I remember... Inter-schools swimming meets

I took part only for the mee siam: Ex-CHIJ student

Ms Amy Lam (right) with her niece Daisy Chua at a cafe in Ann Siang Hill. Recounting her secondary school days, Ms Lam says she can swim long distances but not fast - and has tested her endurance by completing the Appalachian Trail in the US over 127
Ms Amy Lam (right) with her niece Daisy Chua at a cafe in Ann Siang Hill. Recounting her secondary school days, Ms Lam says she can swim long distances but not fast - and has tested her endurance by completing the Appalachian Trail in the US over 127 days in 2005.PHOTO: COURTESY OF AMY LAM

Amy Lam is no ace swimmer. But the former CHIJ student recalls going to the pool at the Chinese Swimming Club in Amber Road for schools swimming meets - and enjoying the mee siam afterwards.

"It was very crowded. There were lots of people cheering," said Ms Lam of the inter-schools swimming competitions in the 1960s.

The Combined Secondary Schools Sports Council's sixth inter-district swimming competition was in the news this week in 1965, with a total of 291 competitors - 182 boys and 109 girls. Star swimmers Tan Thuan Heng, Jovina Tseng and Molly Tay, who had taken part in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, set new records at the meet.

Ms Lam took part in the freestyle relay during her secondary school days in the 1960s but was not a serious contender like her schoolmate Tseng. "The only reason I went was because I liked the mee siam there," she said, adding that it was one of the best in Singapore then.

"I was just filling in because we needed people for the relay."

Now 65, Ms Lam, a former music teacher, was a decent swimmer.

The youngest of seven children, she was taught to swim by her father at a club in the 1950s. Back then, swimming was not taught in schools. "It was not taught in school and, as far as I know, many students at my school could not swim," she said.

Many women were reportedly reluctant to take part in swimming competitions then, perhaps due to inhibitions about appearing publicly wearing swimsuits.

But Ms Lam had no problem. "My parents, and parents of those who belonged to some clubs, were quite open to girls wearing one-piece swimsuits then. My parents were okay with my swimming activities as long as I was not up to mischief," she added.

She trained twice to thrice a week when there were competitions. It was a different era and not as "pushy" as the way student swimmers now train for competition, said Ms Lam, whose grandnephew is a school swimmer.

Ms Lam, who went to Ireland to study when she was 15 and later moved to Norway and the United States, said she can swim long distances but not really fast. She has lots of endurance when it comes to hiking, too, having completed the Appalachian Trail in the US over 127 days in 2005.

The grandmother of six spends a few months each in Norway and the US to spend time with her grandchildren and the rest of her time in Singapore.

She remembers school swimming meets fondly.

"We were definitely just there for the fun of it," she said.

Ho Ai Li

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 13, 2015, with the headline 'I took part only for the mee siam: Ex-CHIJ student I remember... Inter-schools swimming meets'. Print Edition | Subscribe