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Mr. Quek Tai Yong

Member of the Tanjong Pagar Residents’ Committee

Mr. Quek Tai Yong, Member of the Tanjong Pagar Residents’ Committee

Estate Memories

I’ve lived in Tanjong Pagar all my life. I was born at 18 Narcis Street, which is the current Block 7, near the Tanjong Pagar Plaza coffee shop area. Now, I live at Tanjong Pagar Plaza. I come from a big family of 12 siblings. I have four children and two grandsons. Life was very hard during my childhood --  my parents made a living selling biscuits, sweets, dumplings, and other snacks outside our home. Whenever I could, I would help my parents and brothers make ice-cream to sell. Due to financial difficulties, most of us left school after completing primary six, after which we worked to help our  parents make ends meet.

In the 1970s, we were assigned two stalls, where Yan Kit Road is today. We sold flowers and economical bee hoon at these stalls and still do, except we moved our business to Tanjong Pagar Plaza market on 15 June 1976, and we continue to operate a flower stall and another at which we sell bee hoon and fish soup.

Close Encounters with LKY

I met Mr. Lee Kuan Yew in 1979 at Tanjong Pagar Plaza market. It was election year and I brought him up to level two of the market for a look-see. Mr. Lee Kuan Yew was well-liked because he genuinely cared for us. He kept his promise to help street hawkers like us build a market with clean water and electricity, so we could set up a sustainable and hygienic business.

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew did many good things for Singapore. He once proudly said, “I built Singapore!” while punching his fist into the air. Mr. Lee Kuan Yew was not an apologetic man. If he made a mistake, his way was to improve things and make them right.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew was an unforgettable personality. My father had dementia and could not remember my name, but when he saw Mr. Lee Kuan Yew on TV, he exclaimed in Hokkien “Lee Gong Yao!” That jolted is memory so strongly that he suddenly remembered my name!

Mr Lee’s Legacy

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew inspired me to serve the residents of Tanjong Pagar and I have been doing so for the last 25 years. It’s only natural and right for me to serve as a member of the Tanjong Pagar Residents’ Committee as I’ve called Tanjong Pagar home all my life. Since the 1960s, I’ve witnessed big changes in this area. Most of the elderly residents know me and I enjoy helping them. I will continue to serve the residents here for as long as I can.

Mr Lee’s leadership and legacy have put Singapore on the world map. Whenever I travel, people from other countries always show me the “thumbs up” when I tell them where I’m from.

Today, almost everyone in Singapore has a roof over his or her head, and everyone has a TV, or two! Unlike the old days when we shared a TV with other families or went to the community centre to watch it communally. Today, we also have a good transportation system, which makes it very convenient for residents to get around.

Besides the practical and modern developments, Mr Lee has also ensured that Singapore is not a country that tolerates racial disharmony, riots and protests. This always reminds me not to take national peace for granted.

You Must Remember This

Mr Lee had great support from the residents at Tanjong Pagar and he enjoyed mingling with many of us on his walkabouts.

Mr Lee’s mercurial intelligence is the stuff of legends, and when he believed in a cause, he stuck with it. There was an occasion when he was giving a speech to union members and some started to throw things at him, but he stood his ground on stage until he convinced them and won them over.

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew is a man of great integrity. He was a leader who did not tolerate corruption among his team, and would not hesitate to oust a corrupt member. If he hadn’t been firm about these fundamentals in nation building, I believe Singaporeans would have suffered greatly, nor would our country be what it is today. Now, we even have the Pioneer Generation card that offers heavily subsidised medical fees for the pioneer generation, and this is all thanks to Mr. Lee.

When Mr. Lee Kuan Yew died, I opened my flower stall till 3 am to accommodate the throngs who came to buy him flowers in order to pay their final respects to a charismatic leader.