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Wednesday, 8 October 2008
A Personal Story on JBJ
by Jamie Chen Siya (SOC/Yr 3)
I first got to meet and speak to Mr JBJ 3 years ago. I was on my way to his office to interview his long time friend, Mr Ng Teck Siong for a story. Mr Ng is the Chinese guy always seen accompanying Mr JBJ when he’s out selling books (Mr Ng is my friend’s father) The proposed story was one of my bright ideas that I had for my editor, someone who was the loyal follower of the man, but never featured.
The interview was in one of those buildings opposite Bugis Junction. I can’t remember the road, but it was a building which was not bright and clean which was full of small chinese trading business offices inside. It was dingy, old, musky. Nothing like the credit suisse lobby at one raffles quay or any of the buildings in shenton way. The shop “windows” were covered with those verticle type blinds. Not very modern at all. I made my way to the second floor. There was no one in the building. I got to the unit. When I opened the door, I saw an office the size of about 2m by 5 m, and a huge desk in the middle, dividing the office into two. That was Mr JBJ’s working space. I do not know for how long such a big man could be in that windowless and cramp space, but it was probably what he could afford.
I remember seeing a mess in his office- there was a pencil drawn portrait of Mr JBJ lying on a stack of papers in his office and some print out of the black and white photographs taken of him with posters protesting the casino decision.
I don’t really recall my interview with Mr Ng. But what I recall that day was Mr JBJ returning to his office, probably from selling books. He asked Mr Ng who he was with, and Mr Ng said oh someone is here to interview me and sort of introduced us. Mr. JBJ shook my hand outside his office in that empty corridor and the cold escalators with no one else around us. He bent as he shook my hand because I am quite petite. It was such an endearing moment I never forgot till this day. A gentle giant, in an ah pek striped polo t shirt with beige slacks held up by a belt. His choice of foot wear? Laced up sneakers. The kind with the curled up tips which looked very comfy, but also not very trendy. It was difficult to imagine that he was once a judge, a lawyer, and a politician full of fire (still is..) - because he was so very gentle when he spoke to me. Mr JBJ had the most refined accent I had ever heard. It was not an english accent, it was the JBJ accent. No singlish nonsense. He asked me who I was, I said I’m a freelance journalist and there was none of that gruffiness or adverse reaction which I read about in another journalist’s eulogy of him. I think its because I told him I was a student. He asked me all these while we were still in our handshake. It was a warm, genuine, patient handshake. I remember thinking his palm was very soft.
That was the one and only time I spoke to him. The rest of the occasions I saw him selling his books in public, I never had the guts to approach him.
I will always remember Mr JBJ for the kindness in his eyes. Mr JBJ, you were so endearing to me and to many many others. You will be sorely missed.