My 50 years with Singapore

Singapore is not the only one turning 50 this year. Insight talks to five MPs who were born in or around 1965, and asks them to relate their experiences growing up with Singapore, as well as their hopes for Singapore politics over the next 50 years.

Fond memories of the past, fervent hopes for the future

MP Ang Hin Kee

Assistant secretary-general of NTUC

Born October 1965

On growing up in Singapore over the last 50 years:

When I was growing up, my favourite chair was made of rattan. Shops selling such furniture were very common back then, perhaps due to the material being durable, cheap, and widely grown in the region.

My chair lasted for many years. Whenever there was any damage, we took it back to the shop for a quick repair or patched it up ourselves.

Today, we can easily source for goods and food from all over the world to satisfy changing palates and an appetite for variety.

Yet, in recent years, some items from the past, such as rattan furniture and porcelain crockery, are making a successful comeback, whether with a modern twist or in their original forms.

They are a huge draw, partly for their simple design and practicality, but also due to these vintage items being an integral part of our growing-up years. They bring back fond memories and symbolise what makes us uniquely Singapore.

On his wish for Singapore politics in the next 50 years:

Fifty years from now, we will face a different set of challenges with different political leaders.

Times may change but good and practical policies remain timeless. Our political leaders should not just borrow solutions from the past or from other countries.

More importantly, we will continue to need leaders who listen to the people, embrace divergent views and stay open to new ideas.

Singaporeans are stepping out and speaking up more, and our leaders need to engage them and work through disagreements among different groups to arrive at a common outcome.

As Singapore matures, let us be a society that can accept differences and support leaders who have the gumption to press on, to work through differences, and to keep us focused on doing the right thing for Singapore

Reminiscing about games like zero-point, and wishing for continued political stability

Singapore is not the only one turning 50 this year. Insight talks to five MPs who were born in or around 1965, and asks them to relate their experiences growing up with Singapore, as well as their hopes for Singapore politics over the next 50 years.

MP Fatimah Lateef

Associate professor at NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Born March 1966

On growing up in Singapore over the last 50 years:

Some of my fondest memories growing up include the exciting times we had with our neighbours and friends in our neighbourhood. School was only half a day and when we returned home, we played all kinds of games.

Bonds were forged and I am still in touch with a few of my childhood friends today.

We had to study and work hard, but we also played a lot- simple games like catching, capteh, zero-point, ball games, and trapping tiny fishes from the drains. These did not require money, which we never had much of.

On weekends, we had picnics at Changi beach and I always loved mum's nasi lemak with an assortment of sides. I still think it's the best nasi lemak I ever had. When we moved into our first flat in Marine Parade - a big deal as it was on reclaimed land - my (two) siblings and I shared a room and we had fun, especially with the double-decker beds!

On her wish for Singapore politics in the next 50 years:

My wish for Singapore politics would be to have continued political stability, with clean and ethical people in government.

We have come so far in 50 years based on our ingenuity, hard work, good vision and passion in building a nation together. There was no fixed model for us to follow but we created our own unique blend of Singapore politics.

I also hope our future leaders will have the same commitment and fire in their bellies, and be resourceful at grabbing all opportunities

Shaped by global crises and focused on strengthening nation against external shocks

MP Liang Eng Hwa

DBS managing director

Born March 1964

On growing up in Singapore over the last 50 years:

Our nation-building journey was never a smooth one.

During my school years in the 1970s, I would listen attentively when my primary school teacher read us the worrying newspaper headlines, which were dominated by the Cold War and - closer to home - the Indo-China conflict.

In the 1980s, the event that stood out was the severe economic recession in 1984 and 1985. I had just graduated from polytechnic and enlisted in national service.

As firms started to retrench workers, the foremost concern was jobs. I recall following news of then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his ministers working intensely, trying to attract new investments and persuade multinational companies to stay invested in Singapore.

Then, in 1997, the Asian financial crisis came without warning. Our immediate neighbours suffered meltdowns in their currencies.

It was frightening to see the contagion effect and the deteriorating political situation unfolding at our doorstep.

These, and events like bilateral tensions with Malaysia in the 1990s and Sars in 2003, have shaped me to be a down-to-earth MP.

We have to depend on ourselves to defend our national interests. And it's important to have a vibrant, resilient economy that can withstand the external shocks that will come.

On his wish for Singapore politics in the next 50 years:

Singapore politics will continue to evolve, and outcomes will become more uncertain. So we must never get into this false sense of comfort that our vulnerability has disappeared.

Rather, nation-building is a never-ending journey and our politics must always be about strengthening our survivability and improving lives.

More resilient new generation, more resilient political system

Non-Constituency MP

Yee Jenn Jong

Entrepreneur

Born March 1965

On growing up in Singapore over the last 50 years:

I grew up in Opera Estate, living with my parents - both teachers - and three siblings.

Just behind our house was Kampong Chai Chee, which had some small farms. The farmers would sometimes take food waste from our house for their animals and give us eggs on festive occasions.

Afternoons were usually spent exploring the neighbourhood on my bicycle, or playing with neighbours. Once in a while, we would get a supper treat when dad came home with his pay from giving tuition.

I have happy memories of schooling, which were all in neighbourhood schools in the east.

I remember the numerous campaigns in schools, such as Use Your Hands (encouraging students to take care of their surroundings), anti-littering and courtesy. I enjoyed these campaigns and other shared experiences with my peers. I now have children of my own.

My wish is to see a more resilient new generation of Singaporeans so that we can chart a better future for our children.

On his wish for Singapore politics in the next 50 years:

I hope to see a more resilient political system, where people of different ideologies can play their part to develop Singapore, and where there are strong and independent institutions to provide checks and balances for a stronger democracy.

I believe that Singapore has enough talent for more than one team. I hope to see the day that enough people will come forward so there will be viable alternatives in the political system.

Education gave Zainal 'hope for a better future and a sense of belonging'

MP Zainal Sapari

Assistant secretary-general of NTUC

Born November 1965

On growing up in Singapore over the last 50 years:

The earliest childhood memory I can recall is living at 30 Malcolm Road when my parents were working for an expatriate family.

My mother was the maid and my father worked as the gardener, on top of his regular job with the Public Works Department.

The bungalow had a huge compound and I would frequently invite my kampong friends over to play football.

I went to kindergarten at a community centre in Tanglin and then went on to Whitley Primary School, located next to the Police Academy. The school closed down when I was in Primary 3 and we were transferred to the brand-new MacRitchie Primary School. It was a huge school with a large field and a school hall. I was filled with awe and wonderment that a school could be that big!

Education had a huge impact on me. Regardless of background, it gives people an opportunity to better themselves in our meritocratic society.

I hope that our government will continue to invest in education, which gave me hope for a better future and a sense of belonging to my people and my country.

On his wish for Singapore politics in the next 50 years:

The presence of opposition has not led to the desired checks and balances but, rather, unnecessary bickering that has impeded the efficacy of policymaking, as seen in several bipartisan governments in other countries.

A government should serve its people as one body, and differences in opinion should not come at the cost of the time taken to remedy problems.

I also wish to see more minorities holding ministerial positions and participating in politics.

After 50 years, I've seen a marked improvement in the levels of political participation across minority races - aided even further by the advent of social media and wider government outreach.

I hope that this trend will continue and that we tap even more avenues to reach out to the minority races and see more of them in the government.


This article was first published on Jan 3, 2015.
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