that it was something important. I was not aware of
the political issues then."
Carol Lim, a teacher then in Pre-University 1, said
she felt sad for a variety of reasons. First she
worried that it would be difficult to go to Malaysia
which she liked visiting.
there was the sight of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew
fighting back tears on television as he talked about
television programme was by far the best-remembered.
It was broadcast at 4.30pm that day, two hours ahead
of the daily television schedule.
Mohamed Muzammil, then in Secondary 2 at St
Patrick's, said he first heard of Separation on radio
with his family at 11am.
"After we heard the announcement, our family
talked about what could happen in the days ahead...I
was told not to go out into the streets."
there was Mr Maarof Salleh, a teacher who had just
finished his Secondary 4 that year and was waiting to
go into Teacher's Training College. He said: "I
was in Malacca visiting friends in a kampung called
Masjid Tanah. It was a social function...maybe a
heard it on the radio. I felt sad. I knew there were
political problems between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore
also felt that as I was away from home I could not
share the feeling of my friends and family."
executive Gerry d'Cruz, then a 16-year-old preparing
for his O levels, remembered his mother gathering her
friends together and going off to church to pray for
we were on that day, suddenly the children of a new
nation, not quite understanding the forces that had
just altered our future in a fundamental way.
old enough to sense that an important change had just
taken place, the implications were never defined for
them by parents or teachers.
anxieties of the times did not leave us untouched.
Almost all were aware of the racial tension that
formed the backdrop to independence, the two
incidents of racial unrest in 1964.
interviewed whether from Primary 1 or Pre-U 2 then
had a story to tell. They were either on their way to
school and had to turn back or in class when their
parents came to fetch them. Most recalled the hurried
Maarof, who was at Pasir Panjang Secondary School,
could also remember a friend, Ali Mukri, being set
upon by a gang of Chinese and having to abandon his
mechanic S.W. Teo, who was in Primary 4 that year,
recalled his family moving from Geylang to stay with
relatives in Queenstown because they were
uncomfortable in their Malay neighbourhood.
Premarini, an editor in the publishing business who
was eight years old then, said: "My parents,
like most other Indian parents were worried that we
might be mistaken for Malays and took pains to dress
school reopened, I remember my grandmother dotting my
forehead with a larger-than-usual dot every morning
before taking me to school."
riots make us as children more racially conscious?
Yes and no. Many said they see things then in terms
of good guys and bad guys and them. However, nobody
recalled falling out with Malay or Chinese classmates
or friends as a result of the disturbances.
Muzammil, for example, recounted how he walked home
from St Patrick's School with a group of Chinese and
Eurasian classmates when the curfew was announced,
seeking comfort in each other's company.
thought of a Malay classmate, Tahale, and how I asked
him if he thought the Malays or the Chinese started
the incidents. He said there were trouble-makers on
both sides. We never talked about race again.
Was it an
early awareness that kept us politely away from
discussing our racial feelings? Or were feelings
about race just irrelevant when we related to our
classmates or friends?
a bit of both. It was our response as children to the
challenges of the times and we did not do too badly.
If I feel a sense of regret, it is that I never kept
in touch with Tahale after we left school.
have also not kept in touch with classmates who were
Chinese. But somehow in the case of Tahale I wish I
had made an extra effort.
First published in The Straits
Times, 9 August 1988
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