Ho Piao: A personal recollection and appreciation
Tan Jing QueeHo Piao’s life can be neatly segmented into three phases, all interconnected and evolving.He was born in 1937, the year the Pacific War began, with the Japanese incursion intoNorth-east China, which eventually led to the Japanese invasion of Malaya in December1941. Britain resumed its colonial control over Malaya following Japanese surrender in1945, and a brief period of peace prevailed, until this was interrupted by the onset of theMalayan Emergency from June 1948. Ho Piao’s infant years were therefore intimatelyconnected with the Japanese invasion of Malaya and the Malayan Emergency, initiatedby the British against the Malayan Communist Party in what the latter termed the‘National War of Liberation’.He entered Kong Yong Primary School, which was located at Upper Serangoon Road,immediately after the end of the Second World War. During this time, he obtained hissubsequent facility in the Chinese language, reinforced by constant usage and furtherstudies. It was in his primary school years that he first became conscious of what hedeemed to be the degrading effect of inequality and class status. Ho Piao came from apoor, though not impoverished family in the economic circumstances of the time. Hisfather was a sailor, and his mother a housewife who also sold eggs in the market tosupplement the family income. Ho Piao was always extremely close to his mother, andthis bond was to last throughout his life. His mother stood by him through thick and thinthrough all the years of his long detention and struggles.In his address at Ho Piao’s memorial recently, Lee Tee Tong, a former long-term politicaldetainee and trade union leader, narrated an incident in Ho Piao’s boyhood, when HoPiao and a few of his classmates took a bus home. Along the way, a couple of womenboarded the bus carrying baskets of eggs. One of them was Ho Piao’s mother; the otherwas a mother of one of Ho Piao’s classmates. Ho Piao immediately ran to her. Henoticed, however, that his friend tried to avoid looking at his own mother because he wasashamed to let his classmates know that his mother was a hawker. This incident wasetched in Ho Piao’s mind.After spending four years in Kong Yong Primary School, his family transferred him toSerangoon English School, where he remained until he completed the Cambridge SchoolCertificate Examinations, which was the equivalent of the ‘O’ Levels now. He did nottake to physical contact sports like football and hockey, but joined the Scouts movementand took to swimming and boating. Under the active motivation and guidance of hisscoutmaster and teacher, Lloyd Fernando,
he attained the level of Queen’s Scout. Hisphysical and mental development was impressive and in his final year at Serangoon, hecircled around the waters of Singapore island in a rowing boat alone, an early indicationof the grit and tenacity which was to be a character trait.
Lloyd Fernando later became a Professor of English in the University of Malaya, until his retirement,when he began to practice law.