By Vivien Chan
IT was summer in Sweden when the Singaporean student met the Swede at a Stockholm university.
They started talking about whether it was okay to walk around nude in Singapore, and even joked that it would be 'funny' to do it.
That was in July last year. Six months later, the Swede, Jan Philip, 21, and the Singaporean student, Eng Kai Er, 24, did exactly what they had joked about.
But appearing nude in public is illegal in Singapore. For that, the couple were fined $2,000 each yesterday after they pleaded guilty to the offence.
On 24 Jan, Philip, a Swedish exchange student in Singapore, and Eng walked through Holland Village without their clothes on.
In court, it was revealed how the pair had met at the Karolinska Institutet, one of Europe's largest medical universities, where Eng, an A*Star scholar, was a student.
The temperature was about 22 to 23 degrees Celsius, considered hot in Sweden.
Philip, who was topless, asked Eng if it was okay to walk around topless in Singapore, and she said it was.
Philip then asked her if public nudity was acceptable in Singapore. Public nudity is not illegal in Sweden.
Eng did not take his question seriously and they both joked that it would be funny to walk around naked in Singapore.
In the pair's mitigation plea, Philip said that before he came to Singapore, he had checked the Internet to see if it was an offence to walk nude in here.
He said that he read the Penal Code but did not see anything inside that said nudity was illegal.
On 24 Jan, he and Eng were at a pub in Holland Village. Philip had one beer while Eng had two. Then he suggested walking through Holland Village nude.
According to previous media reports, they took off their clothes at a nearby staircase at about 11pm, then walked down Lorong Mambong, clothes in hand, smiling and waving at patrons in the area's eateries.
Seemingly oblivious to the stares they were attracting, the couple made a U-turn and walked the same path back to the staircase.
Midway through their walk, they even stopped for a brief chat with patrons of the Wala Wala bar. They did not attempt to hide their faces as the cheering and applauding crowd took their pictures.
The incident lasted about 15 minutes, before they returned to the staircase and got dressed.
The couple was arrested when the police received a call from a member of the public.
It was revealed in court documents that a 43-year-old man walking his dog had alerted the police.
After their arrest, Philip and Eng claimed they pulled the stint to 'seek thrill'.
Eng, who has been studying overseas for about seven years, is a 2007 A*Star National Science scholar (NSS). She is studying for her PhD in infection biology at Karolinska.
Eng is also a member of Mensa, an association whose members are defined by their high IQ, and a former student of Hwa Chong Institution (College).
She received the NSS scholarship after a four-month attachment with A*Star's Youth Research Programme in 2003.
In her teenage years, she represented Singapore as a competitive ice skater in Skate Asia, the largest ice-skating competition outside the US.
Yesterday, photojournalists and camera crew converged on the duo, who were dressed in formal black suits, as they emerged from a car outside the Subordinate Courts. They used umbrellas to shield their faces.
As they waited outside the courtroom, both looked relaxed as they joked and laughed with each other.
Mr Daniel Blockert, from the Swedish Embassy here, was also present. He told The New Paper that the embassy has been giving moral support to Philip.
The couple's families were not present, but their lawyer, Mr William Chan, said that Eng's parents are standing byher.
Mr Chan told the court that Philip and Eng never intended to commit any offence in Singapore. They thought appearing nude in public was not illegal and they regretted their actions.
He urged the court to take into consideration that the crowd at Holland Village on a late Saturday night consisted mainly of adults and foreigners.
'They did not do anything but to walk in a graceful and dignified manner. They did not make rude gestures, or say anything obscene or offensive,' he added.
He also noted that news reports showed that the crowd at Holland Village were 'appreciative', clapping and cheering for the duo.
Mr Chan also said that Eng, being a scholar at a top medical university, has the opportunity to contribute substantially in the area of anti-viral vaccines. He added that she had been involved in community projects to help the less fortunate.
For instance, she helped hand out safe-sex materials to male travellers bound for the Riau Islands from June 2006 to September 2007.
When asked, Mr Chan declined to confirm if Philip and Eng are dating.
He added that they are relieved that the case is over and plan to return to Sweden as soon as possible to get on with their lives.
Will Eng lose her scholarship?
An A*Star spokesman told The New Paper: 'Naturally, we are disappointed that one of our scholars is guilty of an offence. A*Star will now review the matter with Kai Er and decide on the appropriate course of action.'
Philip and Eng could have been fined up to $2,000 and/or jailed for up to three months.
This article was first published in The New Paper.