Everyone has a story. Surprisingly (or not surprisingly?) we didn’t have to go far to uncover these.
We might have good food, good housing and good education, but according to the results of the Time Out City Life Index, Singapore is one of the world’s least exciting cities.
We set out to dispel this myth. What makes a city exciting? To us, it’s not about how much nightlife, street food or live music around. It’s the people.
We didn’t have to look far out of our social networks to discover unique Singaporeans and their stories. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that we’re all unique Singaporeans in our own right, but we picked 7 of our favourite stories that we think you’ll love this National Day!
1) James Yan, ex-offender, now Senior Product Expert
Since being released from prison in 2013, James, 37, has worked hard to get his life back on track. With support from the Yellow Ribbon Fund STAR (Skills Training Assistant to Restart) Bursary programme, he graduated from SHATEC and worked his way to front desk supervisor at a hotel.
Early last year, he was recruited by one of the world’s leading technology firms. A little hesitant at first, he decided to have a little faith and “just prove myself”. And that he did; not only was he hired, he was then promoted to Senior Product Expert after just 6 months. He has no regrets.
James’ story is an inspiring one, but it wasn’t easy. He admits that there is still stigma surrounding ex-offenders, but that it only spurred him harder to prove himself. By treating every day and opportunity like it was his last chance, he turned his life around.
“I’m really, really proud of myself”
Ex-offender, now Senior Product Expert at a leading technology firm
2) Gan Hoe Luan, 100 years old
Auntie Gan, a resident of Thian Leng Old Folks Home, is one of few centenarians in Singapore. Originally from China, she moved first to Malaysia, and then to Singapore when she was about 25 years old to work in a glassware factory. Having lived through the Japanese Occupation during World War 2, she shared how difficult life was back then. “There was nothing to eat. Only tapioca… you’re very lucky now! You all can earn, can eat.”
Auntie Gan claims she doesn’t have any favourite foods, but when we suggested durian, her face lit up and she nodded vigorously. It’s clear she loves it more than tapioca, that’s for sure!
3) Advaitha S/O Thigaraji, MINDS Lee Kong Chian Gardens School student
Advaitha, a bubbly 14-year-old from MINDS Lee Kong Chian Gardens School, has one wish for Singapore: to grow up here and continue showcasing his many talents. And many talents he has! He proudly lists off the number of times he has performed for our President, ranging from singing at the Istana, to playing the bass drums in the upcoming National Day Parade.
“The president shook hands with me during the NDP preview last week! It’s the second time I’ve met her. I feel so proud to be a Singaporean.”
ADVAITHA S/O THIGARAJI
His talents extend past music, to sports too. He competed in the Special Olympics last year, against other teams such as APSN Tanglin and other MINDS Schools. It comes as no surprise that his team won one of the top slots!
4) James and Joseph Wang, third generation hawkers
Chicken rice – our national dish and something that as Singaporeans, we’re immensely proud of. This is especially so for James and Joseph Wang, third-generation hawkers who run Haikee Soy Sauce Chicken. Started in the 1950s, Haikee has been an established player in the chicken rice scene for over 60 years, and today, the two brothers manage three stalls.
It’s not an easy job, with each day starting from around 8AM and lasting 12-13 hours. So what spurred them to go down this unconventional path? For James, 27, he always wanted to carry on the business since he was young. “Our food has been a comfort to many customers, and I thought it would be a waste to let go, after our father and grandfather spent their whole life building this business”.
5) Nisha, mental health advocate & aspiring graphic designer
Over a year ago, Nisha, 22, shared her story about her battle with depression, and it’s been quite a journey since. Even though it’s been some time since her last relapse, she still struggles to manage her triggers and anxiety. But with baby steps, a strong support system and regular therapy sessions, she’s been coping well.
She’s also found a purpose – graphic design. It’s something she’s always had an interest in, but never had the courage or confidence to pursue it. Until she landed a job as a graphic design intern! Now, she’s studying graphic design at First Media Design School and hopes to work in a design agency after she graduates.
6) Dione Song, #GirlBoss at Love, Bonito
Making a dent in today’s world is the fuel that gets Dione, 30, out of bed every morning. A cup of kopi siew dai, a slice of butter sugar toast with soft boiled eggs doesn’t hurt too!
Leading a team at homegrown startup, Love Bonito, Dione believes in empowering women in the workplace, giving them equal opportunities to excel even in traditionally male-dominated roles like data science. Having broken through the glass ceiling, she hopes to see more female representation in upper management across industries.
When asked what she missed most about Singapore during her time abroad, the memory of her first subway experience came to mind – “it was dark, a man was peeing by the corner and it was as though I was going to get murdered at any moment”. That experience opened Dione’s eyes to appreciate what was previously invisible to her – the cleanliness, safety and running of our MRT systems in our home city.
7) Anthea Seah, dance artist and choreographer at T.H.E Dance Company
Photo Credit: Shaun Ho
In the eyes of 28 year-old Anthea, choreography is very closely linked with directing. “To choreograph is to direct, using the body as the primary tool of expression”, she believes. Anthea’s journey with dance started in secondary school when she first joined their Chinese contemporary dance troupe as a co-curricular activity. While many of her peers stopped dancing after graduation, she continued, eventually pursuing a degree in dance from LASALLE College of the Arts.
Today, she is highly active in the dance scene as a dancer, instructor and choreographer for various groups, including T.H.E Dance Company where she is assistant to their artistic director, Kuik Swee Boon.