As a child living in a kampung on the small island of Pulau Bukom in the 1960s, Mr Han Jok Kwang would cycle to school and make deliveries of bread for his parents, who owned a bakery.
The humble bicycle was an important part of his life then, and continues to be so today.
The 62-year-old is one of Singapore's biggest advocates of cycling, promoting its recreational benefits and potential as a mode of transport in a "green" and car-lite city.
He works closely with agencies such as the National Parks Board (NParks), which is behind the more than 300km-long Park Connector Network (PCN), and leads cycling trips for top civil servants and executives to get them to buy into the idea of cycling.
The chief information officer of a global electronics firm is one of the 14 members of the Active Mobility Advisory Panel, whose recommendations were incorporated in a Bill that was passed in Parliament last Tuesday.
The Bill's passing will soon make it legal for cyclists to share footpaths with pedestrians, and it also spells out the rules governing the use of personal mobility devices, including electric bicycles and scooters.
LEARN TO SHARE
Cultural norms and habits will still have to change. It's time for us to learn to share common spaces, to be more considerate, more gracious and safety-conscious.
MR HAN JOK KWANG, on how the journey of having cyclists and pedestrians sharing footpaths has only just begun.
Mr Han said it was "heartening" that the Active Mobility Bill was pushed through in a span of a few years, demonstrating the bold political leadership and hard work by the civil service.
But the journey has only just begun, he reckons. "Cultural norms and habits will still have to change. It's time for us to learn to share common spaces, to be more considerate, more gracious and safety-conscious," he said.
He cites Kyoto and Osaka in Japan as model cities where pedestrians, cyclists and motorists co-exist harmoniously. "The culture is very gracious and considerate. I hardly heard a (bicycle) bell being rung. When they see one another, they know how to keep a (safe) distance," he said.
The Japan trip he took in the middle of last year was an eye-opener, he said, and he thinks Singapore may need another three to five years to develop such a culture. With the rules now clearly spelt out, he called on Singaporeans to take it upon themselves to practise safe riding behaviour, as well as to correct bad practices.
Mr Han feels that rather than whipping out smartphones to film errant behaviour and then shaming it online, a gentle word will be more effective. He said a love for cycling should start from a young age, and he suggests making it a life skill that can be taught from Primary 5.
"When you have a bicycle, you learn to take care of it and take responsibility. When you cycle, you exercise and it also builds your skill in balancing," he said.
While Mr Han started young, at age five, cycling took a back seat after he turned 16, when he moved from Pulau Bukom to the mainland.
But he revisited cycling as a serious hobby in his 40s, wanting to try out the PCN. "There were these wonderful facilities, away from the main roads, a good way to get some cardiovascular exercise," he said.
What had been a hobby gradually became a passion, as he started to get in touch with agencies such as NParks, Urban Redevelopment Authority and Land Transport Authority to make suggestions on how cycling facilities and infrastructure could be improved. "I felt that as a citizen, I could work with people in the public sector to improve things, and one thing led to another."
In 2010, he was awarded a Star Customer Award by NParks for helping to improve the PCN.
One project that still resonates with him today was an idea to cement a stretch of track - about 20m to 25m long - near Bedok Reservoir that was made of earth. "When it rained, it got soggy and messy and the risk of tipping over was high."
He got NParks to match every dollar he raised for the project, he said. With a few thousand dollars raised from friends and other donors, Mr Han and a group of community volunteers did the cementing work themselves. "We did a few hours of back-breaking work," he quipped.
"I still cycle there and it makes a difference in terms of safety, even though it was not an earth-shattering, large project."
In April last year, he was appointed as chairman of the Friends of PCN community group, which promotes stewardship and responsible use of parks.
Every eight to 10 weeks, he leads a group of top-level executives and top civil servants on a cycling outing on the PCN. The Discovering Singapore Ride initiative, which he started about three years ago, now attracts 40 participants each round.
He hopes that through these experiential trips, his participants get insight into what cycling is about and how they can encourage it, such as by providing shower facilities for staff, or bicycle parking spaces. "Eventually, I'd like them to become (cycling) ambassadors," he said.
Cycling has also been an avenue for him to raise funds and do his bit for charity. In 2008, he completed a 42km charity ride along the Eastern Coastal Park Connector together with 30 cyclists, raising over $30,000 for The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund. He has been a trustee of the fund since 2011.
Through cycling, he has helped to raise funds for the Assisi Hospice, St Luke's Hospital, as well as victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Mr Han feels his love for cycling and the outdoors started during his formative kampung days in Pulau Bukom. "You grow up in a green environment with clean air. The amenities are all natural. When it's high tide, we go swimming; when it's low tide, we go crabbing," he said.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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