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Autobiography of

Kok Thye Seah Sok Pen

SSP Published

Content CopyrightŠ Seah Sok Pen 2010 All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced, sotred in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher. isbn


Publisher: Seah Sok Pen Printed by: J&J Printed in: Malaysia First printing: September 2010 Paper: Font: Adobe Garamond Pro, Gill Sans Std Designer: Seah Sok Pen

Introduction chapter 1 Early life chapter 2 Teenage chapter 3 Marriage chapter 4 Retirement

01 02 03 04 05


I have chose to interview my grandfather (paternal) because among four of my grandparents, he is the one that always tells us a lot of stories about his life and my father’s life, therefore I decided to interview him. He is a MalaysianChinese and was born in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Although my grandfather has a bad temper but he is a nice person. He is a person who cares about his sons and his grandchildren, when I was young; he used to play with me. Now, he plays with my sister and brother. I could feel that he really care about us because every

time he would call us (from Malaysia to China) and if it was winter time, he would always remind us to wear more clothes and drink more water. Whenever we were to travel either back to our home country or any where else he would have said “Be careful of pick pocket and be safe.� Seven years ago, he suffered stroke, since then he stayed at home for his retirement. Fortunately, he enjoyed his life staying at home. He is the best grandfather I have. I love him as much as my parents.


Chapter 1 Child Hood

His tasks were to peel off the potato skin for the Japanese

Seah Kok Thye, was born in Johor Bahru, southern Malaysia, on 6th of August 1934. There are meanings for his name, “Kok” in Chinese which is means country; where else “Thye” means peace. So all together, his name’s meaning is peaceful country. Now he is 76 years old. He was the third child in the family, having an elder brother 1 and an elder sister 2. He also had a younger sister, but at that time his parents were too poor to feed four children, so they got no choice but to give the youngest daughter to another person. Kok Thye has never seen his sister, as she was given to other people when Kok Thye was about two to three years old. They have never had any news of her since then. After giving the youngest daughter out, Kok Thye became the youngest in his family.

years old. After that, Kok Thye’s mother and grandmother brought them up. Every day (about six-thirty a.m.), Kok Thye’s mother went to factory to wash bottles, and she return home at five p.m. After she came back home, she cooked for her children. At night, she had to mend shirts for other people, to earn extra money to support the family.

Kok Thye worked for the Japanese. His tasks were to peel off the potato skin for the Japanese. “When I was about nine years old, World War Two began. It was very scary. I was very lucky that I survived. During World War Two, the Japanese killed a lot of people (especially Chinese) I saw the Japanese soldiers killing the people with my own eyes, it was unbelievable! At that time, when the Kok Thye’s father passed away when he Japanese army wanted to kill the people was six years old. After his father passed in that area, they will put a black flag on away, his grandfather, grandmother and the area, later they killed all the human mother look after them. The invasion of being, no matter old or young. They Japanese in 1942, had made Kok Thye’s closed the “prisoners’ ” (the Chinese grandfather brought the whole family es- people) eyes up then they were asked to cape from Gelang Patah to Johor Bahru. line up in a line. One… two… three… Unfortunately during the journey, his bang! Bang! Bang! Within a few seconds, grandfather passed away due to food everyone fell down to the ground. As for poisoning. He was only seventy-eight babies, they were thrown up high in the

1 Kok Thye’s elder sister name Jun Keng, she is the second child. 2 Kok Thye’s elder brother name Kok Heng.


air, and then the soldiers hold up a spear pointing upward and wait for the babies to fall down on the spear. They were scary. While the women, the Japanese army would bring them into a room and raped them. The Japanese armies were very cruel.” Every morning, he had to buy sweet potato and corn bread for his family, sometimes why would follow their mum to go into the forest and collect wood. “My mum would bring me and my sister, sometimes only me, to go into the forest and collect sticks to sell, to earn extra money. If not we wouldn’t be able to survive. My brother was lucky; he doesn’t need to go with us. Why? Because he said that he is scared! It was very dangerous to go into the forest, if you were not lucky enough, you might get eaten by a tiger or a snake.” During Chinese New Year Eve, Kok Thye’s mum would make new shirts for three of her children, each of them only got one new shirt. While their Hong Bao3 only got RM2 for each person. “That time, I didn’t work, so when I get the Hong Bao, I will go straight to gambling, but every time I lose all my 3 During Chinese New Year the elder (had married) will give the children a red packet 4 Kopi O: A type of

coffee in Malaysia. Kopi means Coffee. O means empty. This coffee does not contain milk but sugar.

money, and my mum will get upset on me.” Kok Thye said. Every day, they have the same food for their breakfast and lunch. Breakfast they had bread and Kopi O4 While lunch, they had sweet potato and corn bread. “Corn bread is a type of bread where you have to eat when it is warm, after the bread is cold, it will be hard and you couldn’t eat it anymore” said Kok Thye. It does not exist now anymore.

Chapter 2 Teenage Life

Kok Thye’s mum always gave them (he and his brother) forty cent to school, twenty cent is for their lunch, and the other twenty cent is for their bus fair. But Kok Thye was very playful at that time, every lunch time; he would go to the field and play basket ball with his friends. After they finished the game, Kok Thye was very thirsty, so he used another twenty cent to buy a bottle of water to drink. In the end, he did not have money to take the public bus to go home, so he had to walk back to his home. “My mother would ask me why I arrived home later than my brother. I would reply her that I used up all my money. So I had to walk back home,” said Kok Thye with a smile on his face.

homeroom teacher; Kok Thye liked him a lot, because every time he would teach Kok Thye Mathematics and English patiently. Mr. Lim was Kok Thye’s art teacher, he always get scolded by Mr. Lim because of his poor art drawing skills, “Mr. Lim would say : ‘Ai yah Kok Thye, why you couldn’t this picture?’ or he would have said angrily: ‘ Aiyo! Look at your drawing! What is this?! It does not look like a chicken nor duck!’ he is very fierce to me! Because I couldn’t draw well!” said Kok Thye with laughter. Kok Thye is an outgoing person in his teenage, he always came back home very late, he liked to talk to his friends at the

money sir. I would have come if you “sponsor” me.’ The teacher straight away turn silent!!” said Kok Thye laughing happily. Kok Thye finished his secondary school up until Form 4, as he failed the test for Form 5, so he couldn’t study anymore. His brother studied till Form 5, while his sister didn’t study at all, she sold “otak-otak”7 (a spicy food in Malaysia, which they smashed fish and put chili, then they cooked it on the charcoal) instead.

‘I have no money sir. I would have come if you “sponsor” me.’

Kopi Tiam5 or he played mahjong6 with them until the very late of the night. In one of the sports day, Kok Thye was During the weekend, he liked to go to in Yellow house, he participated the swimming at the Lido Beach with his hundred metre running and got the friends. However, his mother didn’t like second place. In school, Kok Thye loves to see him playing outside. “Every Friday mathematics, he likes to calculate, but he evening, my teacher would organize an dislikes Geography and History because event such as play soccer. But every time both of these subjects he had to memoI couldn’t go because I was poor and I ries a lot of things, which made him got no money to take the bus to go to thought it is very boring. He also didn’t school and play. On Monday I would like English because he could not speak get scolded by my teacher, he said ‘why very well, also could not pronounce you didn’t come?’ I replied ‘I have no the words properly. Mr. Samuel was his 5 Kopitiam means coffee shop in Hokkien (a Chinese dialect).


6 Mahjong is a Chinese Game played by 4 people with 144 tiles

7 Otak-otak is a fish “cake” wrapped inside banana leaf and cook on charcoal. 7

Chapter 3 Career

After Kok Thye stop going to school, he tried to find a job to work in the first two years. During this period, his allowance was supported by his mother. Later, Kok Heng introduced Kok Thye a typing job, which worked in Custom. “That time the custom used Chinese, but I studied English since I was young. My brother looked down on me, he said ‘ah, Kok Thye they used Chinese, I don’t think you can do this job.’ But I wouldn’t let him look down on me, so I learnt Chinese by checking dictionary; I used an English- Chinese and ChineseEnglish dictionary to help me. As time past, I learn a lot of new words,” stated Kok Thye. Every time whenever they got their wages, they will give to their

“I wouldn’t let him look down on me, so I learnt Chinese by checking dictionary”

mother without any complains or comments. Then their mother would divide the money equally for each of them. However, they wouldn’t complain how much they got. “None of us will keep the money by our self.” Kok Thye’s dream was when he grew up, he must earn a lot of money for his mother. “My wish when I was young was that when I grew up, I want to earn more money for my mum so that she could live happily at home and have money to use. Since I was young, she kept working non-stop because of her three children. Unfortunately she passed away when I was twenty-four years old, which was the first day I went to work. When she passed away, I think she was around age of fifty. She knew that she got high blood pressure, but she didn’t want to take medicine, back then the medicine was very expensive, and we were poor, she wanted to save the money for us. So we wouldn’t get hungry.” Kok Thye was very sad, because he has given no time to pay gratitude to his mother. Also at that time, Kok Heng and Jun Keng already married. Kok Thye’s work in Custom, was to help

the other people to type custom declare form. They had a very thick code book, to tell what things is what code. And every year these codes would change, but this doesn’t affect Kok Thye’s working speed, he could memories these codes easily, where else most people couldn’t even memories it. All the while, Kok Thye had the same occupation – to type Custom Declare Form, but in different company. The first company always tricked Kok Thye, because Kok Thye is a honest person and very hardworking. Everyday there were so many forms to fill in, and yet this company always said that they lost a lot of money, at the end of the year, Kok Thye only get RM20 for his bonus. Later, there was a person came and ask Kok Thye to work together and quit from this company. Then Kok Thye was treated fairly with his friend. His family members believe that he has a good karma so there was a person to come and help him, and this person in Chinese we called them “Gui Ren”8, Also, Kok Thye likes to drink coffee with the lorry drivers colleage during his free time. Kok Thye’s altruism has made people take advantage on him. For example, 8 A person which believe to be send by God to help you . 9

there were a lot of times where when the company is lack of people to work, they would ask Kok Thye to “help” (or to substitute) them, no matter what part of the job, as long as there is a worker absent, the company would surely ask Kok Thye to substitute the person’s place. And some of the workers went on holiday and ask Kok Thye did all of their works, while them just take their wages. Kok Thye did not complain a lot on

helping people, but sometimes he got really frustrated because other people keep asking him to do this and that. “Your grandfather is just so stupid that he just know about working hard, whenever people ask for help, he would just go and help. In the end, no bodies appreciate that.” said Poay Hiang disappointedly. Until the day, Kok Thye suffered stroke, his company didn’t even send a card or something to thank him for all his hard

work, but instead, the company reduce his wages, from about RM2000 to RM 500. In addition, last time, Kok Thye used to help those people when they weren’t at the company, those people didn’t even visit or ask about Kok Thye at all, which is kind of shame, where the people just forget about Kok Thye. “Sometimes Kok Thye just get very frustrated that he needs to help out so many things and then he would scold the lorry driver and some other people.” said Poay Hiang. Last time, his career was mainly relied on his mind and the typewriter.

Kok Thye likes to drink coffee with the lorry drivers colleague during his free time


Chapter 4 Marriage

About age of twenty-nine, Kok Thye married Tan Poay Hiang. Every night, he went to his brother’s house, later they introduce Poay Hiang to Kok Thye. Poay Hiang’s family members were from Southern China, Guangdong province, TeoChew city. All her siblings were born in China, when World War Two begun, her family fled from China to Malaysia, later they gave birth to Poay Hiang. One year later (nineteen sixty-six), their first son was born. They named him Chee Khiang, because in Chinese the word “Chee”means determination, “Khiang” means strong. Kok Thye felt that his brother’s determination wasn’t very strong, so he thought that he must have a strong determination son. So he named his first son as Chee Khiang. Six years later, they had their second son. His name is Choon Khiang. “Choon” in Chinese means handsome, “Khiang”

same as his brother, strong, all together which means handsome and strong. Every morning, before Kok Thye went off to work, he would take one hour to “make up”, he would make sure that his shirt and pants were neat and straight; his hair had to be neat too. In that case, he always made sure that his son too, was neat and tidy before he went to school. Kok Thye was a kind of very homely type of husband to his wife, father to son. He emphasized the importance of education. “My deepest scariest impression was when exams were coming and he was teaching your father, as you know your father was six years older than me. That time, your father was in primary six, and I was only six years old, your grandfather, was teaching your father very strictly. Your grandfather would

At that time, buying a tv was like a luxury product.

scold your father when he didn’t do well on the work that he set for him. And I would hold on to your grandmother’s hand tightly,” said Choon Khiang.

Kok Thye’s life was getting better after 1976, they were financially stabilised. In 1986, he bought a Datsun car in April. Later on, he bought a colour television. At that time, buying a tv was like Kok Thye always taught his two sons, a luxury product.Then he could afford not to lie, not to steal things. If Kok to buy some expensive food like the sea Thye found out that his sons lied to him, food. He likes to eat sea food especially or stole things, they will get punishment, prawn and crabs. You wouldn’t believe either they got scolded badly and got how many prawns he would eat at the beaten up badly by Kok Thye. same time. Probably about ten to twenty prawns for one meal. He loves them. After Choon Khiang graduated from university, he was sick in a long period. In 1996, Kok Thye and his wife went to Although Kok Thye was busy on workBeijing and Guilin9 in China. They have ing but he would spend a lot of time been to the Great Wall of China and to brought Choon Khiang to the Chinese see the Mao Ze Dong’s10 body! “The Mr. physician a few time a week with his 7 I think Mao’s body was in the museum, mother.

they had give the body injections, so that people could see his body. It’s like a vampire.” said Poay Hiang. At Guilin, they went to see the emperors’ and their sons’ grave. “It was dark and cold inside... Very scary... They probably on the air conditioner to give the tourists a scary feeling.” said Kok Thye. Around 1998, Kok Thye had bought his new car—Proton Wira (Malaysian car). Then he gave his elder son the old Datsun car. All the while, Kok Thye and his family had been staying in a small house where it was located on shoplots. In 2000, Kok Thye shifted to a new house due to the increasing size of family member.

9 Guilin is located in the northeast of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. 10 Mao Ze Dong was a Chinese revoluion-

ary, politcal theorist and communist leader. He led the People’s Republic of China from its establishment in 1949. Died in 1976.


It was a nice place to stay. There were the sound of nature with children laughter. Kok Thye’s new house


Chapter 5 Retirement

In the 5th of August 2003 Kok Thye suffered a stroke11 five months after his first grandson was born. At first, he couldn’t talk clearly and couldn’t move like last time he used to be. At that time, both of his sons were working in different places, Chee Khiang and his family was in Malacca, while Choon Khiang was working in Singapore. Since Choon Khiang stayed nearer to Johor Bahru, every weekend he had to bring his father to have acupuncture. Chee Khiang went back to visit his father, when he heard what had happened to him. This is how Kok Thye retired, if he hadn’t suffered a stroke, he would probably still be working today. He was very disappointed to his company that they didn’t care about him. Kok Thye worked so hard before, type so many forms, and yet in the end, he got nothing from his company. Kok Thye worked very hard to try to walk like before, and talk like before. Because of his strong determination, about the fourth month, Kok Thye could speak quite clearly and could walk, but he still needs a walking stick to support him when he is walking.


11 Stroke is is a “brain attack” that happens when a part of the brain experiences a problem with blood flow.

His wife, Poay Hiang, had been taking good care of him, since he suffered stroke. All the house works, Poay Hiang had to do it by her. Since Poay Hiang doesn’t know how to drive car, mean time she wants to save money, so every time she goes to market she would walk there. If she buys a lot of food, then she would take cab, if not, she would just walk back. Luckily, that the markets and shopping centre are near to their house, or else Poay Hiang is going to walk a long way to go to the market or shopping centre. Kok Thye once told me that “I would not function well without Poay Hiang. I am very grateful to have such a lovely wife.She took really good care of me”

also polished his car, although it is not as clean as the he used to be. Later, he would read newspaper (especially the lottery part!). In the afternoon, most of the time he watches television, exercise and sometimes he takes a nap. In the evening, he would water his plants in front of his house, then he would pray. As I can see that, his favourite things to Six months later, Kok Thye could walk quite smoothly, but still needs the walk- do at home are to water the plant and ing stick to support him. Poay Hiang al- sweep the floor in front of his house. He would sweep the floor three times a ways bring him to the exercise centre to day, morning, afternoon and evening. exercise, exercise is good for the people He would water his plants twice per day. who suffered stoke, so that they could But his most favourite is – watching telerecover soon. About one to one and the vision. Television is like a Play Station to half years, Kok Thye could walk without a walking stick supports him. Every him, because whenever there is no show, morning, he would pray to the God (like he would keep changing the channel, for before). After that, he would sweep (then quite sometimes then he would stop and mop) the floor in front of his house. He off the television. And sometimes when


“I would not function well without Poay Hiang. I am very grateful to have such a lovely wife.She took really good care of me”

which has the same problem like Kok Thye – stroke patients. They like spend their time there exercise and talk to others. And now, Kok Thye is enjoying his life at home, watching television, and water and plants the plants, polish his car and sweep the floor. All of his ambition had fulfilled—visit China, watching two of his sons graduated from university. He I thought that show is very interesting, still enjoys buying Magnum 12, although suddenly he would just change the chan- he always gets scolded by his wife. nel! The other thing that he likes to do which is to scold people, well, he used to have a bad temper, but when he is working he was too busy to scold people, and now, I think it gets a little bit worst, the main thing is he didn’t work and he suffered stroke, which sometimes make him kind of frustrated that he couldn’t walk faster to do something by himself. The first three years when he got the stroke, he had to go to the acupuncture once a week, which my grandmother always accompanied him. They take cab to and fro to the acupuncture centre. And twice per week, he would go to the stroke exercise centre to exercise. At these places, they met a lot of friends,

Kok Thye and his family members

12 Magnum is one of a number gambling compay in Malaysia.. 24



Seah Kok Thye Tan Poay Hiang Seah Chee Khiang Seah Choon Khiang Fleming, By Grace. “Biography - How to Write an Interesting Biography.” Homework Tips - Help With Homework. Web. 03 Oct. 2010. <http://homeworktips. “How to Write a Biography.” | Study Guides, Lesson Plans, Book Summaries and More. Web. 03 Oct. 2010. < html>. pWTfQk8NjE/Inside%20book_thumb%5B1%5D.jpg?imgmax=800


In this autobiography, Sok Pen has managed to interview her beloved grandfather about his life when he was young. As Kok Thye had lived through the World War Two and had worked for the Japanese army. In this autobiography, the author also tells us about how the life was like in the 30s through Kok Thyeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s life.

Autobiography of Kok Thye  

The brief for us was to write a 1000 words "essay" and create a book.

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