Name: Peter H L Lim
Profession: Freelance Writer and Media Consultant
Founding Chief Editor of The New Paper
Former Editor-in-Chief of The Straits Times
Tell us a bit about your childhood and teenage years.
I was born in 1938, shortly before the Japanese Occupation started in 1942. Japan surrendered in 1945, and I enrolled in school after the so-called liberation in 1946 at 8 years old. I went to Anglo Chinese School, but I didn’t take my A-levels or go to University because I came from a poor family background and dreamt of becoming a fighter pilot.
I joined the Malayan Air Training Corps, passed the first eye test and was chosen for some elementary flying lessons. The next eye-test was in six months’ time, but within the first three months, I already found myself becoming shortsighted…
I didn’t want to tell anybody and hoped it would go away. Of course it sounds silly now, but I wanted to carry on. One day during a flight, the instructor suddenly sternly said, “ I am taking over,” and I knew I’d been caught. He told me to take an eye test, and when I failed it felt like the end of the world. I always wanted to be a fighter pilot, not because I wanted to kill people, but because it was my dream job. Fighter pilot man, don’t play-play.
So where did you go from there?
So basically, I was an aviation dropout that landed in journalism.
During my last year in school, the Commandant of the Malayan Air Training Corps knew that I couldn’t fly anymore. He was from the UK and an officer in the British Royal Air Force, but he was also a senior journalist. The Straits Times employed him as the their news editor, and while working full-time, he also volunteered his services to the Malayan Air Training Corps.
He asked me when were my school holidays. I replied March and he said, “Ok, I’m the news editor of The Staits Times. You come on as a part-time reporter for two weeks. We won’t pay you, but you’ll have the best holiday of your life.” The Straits Times was stingy in those days the 1950s and is still stingy today, but it is a great job. He brought me into journalism and I owe him my career.
That same year, I won an international essay competition. The essay competition allowed me to visit New York to represent Singapore in The New York Herald Tribune Youth Forum. The title of that competition was the “World We Want.” This was a fantastic experience and also contributed to my career in journalism.
What were your first impressions of life outside Singapore on that trip?
My first impression of America was a very favorable one. There were five of us from South East Asia – kids from Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore – and we were all put on a first class flight to New York. During the flight there was a crew change, and a stewardess came on board who was very attentive and good-looking. She was a junior in first class.
We were flying to New York at Christmas time and it was very very cold. The other kids were alright but I was feeling extremely cold. I asked her for a blanket but the stewardess said a blanket wouldn’t help. Instead, she told me to try an eggnog to warm me up. I told her I was a kid and couldn’t consume alcohol, but she said it was alright. I tried it, and it instantly made me feel better.
She was so sweet and kind, so naturally I fell in love with her. I asked her for her name and discovered she was based in Germany. I sent a postcard to her, and she actually wrote me back! But after awhile we lost contact.
I feel what is missing in PS.Cafe Petit is eggnog at Christmas. Ha! Then I would come, and drink a toast to the stewardess I fell in love with that Christmas in 1956.
When did you first visit PS.Cafe Petit?
The original place was an Art Gallery and I knew the owner. So out of curiosity, I wanted to know who the new tenants were. I peeked in and saw construction workers. I kept peeking in, and could tell it was going to be a restaurant or café, but I wondered why there weren’t any chairs or tables.
One day I was at PS.Cafe at Palais Renaissance -- I was an “irregular” regular there and the crew was quite familiar with me, so I asked if there was a new PS.Cafe at Tiong Bahru. My server looked quite stunned, and said to give him a few seconds, so in that moment I realised I must have guessed correctly and that he was sworn to secrecy by management.
I was quite happy to know PS.Cafe was opening at Tiong Bahru. When it finally opened, I was one of their first customers.
What makes you keep coming back?
Curiosity and I like a nice place to eat. Tiong Bahru is famous for the stalls in the market, but a lot of the places are too hot for me. I like to sit down and eat and read. I am a slow eater, and I sometimes do work with my laptop or iPad, too. Of course as Petit has grown more and more popular, it’s getting harder to get a table.
But you always order the same thing…
I usually order the Super Food Salad with egg whites and a glass of wine. Lately I’ll ask for a Mini Lasagne Bake as well. A few times I ordered a whole pizza, but I couldn’t finish and brought it to the crew at PoTeaTo -- they loved it.
I also like PS.Cafe Petit because I get to meet a lot of new people. Some are first-time visitors and othersare residents so it’s easier to make friends. Some of them have told me that it reminds them of cafes in Paris or London. This place has a “wow” factor, the food is very good, and the staff is excellent. They are very friendly and know when to get a little cheeky with the customers. Because that’s an art, you know -- if you get cheeky with the wrong customers they won’t come back!
Want to know more?
If you visit PS.Cafe Petit for takeaway lunch, feel free to say hello to Peter and ask him about Tiong Bahru life in the old days!