Singapore

DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam talks about his days as a poet

No numbers, just words. An old photo of a youthful Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam poring over poems with his ACS buddies has caught the attention of Singaporeans

The snapshot was taken in June 1978. Just three young men, spouting poetry.

Who would have thought one of them would go on to become the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Singapore.

"I was not an 'economics' person till later, during my university years," Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam tells The New Paper on Sunday.

"I spent all my time on sports during my school days and was distinctly unscholarly by nature. I began reading widely only after my school years. Writing was, for me, just an offshoot of an interest in society," he adds.

Calling it "this rather embarrassing photo", Mr Yeoh Lam Keong says it evokes warm memories "of when we edited a collection of local poetry for the Young Writers Circle of the National Library".

"(This) photo was taken in the home of Chew Kheng Chuan, a mutual good friend of mine and Tharman. We were in NS at the time," explains Mr Yeoh, an adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and vice-president of the Economic Society of Singapore.

The two classmates at the London School of Economics crossed intellectual swords two weeks ago, after Mr Tharman had given a 27-minute speech at the PAP rally in Bukit Panjang on Sept 6.

POPULAR

The photo, which first appeared on Sept 11 on Mothership.sg, a Singaporean digital news agency, already has over 36,000 views.

Mr Tharman says he never regarded himself "as a poet, much less a good poet".

"Among the three of us, KC and Lam Keong were better writers. I did some poems in my early 20s, a few of which got carried in this book. I wrote very occasionally until my late 20s. A few poems were carried in Commentary, the journal of the National University of Singapore Society," he adds.

Mr Chew, better known as KC, says the photo serves as "a sweet memory of a friendship that continues today".

"We were not NS mates, but we were good friends from ACS (Anglo-Chinese School). Even then, it was clear to me that Tharman was the brightest of our classmates and of our generation, narrowly defined... I am glad Tharman stayed the course from our earlier interest in Singapore politics," says the special adviser to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Asia.

As to his reputation as the "inveterate sng buay (sour plum) addict", Mr Chew says: "I haven't taken sng buay in decades, so I guess I am no longer an addict. I had liked it inordinately as a teenager, and that was why the reputation among close friends. Salt is bad for you."

Would they change anything from those times?

"Not with regard to my friends Tharman and Lam Keong," Mr Chew says.

Mr Yeoh adds: "Perhaps, I might not have allowed Tharman and KC to talk me into taking up economics in university and studied marine biology instead."

"I was not an ‘economics’ person till later, during my university years. I spent all my time on sports during my school days and was distinctly unscholarly by nature."

- Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on his younger days

President's Scholars in 1972, now...

HIGH-FLIERS: The 1972 President’s Scholars: (from left) Lim Hng Kiang (RI), Lim Teik Hock (St Andrew’s), Chan Seng Onn (SJI), Lee Wei Ling (RI), Lee Bee Wah and Yap Hui Kim (NJC), George Yeo (SJI) and Teo Chee Hean (SJI). FIlE PHOTOS

In a recent column published in The Straits Times, Dr Lee Wei Ling talks of how her President's Scholar title, awarded to her after A-level results, impacted her life.

The photo Dr Lee shared shows her and seven other President's Scholars, of the 11 presented with the award, from the class of 1972.

The group was photographed with then-president Benjamin Sheares.

It has been 43 years since they received the prestigious accolade at a ceremony at the Istana.

So where are they now?

While some became household names after stepping into the local political arena, others became esteemed doctors in their respective fields of medicine.

In her column, Dr Lee refers to "Bee Wah and Hui Kim (as) inseparable best friends" when the two studied at "Methodist Girls' School and National Junior College".

Today, Professor Yap Hui Kim heads the division of paediatric nephrology at National University Hospital while Dr Lee Bee Wah is a consultant paediatrician and clinical paediatric immunologist/allergist at the Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre and an adjunct Associate Professor in the department of paediatrics at National University of Singapore.

Prof Yap, who read Dr Lee's column, says: "The first thing that came to mind when I saw the photo was how different we all looked, especially with the hairstyles and the style of dressing.

"I also have a copy of that photo. I think we all had it."

When asked if she kept in touch with any of the other President's Scholars of her batch, Prof Yap adds: "We didn't really know each other.

"I can't remember but we probably spoke at the ceremony for a while but we never kept in touch."

One of the scholars in the photo was Mr Lim Teik Hock.

The New Paper on Sunday tried and was unable to contact him but several checks revealed that Mr Lim was one of the members of the board of governors of Singapore Armed Forces Yacht Club in 2005, and held the rank of colonel.

JUSTICE

One other President's Scholar, Mr Chan Seng Onn, is currently a Supreme Court justice.

Still in politics today are Mr Lim Hng Kiang, current Minister for Trade and Industry and Mr Teo Chee Hean, Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Home Affairs, Co-ordinating Minister for National Security, and Minister in charge of the Civil Service.

Mr George Yeo, however, retired from politics after the 2011 General Election.

He served in various ministries, including the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Trade and Industry, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He announced his retirement from office just three days after the 2011 General Election when he and his PAP team were defeated by the Low Thia Khiang-led Workers' Party in Aljunied GRC.

Mr Yeo later joined the Kuok Group, an investment holding company, in October 2011 as its senior adviser and became the vice-chairman of its subsidiary Kerry Group (HK) in January 2012.

Seven months later, he became chairman of Kerry Logistics Network.

He has since been based in both Singapore and Hong Kong.

SingaporeTharman ShanmugaratnamUncategorisedphotographyEconomy