It started out as a casual intimate dinner among long-time family friends that ended in a challenge to raise funds for The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund (SPMF) - $25,000 to be exact.
Three families gathered on May 27 - a week before the 28th South East Asian Games (SEA Games) - at the home of Mr Balbeer Singh Mangat, group CEO of accounting school FTMSGlobal Academy. Among them included Singapore's sporting darling Joseph Schooling, and his parents, Colin and May, as well as myself.
In between video games among the kids and adult conversations, the topic naturally turned towards Joseph's preparation for the now-concluded SEA Games.
While feasting on curry and pasta (Joseph did not have dessert), the national swimmer revealed that he was involved with helping to raise funds for SPMF. He was surprised at how many children in Singapore couldn't afford to go to school let alone have some pocket money. SPMF resonated well with him and he spoke passionately about raising money for these underprivileged kids. His aim is to raise $50,000 for SG50.
Mr Mangat, who is in his 60s, had asked what Joseph's targets were for the SEA Games. One thing led to another where Joseph ended up challenging Mr Mangat to match possible medals with a targeted cash amount for charity.
Encouraged by Mr Mangat's twin sons (who were also celebrating their 14th birthday with us that evening), Joseph and Mr Mangat bantered back and forth about how much a gold medal and breaking a record are worth.
It was all very exciting as amounts were tagged to a medal or record: $1,000 per gold medal and a range from $2,000 or $3,000 to break a national record or SEA Games record, and $5,000 to break Singaporean veteran swimmer Ang Peng Siong's men's 50 metres freestyle record - one that wasn't broken since 1982.
All of which Joseph did at the SEA Games. Nine gold medals and 10 Games records later, Mr Mangat had to deliver on his promise, which he did.
Photo: Deborah Wong
On Tuesday, both parties arrived at Singapore Press Holdings in Toa Payoh where Mr Mangat donated $25,000 to SPMF. Joseph, who was also celebrating his 20th birthday, gave $5,000 each to SPMF and the Eurasian Association.
When asked about that dinner, Mr Mangat commented that Joseph "was all too focused on charity; that surprised me", since it was the first thing Joseph thought of when his medal targets were brought up.
Mr Mangat said: "It was my spontaneous reaction to his. But his mind set was very clear - OK, how much. And then, OK nine, one ($1,000) for each gold, and what about records and he went from there."
He also pointed out the big amount for breaking Mr Ang's record: "Biggest one was $5,000 for the Ang Peng Siong record. He didn't break the ASEAN record so it was at 24 ($24,000), so I topped it up. I said OK, 25 ($25,000), well done. So, it's just short of one ($1,000)."
During the dinner, Joseph had said with a determined look in his eyes that he wanted gold medals: "At the SEA Games, it's not about records but more about putting your hand on the wall first. Times become irrelevant too as it's all about winning".
What stood out at that dinner was Joseph's sheer determination and instilled discipline. Whenever we asked about his training regime and why he wanted to swim, his response was always: it may be hard work and it takes great discipline, but if you really want something, you'll do it.
How amazingly simple an explanation.
Both his parents said that they can't and won't force him but, really, they don't have to because Joseph just wants to do it. At such a young age, it is extremely admirable.
Even Mr Mangat was impressed: "Not many people will appreciate it. He's got 10 per cent of Singapore SEA Game golds. (That's) nine out of 80 something.
"These are things young people should emulate. He kept his focus and discipline at a young age. I think his mind set was very clear."
Photo: Deborah Wong
Mr Mangat also commented that Joseph's winnings is no mean feat. Joseph had told him that coming to the end of the SEA Games, fatigue was setting in for him.
"People don't realise that it's not just one event. There are heats and all that you have to go through. It's a whole day of concentration," he said.
Not only has Joseph become more of a star in the eyes of Singaporeans with his achievements this SEA Games, but his heart of gold is what really stands out for us who know him intimately.