The 40 over years of memories and emotional investment have been great for S.K. Balakrishnan, former President of the Singapore Polytechnic Graduates Guild (SPGG) from 1980-81. Balakrishnan, an SP alumni, was one of the founding members of the SPGG, and he met his wife on an exchange trip during his schooling years. For him, Singapore Poly has been a great part of his life.
Balakrishnan sharing the SPGG story at the Library
In this interview, Balakrishnan talked about the formative years of the Guild House, the later parts of its history and his own memories of the old times he had in poly.
Being involved in the Student Union, he pushed the idea of having a Guild House in 1969, after a visit from Lee Kuan Yew in which the former Prime Minister asked if they had a Graduate’s Guild. With two others, Henry Chua and Lee Heng Guan, they mediated a start-up fund of $100 in a Union meeting for building the Guild and in 1970, a Pro-tem Committee was formed for the Guild.
Bala recounted the years following the formation of the Pro-tem Committee. “In 1971, we registered it. Then in 1972, Lee Kuan Yew agreed to come and open our Guild. We were very shocked because he was such a high profile guy at that time.” It was one of his more memorable moments.
The early days of the Guild were humble. At first, the polytechnic gave the Guild the top floor on the fifth level of the administration building at PEC, which used to be the Estate Officer’s quarters. They would employ students to man the phone because the workload was too heavy on just the three of them. The first elected President was Wee Chwee Heng, then a Singapore Polytechnic Board Member and one of the leading architects. The activity of the Guild fizzled out eventually for a time.
From 1973 onwards, Bala continued to be involved with the Guild as the documents directed to the Guild were redirected to his house. Students would send postal money of $12 through the post office, asking to be a member, which Bala could not answer because he could not operate anything with the reins having been passed over to the new committee. For six to seven years, he kept the documents and kept receiving the redirected letters and files until 1980. In that year, the Guild was revived again.
The Principal at that time, Khoo Kay Chai, requested for Bala and the first President, Wee Chwee Heng, to do something about reviving the Guildhouse. He then gave them a whole block for the Guildhouse which formerly housed the Childcare Centre.
Someone had to step up as President again, but Wee Chwee Heng was no longer interested, and the responsibility fell to Bala. He called his old guys together and put the Guild in order. They introduced a number of things such as Life Membership of $100 and Bala persuaded many of his friends to join as life members. The Guild was also successful in obtaining access to the Library for graduates using their Guildhouse membership card.
In 1981 Bala passed the Presidency down to a colleague, Ang Poh Soon, who was very active in the Singapore Power Union, but stayed on to support the team because of his background with the Guild and experience.
For the next five years, Bala and and Poh Soon worked tirelessly to improve the Guild, even introducing a scholarship at one point, until Jeffery Lee took over as the Guild’s President in 1985. During his term of office, Jeffery became well-known for his role in building the beautiful SPGG Guildhouse on sprawling grounds in Dover Road.
Not many people know the inside story of the Guild – most of us only know the timeline in the website which describes briefly how the Guild came to be what it is today over the years. Bala mused, after the interview, “So, I think, you’re the very few people who actually know the inside story of the Guild. You all thought it was just a Guild. It was such a long, tedious process to get it going.”
Kampong spirit in PEC
Besides the memories of his time with the Graduates’ Guild, Bala also recalled how campus life was like in the good old days at the Prince Edward Road campus (PEC). One memory in particular was how he was able to meet and get to know friends from other courses at common areas such as the canteen – there was only one canteen then and one recreation room. “You know, in the forest there is only one watering hole? The tiger will come and the deer will come because there is only one watering hole, and in the old campus that was the beauty of it."
The Student's Union House that was demolished in Shenton Way.
In the recreation room of the Student Union House at Shenton Way, there was only one tennis table, and everyone constantly rushed there to use it. Everybody would crowd in the tennis room and take turns to use the one tennis table. Those were the things that brought the students close back then.
Bala also remembered how when he was in the Student Union, most of them spent their days studying in the Student Union House until midnight and even sleeping there. “It’s a pity that they tore it down,” he said. “It was such a beautiful house and I’m sure it had a long history and we spent a lot of time there.”
“We were such simple folks then,” Bala recalled with fondness. “It was fun times; we made a lot of friends.”
|Students on board the cargo ship to Indonesia, led bythe SPSU 9th Council Student Exco members in 1970. Bala is in last row, 3rd fr right.||SPSU members and students meeting government officials in Bandung.|
On his poly education, Bala said, “What I benefitted most, more than the knowledge of my Electrical Engineering course, was that I grew up in the poly. I was a very shy and practical person. I honed my auditory skills, people skills and interpersonal skills, especially because of my role in societies and in the Union."
These social skills had certainly served him well as he started on his life-long career as the Principal Technical Officer in Singapore Power soon after his graduation. Now happily retired, Bala enjoys using the recreational facilities of the SPGG.
|Freshies Orientation Programme 1967- Building a road in the spirit of gotong royong to achieve a common goal, a popular theme in the 60s.|| Balakrishnan (on right) with SPSU Exco members at a function in 1969.|
- by Carmen Ong for SP Memory Project, Year 3, School of Communication, Arts and Social Sciences.