Wednesday 1 April 2015

The Singapore that Lee Kuan Yew built

''Once in a long while in the history of a people there comes a moment of great change.''

Mr Lee Kuan Yew's victory speech in 1959, after being elected Singapore's first Prime Minister, foretold the transformation of the country from a tiny slum-ridden trading post into a global metropolis by the time he stepped down in 1990.

The Sunday Times looks at how Mr Lee and his team changed the destiny of Singapore and Singaporeans.
The Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

Housing: The wonder of taps, the fear of lifts
By Chong Zi Liang, The Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

When Madam Hiap Cheng Lay moved into a Housing Board rental flat in 1972, she felt a mixture of excitement and fear.

The mother of two young boys was eager to leave the attap house she had been sharing with another family.

However, there was just one problem: Her new home was on the 10th storey.

"I was really scared of entering the lift the first time. Who knew what would happen when the doors closed?" she recalled.

But taking the lift soon became a routine, and she grew to enjoy being 10 floors up.

"It was breezy being that high up. I no longer had to live in a stuffy kampung house."

Madam Hiap, now 71, is among hundreds of thousands of Singapore families who have benefited from the country's public housing programme.

When Mr Lee Kuan Yew became Prime Minister of self-governing Singapore in 1959, his Government embarked on a massive and urgent building programme.

In three years, the newly formed HDB built about 26,000 flats, more than its predecessor, the Singapore Improvement Trust, had built in 32 years.

Mr Lee also pushed for home ownership instead of rental, saying in his memoirs, From Third World To First, that during the riots in the 1950s and early 1960s, people would destroy cars and other property.

But they acted differently during riots in the mid-1960s after they owned homes and property.

Mr Lee saw young men carrying their scooters to safety up the stairs of their HDB blocks.

"I believed that a deep sense of property was instinctive in a person," he wrote.

"I was strengthened in my resolve to give every family solid assets which I was confident they would protect and defend, especially their home."

By the time Mr Lee stepped down as Prime Minister in 1990, eight in 10 Singaporeans were living in HDB flats.

Today, Madam Hiap is among 90 per cent of HDB dwellers who own their homes.

Recalling her kampung days in Bukit Panjang, she said she shared a house with wooden walls and a zinc roof with about 30 people.

There was no electricity or running water.

Candles were used at night.

Water had to be fetched in pails from a well about 250m away from the village.

"The streets were completely dark at night. We had to carry candles shielded by newspapers in case the flame went out," she said.

After she got married, life hardly improved as she shared another attap house with another family.

She still had to get water from a public tap by the roadside.

All that changed in 1972, when she moved into her first HDB flat that was rented for about $70 a month.

"You can't imagine what a difference it makes to have water coming out of a tap in your own home. Before that, even something as simple as brushing your teeth was a chore," she said.

Meanwhile, she made a living selling kueh illegally until 1975, when she rented a drinks stall at a hawker centre.

She worked from 6am to midnight almost daily.

"The other stallholders said, 'There's only 24 hours a day and you're working 18 of them, don't be too hard on yourself,'" she recalled.

But she had two young sons and her businessman husband was a gambler.

Her hard work and thrift enabled her to buy a $60,000 four-room flat in Jurong West in 1982, where she has been living since.

These days, she works only in the morning, leaving a helper to run the stall till 9pm.

Her two sons, now 46 and 47, completed their polytechnic studies and are doing well. They hold stable jobs, have their own families and live in their own HDB flats.

Madam Hiap, whose husband died about four years ago, said she had a tough life, but she is convinced she would have been worse off in another country.

"I don't have any education and can't even write my own name," she said.

"But I have a home that belongs to me. The Government has been fair to people like me and I will always be grateful."

Critical Battles: Letting go of past, but not forgetting it
By Ignatius Low, Managing EditorThe Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

Author and cartoonist Otto Fong did not join the thousands of Singaporeans standing in line for hours to pay their last respects to Singapore founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

"When I was a kid, my dad was banned from entering Singapore. I had to live in Malaysia and study in Singapore so I stood in line at the Customs for 10 years, back and forth daily," he wrote in a Facebook post last week.

"I think I've done enough queueing for Lee Kuan Yew."

Among the many stories of how Singaporeans' lives changed for the better as a result of Mr Lee's political decisions, the 46-year-old's stands in stark contrast.

His father is Mr Fong Swee Suan, a former union leader who became a key member of the People's Action Party, but left the party in 1961 over differences in opinion about Singapore's merger with Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak. He was subsequently branded a communist and arrested in 1963 as part of Operation Cold Store, an anti-communist sting.

The 1955 Hock Lee Bus riots were also allegedly instigated by his father, together with fellow left-wing unionist Lim Chin Siong, although the older Mr Fong has repeatedly denied this.

After his arrest, Mr Fong's father was placed under detention across the Causeway in Muar and banned from entering Singapore.

"It was difficult because the family didn't have much savings, so my mum had to work in a stationery shop and take care of my very young sister, while still finding ways to go visit my dad in Muar," said Mr Fong.

He was born a year after his father was released in 1967. He said the family wanted to stay in Johor Baru because his parents still wanted their children to be educated in Singapore, but the older Mr Fong could not find a job there initially because of his reputation.

That reputation also resulted in the family being shunned by everyone here. Mr Fong said that when he was growing up, he did not go to any Chinese New Year or extended-family gathering.

"There was never any active harassment, only this fear in everyone's mind that I don't want to be seen with this person."

The isolation spilled over into Mr Fong's social life as a student in Singapore.

"Your friends would ask you to watch a movie and you have to say you can't because you have to catch the bus home to JB," he said.

Mr Fong remembers that big moment of realisation when he saw a political cartoon by Singaporean artist Morgan Chua depicting his father and Mr Lim as crazed "brothers-in-lawlessness".

"It was like that moment in Star Wars movie The Empire Strikes Back when Luke discovers that Darth Vader is his father," said Mr Fong. "It created a lot of confusion and I blamed my dad for wasting his time in politics."

The ban on his father entering Singapore was eventually lifted in 1990, but it was only a few years ago, in their old age, that Mr Fong's parents finally returned.

"My dad would not have been able to do that if he had clung on to the past," said Mr Fong.

"In fact, my parents made it a point to shield us from the past, so that we could grow up with a clean slate."

He added: "My mum used to say that when she was younger, she was very angry and wanted to outlive Lee Kuan Yew. But now, she says that was such a meaningless thing to hold on to."

The older Mr Fong eventually penned a memoir, which was released in 2009. A copy was sent to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who thanked them for the book in a letter that was signed personally.

Mr Fong said that there is no reason to feel resentful about the past.

"It was not a bad life for me. I am glad I did not have to share my dad with a million other urgent national issues, should history have turned out differently," he told The Sunday Times.

"I'm also a beneficiary of the Singapore system," added the Chinese High School and Hwa Chong Junior College old boy. "It's not a perfect system but it's not a bad system, and one that works better than many others."

And despite the history between Mr Lee and his father, Mr Fong is full of admiration for the founding Prime Minister.

"Don't forget Singapore, at the time, was under the influence of many strong forces, so to make things work in a short time, you really had to be the strongman and a bigger, more unreasonable force. Even the gangsters will have to fear you, in order to push things through peacefully," he said.

"He may not have been the originator of every idea and people may not agree with him, but he was able to stand there and say, 'This is the issue that I stand behind and if you have a problem, you deal with me.' I thought that was pretty cool."

But what of his family's reaction to Mr Lee's passing?

"We did not say anything. It had all been said before," said Mr Fong. "But as I looked at everyone queueing up, I wondered how many of them would do the same thing for their loved ones while they were still alive.

"There is a difference between forgiving and forgetting," he added. "Forgiving is about letting go, forgetting is not healthy for history."

Law & Order: Glad gangsterism was curtailed
By Walter SimThe Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

As a teenager in the 1950s, Mr S. Rajagopal was struck by the forceful speeches of the politician who would eventually become Singapore's first Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Listening to them, "you knew that in his mind the safety of the people was paramount because gangsterism (then) was rife", said Mr Rajagopal, who is now 75 and honorary treasurer of the Singapore Police Retirees' Association.

Around the same time, communist activity was reaching a peak.

Mr Rajagopal watched as Mr Lee quelled the communists and reduced gangsterism.

Having lived through the Hock Lee bus riots in 1955, Mr Rajagopal knew first-hand the chaos of lawlessness.

During the riots, "the police riot squad came and they chased everybody away. But I got kicked by one of the rioters because I was just a young boy standing there", he said.

"After that I told myself, 'Bloody hell, I'll become a policeman myself.'"

Despite his father's disapproval, he went ahead and did so.

His resolve won over his taxi driver father, who brought him food, and drove him home after he took up night school.

The 36-year veteran of the police force was involved in key moments of Singapore's tumultuous history.

He was part of the security team at Mr Lee's Oxley Road home from 1959 to 1960, at a time when the communist movement was active.

Then came Operation Coldstore, which was a major crackdown on leftists in 1963, racial riots in 1964, and the Laju ferry hijacking incident in 1973, among others.

Mr Rajagopal lauded Mr Lee for his decisiveness in making pivotal decisions, saying that "he saved our lives" during the Laju incident. But he said he could not go into detail given the classified nature of the operation.

Another key move was the retention of the Internal Security Act - a legacy of British colonial rule - which quelled uprisings over the years.

Through it all, Mr Lee's standards of "hard work, discipline, truth, no corruption" formed Mr Rajagopal's credo.

And he never faltered: "In my entire career, I've never touched 10 cents from anyone."

He rose through the ranks to retire as Superintendent of Police in 1995.

Today, 20 years after leaving the police force, Mr Lee's words are still a resounding "clarion call", said Mr Rajagopal. He cited Mr Lee as saying: "I've worked all my life to protect the country and the people of Singapore."

Mr Rajagopal added: "Now in Singapore we have rehabilitated the communists, the criminals, the Muslim fundamentalists. That is why Singapore is such a peaceful place with racial and religious harmony. It is only due to an effective leader."

Should his services be required, he remains ever prepared for the call of duty.

"We in the Police Retirees' Association - and we've got 1,636 members - will all respond if we get a call any time."

National Service: Father, son and nation's defence
By Jermyn Chow, Defence CorrespondentThe Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

The father is the longest-serving staff member in the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF). The son worked as a medical officer in the RSAF. Neither knew, as young men, how meaningful they would find the experience.

Fate, and Mr Lee Kuan Yew, intervened.

Back in 1967, 19-year-old Prasad Kumar Menon had set his sights on getting a law degree at the University of Singapore, when the British announced they were withdrawing their military presence from Singapore by 1971.

Mr Lee and his team decided the Republic should protect itself with its own resources. An air force had to be built from scratch.

Mr Menon signed up as a trainee pilot but ended up as an air traffic controller. "I felt it was my duty at a time when my country needed me to do the right thing," he said.

When he stopped at 52, he was immediately engaged as a consultant in the RSAF's air operations department. Today, he is the RSAF's longest-serving staff member.

He said the way in which the RSAF has soared bore testament to the spirit which Mr Lee invoked in a 1967 parliamentary speech, asking Singaporeans to "adapt and to adjust, without any whimpering or wringing of hands" when British forces withdrew.

Mr Menon said: "Being forced to start from scratch, and think out of the box so early on, made us mature very quickly."

Interestingly, when his son Raj Kumar was growing up, he did not take national service seriously at first.

"It's something you just had to do - become fit, to be garang (Malay for tough), like what you see in the Ah Boys to Men films," said the 34-year-old, who went through basic military training in 2000, before interrupting his NS stint to go to medical school.

Reality hit when he returned to the RSAF to serve as a medical officer in 2006.

He helped evacuate servicemen who were hurt in a fighter jet crash in Taiwan in 2007.

Two died at the site, while another died from severe burns 17 days later in Singapore.

Recalling the 20-minute journey to the hospital in an ambulance with one of the burn victims airlifted back to Singapore, Mr Raj said: "All the drills, the equipment checks, things that we used to do in the medical centre and training, were suddenly very real.

"In front of you was someone who had made a big sacrifice while serving the nation. You wanted to do your best to bring him home.''

Mr Raj is now a registrar at National University Hospital's general surgery department. But he often mentors junior SAF medical officers and medics.

He said: "NS is not lip-service. You believe in your mission because you realise that this is not for show. This is essential.''

Meritocracy: Poor boy grows up to be StarHub boss
By Irene Tham, Technology CorrespondentThe Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

Growing up, Mr Tan Tong Hai and his five siblings lived in a one-room rental flat in Redhill with their parents.

The home was bare, furnished with just a table and some chairs. They could not afford a TV set.

A typical meal was rice with black soya sauce. His clothes and school books were hand-me- downs from a neighbour or his brother.

The 1960s was a tumultuous period in Singapore history, with a weak economy, very high unemployment and widespread poverty.

Mr Tan remembers his mother, an illiterate, regularly exhorting her six children: "Study hard and be successful. Don't let people look down on you."

Now aged 51, he is the chief executive of StarHub. His home? A landed property in the high-end Holland Road area.

Mr Tan credits his success story to the "solid foundation" provided by Singapore's education system.

"I was one of the beneficiaries of the system, which lifted me from poverty to where I am today," he said.

The emphasis the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew placed on education is legendary as the Government saw it as pivotal in creating a quality workforce to grow the country's economy and improve people's lives.

Mr Tan's parents sent all their six children to Tiong Bahru Primary School.

Though school fees were "affordable", he said, his late father's earnings as a cabby were not enough to buy new school textbooks, uniforms and shoes for all his children.

At the start of every school year, he had to borrow money.

"For the rest of the year, my father would slog to pay the debt, only to start the process all over again in January the following year."

In 1976, Mr Tan started Secondary 1 in Gan Eng Seng School because "I could use my older brother's uniform and books".

He did well and got into Hwa Chong Junior College.

With government bursaries and scholarships available for bright children from low-income families, "I was even more motivated to study hard", he said.

Like many in his generation, he could also turn to community groups, unions and business organisations for study grants.

Mr Tan received his first scholarship in 1980, when he was in his first year at Hwa Chong.

It came from the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

He subsequently received financial aid every year until he completed his four-year electrical engineering degree at the National University of Singapore.

His first job was at multinational IBM, as a software engineer, and with his first pay, he helped his parents buy an HDB flat in Bishan in 1989. The entire family moved into the four-room flat.

It has since been sold and his mother, now 80, lives with one of his siblings.

Mr Tan credits his achievements to Singapore's meritocratic education system.

He wants his 19-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son to enter a local university - just as he did - though fees are no longer an issue.

Racial Equality: Meritocratic system gives everyone a chance
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh Charissa YongThe Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

When she was a primary school pupil, Ms Nadrah Sadali would often go down at night to the void deck of her family's Housing Board flat to study.

She did so because her family could hardly afford to pay their electricity bills.

Her mother would also go to Beach Road to buy second-hand textbooks for Ms Nadrah and her five brothers.

The worn books were passed from sibling to sibling until the school syllabus changed and newer editions were needed.

Her mother, a nurse, and her father, an Islamic finance business owner, worked hard to put all their six children through school.

But Ms Nadrah, 25, and a trainee teacher, said she believes she owes part of her progress to the country's meritocratic system, a pillar of Singapore society that founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his team built and reinforced in education and employment.

The former national hockey player said being a minority did not stand in the way for her to excel, whether in her studies or sport.

"Today, as I train to be an educator, I have neither been discriminated against nor had to worry about possible discrimination."

The insistence by Mr Lee and the Old Guard on equal opportunities in education for all Singaporeans to progress by dint of hard work and not by race, religion, descent or place of birth, is enshrined in Singapore's Constitution.

Also, financial aid from the Government and community groups is readily available for bright students from low-income households.

Still, there was always the nagging worry of whether her parents could afford the school fees, she said.

"It is a feeling I carried through my school years, from Juying Primary to Crescent Girls' Secondary and St Andrews Junior College.

"It was always at the back on my mind, especially in my JC years as most of my classmates came from families that could send them to an overseas university," she said.

"But I remember my mother telling me that if I do well enough, the system will find a way to help me.

"True enough, with only my academic credentials, I qualified for university," she added.

"It did not matter that I could not afford the fees, it did not matter that I was Malay, and it most definitely did not matter that I was a woman," said Ms Nadrah, who is second among six children.

She took a bank loan for her first three years at Nanyang Technological University, where she majored in sociology.

In her final year, she got a Mendaki scholarship that took care of her course fees.

Currently, she is studying for a postgraduate diploma in education (physical education). The fees for the course are fully paid by the National Institute of Education.

She said: "We reap what we sow, and the system of meritocracy pushes us along the way."

She also acknowledged the value of the bilingual policy in schools, which is invariably associated with Mr Lee.

The policy requires each child to learn his mother tongue as well as English, and it is something Ms Nadrah said helped to remind her of her cultural roots.

She was an active member of the Malay Society in each school she attended as well as in university.

"The bilingual policy had plenty to do with it," she added. "The emphasis on our mother tongue encouraged me to not just speak and learn the language but also retain the values that come with it."

Women's Education: When doors to equality opened
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political EditorThe Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

Madam Er Teck Gin, 67, was a woman born at the right time.

Her older sister stayed at home in the 1950s while her brothers went to school, as was the norm at the time.

But when Madam Er reached school-going age, a man named Lee Kuan Yew emerged as the leader of the fledgling nation, then still seeking its independence from the British. He called on families to send their children - both boys and girls - to school, to forge the foundation of an educated and effective workforce.

Madam Er's parents heeded the call. So, unlike her older sister, she and her younger sisters went to school with their brothers. It changed the course of their lives.

"My older sister was a housewife. But I've always worked, my whole adult life," said Madam Er, who is now a grandmother of four.

"I was always financially independent. With my extra money, I could give my four children a more comfortable life."

More than that, Madam Er, introduced to learning in those early years, never stopped going to class.

She started working after secondary school, helping out with her friends' businesses.

In the evenings, she went for English lessons.

Soon, she was able to get better and better jobs, like being a cold chef preparing non-cooked food in Raffles Hotel. From there, she joined the Singapore Food Industries as an executive chef.

Her husband worked in a pawn shop, then later, for a transport company, so the family of six thrived as a double-income household.

Today, Madam Er teaches cooking classes part-time at community clubs under the People's Association.

"I followed Mr Lee's advice," she said. "Education is everything."

Women of Madam Er's age gained from Mr Lee's People's Action Party (PAP) government aggressively promoting gender equality in education and the workforce.

The impetus was largely economic, as the new and vulnerable nation needed to raise its national output and boost its economy quickly.

So, Mr Lee and his colleagues urged women to leave the kitchen for office desks or factory assembly lines - or at least bring up daughters to fulfil that goal.

But the PAP also believed in gender equality as a principle. Mr Lee's party fielded women candidates for elections, such as Women's League founders Chan Choy Siong and Ho Puay Choo.

Madam Er remembers well the late Madam Chan, who was married to former education minister Ong Pang Boon, now 85. "It was quite wonderful to see her in the papers, in charge," she said. "She always said women should come out and support themselves."

Gender equality also quickly became enshrined in law. In 1961, the Women's Charter Bill - then a monumental, ahead-of-its-time piece of civil rights legislation - was passed.

Crafted by then Labour and Law Minister K. M. Byrne and ushered through a Legislative Assembly controlled by the PAP, the Charter guaranteed basic rights and protection, which women today take for granted as the natural order of things.

These protections included a married woman's right to use her maiden name, her right to own property and her right to be a man's sole legal wife.

"It was very hard for Chinese-educated people like us to find jobs at the time. But because we had some education, we could survive," said Madam Er of herself and her sisters. "And we had the same opportunities as the men."

Clean & Green City: The seed project that took root
By Feng Zengkun, Environment CorrespondentThe Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

When you visit Orchard Road these days, you can enjoy a brush with a butterfly along with your shopping. A 4km Butterfly Trail starts at the gates of the Botanic Gardens, continues down the premier shopping belt and ends at Fort Canning Park.

It was Mr Lee Kuan Yew's go-green campaign in 1963 - when he planted a tree at Farrer Circus - that started what was to become the City in a Garden concept which flourishes today.

Decades after Mr Lee planted that first tree, a young Indian who arrived to study here was so inspired by Singapore's rich fauna and flora that he went on to eventually work for the Nature Society, with a particular interest in butterflies and conservation.

One of Mr Anuj Jain's proudest achievements is the Butterfly Trail - a 2010 project which consists of a series of green spaces along Napier, Tanglin and Orchard roads that help butterflies spread their wings through both leafy and glitzy areas in the heart of the city.

The spaces include green areas next to Somerset MRT station and behind Ngee Ann City, and Dhoby Ghaut Green park.

The Nature Society spearheaded the project, which was sponsored by property developer Far East Organization. Mr Jain, 30, was one of the lead project officers.

He says: "A lot of companies and organisations such as Singapore Post and Ricoh (a Japanese electronics firm) were willing to help financially, in-kind or to give up some space on their property as a green area, and Mr Lee's policies over the years definitely helped foster that eco-friendly mindset."

It is a far cry from when Mr Jain moved from his self-described "concrete city" home town in India to study at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2003.

He recalls: "Even though India has amazing wildlife as a country, Indian cities are not very green. But when I came to Singapore, there was greenery everywhere."

He was inspired to join Earthlink, NTU's environmental student society, and also to explore the nation's nature reserves and green spaces. MacRitchie Reservoir Park remains a favourite spot.

Although Mr Jain completed his engineering course, and started work at an electronics design company, he yearned to be closer to greenery. "At my workplace we had a roof garden, and I would go there every afternoon. My colleagues laughed because I seemed very odd - the designers were all very indoor people."

In 2008, he started volunteering with Team Seagrass, a group of people who monitor the health of seagrass, and the Nature Society.

He also volunteered with National Parks Board, carrying out guided walks on Pulau Ubin and in the Central Catchment and Bukit Timah nature reserves, as well as helping with biodiversity surveys and weed eradication programmes at the reserves.

Eventually, in 2010, he quit his job and joined the Nature Society. Mr Jain was one of the founding volunteers trained by Dr Ho Hua Chew, vice-chairman of the society's conservation committee, to carry out guided walks in the Kranji Marsh.

In late 2010, Sentosa Development Corporation hired the society for a botanical and zoological survey of the island.

Mr Jain was also in the plant survey group that helped uncover tree species that are extinct on the mainland, including the Syzygium griffithii, an evergreen tree.

He became a permanent resident in 2007, and is finishing a doctorate on wildlife ecology and conservation at the National University of Singapore.

Clean Water: The big upgrade from wells to taps
By Charissa YongThe Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

When retired accounts clerk Ow Yong Weng Kok, now 72, was a teenager in the early 1960s, he lived in a kampung in Kim Keat.

The only source of fresh water was a well in a village a kilometre away - and Mr Ow Yong walked there and back every day. On the return trip he carried two full buckets of water on a pole balanced on his shoulders.

Mr Ow Yong's 39-year-old son, Chark Kan, said: "The roads were very muddy and there weren't any street lamps. He was literally walking in darkness." Mr Ow Yong had recounted his tough childhood last week to him, after the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

He told how this changed when Mr Lee visited the kampung in the 1960s, and asked the villagers if there was anything he could do for them.

The younger Mr Ow Yong, a private tutor, said his dad replied: "Tap water would be great."

Within a month, there was a tap for every two homes in the kampung.

Mr Ow Yong said: "That was what I was amazed about - that Mr Lee took action straight away."

Years later, the first Housing Board flat which the older Mr Ow Yong moved into had multiple taps from which potable water flowed.

The change from drawing water from common wells to potable tap water in every home was made across Singapore as Mr Lee strove to improve standards of living.

Mr Lee also spearheaded the drive for Singapore to be self-sufficient in water.

This was born out of a sense of vulnerability, intensified by a drought in1963 and Singapore's separation from Malaysia in 1965.

Two 50-year water pacts signed in 1961 and 1962 that allowed Singapore to buy water from Malaysia were drafted into the Separation Agreement and later became part of the Malaysian Constitution, guaranteeing Singapore's water supply from Johor.

Going a step further, Mr Lee set up the Water Planning Unit in 1971 to coordinate Singapore's water policy.

Soon, Singapore also developed other ways to recycle water, such as desalination and treating waste water.

"The one thing that struck me about my father's story was how we always take what we have now for granted, such as running tap water," said Mr Ow Yong.

Hawker Centres: Dad gained a livelihood and raised a family
By Lim Yan LiangThe Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

Growing up, Ms Thian Hwee Keong used to sit by the Geylang River and watch as her father roasted coffee beans in a huge bronze drum.

An itinerant hawker, her late father Thian Oayin Mui was known around the Kallang area in the 1960s for his coffee beans, which he painstakingly selected and processed.

This meant that large gunny sacks of green coffee beans were a constant fixture in the living room of the family's two-room rental flat in Dakota Crescent, she said.

"Once every fortnight, he would roll this heavy drum from our home to the river, which was about a five- minute walk away," recalled Ms Thian, who has three brothers.

"My brothers and I would pick up wooden planks for the fire, and I'd sit by the riverbank to watch him roast the coffee seeds. It was always a great fire."

Whenthe green coffee beans turned brown, Mr Thian would stir them in margarine and sugar, before packing them in biscuit tins and sending them to a factory to be ground into powder.

The scent of roasted coffee meant her father was known in their neighbourhood as "kopi-chek" (coffee uncle), laughed Ms Thian, 61, who works in patient administration at the Singapore General Hospital.

While the drinks business had its share of loyal customers, Ms Thian remembers how poor her family was.

"We had one table and one chair when we first moved in," recalled Ms Thian. "My mother said if we saved money, we could buy one chair every month. So they bought the chairs one by one. That's how poor we were."

Her parents also had to contend with the authorities, who did not look kindly on street hawkers because of hygiene and public order problems in the 1960s.

It was a problem former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew recalled in his memoirs, From Third World To First.

"Thousands would sell cooked food on the pavements and streets in total disregard of traffic, health or other considerations," said Mr Lee.

"The resulting litter and dirt, the stench of rotting food and the clutter and obstructions turned many parts of the city into slums."

To clamp down on such hawking, officers would conduct spot checks and street hawkers would be fined, said Ms Thian.

"My father had kakis (friends) who kept an eye out, and when we heard the words 'officers coming, faster close', we would pack up in a hurry and leave," she said. "But sometimes, he would be caught and fined."

After independence in 1965, Mr Lee's Government made a clean and modern Singapore a priority, and relocated hawkers like Mr Thian away from the main streets.

He set up his first permanent stall near Kallang Road, in a row of zinc-roofed hawker stalls built by the Government. Rent was heavily subsidised and, for the first time, he had access to piped water, gas and electricity.

This meant he could run his business later into the night, and expand his fare to include toast, boiled eggs and a selection of cold drinks.

"He became a legal tenant, and no longer had to hide from the inspectors. It was from here that my father started to prosper," said Ms Thian.

Mr Thian was among 18,000 street hawkers licensed by the Government in an islandwide hawker registration exercise in 1968 and 1969.

They had to stick to rules such as not smoking while preparing food, and not throwing water or rubbish into drains. For Mr Thian, it was the end of his coffee roasting days, as the authorities deemed his bean roasting pollutive.

But while business boomed for Mr Thian, whose stall was located near a bus stop used by Malaysian tourists, many of his peers were reluctant to move into permanent spaces.

"Accustomed to doing business on the road rent-free and easily accessible to customers, they resisted moving to centres where they would have to pay rent and water and electricity charges," Mr Lee wrote in his memoirs.

Undeterred, the Government embarked on an aggressive programme in 1971 to build permanent facilities to house hawkers.

It also formed the Hawkers' Department Special Squad, conducting multiple raids daily to get rid of all illegal hawking. Within six months, the illegal hawking situation was under control.

In 1973, Mr Thian became one of the first hawkers to move into the newly built Old Airport Road Food Centre. The Government would build hawker centres at a breakneck pace, opening No. 103 in 1986.

Mr Thian continued to sell coffee and toast at the same stall for the next 15 years.

On the back of coffee and toast, Ms Thian said, her father was eventually able to buy a whole coffee shop, as well their family's first private apartment in Joo Chiat in the 1970s.

He sold it and moved with the family into a semi-detached house in Tembeling Street, where one of her brothers still lives today.

"Mr Lee Kuan Yew gave my parents a livelihood, an opportunity to make a decent living and to raise four children," she said. "No words can express my gratitude to Mr Lee for taking us from poverty to prosperity. I will forever remember him, and may he rest in peace."

Going Regional: Pushing Singapore firms to expand overseas
By Marissa LeeThe Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

It took a trade mission led by then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew to turn Dr Robert Yap's company from local to global.

Such missions were "new and few" in 1993.

Dr Yap, executive chairman of logistics giant YCH, was head of a homegrown company that had just made its first foray out of Singapore with a warehouse in Penang.

But YCH's multinational clients like Compaq and Hewlett-Packard were urging the firm to service them as they expanded into China.

Dr Yap was hesitant.

He recalled: "We knew China was going to be a growing market, we just needed a sign that it was the right thing to do. Because we were not a big company, we couldn't afford to make too many mistakes."

The invitation to join the mission was just the sign he was looking for.

Mr Lee had invited many businessmen to the trip to expose them to the China market.

"We had a meeting, and Mr Lee said that China is a big market we cannot ignore, because Singapore is too small," said Dr Yap, 62.

"But of course, he cautioned that not all of us would succeed...

"But the whole thing was about encouragement. There was a risk, but we needed to go."

Mr Lee commanded a lot of respect from the Chinese officials and built the Singapore brand by keeping promises and working hard, said Dr Yap.

"Lee Kuan Yew didn't say it that way; he acted that way."

The Ningbo mission gave Dr Yap the courage to take YCH global.

A year later, YCH opened a distribution park in Shanghai.

It now operates distribution hubs in more than 100 cities worldwide.

"Singapore is only 20 per cent of our business now," Dr Yap said.

"(Singapore's) legacy of internationalisation - I would credit it to Lee Kuan Yew."

In his role as Senior Minister, Mr Lee dwelt extensively on the need for Singapore firms to venture abroad to grow and survive.

He told a People's Action Party (PAP) conference in 1992: "We are being left behind by (South) Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, which are developing their external economies.

"All we've got are a few enterprises in Malaysia, mostly in Johor, and a few factories and hotels in Batam and Bintan in Indonesia."

If Singaporeans are "contented to be stuck at home" instead of internationalising, warned Mr Lee, Singapore would be a "failed NIE (newly industrialising economy)".

Mr Lee threw his weight behind the regionalisation drive.

He wanted Singapore firms to develop "guanxi", or close relations, with rising Chinese businesses.

Dr Yap first saw Mr Lee in action in the 1960s, when he was just a lad who went along with his father on a job.

The elder Mr Yap, who owned a lorry transport business, supplied vehicles to the PAP during an election campaign.

"My father had very, very high respect for Mr Lee," said Dr Yap.

Later, when he took up the reins of his father's business and began transforming it into what is now YCH, Dr Yap began to share his father's deep respect for Mr Lee.

"I appreciated him better as a businessman - when you look at the stability in Singapore, and take advantage of the Singapore position," he said.

Bilingualism: From hard slog to rewarding career
By Leong Weng Kam, Senior WriterThe Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

Up till her Secondary One year, Ms Wong Lee Jeng's school was a public Chinese-language institution. Then, overnight, all the textbooks - except those in the Chinese language - were changed into English.

This was in 1981, at the former Seh Chuan High School. It was the transitional period when the Education Ministry was developing national schools with English as the language of instruction.

It was the brainchild of then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, an advocate of bilingualism which was introduced in the late 1970s. The thinking behind it was that English would connect Singaporeans to the world and give all races an equal chance while knowing their mother tongue would keep them in touch with their culture.

Ms Wong, now 47, struggled at first, not knowing that the move would pave the way for her career.

She went on to become a Mandarin radio DJ and television presenter, and is now a translator and trainer as well as bilingual host at public events.

She hosted the ground-breaking ceremony of the China Cultural Centre in 2010 in Queen Street, officiated by then Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Mr Xi Jinping, now China's President.

She did the same at the opening of the Confucius Institute at Nanyang Technological University in 2006. It was attended by Mr Lee, then Minister Mentor.

Ms Wong says: "In my first two years in the school, our teachers were still teaching us in Mandarin though our textbooks, especially those for science and mathematics, were in English."

The complete switch from Chinese to English took place when she was in Secondary Three.

All vernacular language schools, including Seh Chuan, which was renamed Shuqun Secondary in 1986 when it moved from Upper Bukit Timah to Jurong Street 21, became full-fledged national schools by 1987.

They taught English at first language level, mother tongue languages at second language level.

The exceptions were nine former Chinese-medium schools, which became Special Assistance Plan or SAP schools in 1978.

Ms Wong, who later completed her A levels at the former Raffles Junior College, recalls taking the change at Seh Chuan in her stride, but some classmates "dropped out of school after failing to show up for their O-level examinations".

It was also hard on the teaching staff: Chinese-educated science teachers found themselves having to teach complex chemistry theories in English.

Luckily for Ms Wong, her principal engaged an American, Mr Alan Smith, a staff member at the US embassy, to give students English enrichment lessons.

"He introduced us to English literature, too, like the works of H.G. Wells which I became very interested in, and helped improve my English further," she says.

Although a science student, she began her career as a Chinese copy writer at an advertising firm after her A levels in 1987.

Her parents were construction workers and Ms Wong, the fourth of six children, had to start work and help support the family.

She went on to become a full-time DJ, radio producer and Chinese-English translator. In 2006, she and her musician husband Tan Tong Jen, 46, formed a media services company, Six Degrees Connection. They have two daughters, aged 14 and 11.

She declares: "I am enjoying my work as event host, translator and writer now, thanks to my good grasp of the two languages."

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