Older women turn everyday lives into memoirs

Age is no deterrent for two women who have become debut authors by publishing memoirs in their 90s and 70s respectively.

Irene Lim, who recently turned 93, covers nine decades of a Straits Chinese woman’s life in 90 Years In Singapore, while Loke Loo Pin, 76, a former dentist known for acting on stage and television, has penned AcciDental Actress.

Lim, a housewife, began writing down bits and pieces of her memories in 1989, after the death of her husband of 41 years. These were filed away by her daughter, University of Michigan professor Linda Lim.

“This was never meant for publication, but only for the younger generations of the family to know our family history,” says the nonagenarian in an e-mail interview.

“When I was young, we would sit in the garden after dinner and ask for stories about our family, and I thought it good to continue this.”

After she wrote in to the newspapers about heritage dishes that were disappearing, she was approached by historian Loh Kah Seng, who asked her to write down her memories. Though she was daunted by the prospect at first, her daughter helped her collect the pieces she had written over the years into a book.

The book has cameos from well-known personalities, including Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, second president Benjamin Sheares and OCBC banker Tan Chin Tuan.

It is also full of domestic details, like the process of making biji delima, a snack that resembles pomegranate seeds, or how when she was young, she used an antique cabinet as a hen house, not realising it was an heirloom.

Dr Loh writes in his foreword: “Irene’s memoirs, vividly and candidly recounted, are a key source for Singapore’s history… they can also be read for a less-known side of the Singapore story.”

Says Lim: “Writing this book was to inform my family members of how life has changed through the years.

“If not for the war, with the bombing and shelling, the terrors of the Japanese Occupation and Confrontation, I would not have had so many adventures and misadventures, learnt to do so many things to survive as a teenager and become such an independent person.”

Her greatest regret, she says, was not being able to continue her education. In contrast, all three of her daughters went to university and two have PhDs.

Loke was inspired to write her memoir after reading an article on journalling.

A retired dentist, she is best known for her role as Assistant Superintendent Pang in 1990s local cop drama Triple Nine, though she made her TV debut as a taxi driver’s wife in the ground-breaking 1994 show Masters Of The Sea with just one line: “Aiyah, Ah Teck, why so late still not back yet?”. It was the first full-length English TV drama to be produced in Singapore.

She also did stand-up comedy and spent 15 years acting in theatre, from Diary Of A Mad Woman (1997) to The Vagina Monologues (2008).

Although she has been giving copies of the self-published book for free to friends and family, she now hopes to sell it and donate the proceeds to theatre company Wild Rice, whose founder Ivan Heng directed her in Breastissues (1997) and Ah Kong’s Birthday Party (1998).

The mother of two has lived with Parkinson’s disease for 16 years. “You just have to deal with it,” she says. “There’s no use moaning and throwing your life away. I told myself, I need to finish writing before I reach a stage when I can’t type any more.”

She hopes the book will motivate readers to overcome obstacles in their lives. “I want them to have the inspiration to do things they never thought they could do, no matter how old they are or what they’re suffering from.”

Olivia Ho

  • 90 Years In Singapore ($21.40) is available at bit.ly/90YearsSG_Lim. Accidental Actress ($20) is available from [email protected]
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