Speech by Minister for Education and Chairman of the SG50 Steering Committee, Mr Heng Swee Keat, at the Launch of the Official SG50 Book – Living the Singapore Story: Celebrating Our 50 Years 1965-2015

Published Date: 15 May 2015 12:00 AM

News Speeches

President Tony Tan Keng Yam

Minister Yaacob Ibrahim

The members of the Editorial Committee, and at NLB and STP, and everyone who shared your stories to bring this book to life

Dear friends


Good evening. My sincere thanks to President for gracing this occasion. And to all of you for joining us for the special launch of our SG50 book - Living the Singapore Story: Celebrating our 50 Years 1965 - 2015.


2.This year, we celebrate our 50th anniversary of independence. It is a time to appreciate the pioneers for bringing us to where we are today; to reflect on the lessons learnt and our values that bond us; and, to inspire all of us to create a better future for all Singaporeans. I am happy to be able to share this book with you. There is no better way to appreciate, reflect, or inspire, than through people.

3.This book, “Living the Singapore Story: Celebrating our 50 Years”, chronicles the small steps and great strides made by our nation and our people over 50 years in a very special way. It does so by telling the small steps and great strides that each of us has made individually [including our trips, stumbles and leaps into the unknown]. The book tells our Singapore story through the stories of 58 Singaporeans – many of whom are with us this evening. I encourage you to chat with them later and learn more about their fascinating lives. Each person has more to tell than any book can contain.

The Singapore Spirit

4.To tell our SG50 story through the lives of our people is very fitting. Because the story of our Singapore is the story of all our people combined. When we celebrate SG50, what we celebrate is really the achievements of our people. When we commit ourselves to the future, we do so for our people too. I am thankful to the creators of this book for bringing this fundamental truth to life. Their stories tell of a strong and unwavering Singapore. Their stories are honest and heartfelt accounts that exemplify the determination and fearlessness of Singaporeans when faced with adversities in life. It is this spirit that connects us.

5.Sometimes reviewers describe a really good book this way – they say, “You can’t put it down.” When I read through this book, I felt the same way about the Singaporeans in it: You can’t keep them down. They bounce back, they overcome, they reach beyond. Ordinary Singaporeans and some better-known ones tell the stories of the lives they have led, the work they have done and the dreams they have pursued. Collectively, their memories make up the Singapore Story. They come from all walks of life, and reflect our rich multi-cultural heritage. And every one of these plucky, quirky, courageous, inspiring Singaporeans has a Singapore story to tell.

6.I was very happy to read Puan Noor Aishah’s story in the book. Last year, Minister Yaacob and I paid a call on Puan Noor Aishah to discuss the naming of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies to ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. We are doing so in honour of Puan Noor Aishah’s late husband, our first President Yusof Ishak, who was also our Yang di-Pertuan Negara when Singapore became independent. As PM Lee said, President Yusof Ishak was “a president for all Singaporeans”, and it is fitting to honour him with this tribute. In fact, I introduced a Bill, just earlier this week, on Monday – the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Amendment) Bill – to bring this about. As I introduced the Bill, I was reminded of Minister Yaacob’s and my visit to Puan Noor Aishah. She is a most gracious hostess. She listened to our ideas, gave us her support, and recounted many interesting stories of her experiences as a very young lady entering the Istana at the side of her husband, and serving our nation in those early years. I am so glad that her experiences are captured here, and I hope many will read the story of Puan Noor Aishah.

7. Many other inspiring Singaporeans share the pages of this book with Puan Noor Aishah. For example, Mr Ngalirdjo Mungin, or Pak Moen, a 94-year old satay seller, who is also the oldest person featured in the book. You must read his story. Pak Moen is a man after my own heart, a pioneer of SkillsFuture before we even came up with SkillsFuture. He started out knowing only how to make Indonesian kuih, but he really wanted to sell satay, so he hung around near satay sellers and memorised their ingredients, and then, even better, innovated his own techniques. Perfecting his skills over the years, his business prospered. The business is named after his late wife, Mdm Kamisah Dadi. Pak Moen says her mee soto and mee rebus were very good. I like how, at the heart of Pak Moen’s success, it is a story of pride in his skills, a strong partnership with his wife, and love of family. He started it to make more money to feed 11 mouths at home, and he has indeed raised a family. Now, Pak Moen has passed his thriving Malay food stall at Sims Place Food Centre to one of his sons. Do you know, he still goes to the stall every day to have a bowl of mee soto to make sure his son is keeping up the family standard?

8.We also have Ms Rosie Ang, Singapore’s first female car salesperson – another true pioneer. In fact, her career in the car industry is even older than Singapore – she worked at it for 53 years. In the book, Rosie shares her experiences starting out in a male-dominated industry. What she lacked in experience and knowledge of cars, she more than made up for with a willingness to learn, and a strong desire to succeed. Her go-getter attitude helped her close her first sale within just two weeks on the job. She has even sold cars to our former presidents Mr Yusof Ishak and Mr SR Nathan.

9.I was also touched by Angel Ng’s story. Angel was in and out of jail for drug offences for many years. An opportunity came through for Angel through the Yellow Ribbon Project and today, she manages three call centres. Of course, it had a lot to do with Angel’s own determination to do better. It was while in prison at the age of 33 that Angel completed her ‘O’ levels and scored five straight distinctions in subjects like English Literature and History. So Angel, you have shown a lot of strength. Thank you for sharing your story with us, and I hope you will go from strength to strength in your work, and keep inspiring your daughter and everyone you meet.

10.The never-give-up spirit is also alive and well in our younger generation. Dipna Lim Prasad shares her story of an athlete who persevered despite naysayers telling her to quit, saying she would never make it. Fuelled by her passion for running, Dipna became the national record holder for women’s 400m hurdles championship. Dipna is going to compete in the upcoming SEA Games, and she hopes to become the first Singaporean to qualify for the 400m hurdles at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro next year. She is actually away today for a competition. We wish her all the best!

11.Speaking of record holders, we cannot forget the story of Kyra Poh, the youngest voice in the book. At the tender age of 13, Kyra holds four Guinness World Records for indoor skydiving and was Singapore’s representative in the 2014 Bodyflight World Challenge in Britain. Indoor skydiving looks easy but it took Kyra months of hard work to master the sport.

12.These stories, along with many others in the book, show the true Singapore spirit.

Telling the Singapore Story

13.As we celebrate our nation’s Golden Jubilee, let us not forget that the Singapore story belongs to all of us. It is built out of the memories, stories and most importantly the dreams and hopes of every Singaporean. There is no better way to tell the Singapore Story than through the eyes of all of us who call Singapore home. Coming from all walks of life, these stories offer us perspectives of our history and shared memories. Their triumphs and indomitable spirit are immortalised in the pages of this book, which I hope will serve as an inspiration for many future generations.

14.It is poignant that the book contains one of the last interviews given by the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, our founding prime minister. His story is very much like the stories in this book – it was full of hurdles too, and he faced those challenges, just like the Singaporeans in this book, with guts and spirit, and most of all, a strong love for and total unwavering dedication to this place he called home, and to the people of this home.

15.I would like to thank the Editorial Advisory Committee, led by Professor Tommy Koh, for putting together such a rich collection of stories. I also want to commend the National Library Board and Strait Times Press for producing a meaningful book that tells the story of Singaporeans.

16.Most of all, I would like to thank you for sharing your personal Singapore stories, and for living your lives with courage and generosity.

17.May your stories inspire many to live with the same spirit!

18.Thank you. And Happy SG50 to all.

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