Dr. Poh Soo Kai was a pedigree, coming from a rich and famous family. His maternal grandfather was the richest man in Singapore in his day, a philanthropist and the founder of the Chinese High School, and several educational institutions in Fujian, including Ji Mei University. His uncle was also a well known multi-millionaire and philanthropist, Lee Kong Chian of Lee Foundation fame. This is a different Lee Family whose fortune came from trading rubber, commodities and banking and finance. And the Foundation is still giving generously to the the needy. Poh Soo Kai was the RMS of the time, the rich man’s son. And with a medical doctor’s degree in the 1950s, he could have lived a life of fame and abundance.
He spent most of his adult life in prison for a crime he did not commit. 19 years of his prime were spent in detention without trial for having a different political belief from the ruling govt. He gave up everything, including friends and associates for being in the wrong camp. He has stood firm in his belief until today.
He returned to Singapore after spending 17 years in Canada, but found his life in paradise a bit weird. People in paradise of any standing avoided him for reasons they would only keep to themselves. He wrote a book, The Fajar Generation, to honour his friends and their memories. ‘I particularly feel I owe a duty to all my firends who have gone…I owe a duty to all of them to describe the conditions, the struggle, the difficulties we had because we were all together in the struggle.’
His beliefs as to how society should be run remain unchanged. He squirms at the profit-driven motive being placed before the welfare of the people. I must add that this is a big generalisation and the difference is a matter of degree, between how much profit and how much welfare. Politics 101 teaches that politics is about the distribution of power and wealth among the rulers and the ruled. He also believes that Singapore would be better run if the Barisan Socialis (former Singaporean left-wing political party) had come to power. Such a statement could have drawn doubt and scepticism if spoken a few years back. Today, with China offering a different model of economic development, people may think differently and more kindly that things may not be too bad. If a communist country can be as prosperous as it is today, rising from the ruins of war and imperialist exploitation, could we also rise from the swamp with a new economic model of our own? It was a simple no at one time, and only the western model could succeed.
Poh Soo Kai was asked whether he would shake the hand of Lee Kuan Yew if they met. His answer was no. He said ‘There’s nothing more to say.’ It would be hypocritical if he answered yes.
He is one of the last honourable men who would stand for an ideal and sacrifice all the good life that was waiting for him. All he needed to do was admit that he had taken a wrong path, perhaps a confession, a political confession of a different kind.
Poh Soo Kai has returned home. This is home to all Singaporeans here and abroad, those who left for the wrong or right reasons. It is a place that we can truly call home, and we need to guard it zealously for the betterment of our children. When things are wrong or if we are going down the wrong path, Singaporeans who cherish this home must stand up or at least speak up, for themselves and future generations. There is really no place like having a home that is really ours.