Coolie Boy e-Book
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Coolie Boy e-Book

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An e-book called Coolie Boy

An e-book called Coolie Boy

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  • 1. EL by Ho Lee-Ling John sprinted out of the classroom the minute the recess bell rang. He bought his food and was just about to take his first bite of nasi lemak when he heard a dreaded voice yell, “Coolie boy!” It was too late. John was quickly surrounded 5 by Big Bully Chan and his gang. “How kind of you to get my food,” said Big Bully Chan or BBC for short. He shoved John aside and started eating his food. “Now get me a drink,” he ordered. “I want a large drink with lots of ice.” 10 John looked at the round faces and hard fists of BBC’s rowdy gang.There was no way he could fight them. He sighed and went to get the drink. When he got back, BBC smirked. “What took you so long? You have to buy us new pens from the stationery shop.” 15 John opened his mouth to protest but BBC’s henchman pinched his arm, and he yelped in pain. By the time recess was over, John was tired, hungry and broke. Recess was far more painful than class time. Text and illustrations © 2011 Curriculum Planning & Development Division, Ministry of Education, Singapore 1
  • 2. EL This problem was constantly on John’s mind. He 20 couldn’t even enjoy the school holidays and spent his time moping around the house. Grandfather guessed that something was wrong and asked John about it. “I have a coolie problem,” John said hesitantly. Grandfather raised his eyebrows, “What do you mean?” 25 “These boys at school call me coolie boy and make me run all sorts of errands for them.” “Do they pay you?” asked Grandfather. “No. They pinch me and call me names if I don’t.” “Well then, you are not a coolie but a slave. Coolies do 30 a lot of hard work — that’s how they got their name. The word, “coolie”, is ku li in Chinese which means “bitter strength”. They make a living using their strength by working in plantations, carrying heavy goods and pulling rickshaws. But most of the coolies in Singapore were not forced to do 35 it. They wanted to work to earn money for their families. Your great-grandfather was a coolie.” “So it runs in the family,” John said forlornly. That comment did not make him feel better.Text and illustrations © 2011 Curriculum Planning & Development Division, Ministry of Education, Singapore 2
  • 3. EL “Your great-grandfather came to Singapore under a 40 credit-ticket system. In this system, an agent paid for his travel expenses to Singapore and in the first few years, he worked to pay off this debt. After that, he kept what he earned and saved enough money to start his own business,” Grandfather added. 45 “Wasn’t it humiliating for him to do that kind of work?” John asked. “He was too busy earning a living to think about such things. Anyway, it’s not humiliating to be a coolie. It is honest work that takes strength, flexibility and even some brains.” 50 “In fact,” Grandfather added, “maybe some coolie work will help with your problem.” The next day, Grandfather led John to the garden which had stacks and stacks of soil. “Your job this holiday is to move all of 55 those sacks of soil into the shed,” Grandfather said, pointing to a wooden shed at the far end of the garden. “Huh?” John cried, “Are you bullying me too?” 60 “No, I’m going to pay you,” Grandfather said. “If you do a good job, you’ll get enough money to get that computer game you wanted.”Text and illustrations © 2011 Curriculum Planning & Development Division, Ministry of Education, Singapore 3
  • 4. EL Before Grandfather could say 65 another word, John started tugging at a sack. He didn’t mind doing the work if it meant he could get the game he had been yearning to buy for the past three months. 70 The sacks were very heavy. John tried dragging them and then carrying them close to his chest. Finally he found it was easiest to carry them on his back. 75 John moved the sacks every day. When it was hot, he took off his shirt and wore a rattan hat. When it rained, the ground was muddy and hard to walk on. John got round this by making a path of wooden planks to the shed. Two weeks later, the job was finally done. Grandfather 80 counted all the sacks. “Good job,” he said and handed John his pay. John was overjoyed. Although it was hard work, he felt a great sense of satisfaction. Looking in the mirror, he also saw a new person. His skin was tanned to a chocolate brown and 85 he had muscles in his arms. He looked like a coolie boy.Text and illustrations © 2011 Curriculum Planning & Development Division, Ministry of Education, Singapore 4
  • 5. EL On the first day back in school on Monday, John found himself again surrounded by BBC and his gang. “Go get me a drink, coolie boy!” BBC demanded. John looked straight into BBC’s beady eyes and said 90 coolly, “Sure, that will be $1.00.” “What?” BBC bellowed, “You want to be paid?” “Well, yes,” John replied, “I am a coolie, not a slave.” BBC was furious. “Get him…” he growled. BBC’s henchmen lunged at John but he was too quick. 95 Before the big boys could lay their hands on him, he ran off towards the school field. He ran as fast as he could to the big banyan tree where Grandfather was waiting with the Principal. The big boys stopped so suddenly, they nearly fell 100 over. They were frightened. Now it was their turn to get the payment they deserved.Text and illustrations © 2011 Curriculum Planning & Development Division, Ministry of Education, Singapore 5