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The Shoes of My Sensei

I was glad to hear from my Japanese teacher but his letter also worried me. It was
1945; the British had just returned to Singapore. Sensei and the other Japanese
had been interred as POWs, and young Singaporeans (including teenagers like me)
were anxious, confused, feeling our way about under colonial rule phasing from
one subjug4dation to another.
I was surprised that Sensei had not yet been repatriated to Japan, but happy to
learn that he was well treated, as he was classified as a civilian, not part of the
armed forces, or a possible war crime suspect. My worry was for myself: I had
received a letter from the enemy openly posted to me! Although the enemy was
detained, still, the letter could have attracted the attention of our new rulers - in
particular, some clandestine police department responsible for keeping dossiers on
subject people in their colony? I could be marked down, barred from education and
jobs... Surely they were now watching me - to see how I would respond to Sensei's
letter? Indeed the envelope looked as if it had been opened and resealed.
Sensei's letter mentioned a pair of shoes that he had given me. The last time I saw
him was at his home in Cavenagh Road (that seemingly long-ago time when
Singapore was Syonato!). He had said, "Take these shoes. They're new. They look
too big for you but you're still growing and one day they'll fit. I don't mind going into
the POW camp in these old shoes."
Sensei's letter said he missed his old friends. No one had visited him. He wondered
if I could visit him at the Sime Road Camp. And he asked if he could have his shoes
back. He apologised. His old shoes had come apart, otherwise he would not have
I felt sorry for him. He had been good to us. He was an understanding man and
had taught his students values at a time when the whole world had gone mad.
Through songs he introduced us to character - the old Japanese way, the true
Japanese spirit. Nippon Seishin.
He had been quietly teaching in school back home when the Japanese Imperial
Army conscripted him, and shipped him out to teach the Japanese language to
the conquered peoples of Southeast Asia. We soon found him different from
those arrogant and sadistic heitai-san (soldiers) who treated us like dirt.
Sensei sponsored his students for precious food rations, and more importantly to
he speaking up for students and their relatives who had somehow displeased the

notorious Kempeitai, and he got Fong's father released, although the old man
had come out haggard, white hair all straggly, hobbling on sticks and dragging
one useless foot along.
After that incident Sensei was a hero in our eyes. He must be feeling desperately
low in his detention camp. I owed it to him to visit him. Returning his shoes was
no problem. They were too big for me and I was planning to sell them. (My family
was short of money. Who wasn't then?) But would I get blacklisted if I went to
visit the enemy? There would be a register to sign - a record of my visit. What
future use might they make of that?
Of course, my fears were groundless, but to a teenager grown up in a Kempetai
world, they were very real, particularly as stories of war-time atrocities were now
being widely circulated. Also the general feeling was that vengeance was about
to be exacted on the Japanese and all who had collaborated with them in any
way whatsoever.
"Why go? Why take the risk?" My close friends whom I consulted were firm.
"Look at the terrible things those Japanese did!" That sounded convincing, fully
justified about not going. After all. he was Japanese too, wasn't he?
Was he? A small voice in me kept reminding me: he was Sensei. an
understanding man, in fact our one-time hero, whose shoes I could never hope to
fill, one who had been truly good to us in bad times.
by Goh Sin Tub in "One Singapore

Answer the following questios

1. What TWO emotions did the writer experience when he received the letter from
his Japanese teacher?

2. Explain in your own words what he was worried when the letter and what the
consequence might have been.

3. Where had Sensei lived?

4. Sensei gave the writer two reasons for giving him the shoes.
(a) What was the reason connected with the shoes?
(b) What was the reason connected with the writer?

5. Which incident made Sensei a hero?

6. What made the writer think that Sensei must be feeling depressed?
7. What argument did his friends use to persuade the writer not to visit sensei?


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