A handshake with Josephine Teo

We saw Singapore’s senior minister of state for transport and finance, Josephine Teo, today. She came and shook hands with us.

My wife and I were sitting at the Bishan Park this evening. We watched families gather outside the McDonald’s restaurant. Little children held colourful lanterns in the dark.


Suddenly, we saw a woman accompanied by a few men draw near. They were walking past us towards the restaurant when a man said something to the woman. She turned back and came up to us with the men.

Of course, we recognized her as she extended her hand to my wife.

And there we were shaking hands with Ms Teo!

It was only for a moment, but it felt good, shaking hands with a minister. She was there for the lantern festival. She had no airs about her but looked chic and beautiful. The men with her were dressed informally. They did not look like a ministerial entourage at all.

My wife was in a sari. I wish I had the presence of mind to take a picture with my phone.

My wife had spoken to her a few days ago at another event.

I was not there. But I had shaken hands with Ms Teo at a hawker stall during the Chinese New Year.  She was distributing oranges then. I got one, too.

We liked the grace and practised ease with which she shook our hands today. She did not stay to chat with us, but we appreciate her handshake. It was nice of her, reaching out and sparing us a moment. How many people do that?

As my wife said, we can’t even imagine a minister walking about and reaching out to people like that in India. They travel in motorcades, with heavy security and a large entourage.

It’s different in Singapore. May it always be like this.

Blogs, Whitman, Singapore

Bloggers, feel free to write on about Singapore on your blogs and personal websites, the Media Development Authority has said on Facebook, clarifying the new rules that apply only to news sites.

So words will continue to pour into cyberspace documenting everything on this island until blogging becomes passé and people find other forms of expression. Continue reading “Blogs, Whitman, Singapore”

Lee Kuan Yew and Margaret Thatcher

An amazing parallel runs through the political careers of Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of the Republic of Singapore, and Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first woman prime minister. Both began their political career at the same time and stepped down as prime minister on the same day.

Both laid down their office on November 28, 1990. Both were succeeded by their deputies: Goh Chok Tong became prime minister of Singapore, and John Major of Britain. Continue reading “Lee Kuan Yew and Margaret Thatcher”

Cheong Yip Seng: Inside The Straits Times

Cheong Yip Seng
Cheong Yip Seng

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.

Those lines from Julius Caesar certainly apply to Cheung Yip Seng, who loves Shakespeare. His musician father brought the family over on a ship from Penang to Singapore, where in 1963 Cheung, then 20 years old, got a job with The Straits Times.

Twenty-three years later, in December 1986, on a flight back to Singapore from Burma, the then deputy prime minister Goh Chok Tong asked him to become editor-in-chief of the English and Malay Newspapers Division of Singapore Press Holdings, The Straits Times’ owner and one of the most profitable media groups in Asia.

He might not have got the job, though, unless recommended by the man who later became  president of Singapore. Continue reading “Cheong Yip Seng: Inside The Straits Times”

Joseph Conrad and Singapore newspapers

I was pleasantly surprised to see the Straits Times mentioned in Joseph Conrad’s first novel, Almayer’s Folly. It’s at the beginning of Chapter 4:

That year, towards the breaking up of the south-west monsoon, disquieting rumours reached Sambir. Captain Ford, coming up to Almayer’s house for an evening’s chat, brought late numbers of the Straits Times giving the news of Acheen war and of the unsuccessful Dutch expedition.

It’s interesting because Conrad was writing in the late 19th century about a Dutch trader living deep in the jungles of Borneo. Continue reading “Joseph Conrad and Singapore newspapers”

Chulia Kampong, Singapore

Chulia Street, Singapore
Chulia Street, Singapore

Looking at Chulia Street off Raffles Place and Boat Quay now, no one would know what it was like before. Chulia Kampong, unlike Kampong Glam, has vanished from the map of Singapore. So I was intrigued by the description given by the Indian writer Amitav Ghosh in his novel, River of Smoke. The book, set in the 1830s, is about the opium trade between India and China which used to pass through Singapore. Continue reading “Chulia Kampong, Singapore”