~Home on Pulau Tekong~
Born and bred on Pulau Tekong. She is the only child and her family home is at the edge of Kampung Selabin, the mainly market town of Pulau Tekong. Then, there were two major jetties on Pulau Tekong, one at Lizhen’s hometown of Kg. Selabin, the other was the jetty that is stillbeing used today for military purpose. Her home was a two-storey building made from wooden planks and topped with attap leaves. It was spacious, and the compound that the house was on allowed the family to have a large garden/plantation with durian, rambutan, pineapple, lime, yam, caixin and others. They also reared ducks and chicken. She recalls that Pulau Tekong as a beautiful place. An island with pretty swaying coconut trees amidst charming sea views. She has vivid childhood memories of walking out to the mud flap when the tide recedes to pick up ‘gong gong’ (Conches). Typically she will do that once a fortnight together with kids from her neighbourhood.
To get to her place from the jetty, one has to go through a Malay kampung, so many of her childhood playmates were Malays. On the island, there were Malays and Chinese. The main Chinese dialect groups were Hakkas and Teochews. Her grandparents settled on Pulau Tekong from Meixian （梅县） county in Guangdong province. Meixian, being an area with a big Hakka diaspora in Singapore. On the island, the pace of living was slow and everybody had a lot of free time. Apart from some shops supported by privately run power generators, most houses on Tekong do not have electricity. Li Zhen could remember looking out from Tekong towards Changi at night and seeing the brilliance of the lighting on the main island of Singapore and contrast it to the relative darkness of Pulau Tekong. The main mode of transport was bicycling, and it was only later that there were some motorcycles being introduced onto the island. Roads were mainly dirt tracks and they were not tarred.
~Her subsequent life on Singapore Main Island~
As there were only schools up to the primary level on Pulau Tekong, Li Zhen had to leave the island to get her secondary level education. In 1964, she enrolled in 黄埔中学 (Whampoa Secondary School), and stayed at a relative’s place at Hougang. She will go back to Pulau Tekong on the average once a month, “to get pocket money”, she joked. Later, a secondary school, 尚育中学 (Changi Changkat Secondary School) was built at Changi road 十英里 (ten mile junction), and it was possible for students from Pulau Tekong to commute to the school daily. It was a long commute though, students having to take the ferry boat from Pulau Tekong at 5am and then take bus number 2 from the Changi Ferry Terminal to the school.
Shufeng spent six years at Whampoa Secondary school, and then went to Nanyang University (Nantah) for her undergraduate education, choosing to read a degree in History.
As for her parents, they stayed on Pulau Tekong till 1981, when the government final reacquired all the land and converted the island to a military training area. Since then she and her parents have not been back. The graves of her grandparents who were buried on the island were also exhumed and brought to Singapore Main Island.
~Ying Fo Fui Kun 山歌班~
She was in the choir as an undergraduate in Nantah. In fact that was where she got to know her husband, an undergraduate in Physics and a Hakka as well. 以歌为媒 (Letting Songs be the matchmaker) was how he describes the courtship. They got married after graduation, and went about with life and didn’t get back to singing until they were fifty years old, with kids grown up and a successful career behind them.
She started with the 山歌班 of Ying Fo Fui Kun in 2008 and stayed for 3 years. The standard of the class deteriorate over the years, partly because the instructor has grown old, and there weren’t any new blood taking over the leadership role.
(Interviewed and written by Tan Howe Siang)