Once a wayward teen, this bike shop uncle turned his life around. Now he’s paying it forward

Lee agreed, drawn to the free activities and games it offered, like snooker, which he would never have got the chance to play otherwise. What made him stay on, however, were the mentors — the police officers.

It was tough love, he said, and they demanded respect.

“They always said, ‘I can handcuff you — don’t play the fool,’” he recalled. “But they cared for us. They saw that we were hungry; they’d (say), ‘Go and buy food. I’ll pay.’”

They sometimes insisted that he should join in events and excursions such as a trip to Haw Par Villa. “They’d say, ‘I’ve put your name down already. This is an order — you’d better come,’” he said. He never regretted going.

He especially clicked with one of the mentors, whom he knew as Uncle Tang. “He’s a Cantonese, I’m a Cantonese,” said Lee. “He’s very close to me.”

Uncle Tang “basically” brought him up, gave him “a lot of support” and even talked to his mother at times to tell her that “actually, Lee’s not so bad”.

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That was why, when he failed his O levels and decided to sign up for an apprenticeship course in machining that had a three-year bond, he asked Uncle Tang to be his guarantor.

“When he read the contract, he got a shock,” Lee said. Only during the signing did Uncle Tang find out that he would have to pay S$32,000 — a huge sum at the time — if Lee were to break the bond.

But to Lee’s relief, Uncle Tang signed the contract. “He said, ‘Ho ho zho lang (Be a good person), okay?’” Lee recounted. “Don’t let me down.”

With the opportunity to make a success of his life, Lee graduated with distinction and began his career as a machinist.

Over the years, he rose through the ranks in different companies, earned a diploma in engineering and travelled the world, helping to oversee various projects. Eventually, he started his own business in plastic injection moulding.

Artmotion Asia

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