Friday 17 April 2015

Moving video of inter-racial couple married for 46 years goes viral

By Jalelah Abu Baker & Chew Hui Min, The Straits Times, 14 Apr 2015

The moving love story between an Australian-born woman and a Singaporean man who have been married for 46 years has touched the hearts of many, including Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam.

Mr Shanmugam on Tuesday shared a video about the elderly couple, Mr Tan Soo Ren and his wife Raelene, on his Facebook page.

"Raelene and Soo Ren's story of love, courtship and married life in Singapore is very sweet and heartwarming. Wish them many more years of marital bliss," he wrote.

The video takes viewers through the story of the couple who met in London in 1965 when Mr Tan was studying architecture, and when Madam Raelene, who is Australian, was working.

"I was coming home from work one very rainy day and you turned up at Kilburn Station with a spare umbrella, and you simply said 'I thought I'd come and meet you so you wouldn't get wet'," Madam Raelene says to her husband in the video.

"I knew then that this was a really special person."

At that time, inter-racial relationships were "relatively unknown," Madam Raelene recalled.

From London they moved to Sydney, then they sailed to Singapore from Sydney "for a visit" in 1970, and have stayed here since. They have two children, Lauren and Darren, and four grandchildren.

The couple has shared more details of their story with the Singapore Memory Project, including Mr Tan's childhood experiences during World War II, and how Madam Raelene overcame her initial loneliness in Singapore.

In 1973, she and Australian friend Pat Chong founded the Cosmopolitan Women’s Club, which catered to women in cross-cultural marriages. At its peak, the club had about 200 members. It closed about 10 years ago.

She also found a niche here as an etiquette consultant, and has written four books on table etiquette for different cultures.

In a 2007 interview published in the Strait Times, she was asked what she would do if she could live her life again. Her answer?

“I’d marry Soo Ren even earlier,” she said. “He’s my best buddy.” 

The couple now help each other through their illnesses.

Madam Raelene underwent radiotherapy for skin cancer which damaged her eyes, while her husband suffered a stroke which left lasting cognitive impairment.

After the 11-minute video was posted on the official Facebook page of the Singapore Memory Project, irememberSG, it was viewed almost 100,000 times in just a day. The project aims to capture and document "precious moments and memories related to Singapore", according to its website.

What is the secret to their long-lasting marriage then? Madam Raelene put it down to compromise, and a sense of peace. Refering to differences in opinions about things like curtain colours, she said: "These things are unimportant in the big picture. It's actually very nice to come home and know it's a peaceful home."

Raelene Tan surprised by popularity of her 'simple story of a happy marriage'
By Chew Hui Min, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2015

When Mrs Raelene Tan and her husband Tan Soo Ren went to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital for a medical appointment on Wednesday, strangers nodded and smiled at them.

Some approached them to say they had watched the viral video about their marriage.

In the lift, people greeted them and one exclaimed: "It's so romantic!"

Mrs Tan, 75, said she is surprised that her "simple story of a happy marriage" has become so popular.

On Monday, a touching video of the couple was shared on Facebook by the Singapore Memory Project. The project by the National Library Board aims to collect the personal memories of Singaporeans.

In the 11-minute clip, the Australian-born Mrs Tan talks about about how she met Mr Tan, who is Singaporean, in London and how they sustained a cross-cultural marriage for 46 years.

It has been shared more than 3,900 times on Facebook, and garnered more than 230,000 views.

Mrs Tan, a etiquette consultant, uses e-mail, but does not have a Facebook account, and seldom uses the mobile phone her children insisted she get.

She is still amazed at the buzz the video has generated.

"My daughter Lauren telephoned gasping that everything was such an attraction," she told The Straits Times. "I'm humbly surprised at how people want a good story, not a story of bravado or wonderful escapades but just the simple story of a happy marriage."

Being from different cultures, the Tans' marriage had its challenges.

On Aug 10, 1970, when they arrived in Singapore by ship, Raelene met Mr Tan's large family for the first time.

About 20 people - aunties, uncles, siblings and cousins - turned up at the dock to welcome them.

Mr Tan's parents could not speak English, and she remembered using sign language to communicate with them. She attempted to learn Mandarin in London and in Sydney, but had no aptitude for it, she said.

"It worked because I respected his parents, and they tried their best to make me feel welcome," she said.

In the video, Mrs Tan shared how that family put together a surprise Christmas celebration for her the first year she arrived.

"If one has a good heart, a positive heart, it's easy to understand miming," she said.

In the 1970s, there were not as many Caucasians in Singapore, and she "stood out". It was almost impossible to make friends with the same cultural background, she said.

With an Australian friend who also married a Singaporean Chinese, she started the Cosmopolitan Women's Club so women in cross-cultural marriages could socialise and support each other.

"It was a life saver," she said.

She and Mr Tan also joined the Tanglin Club so she could meet other expatriates, and have Western food. On Thursday, right after she spoke to The Straits Times, they had lunch there to celebrate Mr Tan's 77th birthday.

More than 40 years on, what was a originally "short visit" to meet Mr Tan's family has become a life in Singapore.

Their son and daughter both married Singaporeans and live with their families here, she said. They have four grandchildren aged two to nine.

The couple now help each other through their illnesses. Mrs Tan underwent radiotherapy for skin cancer which damaged her eyes, while Mr Tan, a retired architect, suffered a stroke which left lasting cognitive impairment.

When asked for her advice on marriage, she claimed not to be an expert, but said: "If we marry the people we love and we respect and we are friends, anything can be overcome. It truly is compromise, genuinely loving that person and wanting the best for that person."

Story of Mr & Mrs Tan Soo Ren by Lily Bok
A cultural heritage

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