Super passionate S’porean, Tay Lai Hock, who championed hands-on living, passes away at 54

Tay had a vision of a sustainable urban community.

Tanya Ong | August 15, 11:43 am

Tay Lai Hock, the man behind non-profit group Ground-Up Initiative (GUI), has passed away. He was 54.

Tributes pouring in

Tay’s demise was announced in a Facebook post by GUI on Aug. 14, with details about the wake:

Since then, tributes have poured in from the people who have been inspired by Tay through their encounters with him:

GUI & Kampung Kampus

Tay, fondly referred to as “Kampung Chief” by many, started GUI in 2008.

According to the group’s website, GUI is a “non-profit community, guided by the spirit of innovation, resilience and grounded leadership to demonstrate urban sustainability”.

Their mission is to build Kampung Kampus, a low-carbon footprint community campus situated in the Yishun/ Khatib area.

The place focuses on sustainable urban living and aims to nurture a conscious community that is connected to nature.

There, people may partake in weekend activities such as organic farming, cooking, and carpentry. There are also recycling workshops and education programmes for children of all ages.

Connecting to nature

Previously, in 2014, Tay was featured by Facebook page, “The People Of Singapore,” where he spoke about the origins of GUI.

He revealed that in the early 2000s, he left his sales and marketing corporate job, and went travelling in search for the meaning of life.

He spent years abroad pondering on what it means to live creatively and happily, and realised that the answer was in having a “connection with the earth”.

Following that, he started GUI in Singapore:

“One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between man and nature shall not be broken.” — Tolstoy said that. It’s true. And we have broken that connection. In Singapore, “land” is property, an asset — not something social, communal. It is out of this need for connection that Ground Up Initiative was born.”

The meaning of “creativity”

To him, GUI was about building a community where people can find purpose and become more creative through a connection to nature.

In a separate On the Record radio interview in 2016 with 938LIVE’s Bharati Jagdish, Tay explained that creativity is not just about art skills.

It is about “freely [conceiving] things and [adapting] along the way:”

“Now creativity need not be confined to just an art skill, but if you’re able to live creatively, and that’s where you need to be that free spirit. You need to be able to freely conceive things and adapt along the way, and change if you need to change.”

Kampung Kampus was seen as a space to facilitate this.

Undeterred by naysayers

In the 938LIVE interview, Tay acknowledged that he sacrificed financial stability and material comforts for this initiative.

When he last spoke about his financial status, it was revealed he was S$300,000 in debt, but was happy with his place in the world.

Given this reality, he also told Bharati about incidents where people expressed their doubts or disapproval about the initiative.

“I have met people who say ‘I don’t know what you’re doing, but I need my air con, I need my comfort.’

[…]

Every now and then, people write about me and readers will respond, “I’m so afraid; I cannot be like this guy.’ But I always tell people ‘You don’t have to be like me, you just have to do it bit by bit.'”

However, he firmly believed that this initiative is what the country needs.

Our values “shouldn’t be defined by economic status”, he added.

Tay said:

“If you say that we want to teach future generations that this is my country, it is worth defending, then we should start bringing back intrinsic values, emotional values, that cannot be defined and shouldn’t be defined by economic status.”

Top photo from GUI’s Facebook

About Tanya Ong

Tanya hopes to own a roller skate disco one day.

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