The boy who couldn't go to school

SINGAPORE - First, there was the boy who couldn't go to school.

Tan Chio Lin began school at age 10. He was a jovial and mischievous boy who loved playing pranks. Seven years later, he left school with no qualifications.

You may think that is the end of the story for this boy. You are wrong.

In fact, it is the beginning.

Tan, born in 1937 in Singapore, was given away as a baby to a family in Johor in Malaysia.

There, his life was disrupted by the Japanese Occupation. He had to give up studies to work when his foster parents died. Yet, or because of the adversity, Tan was insatiable when it came to learning and life in general.

He loved reading, writing, thinking, imagining and singing. He turned strangers into friends, mastering English, Chinese and Malay along the way.

He liked to watch sport, play sport and play the fool. He cracked jokes and whistled a mean tune.

He was passionate and serious about what he was interested in, and worked hard, head down, to become successful in it. He was steadfast - a classic bull, who would push and stretch himself and give his all once he was set on doing something.

In his adult life, Tan made significant strides in different fields in Malaysia and in Singapore, where he came to work at the age of 30: He was a journalist for the Nanyang Siang Pau, a showbiz magazine journalist, a sports commentator and scriptwriter for the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, an advertising canvasser for Lianhe Zaobao and a writer on politics, arts and life in Lianhe Wanbao.

People would ask him which batch of Nantah he graduated from, referring to the former Nanyang University, famous for nurturing Chinese intellectuals, and he would chuckle: "But I left school at 17!"

The young man had an inexpensive hobby, which was reading books in a small bookshop. He met and fell in love with the young woman working there.

Ang Geok Aye had a similar story to Tan's. She had to leave school early, enjoyed writing, had a zest for life and was passionate about learning. On Oct 5, 1969, they got married and set up home in a one-room flat in Toa Payoh.

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