When you meet Claire, you know right away that you’ve met a Woman of Substance.
And it’s not because of her many awards or that she is the better half of one of Singapore’s high profile power couples.
Claire possess what many people don’t: a fire-in-the-belly type of passion for what she believes in, a presence that will make you sit up and pay attention (you’ll know she has arrived when she walks into a room) and a contagious, fun energy – the kind of energy that only comes with being truly interested and wholehearted about what she is doing in and with her life.
Google her and you’ll find countless articles on who she is and the things she has done.
She’s married. Has 3 kids. Was former Nominated Member of Parliament. Her World Magazine’s Woman Of The Year 1999. Amongst many other things. Business. She is by all counts an original Supermamapreneur.
One of her businesses is Banyan Tree Gallery, which retails art from indigenous artists and Asian botanical blends. The idea behind this business was to retail items to empower local communities and their trades. I thought this was an excellent idea, given their already established platform that is Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts.
Claire speaks with conviction and it is clear she is an ambitious woman.
And when she pulled all 4 of her mentees in for a photograph with Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, she said to us, “You better be on stage in 15 years!” She’s even ambitious for us.
When I went up to her and introduced myself, she received me with a warmth and enthusiasm that I didn’t expect. And when I mentioned that my mother used to be her neighbour, and when she realised who it was, she started speaking to me in Hainanese like I was long lost family.
I am so very lucky to have her as my mentor and I’m looking forward to learning from her.
It’s the first NDP back at the spanking new National Stadium.
Everyone was excited about doing the Kallang Wave. I believe I counted 5 rounds before it died out. The hosts for the evening had to move the programme along and talked through at least 2 rounds of the waves.
This year’s performance part of the parade was amazing. The lighting, the props, the costumes, the storyline, the flying performers – it was really entertaining and relatable. Beatrice Chia-Richmond and her team really did such a beautiful job.
The use of technology was awesome too. We had little wrist lights that were so high tech that the lights could be controlled remotely. Depending on the scene of the performance, our little wrist lights would glow gently, or pulse according to the music, in varying colours.
We got to sing-a-long with our favourite National Day songs. I think this is a really important part of the NDP. These are songs I grew up with and fostered nation building. I remember at the first NDP that I went for, the organisers somehow thought it would be a good idea to introduce a lot of new songs, and then tried to make it sound cooler by doing a techno or super fast paced version. It just wasn’t enjoyable!
We learned sign language for the song Count On Me, Singapore, so we could sign along with the hearing impaired.
The funpacks were really cool looking and easy to carry. My son loved his red backpack so much he wanted to carry it home by himself.
I was a little disappointed that there were no Red Lions parachuting into the stadium or gigantic fireworks (only little ones) because the stadium’s domed roof remained closed.
But this year’s performance more than made up for it. The general theme was about Singapore in the next 50 years, and us getting ready for it.
This will forever be stuck in my head.
You’ve got to watch this clip with the flying unicorn we had!
It was so beautiful. It was part of a scene that encouraged us to dream and chase those dreams. I tried to take a photo but the photo really didn’t do this scene justice. During this scene, everyone’s little wrist lights were pulsing in the same colours as the unicorn’s, so they looked like jewels against a black velvet backdrop.
I really appreciate how Singapore has evolved and changed.
As a child, I don’t remember anyone encouraging dreams or any out-of-the-box thinking. It was always, “you must do well in math and school, blahblahblah. killmenow. Needless to say I always felt a little out of place with all my ideas. But I’m glad we’re moving forward.
To end off, here are some photos of us enjoying our day! Oh I must say that the NDP volunteers/helpers did a really good job. They were attentive and helpful. And even when there was a huge crowd waiting to get onto the trains at Stadium MRT Station, they managed to keep everyone calm and orderly. There was no stampeding and no one was pushing to get onto the trains. Other than the fact it was really hot while we waited, (this is where the fans in the funpack came in handy) I really have no complaints.
I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Sabrina Tan at Galboss Asia. She shared her experience with growing her local custom skin care company, Skin Inc, into a global brand. It is now in over 100 cities around the world through skin care and make up juggernaut, Sephora.
I had heard about her success before meeting her through various business associates. And since I’m in the skin care industry too, I was very curious at how she did it.
Kudos, by the way to the Galboss Asia people who scheduled her sharing right after lunch. That was a good way to keep people awake! I’m sure there was no one sleeping since it was such an interesting and inspiring sharing.
I was particularly fascinated with her story because when she was building her business, she was also raising her family. Her youngest kid was only 1 when she started. I can most certainly relate to that. It is somewhat comforting also to hear that she had many challenges too before this huge success.
Having met her and if I had to describe her in 2 words, I would use the colloquail term “chilli padi“.
For my non-Singaporean readers, a chilli padi is a chili pepper otherwise known as Bird’s Eye chilli. It is small, but extremely potent and spicy. One small bite of this chilli will send an overwhelming explosion of flavour into your mouth, and it can be so spicy that it’ll make your ears hurt, I kid you not!
In that same thread, don’t be fooled by her petite frame. She is a force to be reckoned with.
These are the questions I asked her when I got the chance to chat with her:
How did you juggle your business and your family?
What were your biggest challenges in business and how did you overcome then?
What was your inspiration for Galboss Asia?
Great insights, no?
I also asked her this one last question off-camera,”The skin care industry is so competitive. Weren’t you afraid?” She just looked at me with steely determination and shook her head as she said,”No. Don’t even think about that.”
Found of Iconic Streetwear Brand 77th Street and Serial Entrepreneur.
Recently, I had the chance to meet and interview Elim Chew, Founder of iconic streetwear brand 77th Street and serial entrepreneur. She was a panelist at Galboss Asia and shared her insights on being an entrepreneur.
Y’know having hung around the 77th Street stores in Far East Plaza as a teenager (uh-huh, I have the ear piercings to prove it), I’ve long heard hallowed whispers of her name. The boss of 77th Street is a lady, people would say. And her name is Elim Chew.
So when I finally got to meet her in person at Galboss Asia, it was a real treat. What struck me most about her was her easy manner and warm smile.
Here are 3 things she shared which stuck with me:
#1: People, People, People
It’s easy to start a business, but difficult to manage. As an entrepreneur, you need to be a good boss, then your heart and vision for the company can shine through. This is when your people will go all the way and guard and run your business for you. She has had staff who have been with her for 20 years.
#2: The Importance of Giving Back
Elim shared how she made her first $50,000 and then gave it all away to her church when it was raising funds to build churches in India because she felt it was the right thing to do. That money went into building 6 churches in India. A few years later, there was a terrible earthquake and those 6 churches were the only buildings that stood strong, so they were used as rescue centres.
This just goes to show you never know how far-reaching the consequences of your actions can be.
#3 We Must Be Driven By Purpose
“Driven By Purpose” is actually the title of her book and I couldn’t agree more with this statement.
The “how” of finding your purpose is the tricky part to me, but that’s another story for another time.
Watch her video for more of Elim Chew: Life after 77th Street, her new book and TV Channel and her biggest challenges in business.
The Millionaire Underdog Club (“MUC”)
(Singapore) had the pleasure of hosting lawyer and savvy property investor Rayney Wong.
Besides really sharp international property investing insights, it was also highly informative and thought-provoking from a business point of view.
I learned so many things and here are the 3 top business principles that stood out for me and they centre around survival:
1. The importance of not accepting failure as the final state of things. Resilience and tenacity are difficult lessons to learn but are extremely important.
When Rayney first started his own legal practice he did not have much experience and it was extremely challenging. What ultimately enabled him to succeed was his refusal to accept failure.
2. Any business is tough and competitive – succeeding just depends on what you are prepared to do to ensure the business succeeds.
Deciding that he was not going to fail, he built his business from the ground up by visiting the hospitals to get personal injury clients and also found a way to add value for these clients. His business grew from there.
3. Evolve, find your niche and dominate.
Rayney mentioned they recently had to change the way they did business because of how competitive the legal industry is. Now they only take specific type of cases at his law firm because it provides better profit margin.
As a young lawyer, I never thought about the business side of running a profitable law firm because I was more concerned about how to be a good lawyer. All I needed to do was my boss’ bidding.
But it’s necessary for every lawyer to learn about business eventually – whether it is to add value to their clients and/or run a successful legal practice.
It was really interesting for me to have a glimpse of what it is like for a senior partner in a law firm. Besides being an accomplishedexcellent lawyer so that you can attract the right clients and command and justify your higher per hourly rate (usually at least $800/hour and up), you’d also need to be competent in business to make the practice profitable.
I wonder – where do these lawyers get their business education from and is it enough?
That aside, I thoroughly enjoyed myself during this lunch just listening to Rayney talk. His network is really incredible and in my opinion, something to aspire to – I mean, how many people can say they felt a little embarrassed telling some people in their network that they made $200,000 on 1 property deal, because these people just made millions on their own property deal? And how many people have access to a network of people who are able to invest $50 million in a deal and call it a “small sum”?
Well, I’m one step closer to that now because Rayney’s now part of my network too.
If you’re in Singapore, you’ve probably already read about the High Court Judge who dismissed 4 applications to partly call 4 Practice Trainees to the Singapore Bar because their supervising lawyers were late.
This is the same judge who admitted me to the Singapore Bar.
For those who are not familiar with the legal industry in Singapore, Practice Trainees are trainee lawyers and to become a full fledged Advocate & Solicitor, your supervising lawyer will need to move your call in court i.e. they basically are the ones who tell the Court you’re ready to become a lawyer because you’ve completed the necessary training.
However, this instance was a part call, which allows these Practice Trainees a limited audience before the courts before being fully qualified for the Bar.
For a judge to dismiss these applications to shame the supervising lawyers actually means the Practice Trainees will have to do all the paperwork to apply, again. And whatever responsibilities that were initially intended for them to take over after the part call would have to wait.
The supervising lawyers actually don’t have to do anything much but show up on time in Court. But I suppose the punishment is in making them give up their time, again. And of course, because of this newspaper article, shame them, publicly.
It’s actually not uncommon for lawyers to be late for Court because of scheduling conflicts. But I suppose the Court’s stance is that’s not a good excuse, which is also true.
Well, hang in there, TheUnfortunateFour Practice Trainees. The part call will roll around soon enough.
Opening day meant Annie would be there to open and introduce the exhibition and talk about her photographs. There was also a delicious lunch spread by Hyatt Hotel (cloth napkins and all). To reinforce the message of women in leadership, there was also a dialogue session with a panel of 4 women leaders from various sectors: the public service, the corporate world and of course the colourful entrepreneurial world. But more on this dialogue session in Part II.
I don’t know why but I’m always amazed when super successful people are humble and unassuming. As she spoke, she sounded even a tad shy about showing off her work, calling it “a little boring“. She’s the kinda person who seemed like she’d be happy to have a casual drink with, well, just anyone.
I’d for sure count her as a supermamapreneur – she’s got this amazing career and 3 girls. From the 15 minutes that we got to spend with her, this video carries the most important message: We Are Really Incredible.
To have that kind of mindset and to give your own children that kind of environment and mindset from a young age benefits everyone beyond measure.
It’s not “we will be”, nor is it “we were”. It is “we are”.
Please excuse the angle of the video. I was so mesmerised by her photos flashing on the giant screens that I forgot to save a good seat for myself.
Transcript: (this isn’t a full transcript because of the sound quality of the video. Can’t hear everything but I’ve put in subtitles where I can, and where it matters).
“.. the other women, as it continues, is really the list of bios. If you get a chance to read these bios, they are really … and to really see how incredible these women…actually, how incredible WE are. We are really incredible. You all deserve your own set of bios. These women are just mirrors of you. “
Unfortunately I didn’t manage to take a photo with her, though maybe it’s not such a bad thing – I don’t know how this world renowned photographer feels about selfies. And because she’s the photographer would it be rude to take the photo myself instead of asking her? (Mmhmm, you wouldn’t want to be in my head)
Anyway here are other photos for your viewing pleasure. I’m not one to be taken in easily by art on walls or photographs, but with her collection, I just couldn’t stop looking and looking.
My sister was the only female (and young!) eulogist for Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral last year.
Last week, we had a mini family excursion to Temasek Polytechnic’s (TP) library for a memorial exhibition for Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. It was especially exciting for us because TP was featuring one of its alumna and my sister, Cassandra Chew, in this exhibition.
If her name sounds familiar, it’s because she was the only female (and young!) eulogist for Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral last year. And as a thank you, she was given one of the artillery shells from the 21-gun salute that occurred during the funeral procession and it is part of the exhibition’s central display.
To give an idea to non-Singaporeans of what a big deal this eulogy thing was, she delivered the eulogy in the presence of many world leaders, including Henry Kissinger and former US President Bill Clinton. So you see, I’m not bragging just because she’s my sister. It really is a BIG deal!
Lots of people ask me how she received such a privilege and the simplest answer is this: She interviewed Mr. Lee and his family for a book about his life at home (not yet published) and the picture book Lee Kuan Yew: A Life In Pictures whilst she was a journalist at Singapore Press Holdings.
Besides the fact that she is my sister, I thought it added more heart to the whole funeral because it was important to the decision-makers that the eulogist who represented Young Singaporeans actually knew Mr. Lee and got to spend some time with him.
I brought my 2 little girls along because I wanted them to be part of this moment in time with their Aunt (Kaius was at school). When they grow up and realise what an insane honour this is, they can also be amazed (like we were) at Ah Mai* Cass’ achievements. For this is her legacy, and they got to be part of it.
‘LKY & I: Remembering 23rd March’ The exhibition is open to the public from 24 March to 15 April 2016 during the Library opening hours:
Mon-Fri: 8.30am to 7pm; Sat: 8.30am to 1pm. Sun/PH & where the eve of PH falls on a Sat: Closed
*Ah Mai is Hainanese for an Auntie who is younger than her niece’s or nephew’s mother or father.
I did not know Mr Lee Kuan Yew personally for most of my life. We met while I was on two assignments as a journalist – documenting his life at home and collecting photographs for a picture book for his 90th birthday.
I met him up close six times, for meetings and interviews, from July 2011. Most were large, formal meetings at the Istana. Naturally I was on my best behaviour.
After all, this was the man who had led Singapore to independence, triumphed over his opponents in a storied political career spanning over 60 years, and transformed a sleepy colonial outpost into a bustling metropolis. And there he was, in person.
I didn’t dare to say a word to him until my editor made me lead one of the interviews. He thought Mr Lee would enjoy the interaction with a younger Singaporean.
I was so nervous I could hear my heart pounding before the meeting, and actually felt a headache coming on. I braced myself to be peppered with questions on whether I was married, when I planned to have children or whether I spoke Mandarin often enough – questions Mr Lee, as you know, was known to ask young Singaporeans he met.
But there was none of that during the 80-minute interview, which was focused on the beginnings of his political career. There was no room for nervousness either.
He came in, sat down, and asked, “Who’s going to start?” And with that, the interview began. As always, Mr Lee was focused on the task at hand.
Over time, I gained more glimpses of what he was like as a person. For instance, it was a thrill for me to learn from his oral history that he once failed an art exam in primary school. But that was of course a small blemish on his distinguished academic record.
I also learned that in his later years he craved his late mother’s gado-gado and mee siam, which thankfully, his sister, Madam Monica Lee, could replicate.
I made at least eight visits to 38 Oxley Road, where I went into all the rooms. But the only time I saw him at home was during our 20-minute photo shoot which began in his study, where he spent most of his time while at home.
He was in good spirits that day, dressed in a white, short-sleeved shirt, dark trousers and his trademark sports shoes. It looked as if he had been going through his email at his desk, which also had newspapers, magazines, binders of papers and stationery, all neatly arranged.
It was clear that even at home, his focus was on his work. It didn’t matter to him that his furniture was more than 60 years old and outdated. They served their purpose and that was all that mattered. That was how he lived his life: very simply and frugally, and always putting the country first and his own creature comforts second.
We moved to the living room, which was also a very private space because it was where the late Mrs Lee was remembered. Her photographs were displayed in two rows above her urn, and I was told Mr Lee would gaze at them daily as he had his meals.
I could feel how much Mr Lee missed his late wife. She was his partner, his anchor, for more than 63 years.
The last set of photos we took at his home are my favourite. Seated on a chair by a wooden table on the verandah, Mr Lee flashed a bright smile. They turned out to be the best photos on the reel.
No one knows about this, but to thank him for the photo shoot that day, I had prepared two chocolate cupcakes after learning how much he enjoyed chocolate. I even got the bakery to label each cupcake so he’d know exactly what kind of chocolate cupcake it was. But, on the day, I was far too excited and dropped the box before I could present them to Mr Lee.
I had been reflecting on what I was learning about Mr Lee, as a person and founder of independent Singapore, and had just begun to understand just how much he and his family had sacrificed to ensure Singapore’s success. I realised how much I had taken for granted, and how much more I had to thank him for.
To me, Mr Lee had transformed from an elderly statesman who our textbooks say did a lot for us but didn’t quite seem relevant to my daily life, to a man for whom I developed a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation. So much of Singapore began to make sense to me now that I had seen the world through his eyes.
I decided to try to express my thanks again, and wrote him a Thank You card. I had so much to say, but did not know how to say it, and ended up writing four simple lines. A few weeks later, I received a reply. True to his personality, his response was brief and to the point. “Thank you”, he wrote, and signed off as “LKY”. I was thrilled to have heard back from him, but a little sad that I did not convey what I felt in my heart.
This is my last chance. Mr Lee, thank you for everything. Some days I cannot believe how fortunate I am to have been born a Singaporean. We don’t have everything, but we have more than most, because of your lifelong labour. On behalf of young Singaporeans everywhere, I’d like to say: thank you.