Lions Befriender Tan Chor Koon (right) with former fisherman Wee Tee Kian outside Mr Wee's house at Marine Terrace, five minutes walk from the East Coast of Singapore

Fishing tale of the old man and the sea

The previous story of Wee Keong and the monster waves is purely fictional, but is partly inspired by the life of former fisherman, 84-year-old Wee Tee Kiah who was born in Singapore (not China) and went to sea in his father’s boat when he was only ten.

Mr Wee was actually a powerful swimmer and whenever the net got wound around the propeller blades, would dive under the boat to untangle the mess. Storms big or small held no terror for him, he says, only sharks, which swam by the boat to feast on the smaller fishes caught in the net.

Wee Tee Kiah was married but his wife died a few years back and his children had long moved out. He now lives alone in a rented flat at Marine Terrace near to the sea that was once his life and livelihood.

“The sea is not what it used to be,” he laments. “In my fisherman days, we could see schools of fish massing in the net. Today, I was told, the catch is often meagre.”

The real-life Befriender volunteer, Mr Tan Chor Koon, in his mid-50s, visits Mr Wee at least once a week to chat and check that the old man who is sometimes absentminded, takes his pills faithfully.

“Mr Wee is a kind and considerate senior,” says Mr Tan. “He often shares with me anecdotes of his past as a fisherman trawling the Andaman Sea and the Straits of Malacca.

"When he was no longer physically able to put out to sea, he worked as a fishmonger. His knowledge of the different kinds of fishes is as deep as the sea. He even gave me tips on what to look out for when buying fresh fish in the market. Look at the eyes – they must be clear, not glassy. And the body must be compact and firm, not bloated, he told me.

“I visit him most Saturdays. What delighted me is to always see him greeting me with a big smile,” Mr Tan adds.

The Lions Befrienders are a group of volunteers who serve more than 5,000 lonely but relatively healthy old folks or “seniors”, and keep them company. If you like to listen to engrossing tales of a bygone Singapore from people who have lived through it all, sign up with the Befrienders. – May 2016

Find out more at Lions Befrienders