In 1950, Teo Yen Teck was summoned by his uncle, who ran a family provision shop along Cross Street. The young Mr Teo had completed his bookkeeping course, and his skills were needed elsewhere.
My uncle asked me if I could go to Pulau Sekijang Pelepah (Lazarus Island) to help a friend Thiam Seng, who ran the only provision shop on the island. He was having trouble keeping his books as he was illiterate.
So in 1950, Ah Teck, as he was affectionately known among the islanders, packed his bags to live another life.
Between 1950 and 1955, Ah Teck became a familiar face among the islanders. During his free time, Ah Teck would make regular fishing trips to Indonesian waters, where more than 30 men would dive with a huge net to trap fish. Ah Teck would also bring a camera – any camera that he could get his hands on. Photography became a way of life for him.
During those five years, Ah Teck would document children on the island, his brother’s wedding, and the countless fishing expeditions that he went on. The accidental photographer carefully printed and documented these in photo albums, and when quizzed about each photo, his eyes would still blaze with a spark as he instantaneously recalls the people and places in the photographs.
In 1955, Ah Teck left Pulau Sekijang Pelepah to set up his own provision shop on Pulau Seking (now part of the landfill island Semakau), where he would live for the next 40 years. In 1994, the Singapore government evicted the islanders of Pulau Seking to make way for the first offshore landfill.
Cover photo courtesy of Teo Yen Teck.