WHEN Singapore was opening up its economy to the communist world two years after independence, former businessman Danny Wong, 82, was there to see it first-hand.
He was part of Singapore’s first trade mission to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Others in the 29-member team included businessmen Tan Sri Runme Shaw and his brother, the late media mogul Run Run Shaw.
Now a grandfather of five girls and a volunteer who teaches computer skills to senior citizens, Mr Wong said he is proud to be one of 1,500 members of the country’s pioneer generation invited to an Istana garden party on Sunday, to honour those who built modern Singapore and contributed to its early years of independence.
He will be rubbing shoulders with former political leaders, those who have served in the uniformed services, unions and voluntary welfare organisations, as well as Singapore’s first national service enlistees and officer cadets.
Mr Wong is also looking forward to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong unveiling the details of the Government’s planned Pioneer Generation Package to help seniors with health-care costs.
Dr Lim Wee Kiak, an MP for Nee Soon GRC, said he nominated Mr Wong for the event because of his active contributions as a volunteer in the senior citizens’ committee. He had also heard from “Uncle Danny” about his role in the 1967 trade mission, led by then Ministry of Finance permanent secretary Sim Kee Boon.
Recalling the historic trip that took more than one month to complete, Mr Wong, then a general manager of a rubber company, said: “We were anti-communist, so for Singapore, that was our opening up to the communist world.”
These countries became trading partners with Singapore, he added, through Intraco, a trading company that the Government incorporated in the year after the trip, to promote markets and trade in the early years of the country’s industrialisation.
Mr Wong himself went on to start a joint venture shipping company with the Russians.
While he played a part in Singapore’s economic progress, other invited pioneer generation members interviewed contributed through educating the young or helping residents with their daily living.
Mr S. Puhaindran, 77, spent 43 years in education. He was a teacher at Raffles Institution, principal of three schools and an inspector of primary schools.
Mr Koh Poh Kwang joined the grassroots movement 46 years ago in Kallang. Then a village teacher, he was often called on to write letters to government agencies on behalf of residents.
“They needed an English-educated person who is bilingual, and most of the grassroots leaders were quite elderly and Chinese-educated. All these government departments always wrote in English,” said the 70-year-old, who is principal of Lighthouse School, a special school for children with visual and hearing impairment, and autism.
Last week, an invitation to the Istana party arrived in the post bearing the words: “Thank You... for the years you’ve spent making a nation, a home. For the laughter, the tears, the sacrifices. For carrying us on your shoulders, and making us feel as tall as giants. For giving us something to aspire to.
“For the courage to dream, so that our children, and their children can live their dreams too. So for being part of the generation that made us, we thank you.” The invite said that the event, titled “The Pioneer Generation Tribute”, would last two hours, from 10am to noon.
Three members of the Cabinet would play host: Singapore50 steering committee chairman Heng Swee Keat and programme office chairman Lawrence Wong, as well as deputy chairman of the People’s Association and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Lim Swee Say.
The Straits Times understands some nominations for the guest list were made based on a cut- off age of 70 or older, although Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan said the only criterion he was given was that his nominees should have served the community.
There has been discussion as to how the pioneer generation should be defined, and who will eventually qualify for help or recognition given to this group. Those who are 70 this year would have been 21 in 1965, the year of Singapore’s independence.
Mr Koh said he felt honoured his generation’s contributions and sacrifices were being recognised, but hoped those in their 60s would be included.
Mr Puhaindran said he would most like to see others in his generation living well, and society stepping in to help, so that no one is left in the dumps.
“It might be (providing) companionship or opportunities to meet others to socialise,” he suggested.
At least two others invited, former MP Ong Ah Heng and retired colonel John Morrice, a former president of the Singapore Armed Forces Veterans’ League, said they will not be attending due to health reasons.
They needed an English-educated person who is bilingual, and most of the grassroots leaders were quite elderly and Chinese-educated. All these government departments always wrote in English.
– Mr Koh Poh Kwang (left), 70, was a village teacher and was often called on to write letters to government agencies on behalf of residents.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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