Alden Boon

Swindled of Her Fortune, Ginny Low Gains Second Wind by Working for the First Time in Her Life


Singapore five decades ago is markedly different from what she is today. Rustic kampong houses dotted the streets of Bukit Merah. Gangsters with thick gold chains slung around their necks had mastery over the streets; fights were ubiquitous and common. Out of this ruggedness there was a diamond in the rough: Ginny Low. There was a hardiness in the young lady, a sort of defiance in her character. Not a typical prissy girl, Ginny spent innumerable days clambering up coconut trees, fashioning catapults out of rubber bands and stones, and making playgrounds out of drains.

Ginny’s mother ran a provision shop, and her family lived from hand to mouth. A young Ginny had always dreamt of becoming a lawyer. “Those days, women facing domestic abuse were many, and I wanted to fight for their justice and put the bad guys in jail,” said the sixty-five-year-old. Her dreams were derailed, however, as her father — who Ginny says was a chauvinist who disallowed the women around him to become superior in any way — insisted on putting her through a Chinese school. Ginny had zero proclivity for learning Mandarin, and hence her interest in studying waned. Playing hooky became a norm.

Like any teenager, the sixteen-year-old Ginny yearned to extricate herself from her circumstances and achieve a better, faraway life. Her aunt’s lavish lifestyle, where weekends were spent partying away, gained her envy. She began attending the parties with a goal of snatching a rich kid. “I was such a head-turner back then, and I had many suitors,” said Ginny, the contours of a smile forming at the returned memory. Three bachelors courted her when she was in her prime, and one of whom would be her future husband: Peter Holstad, a Norwegian who founded Viking Engineering in Singapore. “He was the gentlest soul. Peter was the kind of boss who would only have his meal after his employees had eaten. To me, he was my best friend, father and teacher.”

Peter’s work required him to be away for months on end, a sacrifice in trade for the swift success of his company. The rise of the company brought the couple much wealth, and they soon ascended to the upper echelons of society. To fit in with her peers, Ginny began crafting a persona that apes Elizabeth Taylor’s, emulating her idol’s feminine poise and style of low-cut dresses and shimmering pearls. A newly minted debutante, Ginny whiled her mornings away at the now defunct Jurong Country Club’s tennis court; weekends were chockfull with exquisite high tea sessions and riveting piano recitals at hotel lounges.

The glamour, the spoils. Ginny had everything she coveted when she was sixteen.

Ginny (second from right) mingled with Singapore's most influential elites. At the centre of the picture is Singapore's President Tony Tan's mother.
Down but not defeated: Swindled of her million-dollar fortune, Ginny Low gains second wind by working as a cleaner, and for the first time in her life
Having a ball of their time was a routine for Ginny and her peers.

A life of decadence  

Strip away the decorations and a Christmas tree stands tall, verdant but vacant. It becomes an unassuming object, a white elephant even. That is how Ginny, now in retrospect, describes her younger self. Every piece of jewellery she donned was like an ornament, enlivening the tree’s beauty but not enriching its life.  “There’s a certain etiquette that the rich follow, from the sitting posture to the way they hold their forks and spoons. There’s a certain decorum to adhere to, and so they play nice and mask their true feelings.”

One day, she confided in her friend about how she felt like a hollow shell. “Back then, I did not know why I felt that way, and I had no reason to: I had a husband who loved me; who provided for me. Not once in our forty years of romance did he ever raise his voice at me. I was living an enviable life, and yet I was tired of it.” Remaining reticent, Ginny’s friend would only take her by the hand, and offer to cook her favourite dish: nonya-style chicken thigh. That was the end of the conversation.  Only decades later did Ginny realise her friend was going through the same emotional crisis.

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Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.