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A story of self-reliance, determination and integrity
Self-reliance, thrift, humility and integrity - these traits together with foresight, hard work, and an entrepreneurial outlook enabled Wan Boo Sow (雲茂潮) to rise from an early life in rural poverty to build a successful business.

 

Early years
Boo Sow was born in 1918 to poor and illiterate immigrants who came from Hainan island in search of a better life in a British colony. His father, Wan Chong Jin (雲崇锦), eked out a living as a hawker selling “bubor kachang”. When he was four, his father passed away from complications brought on by a fish bone lodged in the throat. Today such a tragedy could be avoided by a simple one-hour procedure in a clinic.

 

Boo Sow’s mother then remarried and left him in the care of his paternal uncle. His uncle’s family was just as poor and survived by rearing poultry on a small piece of land in Geylang. Such hardship was common among many families at that time.
Mr Wan Boo Sow

Growing up
In 1925, Boo Sow enrolled in the Geylang English Primary School to begin his formal education. Seven years later, he attended Raffles Institution where he studied for four years.

 

Born to a very poor family, there were occasions when Boo Sow was not able to pay his school fees for many months. The teachers, sympathising with his plight, allowed him to continue attending classes. Coming from a non-English-speaking family, Boo Sow did not do well in his primary and secondary school exams.

 

Once, when he was low on funds, Boo Sow put up notices offering tuition service. There were parents who paid for his service but did not send their children for tuition. This was their way of donating money to help a poor village boy. Boo Sow was deeply touched by this and other acts of kindness extended to him.

 

After school, Boo Sow had chores like collecting leftovers from restaurants to feed the poultry, cleaning the pig-sties and pens, and bringing poultry and eggs to the market. In the evenings, Boo Sow taught English to Hainanese cooks and houseboys and cleaned the shoes of an Eurasian family.

 

His aunt placed great importance on education and always encouraged him in his studies. Boo Sow was always struggling with his school work but he worked hard on this and managed to pass his Senior Cambridge exams.

 

The years of rural poverty did not break Boo Sow’s spirit. Through it all his family displayed a strong work ethic and always worked hard to improve their lives. It was a lesson in self-reliance, determination and thrift.

 

Job hunting

After his Senior Cambridge in 1937, Boo Sow went to look for work. Police inspector, hospital orderly and bank clerk -- these were positions that he applied for without success. Jobs were hard to come by and were usually obtained through recommendations which Boo Sow did not have. However, his proficiency in the English language enabled him to obtain employment as an interpreter to a rich Hainanese rubber estate owner and a tutor to the latter’s children.

 

An opportune moment came when his cousin, a barber to Dr George V. Allen, Principal of the King Edward VII College of Medicine, showed him Boo Sow’s Senior Cambridge Certificate and asked for his help. Dr Allen later became the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Malaya from 1949 to 1952.

 

Apprenticeship

Noticing that Boo Sow had a credit in Chemistry, Dr Allen sent him to Mr Roebuck, Chief Pharmacist at the Singapore General Hospital, who did not have a vacancy, and instead sent him to his friends, Mr Cook and Mr Chalmers of the Maynard Pharmacy. To Boo Sow’s immense relief, they offered to take him in as an apprentice. All the positions then in fact had been held only by the British.

 

Boo Sow applied himself fully to his work. He was diligent, enterprising, and learned as much as he could. His employers recognised his efforts and rewarded him with a pay rise. Even so, he kept his employment with the rubber estate owner and continued with the two jobs as his pay was still low. Boo Sow needed all that income to support his family.

 

Marriage and family

Four years on, his apprenticeship came to an end when the Japanese invaded Malaya and Singapore in December 1941 and occupied these territories until August 1945. During the Japanese occupation, Boo Sow managed to accumulate some capital by buying and selling medicines which were much sought after. Boo Sow was fortunate that he was not caught up in the Sook Ching massacre when many thousands of Chinese men, especially the educated, were rounded up and executed by Japanese soldiers in February and March 1942. An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 perished in this cruel and tragic manner.

 

In 1943, Boo Sow married Annie Tan (陈玉贞), an English-educated daughter of a book-keeper whom he met through a matchmaker. Many of Annie’s friends had married men who were well-off but without much of an education. When Annie met Boo Sow at his house, she noticed his Senior Cambridge Certificate prominently displayed on the wall in the living room. She decided that it was better to marry someone with an education even if he was not from a well-off family.

 

Annie was Boo Sow’s helpmate and a pillar of unwavering support. Besides caring for their young and growing family, she helped out in the pharmacy and the insecticide business that he was to undertake in the years after the war. She took on the task of selling pharmaceutical and insecticide products in house to house sales canvassing, a common method in the days before the supermarkets, and also helped with administrative work in the factory office.

 

Boo Sow and Annie had seven children, all of whom are university graduates and five of whom graduated from the University of Singapore. With family members who are alumni of the National University of Singapore across two generations, the Wan family is proud of its deep ties to the University.

 

Starting out in business

After the Japanese surrender in 1945, Boo Sow enrolled in the pharmacy course at the King Edward VII College of Medicine. When he graduated with a Diploma in Pharmacy in 1948, Boo Sow was already a father of three. With the modest sum that he had put away during the Japanese occupation, Boo Sow opened the London Pharmacy located at 109 High Street. As a trained pharmacist and chemist, he started experimenting and came up with cough remedies and an insecticide.

 

Path to success

It was the insecticide that launched Boo Sow on his path to success. Customers came to buy the insecticide by the basket loads, bringing their own bottles. To meet the increased demand, Boo Sow opened a small factory in Robinson Road followed by bigger premises in Paya Lebar. By the mid-1960s, he had moved to a larger purpose-built factory at 875 Bukit Timah Road which was officially opened by Dr Goh Keng Swee, then Minister for Finance. This was soon followed by another factory in Johor Bahru. “Ridsect” (杀虫王), as his insecticide was known, became a household name in Malaysia and Singapore and the wider region.

 

Boo Sow and Annie were always immensely proud of their Singaporean roots and were very proud to witness Singapore’s transformation from a British colony to an independent and prosperous multi-racial nation.

 

Legacy

Despite being a man of means, Boo Sow lived a frugal and simple life and was not interested in displays of wealth. Self-reliance, thrift, humility and integrity - these qualities were always with him in all his endeavours.

 

Having gone through much hardship early in life, Boo Sow was able to identify with those in disadvantaged circumstances and was compassionate and generous towards them. He was ready to help those who were less well-off than himself. For many years, he served as chairman of the Wan Clan Association.

 

Boo Sow believed that education was an essential if not paramount factor in an individual’s development, and instilled this value in his children. He was a life-long learner - always curious, inquisitive, filled with a thirst for knowledge and a never-ending desire for self-improvement.

 

Influenced by his life lessons and values, Boo Sow’s children have set up awards and scholarships in various tertiary institutions. Realising the importance of library resources in support of education, the Wan family has made generous donations to the NUS Libraries since July 1995. Over the years, the support of the Wan family has been instrumental in expanding the collections on Chinese, Malay and Southeast Asian Studies in the NUS Libraries.

 

In recognition of the generous support of the Wan family, the National University of Singapore is pleased to name the Chinese Library the “Wan Boo Sow Chinese Library” (雲茂潮中文图书馆).

自强、坚毅、正直的故事

雲茂潮先生(Wan Boo Sow)出身于贫困的乡村家庭。先生以其自强谦逊、朴实正直的品格,加上高瞻远嘱、刻苦耐劳以及勇于拼搏的创业精神白手起家,让他在商界成功闯出一片天。

 

早年生活

雲茂潮生于1918年,出身自贫困而又文盲的移民家庭。其父亲崇锦公(Wan Chong Jin)早年从中国海南岛赴新加坡谋求生计,靠当小贩售卖绿豆汤勉强糊口。很不幸地,其父亲在雲茂潮四岁时不慎因鱼刺卡住喉咙而离世。换到今日,只要到诊所接受简单治疗一小时或就能避免这场悲剧。

 

雲茂潮父亲去世后,母亲改嫁并将他托付给其叔叔照料。叔叔一家也是贫困家庭,只靠在芽笼一小亩农地饲养猪只和家畜勉强维持生计。当时的家庭普遍上生活艰辛。

 

成长阶段

先生于1925年到芽笼英文小学开始接受正规教育。七年后,他继续到莱佛士书院求学四年。

 

先生出身于非常贫困家庭,有时数月都无法支付学费。学校老师同情其处境,允许他继续上学。他来自不谙英语的家庭,常为学业苦苦挣扎,中小学考试成绩一直欠佳。

 

有一回,他手头拮据,因此张贴通告提供补习服务。有些父母已支付学费却没有送孩子给他补习。这是为了帮助这名贫穷的乡村男孩。他对此善举感到深深感动。

 

放学后,他需要帮忙做家务,例如到餐厅收集馊水以喂养家禽、清理猪圈和鸡棚,并将牲畜和鸡蛋拿到市场上去售卖。傍晚时分,他会去教导海南厨师和家丁英语,并到一户欧亚家庭里去擦皮鞋。

 

雲茂潮的婶婶非常重视教育,常常鼓励他专心读书。先生虽然常为课业辛苦挣扎,但是依然努力不懈。大多数人很难同时应付学校课业和家庭重担,但他坚持下去终于考获剑桥高级文凭。

 

在乡村多年的贫困生活未曾让先生失去斗志,或让其家人失去希望。他们对这一切苦难展现出敬业乐业的态度。他们依旧勤勉工作,努力奋斗以改善生活。他们从中学习自力更生、坚持不懈及朴实节约。

 

求职经历

先生于1937年考获剑桥高级文凭后开始寻找工作。他申请过警长、医院护理以及银行书记等多份工作却都石沉大海。当时获聘机会难寻,而且一般需要靠熟人引荐方能获得,可是先生没有相关人脉。所幸他能够用英语进行沟通,因此一户有钱的海南籍橡胶园园主雇用他为私人翻译,并担任其孩子的家庭教师。

 

千载难逢的机会到来。雲茂潮的表兄是爱德华七世医学院校长乔治·艾伦博士(Dr George V. Allen)的理发师。他表兄将雲茂潮的剑桥高级文凭拿给艾伦博士过目,希望艾伦博士协助引荐工作。艾伦博士后来于1949年到1952年成为马来亚大学校长。

 

学徒生涯

艾伦先生留意到雲茂潮的化学成绩考获优等,因此推荐他去拜访新加坡中央医院的总药剂师罗巴克先生(Mr Roebuck),但因为后者没有职位空缺,便请他到梅纳德药房(Maynard Pharmacy)拜会其两位好友库克先生(Mr Cook)和查尔默斯先生(Mr Chalmers)。他们接受先生作为学徒,让他放下心头大石。药房当时的所有职位皆由英国人担任。他的求职之路终于捎来好消息,获得一份稳定的工作。

 

先生十分珍惜这难得的机会。他勤奋工作、有进取心,并尽力学习与药剂行业相关的新知识。雇主赏识他的勤奋努力,给他加薪奖励。即便如此,他的薪水依然微不足道,因此必须维持两份工作,继续为橡胶园主打工。身为家里唯一的经济支柱,他的薪水全都用来补贴家庭开销。

 

婚姻家庭

当日本于1941年12月至1945年8月占领马来亚和新加坡,先生在药房的四年学徒生涯因此戛然而止。日军占领时期,医药产品非常珍贵又供不应求。他在这期间靠买卖药品而成功筹集到一些创业资金。在1942年2月至3月发生的“肃清大屠杀”事件中,超过几万名华人遭到日军围捕杀害,其中多数是知识分子。估计约有五至十万人惨遭残忍杀害。雲茂潮幸运逃过一劫。

 

在1943年,先生与陈玉贞女士(Annie Tan)结为夫妻。陈女士是一位会计的女儿,从小受英文教育。两人通过相亲认识。陈女士的很多朋友都嫁给没受过多少教育的富人。当她拜访雲茂潮家里时,留意到其高挂在客厅墙上的剑桥高级文凭。她当下决定,即使结婚对象的家庭并不富裕,她更想嫁给一位知识分子。

 

陈玉贞女士是先生的贤内助,全心全意地支持他。二战结束后的若干年,先生开始经营药房和杀虫剂业务。陈女士除了照料尚年幼的孩子,她也协助打理药房和杀虫剂生意。此外,她不辞劳苦地挨家沿户兜售药品,有时也在工厂办公室处理文书工作。当时尚未有超级市场,因此上门推销十分普遍。

 

雲茂潮夫妇共育有七个孩子。全部子女都大学毕业,其中五位毕业自新加坡大学。雲茂潮家族两代人都是新加坡国立大学(国大)校友,因与国大渊源深厚而感到自豪。


创业之路

1945年日军投降后,先生到爱德华七世医学院修读药剂系。当他在1948年考获药剂科文凭毕业时,他已经是三个孩子的父亲。他用日治时期存到的一小笔积蓄,在谐街门牌109号开设伦敦药房。身为专业的制药师,他开始研发独家药品配方如咳嗽药和杀虫剂。

 

走向成功

经营杀虫剂生意让先生走向成功之路。客户自备一篮篮的瓶子来大量购买杀虫剂。为满足不断增加的需求,他先在罗敏申路开设小型工厂,接着在巴耶利峇路开设一家更大的工厂。到了1960年代中期,他将杀虫剂工厂搬到武吉知马路门牌875号一栋面积更宽广的专用工厂里。该家工厂由当时的财政部长吴庆瑞博士(Dr Goh Keng Swee)主持开幕仪式。当生意继续扩张后,他在新山开设另一家工厂。他创立的杀虫剂品牌——“杀虫王”(Ridsect),在马来西亚、新加坡以及更广大的地区里已经成为家喻户晓的杀虫剂品牌。

 

雲茂潮夫妇以身为土生土长的新加坡人而深感自豪。他们很高兴见证了新加坡从英国殖民地成功转型成为独立、繁荣、稳定又多元种族的国家。

 

薪火相传

先生虽然富裕,但是生活简朴从不炫富。他在一生奋斗中始终坚守自强谦逊、朴实正直的品格。

 

先生早年饱尝艰辛困苦,因此能够理解并同情相似遭遇的人士,并慷慨解囊协助他们。他乐于协助弱势与贫困人士。他也担任过雲氏公会会长多年。

 

在现代经济发展社会,先生相信教育是开启个人成长之窗,并将这理念灌输给子女。他终生热爱学习——常抱有好奇心、求知欲强,并不断自我提升。

 

雲茂潮先生子女深受父亲的人生经历以及价值观启发,在各大专学府设立奖学金奖励优秀生。他们也意识到图书馆需配备丰富馆藏资料以支援教育。因此,自1995年起,雲茂潮子女每年都慷慨捐助国大图书馆购买中文书籍,并从2014年起增加采购马来文与东南亚研究书籍。

 

新加坡国立大学感谢雲茂潮先生子女一直以来的支持,将中文图书馆命名为“雲茂潮中文图书馆” (Wan Boo Sow Chinese Library)。

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