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PM Lee Hsien Loong learning pilates the last few years

He's trying to build a strong core.

Belmont Lay | January 10, 2018 @ 11:57 pm

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has revealed that he has been a pilates practitioner the past few years.

This little-known fact about himself was made known in a narrow-ranging interview with student reporters for zbCOMMA, a Lianhe Zaobao Chinese news magazine initiative for secondary school students.

For the uninitiated, pilates is a workout that emphasises building a strong core via exercises that focus on coordination, balance and breathing.

Student questions

In total, PM Lee was asked eight questions that steered clear of adult topics, such as politics and economics.

The interview was conducted in Mandarin.

The most interesting question took the form of asking the prime minister what he was doing in his bid to age actively. PM Lee is 65.

zbCOMMA: The government has been promoting active aging, and seniors are able to use SkillsFuture credits for classes. In the new year, what new skills do you hope to master?

PM Lee: For the last few years, I have been learning Pilates. I have mastered the basic exercises, but each time I think I have got it, my instructor shows me some new and harder thing to do. I hope this year I will continue to make progress at Pilates. There is no end to learning, as long as one is alive!

In summary, here are all eight questions and answers:

1. What type of photos he plans to take in 2018? People.

2. What book is he reading? A book called Wolf Hall.

3. What would he recommend others to read? Chasing Rainbows.

4. What he thinks of the local newspaper scene? It is a tough business.

5. Which areas based on his 2017 National Day Rally topics does he hope to make progress in? Cashless payments.

6. What he expects from Artificial Intelligence? It will progress.

7. What skills he hopes to master? More difficult pilates moves.

8. How should young Singaporeans view Asean? As a platform to give this bloc a louder voice in the world.

If you have time, you can read the full transcript:

zbCOMMA: You often post your own photos on your Facebook Page. What will you focus on in your photography for the new year?

PM Lee Hsien Loong: I hope to catch more pictures of people, especially children. I have a hashtag #facesofsg, which I use for posts of these photos. My difficulty is people often recognise me and greet me, before I can get a candid shot of them! When that happens I ask them to pose for me, which is nice too, but not quite the same.

zbCOMMA: Do you still have time to read your favourite books amidst your busy schedule? If you do, which book will you most like to finish reading this year?

PM Lee: I started reading “Wolf Hall” some time ago, but did not finish it. It is a historical novel by Hilary Mantel about Elizabethan England, in the reign of Henry VIII. The protagonist is Thomas Cromwell, who became the Secretary (effectively chief minister) to the King, but in the end was beheaded by the King. The historical Cromwell was a ruthless and scheming character, but the novel presents him in a sympathetic light. Perhaps the opposite of Cao Cao – the historical figure was positive, but in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms he is the archetypical ruthless and cunning warlord.

“Wolf Hall” is very good reading, but keeping track of all the characters and politics of those times (while not forgetting about today’s real life characters and politics) needs concentration. I am just starting again at the beginning and hope to make it through this time. (P.S. – made it!) Then there is a sequel – “Bring Up the Bodies”. That maybe for next Christmas!

zbCOMMA: Which books would you recommend to our readers?

PM Lee: “Chasing Rainbows” (追虹) by Choo Lian Liang, tells the story of her family, starting with her maternal great-grandfather who came from China and settled in Pengerang (in Johor), where the family prospered and lived through war and upheaval, and where Lian Liang herself grew up.

It is a beautifully told story, and the reader will learn a lot about our history along the way. The book is published in both Chinese and English editions, so you can read either, or both!

zbCOMMA: To accelerate digitalisation and deliver more premium content, the SPH Chinese Media Group has recently undergone a major restructuring exercise. What are your thoughts on the outlook of the local newspaper scene? What are your hopes for the restructured Chinese Media Group?

PM Lee: Singapore will always need good journalists and well produced newspapers and media, including Chinese media. The media industry is experiencing rapid change, and the business is tough. When I visited SPH recently, I dropped in on the Chinese Media Group, who had just moved into their new home. The CMG have worked hard to produce interactive content to appeal to a wider range of readers, include the younger ones reading Comma. I hope our student reporters will take the opportunity to learn as much as they can while they are attached to CMG.

zbCOMMA: In your 2017 National Day Rally, you spoke at length about building a Smart Nation and a cashless society. Which areas do you hope we will make progress on in 2018?

PM Lee: Let me talk about three projects which we hope will make progress in 2018.

First, the National Digital Identity (NDI) project. We already have SingPass. The NDI will improve and expand on SingPass, to let citizens transact online securely with Government departments and private businesses. For example when you set up a new bank account or apply for a credit card, you can use your NDI to allow the bank to digitally check your address and income with the Government database.

Next, e-payments. PayNow offers a convenient way for one person to pay another person. The next step is PayNow for Business, to enable customers to pay businesses, and businesses to pay one another. We are also unifying the QR code standards. I hope this will encourage more small businesses to go cashless. Then when you buy food in hawker centres or take a taxi ride, you can pay using your handphone, just like people already do in China.

Finally, we are using digital technology to improve public transport. One trial underway is on the use of autonomous vehicles. Autonomous vehicles combine several maturing technologies, such as sensors and artificial intelligence, in a practical and useful way. Through the trials, we will learn more about these technologies, and how to overcome the problems deploying autonomous vehicles for day to day use.

zbCOMMA: What sort of progress do you expect in artificial intelligence (AI) in the coming years? How can Singaporeans, especially the younger generation who are about to enter the workforce, prepare for the rise of AI?

PM Lee: Progress in AI has been very rapid. If you are interested in an IT career, you might consider specialising in AI. For those heading for other careers, AI will very likely become a standard tool in your professions – to analyse data, to automate procedures, to do routine tasks. You will need to master the tools, in order to be up to the mark in your fields.

Either way, keep an open mind and open heart. Learning does not stop when you complete your studies. AI will continue to advance throughout your working life, so you should keep abreast of develop­ments and stay at the leading edge. But remember not everyone may move as fast as you do, so look around to see who needs some help and give them a helping hand.

zbCOMMA: The government has been promoting active aging, and seniors are able to use SkillsFuture credits for classes. In the new year, what new skills do you hope to master?

PM Lee: For the last few years, I have been learning Pilates. I have mastered the basic exercises, but each time I think I have got it, my instructor shows me some new and harder thing to do. I hope this year I will continue to make progress at Pilates. There is no end to learning, as long as one is alive!

zbCOMMA: In 2018, Singapore will be chairing ASEAN for the fourth time. How should young Singaporeans view ASEAN? How can we help to improve intra-regional connectivity?

PM Lee: It is Singapore’s turn to Chair ASEAN this year. ASEAN is important to us: by belonging to the group, Singapore gets a stronger voice in the world. ASEAN countries offer Singaporeans many opportunities: to work there, to set up businesses there, or to trade with them. I hope young people will learn about our ASEAN partners, travel there, pick up their languages, and become familiar with their cultures. You will find it very valuable later in life.

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About Belmont Lay

Belmont can pronounce "tchotchke".

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