As I was looking for seniors to have a short chit-chat with, Mdm Wang Tong Lin was one of the few who very readily agreed to the interview and also shared her life stories fervently. She did not shy away from sharing with me that she had left school early in secondary school and started taking up many jobs since then.
Coming from a Chinese-educated background, she proudly told me in Mandarin that she had learned English from being a promoter at roadshows and took up CDC intermediate English course, which is indeed rather commendable as she did not let her circumstance bar her from learning and improving herself. When asked further about the jobs that she worked as, Mdm Wang further elaborated that she did many jobs ranging from sewing, working in a hard disk factory, salon, 善济医社 (Sian Chay Medical Institution) to being a promoter for almost 10 years.
Through the jobs that she shared, I could somehow better understand and picture the post-independence Singapore that was prospering and growing in its economy. Back then, manufacturing had replaced trade as Singapore’s largest economic sector in the 1980s. As a result, factory manufacturing hard disk drives – an early form of memory storage used in computers at the time in the 1980s – recruited and employed many Singaporeans like Mdm Wang.
By the late 1970s and early 1980s, strong clusters in higher value-added electronics, petrochemicals, component and precision engineering emerged. While Singapore was the world’s leading producer of hard disk drives, Economic Development Board (EDB) had gradually moved from seeking investments in the assembly of hard disk drives and consumer electronics, to favouring investments in 8-inch wafer fabrication, personal computers and precision engineering.
The services sector was also a “twin pillar” of the economy alongside manufacturing, which was seen in the multiple service-related jobs that Mdm Wang took up. While many such as Mdm Wang may not be privileged enough to have a good education or good living conditions during the early post-independence years of Singapore, they worked hard to make a living and overcome the difficulties they faced with resilience and endurance.
Despite the significantly improved quality of life of Singaporeans over the years, the younger generation of Singapore has also seemingly taken their improved standard of living for granted, having raised with increased disposable incomes. This is perhaps why young adults born between 1982 to 2002 are often dismissed as “strawberries” who “bruise easily” and are unable to take hardships. While some might challenge and disagree with the term “Strawberry generation”, it is essential for the younger generation to continue to work hard to protect the economic and financial stability that our pioneer generation has committed and work hard to achieve.
Lastly, Mdm Wang revealed during our short chit-chat that she has retired since injuring her head back in 2019 and uses Youtube and TikTok in her free time. She enjoys using TikTok to sing her favourite songs and create videos to send her sisters. This was in fact a stark contrast to her earlier days when she was new to smartphone and their functionality. Thus, I would also like to implore our seniors to continue to learn new things like Mdm Wang and age actively.