By Teo Soh Lung
20th Anniversary of the passing of Aileen Lau Guek Lin
Aileen Lau Guek Lin passed away twenty years ago on 10th April. She was forty-four.
Aileen had lived a life not only of fun and laughter, but of courage and compassion. She was always willing to share what she had with others. As a teacher, she could have chosen to teach at her old alma mater, one of the Catholic convent schools. Instead, she chose to teach in a neighbourhood school, Fuchun Secondary School, more than an hour’s drive from her home. She wanted the challenge of teaching children from disadvantaged homes. And she loved the challenge and the children she taught. When she was very ill, the children folded one thousand paper cranes for her.
Besides teaching which she enjoyed tremendously, Aileen had many interests. She was a great supporter of the Arts. She loved the theatre and she would see almost all the shows in the annual arts festival. She was also an amateur actress and was involved in some of the plays staged by the now defunct Third Stage.
In the 1980s, Aileen was one of the earliest volunteers at the Geylang Catholic Centre which was set up by a Catholic priest, Father Arotcarena. Father Arot as he was popularly called, had left his comfortable parish in Katong to set up the centre in order to fulfill the Church’s pastoral mission of taking care of the poor. Aileen was an amazing volunteer. Her easy going nature and her infectious laughter gained the confidence of the foreign workers who happened to reside in the flat above the centre. They would drop by at the centre to pass away their time or to learn the English language. Aileen taught them English and learnt Chinese from them in return.
Besides teaching, Aileen never failed to volunteer her time when called upon to do emergency duties at the centre. Such duties included attending to the needs of battered wives and people in distress in the middle of the night.
The Geylang Catholic Centre was abuzz with activities in the 80s. There were many volunteers, including a team of dedicated young lawyers who took on cases pro bono. The centre was also a shelter for workers who were injured or who had left their employers because of ill treatment or sexual exploitation. It was sometimes a half way house for ex offenders. There was plenty of activities at the centre.
The centre was busy until the dawn of 21 May 1987. All activities came to a sudden halt when eight volunteers and lawyers were arrested under the Internal Security Act. Two lawyers from the Jurong Workers’ Centre were also arrested. Aileen was spared. Her freedom tormented her. A few years later, when she was severely stricken with cancer (a disease she attributed to the stress caused by the mass arrests in 1987), she penned her thoughts on the imprisonment of her friends.
Freedom in Captivity
You are there
somewhere across this busy highway
past the old Chinese cemetery
in one of the cells
among tree-shaded buildings
hidden from public view,
very much in the public eye.
The stars overhead
give you light
Not a sound is heard
except from the crickets
Freedom utters not a word
Silence in captivity.
(13 September 1993)
These trees down Scotts Road
Blinded by exhaust fumes
Deafened by engine sounds
Carelessly drop little red seeds
As I walk by in the sun
I see the seeds
I hear the noise
But my thoughts are far away
Ask the trees
My sighs of pain
They hear full well
Despite the traffic din.
(14 September 1993)
Dear Aileen, rest in peace. We are still fighting for the abolition of this cruel law, the Internal Security Act.
[spacer style=”1″ icon=”none”] Operation Spectrum also known as the 1987 “Marxist Conspiracy”, was the code name for a covert security operation that took place in Singapore on 21 May 1987.
16 people were arrested and detained without trial under Singapore’s Internal Security Act (ISA) for their alleged involvement in “a Marxist conspiracy to subvert the existing social and political system in Singapore, using communist united front tactics, with a view to establishing a Marxist state.”
On 20 June 1987, 6 more people were arrested, bringing the total number of detainees to 22. The mostly English-educated group was a mix of Catholic lay workers, social workers, overseas-educated graduates, theatre practitioners and professionals.
This post was first published on Teo Soh Lung’s facebook account. Ms Teo is also one of those who have been arrested during the operation.