Connecting with Mr Paul


Exactly a week ago, along with other family members, I visited our grand-aunty and her family, gathered on every second evening of the Lunar New Year in our usual tradition.

Signing my book for Mr D. Robertson Paul
It was a good time of meeting family members again, catching up on the latest happenings and noticing how much the youngsters have grown in the last 12 months!

Small groups formed in natural clusters to chit-chat and I found myself seated next to grand-aunty and her daughter, Aunty Agnes. After a delightful dinner, it was time to chill and nibble on cookies and crisps as we exchanged newsy updates with each other.

Then Aunty Agnes volunteered a recent experience – directed specifically at me – and we listened with bated breath as she went on…

One day while grand-aunty and her domestic helper were in the front garden, they saw some neighbours passing by. It was a Filipina domestic helper wheeling a Chinese lady (seated on a wheelchair) on an evening ‘walk’ around their residential area.

She introduced the lady on the wheelchair as Mrs Paul and being neighbourly, the two helpers had a conversation and soon discovered that they had something in common – they were assigned from the same agency!

In the next few days, Mrs Paul was ‘walked’ around to visit our grand-aunty as the helpers got to know each other better.

Curious about Mrs Paul and her helper, Aunty Agnes decided to pay them a visit where they lived, just a few roads away in the same residential area.

When Aunty Agnes stepped into their house, she instantly recognized Mrs Paul, the Chinese lady seated on the wheelchair.

When she was introduced to her husband, Mr Paul, who was then reading, aunty said she was struck by how much he reminded her of my dad!

In the course of their conversation, Mr Paul commented that he was reading about a man (my dad?) in a book written by his daughter.

Aunty took a closer look at the book and she was pleasantly surprised that Mr Paul was indeed reading my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage!

She introduced herself as the writer’s aunty and so thrilled was she at the circumstances which led to this, that she wished to invite the writer over to meet him!

It was fascinating to hear about this experience so I arranged with aunty to bring my mum along with her mum and helper to visit Mr & Mrs Paul in their home the following Saturday.
I requested that we informed Mr & Mrs Paul in advance to seek the best time to visit. Then I learnt that their daughter, Cynthia, was here and I looked forward to meeting her too.
. . .

Mr Paul and his wife [Left] with my mum and I [Right]
It’s a morning wet with steady showers as I park in front of the home of D. Robertson Paul. With the help of umbrellas, we drip into the front porch and then aunty introduces me to Mr & Mrs Paul.

Seated on a wooden rocking chair, Mr Paul, aged 90, is all set to share a bit about himself. He tells us that he’s from Seremban and in Johor Baru, they used to live at Jalan Quek Keng Kang before moving into this house in 1970.

In 1962, he married his Chinese wife, whom he first met during a church camp.

He pointed to her with affection and said he decided to live in JB because of her.

This was because she had a teaching career in JB while he opted to commute to Singapore where he served as a civil servant and taught in various schools until his retirement.

[Earlier on I told my friend, a music teacher, that I was going to meet Mr & Mrs Paul and their names seemed rather familiar to her. Then she guessed that they may be the same people involved with music education and the Trinity College of London.]

Mr Paul showing me his postcard size old photograph
With this knowledge in mind, I smile when Mr Paul shares about how Trinity College London sought him out after his retirement (he was a former teacher in Singapore) to invite him to embark on the next chapter of his life with them.

Even though he had no music background, Mr Paul accepted the challenge with Trinity College London, responsible for the region covering Malaysia and Singapore, and learnt all about music exams and more during his tenure with them from 1986 to 1998.

After a long and eventful career in education, Mr Paul now spends his time reading and writing his memoirs.

His daughter, Delia, a former journalist with The Star newspapers, recently helped to upload his writings into a personal blog.

Written on the back of the old photograph
I sense a great deal of pride in his three children as he mentions them one-by-one.

Then we move on to talk about what he read in my book. Incidentally, two of the people he fondly recalls from my book are ladies…

Mr Paul says he met with Mrs Comber. I guess he would have met her because she lived and worked here for 12 years.

He was referring to her as mentioned in my book under Memories, Our Han SuYin Connection.

Dr Elizabeth C.K. Comber, born Elizabeth Chow Kuanghu (Zhou Guang-Hu), later married Leon F. Comber, a Malayan Special Branch police officer during the 1948-1960 Emergency and they relocated to live in Malaya. 

Mrs Comber also known as Dr Comber or by her maiden name, Dr Chow, was also a novelist who wrote in French, Mandarin and mostly in English under her pen-name, Han SuYin.

Mr Paul [Standing 2nd from Left] with School Prefects
and Dawn Ngui Chon Oi [Seated 2nd from Left], 1948
Mr Paul then quizzed me, asking if I know the maiden surname of Dawn Parry, the personality I featured as, Lady Extraordinaire, in the Portraits section of my book.

I soon discover that this is his pet subject as he returns to it time and again during the course of our conversation.

He must have reminisced about it because he prepared a Black & White postcard-size old photograph, ready to show me.

On the reverse side of the photo, in his cursive handwriting was written, Sept 1948, School Prefects.

Having written about her, I’m familiar with the former Dawn Ngui Chon Oi, and am aware that she was once the Head Girl in Anglo Chinese School (ACS), Seremban.

Her elegant features are easily recognizable from the photo, seated second from the left.

Mr Paul makes me scrutinize the photo to see if I can identify her because while she was Head Girl, he was not only her schoolmate but also the Head Boy in 1948!

Mr Paul making a point as he
refers to his school magazine
With vivid recollections of their school days, Mr Paul shared interesting anecdotes about his contemporaries as well as Dawn’s father, who was then headmaster of ACS Primary, and confided other juicy details which he reminded me, not to write about!

Like Dawn, their education was interrupted by World War Two. To appreciate his struggle with education, Mr Paul encouraged me to read his memoirs stored in his blog.

Mr Paul goes on to tell me that he was also then, the Editor of the ACS school magazine.

He pauses to call the helper to please show me a copy of the school magazine and I turn to watch as she carefully lifts it out of an old wooden photo frame.

[Wow! He had the old school magazine framed up behind a sheet of glass within a photo frame!]

As I hold its delicate yellowed pages in my hands, Mr Paul reminds me that he only has this 1952 issue of the magazine dubbed, The Silent Signpost.

His ACS 1952 issue of The Silent Signpost 
This is very special indeed. While its cover was ‘colour printed,’ the magazine contents and photographs were printed in Black & White.

As he talks about himself who was once Editor of his school magazine, Mr Paul reveals that his son is Editor of The Edge Singapore, a business and investment weekly.

I cannot help but smile at this uncanny connection because last year, The Edge Malaysia had a special publication on Johor entitled, Uniquely Johor, and I was one of the featured Johor personalities!

Mr Paul then talks about the former Singapore president, S. R. Nathan, whose wife, the former Ms Nandey, was a Johor girl.

He explains that while he was born in Seremban, his career was mainly in Singapore so he was familiar with Singapore politics and other than his church friends, there are not many friends in JB.

His daughter, Cynthia, joins us and she says sotto voce, that her father is a fountain of information, as he continues regaling us with his recollections and anecdotes.

Cynthia Paul and I
Then Cynthia tells me how she enjoys reading my stories like Going Back to Masai-chusetts and especially about the midwife!

Hearing this,I direct Cynthia attention towards my mum and declare, “And here’s the midwife!”

Aunty Agnes then reiterates to Cynthia that her dad just reminds her of mine.

So we turn the pages of my book to find a portrait photo of my dad in, We are OCBC, and place Mr Paul’s group photo next to it.

Cynthia and I agree that they do resemble each other mainly because of the way they styled their hair as it was fashionable in the late 1940s!

And before we leave, I must autograph my book for Mr Paul.

Thanks Aunty Agnes, for the pleasure of meeting with the Paul’s.

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