To be a potential aspiring Prime Minister, please apply to study at Raffles Junior College (RJC).
On the sixth episode of the second season of ‘Hear Me Out’, a talk show on Mediacorp‘s Channel 8 last Sunday (Mar 27), Chan Chun Sing, who is the Minister at the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), revealed that two other members of the fourth generation leadership were in the same RJC cohort.
They are Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin and Acting Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung. In fact, another People's Action Party (PAP) MP Edwin Tong, better known as the City Harvest founder Kong Hee's lawyer, was also from the same batch.
When asked by hosts Bryan Wong and Lin Pei Fen whether Chan studied and revised homework with Tan and Ong, the Secretary-General of National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) said no.
Chan added that Tan and Ong were so much smarter than him and would require "30 per cent of their efforts" to achieve academic successes.
Chan was probably humble-bragging, because we cannot help but notice that he was the President's Scholar of his 1988 cohort, not Tan or Ong.
Chan was awarded the SAF (Overseas) and President’s Scholarship to study Economics at Cambridge University and graduated with First Class Honours.
Anyway, his television appearance on Channel 8 was a tour de force, as Chan provided heart-warming anecdotes of his humble background (he came from a single-parent background and lived in a three-room flat), his affinity and easy comfort with common Singaporeans (in the army), and his duty to his country.
After watching the show, one cannot help but wonder whether his "kee-qiu" incident in 2011, when Chan asked his audience to raise their hands or kee qiu to reply to his questions, was a "technical glitch".
Judging from his confident handling of questions in Mandarin, Chan was close to their ideal prototype if the PAP were to design a politician.
Anyway, here are eight stories and/or remarks that will make you view Chan rather differently from the "kee-qiu" stereotype persona:
1. The real Chan wears a Casio watch.
Wong and Lin asked whether Chan thought that he was famous.
Chan replied that ninety per cent of Singaporeans probably do not know him, before recounting an incident at the MRT.
Chan said that a man stared at him during the train journey from Raffles Place station to Bishan station, before he asked Chan to prove whether the Minister was the real Chan Chun Sing.
The man subsequently asked Chan to reveal his wrist, for the real Chan wears a Casio watch.
Chan shared that he had been wearing the same watch since he was in the army, changing its battery and the watch strap.
What Chan just communicated: One does not need to be a Transport Minister to take a train. And only a frugal man wears a twenty year old casio watch.
2. Being a Minister does not mean that he or she has secured an iron rice-bowl.
Using a folksy Chinese and dialect phrase that rhymed, Chan quipped,
"Ni Jing Tian Dang Bu Zhang (You could be today's Minister)
Ming Tian Ke Neng Dang Ba Zhang (But tomorrow's rice dumplings).
What Chan just communicated: In today's "new normal" politics, Chan felt that words could sometimes be taken out of its context and affect one's so-called "stable political career". Moreover, Chan felt even if a Minister was right at the moment, circumstances may change in a few years' time if one were to assess his/her statement again.
3. Chan was pretty smart in primary school.
When asked whether Chan topped his primary school class yearly, Chan replied in the negative.
But that is before he surprised everyone that he was 1st, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 1st from Primary One to Primary Six.
What Chan just communicated: #humblebrag
4. Chan came from a humble background
Chan said that he grew up in a single-parent family, with his mother supporting the family with two jobs.
Chan lived in a three-room HDB flat in MacPherson area with his grandparents, mother and elder sister for thirty years.
What we think Chan is implying: Every Singaporean, despite his/her humble background can succeed in a meritocratic Singapore.
4. Chan came from a humble background Part 2
What Chan just communicated: He is just like you and me, for he was entertained by such bottle-cap games when he was young.
5. But he is not really like us because Chan was already on TV at the age of 19.
Why was he on TV?
Chan was interviewed as one of the President's Scholars in 1988, widely regarded as Singapore’s most prestigious undergraduate scholarship.
As a young 19-year old, Chan told the media in Mandarin that he was surprised that he received the award. He said that he was tired after he returning home from an SAF exercise in Brunei, which incidentally was his first overseas trip.
He also paid tribute to his teachers and praised their dedication.
What Chan just communicated: #humblebrag
6. Look at Wong's reaction when Chan revealed the venue of his first date with his wife.
First date venue? A canteen in MINDEF.
The place was chosen as both of them were working there.
Candle-light dinner perhaps?
Not really, they ate economy rice (cai png) at the canteen.
And how did Chan propose?
Chan joked that he wasn't that unromantic to ask his wife whether they should buy a HDB flat together.
Chan said that he proposed at a park in Marina Bay.
What Chan just communicated: I'm like a typical Singaporean guy. I'm not very romantic.
7. On entering politics
Chan revealed that it was his sense of duty that prompted him to agree to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's request for him to enter politics.
Chan shared that he did not expect to be a politician.
Chan confidently said that his classmates would have been skeptical (see below) if one were to ask them whether they expected Chan to be a politician.
Why? Their impression of Chan was this nerd who studied at home and read storybooks when he was free.
Although Chan's wife was not entirely surprised, Chan said that his mother was worried for him. This was because his mother felt that Chan might be too much of an introvert to be a politician.
What Chan just communicated: He was never ambitious. He just wanted get a scholarship to be a librarian and read books.
8. When asked by Wong how strong Chan's political ambitions were...
Chan replied with a Chinese idiom, which can be loosely translated as:
"Man proposes, God disposes".
What Chan just communicated: What Chan did not say is more interesting than what he said. Chan did not reply to Wong that he has zero political ambitions. But he would be daft to declare his political leadership ambitions on a television show.