This story was first published in Trading Stories: Conversations with Six Pioneering Tradesmen at National Museum of Singapore that was exhibited from 15 March till 23 June 2013.
Ng Moey Chye - Samsui Woman
At 81 years old, Ms. Ng does not allow her age to slow her down. She continues to support herself by collecting used cardboard, and once a week she will make her way to the Apex Club of Singapore’s food distribution point to receive a package that includes vegetable and bread. She prefers to see the silver linings in her life and is grateful for her health and the young volunteers for helping the elderly. “Society still has a heart,” she says.
It may be hard to imagine 81-year-old Ms. Ng Moey Chye carting bricks up a construction site. In her younger days, however, Ng would awake at dawn and walk from her quarters at Chinatown to Collyer Quay. There, she would carry out a multitude of tasks that is typically carried out by heavy machinery today at construction sites across Singapore.
Born in Singapore in 1932, Ng was given up for adoption by her parents and never went to school. After witnessing the unhappy marriage of a childhood friend, Ng chose to become a Samsui woman, prizing her independence above everything else.
Samsui women were so-called as the movement originated from the county of Sanshui (Samsui in Cantonese) in Guangdong Province, where women dominated the workforce during a silk industry boom in the mid-19th century. Wearing a distinctive red headscarf or hong toujin (红头巾), the Samsui women were a sisterhood of mainly Cantonese or Hakka women who took a vow of chastity and supported themselves through manual labour.
Hale and hearty even in retirement, Ng now lives in a flat in Redhill and collects used cardboard for sale.
Watch: Samsui Head Scarf
Educators Guide & Activity Sheet
- Trading Stories Educators Guide for Secondary School
- Trading Stories Activity Sheet for Secondary School
- Trading Stories Educators Guide for Primary School
- Trading Stories Activity Sheet for Primary School
About the Exhibition
Trading Stories: Conversations with Six Pioneering Tradesmen draws on firsthand accounts of six tradesmen and community contributions to provide fresh insights on old trades of Singapore. In spotlighting the lives of six individuals and placing their contemporary accounts at the heart of storytelling, the exhibition's approach presents old trades as practiced and the tradesman's story as a history of negotiating change in modern Singapore.
A community exhibition presented by the National Heritage Board, Trading Stories also showcases the memories, personal photographs and memorabilia of Singaporeans who have come together to contribute their stories. This exhibition is as much a tribute to the fortitude and entrepreneurial courage of Singapore's older workforce, as it is an acknowledging nod to the many experiences and voices that make up the fabric of the Singapore Story.