Gangster shootout and Singapore Girl in wax

Mr Lum Pak Meng (right) chatting with retired cop Abdul Rahman Khan Gulap Khan at The Big Read Meet.
Mr Lum Pak Meng (right) chatting with retired cop Abdul Rahman Khan Gulap Khan at The Big Read Meet.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The Big Read Meet helped reader Lum Pak Meng solve a 42-year-old mystery this week.

On Wednesday night, Mr Lum turned up at the National Library Board headquarters for the meet, which featured the editor, co- authors and three interviewees of the best-selling official SG50 book Living The Singapore Story.

Among the interviewees was retired policeman Abdul Rahman Khan Gulap Khan, 65, who regaled the 73-strong audience with how he cracked many of Singapore's biggest criminal cases, including pouncing on gangster Hoo How Seng in a stairwell at an apartment block opposite the Istana on July 21, 1973.

Mr Abdul Rahman recalled how Hoo whipped out his pistol and fired at him, the bullet grazing his belly. When he tried to stop Hoo from squeezing the trigger further, the thug almost broke his finger.

The gunfight ended after the cop's colleagues shot Hoo in the head.

"It took 13 minutes for him to die," Mr Abdul Rahman told the enthralled audience.

Mr Lum, who is 57 and a self- employed writer and researcher, then stood up and told everyone that he had been in the apartment immediately below Hoo's at that time and had wondered about the sudden burst of gunfire.

After the meet, he recalled that hairy moment again with Mr Abdul Rahman, who is now a community liaison officer with the National University of Singapore.

Yesterday, Mr Lum told The Straits Times that in that fracas, Mr Abdul Rahman had initially pointed his pistol at his brother- in-law, a doctor, after the latter ignored Mr Lum's warning and ran out of his flat to check on the commotion.

Mr Lum, who was then about 15 years old, recalled: "After the shooting, the gunman's girlfriend ran over to his body and started howling over him and cursing the cops."

The audience was also agog at the book's other interviewees, retired Singapore Girl Lim Suet Kwee, 50, and Raffles Hotel's first and only resident historian, Mr Leslie Danker, 76.

The statuesque Ms Lim was the model for the Singapore Girl waxwork in London's famous attraction, Madam Tussauds.

Her colleagues had kept the purpose of her Tussauds trip a surprise, she said, and she was initially perplexed as to why a group of people - all there to study her features so they could shape her likeness in wax - were staring at her all the time.

Mr Danker, who spoke vividly of Raffles Hotel's history and famous guests, earned the most chuckles for his witty asides.

When he recalled that the restored hotel reopened on Sept 16, 1991, a reader who wanted to be known as Mr Siva asked if that had been timed to coincide with the birthday of Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The book's editor Han Fook Kwang, also The Straits Times' former editor and now its editor- at-large, later told the audience that the late Mr Lee's musings on page 53 of the book were likely his last written contribution before his death on March 23 this year.

Reader Shanta Subramanian, who is 63 and an administrator in a publishing company, enjoyed the meet because the three interviewees were very engaging and had "very interesting" life stories.

She enjoyed reading the book even more because most of the people featured in it were "not ministerial-level people, but everyday people I can relate to".

That effect, Mr Han said, was exactly what he and his team had aimed for in shaping the book.

Three among its four co-authors, Ms Angelina Choy, Ms Jennani Durai and this writer, then joined Mr Han in taking questions from the floor, including how the book's 58 interviewees were selected.

Reader Vincent Loo, 57, a commodities sales and relationship manager at financial software, data and media company Bloomberg, has been following Mr Han's commentaries since he was in his 30s.

He said: "As the General Election is near, he must be very busy and so I really appreciate that he took the time to meet us."

Mr Lum, who had not read Mr Abdul Rahman's story before attending the meet, said: "It was a very pleasant surprise to see him again. It was only when he started talking about the gunman that I realised who he was. There weren't that many shooting incidents in Singapore, even in those days."

• Living The Singapore Story by Han Fook Kwang, Angelina Choy, Cheong Suk-Wai, Jennani Durai and Cassandra Chew is on sale at major bookshops at $19.69 a copy with GST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2015, with the headline 'Gangster shootout and Singapore Girl in wax'. Print Edition | Subscribe