Ah Keow, 71, started working at the young age of 13 in a petrol pump. Smiling, she said that there was no calculator at the time so she used an abacus. Since she had five brothers and five sisters, and she was the eldest, she had to go out to earn an income. Not only did she pump petrol, she sold lottery tickets to earn extra. Once, she sold a lottery ticket to a customer and that ticket won the first prize of S$400,000. She was happy as she got to enjoy a windfall as well as she received a commission of S$2,000.
She worked at the petrol pump for 10 years after which she decided to help her family make kway teow and short noodles, and supply them to the markets. It was tough work as she had to get up at 4am to make the noodles. However, after 15 years doing the business and her brother wanting to go to London to study, as well as the passing of her mother at age 43 from cancer, the family sold the business in 1979 to her brother’s friend.
The mother of two, who has a grandson living in the Middle East, continued working after, such as in an acupuncture clinic and a seamstress at home to help supplement her husband’s income which was not a lot at the time, she shared. Adding, “I only studied till primary school,” Ah Keow shared that she picked up English along the way. “When my son did his homework, I also learned.” She would write to her younger brother in English and would check the dictionary.