Initially, I wanted The Happiness Notebook to be a travelogue for my one-year long sabbatical, but decided to include my life stories to help people who are facing tough times.
Met up with former minister Bow Tan Mah at McDonald’s on Saturday to thank him for his help 12 years ago.
In 2004, my dad owed multiple loansharks money, and we were chase out by the landlord. With no place to stay, I had to find a shelter for my parents. We had earlier sold our flat in Bedok to pay some debts, and was renting a three room flat in Tampines.
Renting another flat would cost over $700 back then (which was already quite cheap actually). Government rental flats? There was a long waiting list. So buying a flat was the ‘cheapest’ option in terms of monthly payment.
But I was only 22, and just started my studies in NTU. I didn’t have the money for down payment. I was desperate. I went to approach Mr Mah, then an MP for Tampines GRC, for help. He didn’t refer me to his colleague, even though I went to the wrong MPS — another MP was in charge of my area.
With Mr Mah’s help, and assistance from a HDB lady officer, as well as from the real estate agent (who convinced the seller to allow me to move in immediately while waiting for the sales process), I bought a three-room flat.
Being a house owner at the age of 22 was like having a battlefield commission forced upon you. Suddenly, I had a new identity as the head of a household. I was now answerable to the welfare and morale of my family. I had to be enterprising, to make sure that I earn enough to pay the bad debts, monthly mortgage, utility bills, groceries, allowance for parents, and their medical bills. I struggled with my studies.
But this tough time was good training for adulthood. I taught tuition for up to seven students at one go, and at the same time worked as an editorial assistant in straits times interactive (now straitstimes.com), doing the graveyard shifts.
Twelve years on, my flat is fully paid up. I have also made peace with my dad. I still love and respect him a lot as he was just trying to make more money for the family. But the business failed, and borrowing from one loanshark to pay off another compounded the woes.
It’s time for me to chase another rainbow! In a few days time, I will start my one-year sabbatical with Charmaine Wu. Before that, I thought it’s important to show gratitude to the people who helped you when you were down and feeling hopeless.
While packing for my room over the weekend, I found a 2004 appeal letter from HDB, and it reminded me of what happened 12 years ago. So I pm-ed Mr Mah, hoping to thank him personally over tea. To my surprise, he replied in just three hours.
Thank you Mr Mah, and of course the HDB lady and real estate agent! There are many others who have also helped me all these years. Friends who opened their homes for me, teachers who made sure I complete my studies (and even bought a washing machine for my family), the provision shop owner who ‘closed one eye’ when a kid (me) took packets of instant noodles without paying…
During our brief ten-minute chat, Mr Mah suggested that I should share and write about my life stories. So I will pen more in the coming months… Meanwhile, happy new year, and I wish you great health and happiness! #Gratitude
Netizens left numerous touching comments and urged me share more.
Besides writing my own stories, I will also interview inspiring people from around the world, and share their secrets of success with you.
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