Meet our regulars: Peter Lim
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.