Any girl who has worn a blue and white pinafore and went to school in Katong Convent Primary or Secondary will know this couple. If not, let me refresh you memory… Mr Lim Poh Heng and Mrs Shirley Lim run the bookshop in the canteen and just like the students, they are there almost every single day. I came to know that they were retiring when I saw a post in the Katong Convent Alumni Group on facebook and decided to get in contact to share their story. When Mrs Lim called me, she first noticed that I had a sorethroat and told me “You better not talk, save your voice so you will get better”. My heart sank. With so many different faces, year in year out, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t remember me but her compassion and kind heart still loved each one of us the same.
Surely I was not one of the girls who would make an effort to talk to her every single day while I was in school, and I thought, how could she remember me? Like a daughter reuniting with her long lost mother, I could not wait to chat with Mrs Lim at her “favourite hangout spot”, a place she calls home. Whether you’re a stranger or a student of the school, she would still address you as “Dear” or “Girl”. I’ve mentioned Mrs Lim so much and you must be wondering, what about Mr Lim? Well, he’s the shy, quiet man with plenty of jokes hidden up his sleeves. He lets his wife speak and nods in agreement.
So… Uncle Lim and Auntie Shirley, let’s start with your family. How many kids do you have?
Mrs Lim: We have 4 kids. 3 girls and 1 boy. All 3 girls went to KC too. My 2nd daughter works at the Venetian Hotel in Macau, the other 2 don’t really work. One is busy coaching and the other is busy with her own kids and they live in Portland, Oregon. But my son lives in Singapore and we see each other from time to time.
When did you first open your bookshop?
Mrs Lim: We started in 1969 and our first bookshop was in the secondary school then in 1971, we opened another bookshop in the primary school. Now we only have the bookshop in the secondary school because we decided to give up that one in 2009 after they renovated the building.
Mr Lim: Do you know that we own the oldest bookshop in Singapore! Not many people know that but people in the business know us. We’ve been around for 50 over years!
Why did you both decide to run a bookshop?
Mrs Lim: Back in the day, the nuns were the ones in charge and there are 2 nuns that are very special and close to my heart, Sister Rosario and Sister Fimbarr. Sister Fimbarr was the one who gave me the bookshop! She was the principal at that time. And Sister Rosario, she was the Science Teacher last time and would bring me lunch everyday when I was pregnant!
What are some of your fondest memories?
Mrs Lim: Even though I’m just a bookshop aunty but I treat all the girls as though as they are my own. I’m like their mother! Sometimes I will scold them because you know kaypoh lah but it’s because I do it out of love. There was one time, this girl keep coming to buy erasers. Of course she come and buy things from my shop, I’m very happy but I had to ask her, “Girl, why you everyday buy erasers? Save your money for something better next time.” But my favourite is seeing the girls transition from little girls to mature women. Whenever the girls who have graduated and left the school come to visit their teachers, they will also come and say hello to me! I don’t really know who they are, what their names but they are all like family to me.
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How about you Uncle Lim?
Mrs Lim: He also loves the girls very much. Last time he will let selected girls go behind the bookshop and I told him to stop doing that because if you want to let one or two in, you must be fair and let everyone in am I right? He never think of how left out the other girls will feel but I know he has his good intentions. So after that we don’t allow anyone to go in anymore.
So do I get to be one of the lucky ones to go see the back of the bookshop?
Mr Lim: Can can can. Come, I show you!
With the rising cost of everything, how do keep your business going especially selling everything for such a low price?
Mrs Lim: There’s one thing I learnt while in the business. You work out of love and not out of your own interest. It’s not really about making money. You must use your brains and your heart. All the exercise books, last time in the 60s and 70s, the cost is 13.5 cents and I only make 1.5 cents per book because I sell at 15 cents! Other supplier sell the exercise books 80 pages including the cover. I sell cheaper than them and sell 80 pages not including the cover and I even add in table of contents for the girls!
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Your kids are old enough and take very good care of you. You could have retired earlier but why did you decide to retire now?
Mr Lim: Our children are very good to us. They give us money to spend but we don’t feel good when we spend their hard earned money la. The bookshop keeps us occupied and it is so hard to let go after you know everybody in the school and you are so used to it. Very difficult to leave.
Mrs Lim: The main reason is because we cannot meet all the email orders. You know now people everything also ask to email. We are so old, don’t know anything about technology. I do not even have a handphone. People say must move on with the times but I don’t want to because what’s important is what makes us comfortable. What I see I like, I do, I don’t like, I don’t do. Anyway, time to make way for the young and for me to enjoy!
Did you have any intentions to get your kids to take over your business?
Mrs Lim: No lah! They want to do what they like and I also want them to do what they like so they can be happy!
What are your plans after you retire?
Mrs Lim: We are going to go on holiday! Going to Portland in January to visit my daughter and my grandchildren for 2 months. Then after that, we come back to Singapore and go to Macau to visit our other daughter in March.
Looks like you will be busy enjoying your retirement!
Mrs Lim: Aiya, but to tell you the truth, even when I travel, I still think of the bookshop and the girls in the school. I always know when the girls have matured and have boyfriends outside.
What’s the secret?
Mrs Lim: When they come to the shop and buy things. I know they are buying to make something for their boyfriend la! When in Sec 1 or Sec 2, they will still come to the shop and look see look see and go, “SO CUTE!” Ahhh those girls still young and innocent. But the ones that come to the bookshop knowing what they want, I know what they are trying to do! Buy all the colourful paper to make something for the boyfriend la!
Do you know that you are very popular in the Katong Convent Alumni Facebook Group? So many people like and comment about their memories of the two of you!
Mr Lim: Is it? Must be after Karen took picture of us and put on the website right?
Mrs Lim: My KC girls are very special to me, no matter what. I’m happy that they still remember me. The school is my home, I spend more time here than my own house! Everytime the girls will ask me, “Auntie why you always here?” I will tell them, “Hang out la! You all go Orchard Road hang out, My hang out spot is here in the school!”
How did auntie end up helping at your bookshop?
Mrs Lim: She was actually working at the bookshop in St. Nicholas for 36 years. We were introduced to each other because Uncle and I needed help as we traveling more frequently to visit our daughter in Portland so Auntie came to help in 2003. She’s really like my sister now. We take care of each other and chit chat all day long.
What is one thing that you will never forget?
Mrs Lim: The time when we were ordering the new P.E. T-shirt with the new design somewhere in 2000.
Why? What happened?
Mrs Lim: The supplier brought samples of the new design and I knew that the design was wrong. I was so terrified because the supplier already printed so many shirts and he will waste his money if the design is wrong. So I walked to the general office and from far, Mrs Kee (The principal at that time) saw that I was very panicky. She is my favourite principal because she was always smiling. So I told her, “Mrs Kee, the design how? It’s wrong right?” I was so shocked even though she knew the design was wrong, she told me that nothing was wrong with the shirt with a big smile on her face. Years later when I met her again, I asked her if she knew and pretended to be okay with it and she said Yes. Such a wonderful lady. Girl, make sure you write that down, I want Mrs Kee to know!
Ok ok, I will… Don’t worry. Auntie Shirley, I don’t know if people have told you before but you are one lady with a big heart and I really admire you for being so giving!
Mrs Lim: I always believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and if I can help in anyway, I will help.
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Is there anything that you’d like to say to the girls of Katong Convent or the staff?
Mrs Lim: I’m always very proud of my KC girls. When you go out in the world, you are very special. Anything you undertake with your heart and soul, you will always shine the brightest.
Mr Lim: Thank you all for your support all these years and also to the teachers and staff that worked with us, thank you very much and we will miss all of you.
Are you a Katong Convent alumni and know Mr & Mrs Lim? Share this post together with your fondest memory of them! 5 lucky winners will receive a CHIJ Katong Convent exercise book and Lecture Pad as a momento! Winners will be announced on our Facebook Page on Oct 30, 2014 at 12pm!