Lee Cheng


Block 81 Redhill Lane, a one-room first-generation HDB flat near the Redhill market in the 1970s. It has since been demolished and replaced by bigger flats. Back then, gang activities were common in Redhill.

Growing Up

I spent my childhood and growing up years in the Redhill area. My first home was a one-room flat on the 7th storey where I lived with my parents and three of my younger siblings, me being the eldest. My dad used to be a laborer and mom a housewife. There was no bed and all six of us would sleep on mattresses on the floor.

Live Entertainment

We didn’t have a television, so watching TV was a privilege. Sometimes we would peer into a neighbour’s living room if the TV was on and the not-so-friendly ones would slam the door on us. The kind of entertainment we had were Chinese ‘wayang’ performances, which took place during special occasions on the open space near the Redhill Market. The famous one was the Hokkien Opera Troupe Sin Sai Hong.

The residents would gather and we would carry our own chairs downstairs to watch the performance. Sometimes, fights would suddenly break out, either between gangs or when people drink too much and we’d hurriedly carry our chairs and run away. When the commotion settled we’d carry our chairs back and continue watching the show. There would also be pasar malam (night market) where ngoh hiang (five-spice meat rolls), prawn fritters and potong ice cream were sold in pushcarts.

Life was very simple. There wasn’t much to do after school, so my friends and I would go to Queenstown library and that’s when I cultivated my love for reading. We also liked to play around the canal at Havelock. When my mom made bak chang (meat dumplings) I’ll help to sell them within the estate for about fifty cents to a dollar. Whatever couldn’t be sold we would end up eating it!

As we grew bigger, the one room flat didn’t have enough space for us and when I was 14, we moved to a two-room unit at the adjacent block just up the hill. It wasn’t a big change as it was still the same people, the same environment. There used to be a long flight of steps leading from my old block in Redhill to my new block in Henderson. As a playful boy I’d always slide down the hill instead of using the stairs!

The weather was very hot and our bed would sometimes have bed bugs. My siblings and I would try to use the candle flame to burn the bed bugs or squeeze the bed bugs and the blood was very smelly. When it came to homework we had a small table that was near the corridor, and we ended up depending on the corridor light to study so the other family members can sleep without the lights inside the house turned on.

The Ties That Bind

The main thing I treasure from these years of growing up is the closeness to my siblings and how to live humbly. Even though we’re living apart now, we’re still lin the same area, close to one another. The family unit and support is very important and shouldn’t be taken for granted. Home to me is about love, companionship and care.

When you have been through those days you will treasure it. Retrospectively those were good times but you do not want to go back to those days. It’s like serving National Service – reminiscing about it is fun but I don’t think it is something you want to go through again.

There’s this Chinese saying "出污泥而不染" (chu wu ni er bu ran) referring to water lilies which rise unsullied from mud. Regardless of environmental factors, with the right values and upbringing you can still progress and excel and not just be influenced by what other people say or do.