But when we go to hawker centres in other parts of the island, someone will occasionally come up to her to practise their Japanese : O genki desu ka? And we have a good laugh explaining that she doesn’t speak Japanese, despite her name, Jane Yumiko Ittogi.
She started off in a mainly Teochew-speaking kampong, and like most Singaporeans then entered Primary 1 with zero ability to read or write English. But she enjoyed learning from teachers and books, quite unlike myself as I was totally consumed with my sports.
We met while I was at university in London. She was a few years older than me and had already completed her masters in law at the same university (the London School of Economics) by the time I got there after NS. But we got to know each other as we moved in some of the same circles of friends who were deeply interested in social issues.
Jane turned from legal practice to community work more than 20 years ago, working quite single-mindedly to give confidence and help uplift disadvantaged children in Jurong, especially young teens. Plus ex-inmates, some of whom became our volunteers and leaders, and our friends.
As we wanted to scale up these programmes to help them, Jane started an NGO a decade ago. Tasek Jurong, which she chairs, has grown its reach well beyond Jurong. And deepened its engagements with each boy and girl we enrol in our programmes, and their families.
Meanwhile she is picking up a few more lines in Japanese! Just so she doesn’t disappoint anyone who approaches her not knowing that Teochew was her true mother tongue.
We have been married 33 years now, and been blessed with four children, each following their own path.”