As I sat there at the Workers’ Party (WP) press conference on Friday, where the party was introducing its third batch of potential candidates for the elections, it was a little surreal to me.
The media were interrogating what were mostly newbies who were putting themselves up for scrutiny by a sometimes unforgiving public.
What policy would you champion? How will the kind of candidates affect your party’s image? Why should anyone vote for you?
What caught my attention was He Ting Ru, the 31-year old Cambridge-educated corporate lawyer who has created something of a buzz since her entry into the political scene.
Well-spoken with a confident air about her, Ms He was – is – clearly intelligent, and answered the questions with ease, albeit with just a tad of nervousness.
And as I watched her engage the media’s queries, my thoughts wandered: she would be a young Member of Parliament (MP) in the context of an ageing society.
What would she do for the elderly – such as those we see around us on a daily basis, eking out a living collecting cardboards, selling tissue paper, cleaning our toilets.
And those who are sick or who live in isolation within the walls of one-room rental flats, dependent on charity for survival? Our senior citizens who, after having toiled for a lifetime, are asked to struggle a little more in their sunset years, before nature ends their struggles.
It is a “phenomenon” which has not been adequately addressed by those in authority. Indeed, it seems that we are getting used to the sight of our old men and women doing the dirty work of keeping our public areas clean; and we seem to be perfectly fine with those who are also out-of-sight.
So, after the press con, I went up to Ms He to ask her exactly those questions.What could she, as a young MP, do for these elderly folks who seem to have been forgotten by a society which prides itself on its wealth and economic achievements? Would she understand the issues and the daily struggles they go through?
“Actually, I was very close to my grandmother,” she said to me.
Ms He revealed that her grandmother had passed away recently.
“I came back to Singapore and I spent a lot of time with her,” she said. “I witnessed first-hand, I was involved first-hand, in the care of my grandmother in the last few years of her life.”
“So I understand some of the issues, actually I understand quite deeply the issues that are involved with older people and some of the elderly issues that many Singaporeans will be facing.”
The “many Singaporeans” she was referring to include also perhaps those 65-years old and above who would make up the one million senior folks by 2030.
“So, because of that experience, it’s something that I’d be very interested in,” Ms He said, recalling her time with her popo, as she called her grandmother. “I would be paying a lot of attention towards the well-being, not just the care, but also the well-being of the older generation of Singaporeans.”
One might think that Ms He is just answering a question at a press scrum, and that she is just being politically correct – until you read the postings on her Facebook page.
On 18 August, Ms He posted about how she had come across a group of older men playing basketball at a community club.
“Happened to walk past a CC on the way to run an errand when I stopped and found a moment to marvel at this group of veterans -- their basketball skills totally put mine to shame!”
The sight of the men shooting hoops apparently made her appreciate how the older generation had built this society which we now live in.
“I hope that as our population ages, all of us spare a moment to think about the debt we owe previous generations and how we can individually and collectively contribute towards ensuring a better quality of life for them,” she posted on her Facebook page.
“What does it say about our society that some of them need to eke out a daily existence cleaning our toilets and clearing our dishes?
“They are not a burden. They are our grandparents, our parents, our neighbours.”
Indeed, what does it say about us, when we accept that it is alright for our older citizens to be at our beck and call, to clean up after us?
And when National Day came, Ms He once again expressed appreciation – this time more personally – for a particular senior citizen, her 99-year old popo.
“Having just crossed the#sg50jubilee weekend, I thought a lot about the contributions of our older generation to build the home that we sometimes take for granted today.
“One of them is also the proudest Singaporean I have ever known, our Grandmother. Ever since I could remember, every year as National Day approaches, she would start hunting through her belongings for the Singapore flag to hangproudly outside her home. She would also inspect the homes of her children and start nagging those who were late in displaying the flag.
“It was also a ritual for her to watch every minute of the NDP, and to excitedly call for the rest of us to join her. She never missed a year, even though her eyesight and hearing started to fail as she entered her 90s.
“She may not have been a towering historical figure, but she worked day and night unrelentingly to secure the future for her family, and for that, I am deeply grateful.
“Happy National Day, Popo, look how far we've come.”
How far, indeed, we have come.
Now, it is time for us to go even further – and our hopes lie in the hands of those like Ms He.
Having graduated with a degree in Natural Sciences from Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, and later going on to read law in London, Ms He qualified as a solicitor in England and Wales.
She later worked for one of the biggest law firms in the world, and had the opportunity to practise her expertise in both London and Frankfurt in Germany.
She had, according to her profile on the WP website, worked as “a legal counsel in a financial institution specialising in structured and derivative financing [and] has been the Head of Legal of a listed company since 2013.”
But soon, home called and she returned to Singapore in 2011 – and was struck by how Singapore had changed during her time away.
She found that “Singaporeans felt very deeply and were worried about the direction and future of their country.”
But she was not just going to be a passive observer, or feel helpless.
“Inspired by her father, who told her to not just be another complaining voice, she started volunteering at Chen Show Mao’s Meet-the-People sessions in May 2011 and has been involved in both constituency and party level work since,” the WP website says.
And now, here she is – on the cusp of becoming a lawmaker, a privilege bestowed by the people on the fortunate, and deserving, few.
We wish her well, and look forward to her contributions to uplift the most vulnerable who continue to struggle in silence every day.
And when she does that, from the hallowed halls of Parliament, with all the passion and skills she has acquired, her popo indeed would be proud.
“One of the hardest things in life for anyone is to watch the slow but relentless march of time taking its toll on those that you love deeply, before the day eventually comes, as certain as spring always follows winter, to say adieu forever.” – He Ting Ru, March 2015, Facebook post on the death of Lee Kuan Yew.