Published on Mar 11, 2012
By Huang Huifen, Relatively Speaking
Helping out at her parents' hawker stall is more stressful than studying for her A-level exams last year, says student Lee Cheng Ling, who scored five As, with a distinction in H3 physics.
'There were a few times I gave the wrong change, and fumbled while putting the take-out box into the plastic bag. It was also not easy estimating how much food to give each customer,' the 19-year-old says sheepishly of a recent stint.
Her parents, Mr Lee Chow Poh, 52, and Madam Lim Ah Khim, 51, operate a mixed rice stall in Geylang Bahru Market and Food Centre.
Her twin sister Cheng Ting, who obtained six As with a merit in H3 physics, admits: 'I had to stand for long hours and it was very hot. I felt so tired after helping out for just two weeks. So I really look up to my parents because they have been doing this for more than 20 years to raise us.'
The twins have two older siblings: national sprinter Cheng Wei, 25, and undergrad Cheng Yi, 21.
Their hawker experience has made the twins think twice about pursuing their studies overseas if they do not get scholarships. They hope to attend different universities in Britain: Cheng Ling wants to study psychology and Cheng Ting, nutrition.
Cheng Ling says: 'It is too expensive, so I would rather study at a local university than have my parents work doubly hard to fund my overseas education.'
The twins, together with another two pairs of twins from Victoria Junior College, made headlines recently for achieving stellar results for their A levels.
Was it difficult looking after the twins when they were very young?
Madam Lim: Yes, it was hard to handle them when they were newborns. We did not plan for a third child, and were very hapless when we found out we had twins as our two older kids were still young.
I was also fearful that I could not tell them apart, but after a week, I could, because of their face shapes. But they did not give me any problems when they were growing up. They have always been very selfmotivated and we did not need to nag at them.
Cheng Ling: While we did not play any pranks on our parents, we did try to confuse our friends and teachers. We have never been in the same class even though we were in the same schools, Red Swastika and Dunman High. We also got almost the same score in the Primary School Leaving Examination - I got 251 and my sister got 252. We were in the integrated programme, so we skipped the O levels.
How close are you as twins?
Cheng Ting: We are best friends in school, and have been badminton doubles partners since Primary 4. We asked our coach to put us together as it would be weird not to partner your sister if you were on the same team.
While the teachers in school often compared our results, we treated it as friendly competition. It is very fun to have a twin because she is someone I can share everything with, from clothes to what happens in our day. In our first year in junior college, we even took each other's bags to school by mistake.
Cheng Ling: We are telepathic as badminton partners because I know where she will serve the shuttlecock and prepare myself to be in the position to receive the shuttlecock from our opponents. Last year, our school came in second at the national inter-school championships.
We also studied together for our A levels, and critiqued each other's GP essays. I am quite a harsh critic and would give her only borderline pass grades. But her teacher would give her high marks.
Madam Lim: They never fought over anything and shared everything. If there was enough food for only one of them, they would share or they would not eat at all.
How lonely would it be if the two of you were to study in different cities?
Cheng Ling: I would feel lonely because I would have no one to talk to. I am used to sharing everything with Cheng Ting.
Mr Lee: We are quite worried about them going overseas to study. They have never lived apart from the family or gone overseas without us.
How different are your father and mother's parenting styles?
Cheng Ting: Actually, both my parents gave us a lot of freedom, so we learnt to take ownership of our studies and the friends we made.
They are also very lenient and kind. When we did something wrong, they would not punish us straight away, but would ask us why we did it, and tell us gently what we had done wrong.
Mr Lee: When we took them to school, we would observe who they hung out with. We would feel at ease knowing that they were in good company. Because their grades were consistently good, we could be quite hands-off when it came to studies.
Madam Lim: We always tell them that they have to work hard for themselves, and not for us. Whatever you do, you have to shoulder your own responsibility.
Cheng Ling: My friends always praise my parents for not poking their noses into our results.
If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you do differently?
Mr Lee: I would not do anything differently because I do not know if I can do so well in my studies if I were them. I am so proud of them.
Madam Lim: If I were them, I would want to study medicine or law because they have such good results. We are only hawkers and are not so educated, so it will be our dream to see our children become doctors and lawyers.
Cheng Ting: I would not do anything differently because I like my parents' parenting style and it is how I want to guide my kids in future.
Cheng Ling: I would not do anything differently because my parents did a good job raising four kids.
Dishing out As
Is there life after O/A-Levels? Definitely! How well a person does in tertiary education is correlated with job opportunities open to the person. Discuss issues pertaining to nstitutes of higher learning here.