It's a delight to be featured in the recent issue of BWN Asia magazine, produced by Business Women’s Network founder Michelle McFarlane. I’ve been a member for several years and always enjoyed the group's strong sense of community and support. Michelle was also a part of my inaugural Tile Tidy Up, and even came back a second time with her husband! If you’re a women into business and based in Singapore, check out this terrific organisation.
An honour to be mentioned in Singapore's Lianhe Zaobao newspaper! Many thanks to those who have supported me in researching my family tree and helping me to understand my roots. The main photo in the article was taken at my Hokkien great-grandfather's ancestral temple in Singapore on Cantonment Road. It's been an amazing journey learning about the history of this fascinating building. Read the article in English and Chinese below.
Established in 1928 by members of a Lim clan association, this architectural beauty was built with funds from members including my great grandfather. I'm surprised at the unusual array of Peranakan tiles that proudly decorate this Hokkien temple. More recently, I have learnt that the temple was constructed by the father of war-time hero Lim Bo Seng, Lim Loh. This self-made migrant was also in charge of building the Victoria Theatre and the Goodwood Hotel. There's still so much to learn! :)
(English translation of original Chinese language article)
Aussie Artist’s Search for Her Roots in Singapore: Her father is a local Chinese, and Mum is a Caucasian
26 March, 2018
By Chen Ying Hong
Jennifer Lim used to visit Singapore from Australia every three years or so. Although she could not communicate with her grandparents due to the language barrier, her father insisted on taking her to see the country of his birth. Henceforth, the seeds of an early yearning to seek out her roots were quietly sown.
When it comes to the subject of seeking one’s roots, overseas Chinese invariably think about visiting mainland China. Yet Jennifer Lim, a 41 year-old artist, is a mixed Chinese-Caucasian who comes from Australia and is seeking her roots in Singapore.
Jennifer’s father is Lim Soo Khiam, a former Singaporean who once worked in the merchant navy. Soo Khiam migrated to Australia when he was 25 years old and married a Caucasian university lecturer named Robyn. Together they raised Jennifer and her brother.
Jennifer inherited her mother’s Caucasian looks such as pale skin and a high nose. She recalled that her dad used to take her to Singapore to regularly. Although she spoke only English, and her grandparents only Malay and a Chinese dialect, her father was adamant about taking her back to visit Singapore. These trips had the unwitting effect of planting the seeds of an early desire to find her roots.
Some six ago, Jennifer and her husband moved to Singapore for work. Her father came over to visit and took her to see his old house and a shophouse once owned by her great grandfather. These visits reinforced her interest in wanting to know more about her family history.
On the subject of her ancestral tree, Jennifer revealed in a somewhat embarrassed fashion that most of the material she had gathered so far came from family wakes. She recalled that “Chinese family gatherings such as weddings are usually hurried affairs and it is only during wakes that families allow themselves to slow down and take the time to chat”.
Jennifer’s search for familial material gathered pace four years ago when her father suffered a stroke which rendered him unable to walk or talk. All the data that she has found so far including ancestors’ photos and records are now collected and stored in a black document folder file.
Jennifer’s grandfather, Lim Chong Lay, used to be in charge of a warehouse, and her great grandfather, Lim Nee Yam, was the owner of a bumboat company. Her elderly relatives told her that her great grandfather was a wealthy and solidly-built man who used to live at 42 Club Street. He had a total of 3 wives.
Visiting ancestral graves is a common part of doing one’s family tree. Jennifer’s great-great grandfather, great grandfather, maternal great grandfather and maternal great grandmother are all buried at “Kopi-Hill”, also known as Bukit Brown Cemetery. When the Singapore government announced its intention to build a highway through part of the cemetery, Jennifer’s uncle organised the exhumation of the affected family tombs about six years ago. Jennifer accompanied her eldest uncle to witness the exhumation of her great grandfather’s grave.
“It was raining heavily that day and the atmosphere was laden with sadness,” she recounted. “We stood quietly under the tent and watched the Daoist priest recite his prayers in the downpour. After that, we took great grandfather’s remains to the Tse Tho Aum Temple on Sin Ming Road and deposited them in an urn.”
Jennifer, who lives in Toa Payoh, would on occasion visit the temple to offer prayers to her grandfather and other forbearers. On one such visit, she succeeded in enlisting the help of a caretaker to unlock the urn storage compartment so that she could speak to her ancestors directly.
Looking for Ancestry from the Tombstones
Jennifer has collected considerable information on her ancestry from the tomb inscriptions found at Bukit Brown Cemetery. Such tombs include place of origin and the names of descendants such as sons and grandsons. She exclaimed, “Traditional Chinese tombs record the names of family descendants in such great detail!”
Over the last few years, she has gleaned a lot about Singapore’s history from the tombstones during her visits at Bukit Brown Cemetery with a few of her “Kopi friends”, volunteer guides also known as the “Brownies”. On one such occasion, a history aficionado revealed that a stone stele listing the names of donors in the Nine Dragon Lim Clan Ancestral Hall (LCAH)on Cantonment Road included the name ‘Lim Nee Yam’. Subsequently, this friend accompanied her to the Hall, where she discovered her great grandfather’s name inscribed on the stele along with the large donation of $500.
When Mr Lim Cheng Eng, the Chairman of the hall found out that this reporter was interviewing Jennifer on location, he arranged for his committee members to welcome them.
Mr. Lim said, “The LCAH has close to 1000 members. As Jennifer is not a local Singaporean, she could not become a member. However, this does not affect her membership in the youth wing. Jennifer has participated in many of LCAH events including its 90th anniversary celebrations in November 2017. She took part in and celebrated the event with her fellow clansmen.”
He added that “It is indeed rare for someone with a foreign background such as her to show such a powerful sense of attachment to LCAH. We take great comfort in her sense of belonging. We hope that more descendants with a like background can look up her as an example and participate in our activities.”
There are two floors to the main building at LCAH and the first floor is given over to the display and storage of Lim clan ancestral tablets. Regardless of one’s ancestral origin, LKR said that anyone with the surname Lim is entitled to place his/her tablet there.
As Jennifer’s grandmother Tan Im Neo was a Peranakan Chinese, Jennifer is also very interested in Peranakan culture. The Peranakan tiles have now become a source of creative inspiration for her prints works.
Mr Lim Wen Sheng, chairman of the LCAH mutual aid association, was the first individual to take Jennifer on a tour of LCAH. Pointing to the wall inscriptions with the words “loyalty and piety”, he said that these are the two of the most valued moral virtues for the Lim clan.
Jennifer’s husband Chin Jin Guang, an Australian born Chinese, works as a project manager for the Singapore branch of an Australian international construction company. They have 2 children - a daughter, Zhi Sian (7 yrs) and a son Zhi Guang (4 yrs).
Ever since her dad suffered a stroke, Jennifer felt that the responsibility of helping her father put together the family tree fell on her shoulders. “This material is meant for our next generation. I encourage my children to learn Mandarin and told my daughter to master the language because I want them to conscientiously protect and preserve Singapore’s history”.
Jennifer smilingly said that whilst her daughter remains unfamiliar with the meaning (of this hope), and even takes the view that Bukit Brown Cemetery is ‘the hottest place in Singapore”, she hopes that her growing-up years in Singapore would become a beautiful memory for her and a wonderful start in life.
父亲是本地华人 母亲是高加索裔 澳籍女艺术家在我国寻根2018年3月26日 星期一
Gorgeous Peranakan Inspired Artwork by Artist With Strong Ties To Japan
Active Women in Singapore series
Jennifer Lim is an Australian artist residing in Singapore with a surprisingly deep connection to Japan. In the fourth part of our series on Active Women in Singapore, I'd like to introduce Jennifer and delve into her interesting background.
Although she was born in Sydney, Jennifer’s father is Singaporean and her mother is Australian. As an artist, Jennifer’s work is rich with originality and creativity through her fusing of cultures and her experience of various countries and regions. Her long-time ties to Japan can be felt upon seeing her art and glancing at her resume. Jennifer is also a fluent speaker and reader of Japanese.
When Jennifer was six years old, she moved from Australia to Japan after her mother took up a year-long position as a visiting lecturer at the University of Tokyo. At that time, her mother’s love for art, and ukiyoe prints in particular, had a huge impact on Jennifer, which she says influenced her career choice immensely.
When she was in high school, she visited Japan again as an exchange student. She attended a public high school in Nagoya, where she wore a ‘sailor’ style uniform while clutching a dictionary in her hand. After returning to Australia, she was accepted into the Australian National University. In her third year of university, she joined a year-long exchange student program at Kyoto Seika University.
It was during this period that Jennifer became increasingly interested in Kyoto’s unique culture and frequently visited antique stores and flea markets. She began collecting kimono and now owns a sizeable collection. She sometimes even wears them when she goes out to events.
Even after becoming an adult, her ties with Japan continued to grow. Her first job brought her to Okinawa, which she chose because of its unique indigenous culture and historic connection to China. She began working for the international relations section at the Okinawa Prefectural Government. During this time, her interest further grew in Okinawa’s colorful and unique culture. She later moved to Tokyo and continued working as a translator and interpreter at a city bank and various embassies.
Amid her busy life, Jennifer was suddenly forced to deal with a near-death of a close family member. This experience became the reason for shift back to the world of art. She moved to Singapore and started to embark on her true passion.
Since having two children, Jennifer has managed her time so that she can share her love of art with others. She has taught at LASALLE College of the Arts and regularly hosts workshops at her studio and externally. She is active in the art world and participates in art festivals and art exhibitions.
I recently attended a workshop by Jennifer and learnt to print using the Japanese woodblock technique. I found her teaching style to be very open and relaxed. Many of her art workshops focus on Peranakan culture due to Jennifer's interest in her heritage. Her artwork is also unique and frequently contains references to her background. She uses linocut printing, and traditional Japanese woodblock printing as the result of her student days in Kyoto.