Today’s the launch of my new book! This book — “Memoirs of a Flying Tiger” — is an account of the exciting life of Captain Ho Weng Toh, a 99 year old World War 2 veteran who fought as a bomber pilot against the Japanese and later became the first of four pioneer local pilots for Malayan Airways (now Singapore Airlines). He went on to train the first 300 local pilots for Singapore Airlines, all of whom now hold senior positions in the aviation industry or have retired.
This book is the fruit of nine months of labour (while I was simultaneously writing my Masters dissertation). More than just editing the original manuscript which he wrote, I had to comb through dozens of historical documents, conduct a great deal of historical research to ensure the authenticity of the chronology. And best of all, I had to interview Captain Ho and the people whom he worked with just to construct a coherent and engaging story, one that would accurately mirror the story-telling of Captain Ho’s own voice.
This has been an incredible journey and one that taught me that the path to greatness doesn’t necessarily entail accomplishing great things, but in being so warm and welcoming to people, especially those in one’s team, that they’re part of a family.
Captain Ho has since been my role model and an example of a human and humane leader worthy of emulation. I have been inspired to follow his example with the way I lead my team of tutors and my class of 800 students. The success of this module is largely thanks to the many life lessons I learnt from him.
It has been fun and I’m so grateful to have been given this beautiful opportunity.
Captain Ho’s family gave me the honour to be the emcee for the launch, and asked me to give the opening remarks for the event. Here’s the transcript of what I said…
Opening Remarks of the Book Launch,
“Memoirs of a Flying Tiger,”
at the National Archives of Singapore
Tuesday, 19 November 2019
The Nobel laureate and father of transplant surgery, Alexis Carrel, once said: “Man cannot remake himself without suffering. For he is both the marble and the sculptor.”
I’ve had the privilege of working very closely with Captain Ho in the writing of this book. And in that process, I’ve heard him recount so many stories of his life: the ups and the downs, and especially the downs and how he handled them. What I can say is that Captain Ho is truly that man who has remade himself.
He is both the marble and the sculptor.
Captain Ho has dealt with the hardships of war, and the pain and anguish of losing friends and loved ones. While it is easy for people to fall into bitterness and despair over such events. Captain Ho held firm to the values and principles his father taught him. In particular, resilience and compassion. He rose up and out of these difficult events, sculpting himself to be more human and humane than ever before.
I have witnessed the fruits of his humanity on so many occasions through my interactions with the people whose lives were touched, changed, and impacted by him while he was a flight instructor in Singapore Airlines.
We’d like to think that people will remember us for accomplishing great things.
Yet, having spoken with the pilots whom Captain Ho trained and the many people he had worked with, there was one thing that stood out so vividly in their memories so many decades later: it was the little things that he did. His warmth, his kindness, the simple gestures and words that make one feel welcome and at home, as if they were a part of a family – his family.
I work very closely with young people, and I can tell you that apart from festive occasions like Chinese New Year or regular family gatherings, young people these days rarely talk to people a generation or two older than they are.
There is so much wisdom, experience, and insight that fails to be transmitted from one generation to the next. That’s partly because we now live in a time of innovation and disruption, and with it comes the idea that many old things are outdated and irrelevant to our lives. We have the technologies, the hardware, that makes us more advanced than ever. But as cliche as it may sound, we lack the HEARTware, for we have forgotten how to be human and humane. We have, in many ways, stopped learning the best practices of living well and of working harmoniously from the generations before us.
If anything, my experience with Captain Ho has shown that there is still so much that we can learn from people in his generation.
In a few months time, Captain Ho will be a hundred years ago. I’ve only spent nine months working closely with him on this book, and that’s not even 1% of his entire life!
Yet I’ve gained and learnt so much from him. In that nine months of labour, I’ve been reborn. My perspective and my life has changed, and I now do my best to follow his model example of leading my own teaching team like a family the way he did. Had I not met Captain Ho, it wouldn’t have occurred to me how important, how worthwhile, and how meaningful it is to run a team the way he did: like a family.
There is so much wisdom and insight that one can gain from Captain Ho. He has a century’s worth of it. And I believe we can gain many insights from his life stories in his book.
Man is both marble and sculptor, and here is that man, that most beautiful work of art, ready to share his life and his stories with us.