"The audio for the earlier music video was regrettably distorted as we didn't record it properly during filming. Upon releasing it, 2 strangers with audio training stepped forward to offer their help. One was actually leaving town the next day and the other was overseas having her holiday! Both did the job for free. There wasn't much they could do though as our recording was already not ideal. Anyway with some improvements, we also re-edited the music video. Hope you like it." (Tay Bee Pin)
"When a family of 5 sleeps in 1 room and they could still manage to squeeze in a piano, then music must be a big part of their lives.
I asked An Lyn and E Lyn to play something in case I needed cutaway shots and they spontaneously did a cover of ‘It’s all about you’ by McFly, a song they had been rehearsing for an event. Later I realised there was no need for it and I could turn it into a music video instead. Never heard of the song, but I must say it’s pretty catchy.
Hey An Lyn, E Lyn and Shaw Hur, this one’s for you!" (Tay Bee Pin)
Our family had never received so much attention before. We enjoyed every minute of it. My heartfelt thanks, Bee Pin and Ching-Leong.
"When I first approached Dr Chee Soon Juan, expressing my wish to film his family, he had his reservation and wasn't sure if this was something his wife, Dr Huang Chihmei and his 3 children were comfortable and would agree to. Chee describes his house as a ‘sanctuary’ and I was surprised that except for his mother or the very few close relatives, only a handful had stepped in there for the last 20 years or so.
What followed then were a few email exchanges and a meeting with Chihmei and eventually, they gave their consent.
On my first visit to meet their children, Chihmei apologised profusely for their small apartment, and that my cameraman Ching Leong and I had to sit on kiddish plastic chairs from Ikea. Though having read about them in a Yahoo article (https://sg.news.yahoo.com/blogs/singaporescene/peek-life-chee-soon-juan-050517946.html) and an idea what to expect, my attention was still being drawn to the huge collection of books that occupied the living room. There are many photos around the house, and 3 designated study areas in the living room and 2 bedrooms. At her study table, An Lyn the eldest child and probably due to the lack of space, has to keep her personal items on the table and on the book shelves too. During our conversations, Chihmei kept wondering if we would like moving our filming outdoor.
Anyway, it’s just the cameraman and myself, and everything was kept minimal. The filming took 3 days and we spent most of our time in the ‘sanctuary’. At the end of the shoot, Chihmei said the family had never felt so important in their lives before. Shaw Hur, the youngest kid told me the exact hours we had spent filming them. He actually kept count! This boy is endearing and during our shoot, we even assigned him simple tasks to assist us. Ching Leong was so impressed that he told me not once that he was better than some junior crew or interns he encountered.
This video would hopefully offer a rare glimpse of the family of Chee Soon Juan. In all honesty, I merely had this simple notion of covering the family without exactly knowing what direction I am going to take. I am happy that they had allowed me to do my work without any interference. I didn't even reveal my interview questions until the camera started rolling.
In the end, what struck me most was how the family managed to stay so strong as a whole despite the crises they weathered. It’s so close-knit, and in one of the solo interviews, Shaw Hur cried when he spoke about having missed her sister when she was out for school camp. We had to stop filming and resumed an hour later. Anyway, this scene didn't end up in the final cut.
Our heartfelt thanks to the Chee family for allowing 2 strangers into your ‘sanctuary’ and also provided us the precious family pictures and footage. We learnt something from the time we had spent with you all. We hope Singaporeans will care to watch the video and make up their own opinions too." (Ty Bee Pin)
For someone who has done a lot of talking and writing on various sociopolitical issues, Soon Juan has said very little about himself. I've read countless comments about his character in the more than 20 years of his involvement in opposition politics, many of which were, shall we say, less-than-flattering.
The most distressing part is that for a long time it was close to impossible to tell people that this is not who he is, it is not the man I am married to.
Through all these years, we were like living our lives inside a protective bubble, later joined by our three children, to shield ourselves from all the negativity that his political involvement attracted and not let his work drag us down. It worked to a degree because as arduous as things were, we were not unhappy as a family. In fact, we have found contentment in living a simple but, yet, meaningful life.
I met Soon Juan when we were doing our graduate studies at the University of Georgia in the United States. When I was offered a scholarship to do my PhD at Pennsylvania State University in the north, I wanted to think it over. Having just met, we naturally wanted to be closer together but Soon Juan encouraged me to pursue my doctorate. I still remember him saying, “You've got to have dreams in your life.”
“You've got to have dreams in your life.” It's the kind of things we write for the composition class in school – a cliché that we seldom actually believe in. It turns out that for Soon Juan, he meant it. And it's not just the big dreams that he has for Singapore but the little ones that I've shared with him as we went through life's journey together – our children, our home and our lifetime of memories. It's a journey I'm glad to have taken, experiencing a world of new ideas as well as humanitarian values – and, in the process, become a better person.
It certainly doesn't mean that things haven't been without difficulties and challenges. It is peculiar in a society like Singapore to not be able to keep up with material progress. But we believe that imparting to our children life's values and doing what's right – including taking a positive attitude and persevering in the face of adversity – is a more important gift than all the things we can buy them. Thankfully, they've adjusted well to everything that has gone on.
Through all the trying times, I've always felt that the journey itself is as significant as the final destination because it is from the trials and tribulations, and how we respond to them, that we redeem ourselves and our best human qualities. Being from Taiwan, another Asian country with its own authoritarian past, has in some way equipped me with the ability to empathise with the present Singapore and continue to be hopeful about its future.
It is this hope of a better Singapore, a more humane and compassionate Singapore, that drives Soon Juan on. I can only hope that we've turned the corner and that Singaporeans, through this book, will come to know the person he really is.
I am thankful that those who know Soon Juan have come together to tell Singaporeans something that they have not previously seen or heard of. And to everyone, both past and present, who has entered our lives and woven into it such a rich tapestry – thank you for being there.
- Chih Mei
The book, entitled "Thinker Teacher Rebel Why? Portraits of Chee Soon Juan" is a set of reflections on Dr Chee Soon Juan. This book looks at the SDP leader through the eyes of others; from activists, doctors, politicians, writers and artists who bring together a complete view of the man and his political journey. (It is available online at: http://yoursdp.org/index/store/0-13
As a child, my husband and his family used to live in a magnificent villa right next to the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, formerly known as Wan Qing Yuan. The already demolished villa with a big compound was built by their grand father who was a medical doctor trained in the University of Edinburg. However, they had to move to a 3-room flat in Toa Payoh with their mother after their father left them due to his own folly resulted in subsequent financial difficulties. Siok Chin was then only 2 years old.
I heard stories from my mother-in-law that Siok Chin addressed her own father as "uncle" when she first met him at their grand father's funeral which got him really mad. But she never knew how her father looked like until that very encounter.
When she attended the nearby PAP kindergarten, my husband Soon Juan, being 4 years older than Siok Chin, was frequently the one assigned by their mother to walk her to school. These two younger siblings of the family do share common interests in many things such as reading, sports, religion, political conviction, and now their fate in the ultimate baptism of fire – imprisonment.
When I visited Soon Juan in jail during his previous prison terms, Siok Chin always told me to bring our kids to see her in jail when it's her turn. She was prepared, as it seems to be unavoidable eventually for those who have determined to stay on the cause of fighting for freedom and justice in Singapore.
For Siok Chin, one of her main worries in going to jail was how to inform her elderly mother and whether she would be able to cope with the reality that 2 of her children are jailed at the same time. Unlike Siok Chin, her brother tends to get away from the usual motherly berating. When inquired by my mother-in-law about what happened in court with Lee Kuan Yew, he told her, "Mr Lee asked me, how...your mother?"
A caring daughter, Siok Chin repeatedly reminded me that her mother's birthday falls during the period of her jail term and whether I could arrange something on her behalf.
For a long time before she stepped into the opposition political scene, I knew Siok Chin was seriously hoping to be able to adopt a little girl, in addition to her monthly sponsorship to a school-age boy in Africa. She is a great aunt to my 3 kids, but she loves children and I think it's natural for her to want to have a child of her own. She checked on the information on oversea orphanages, and the laws and regulations regarding adoption in Singapore. In the process, she was often frustrated by the procedure and the prospect of an unmarried woman becoming a single adoptive mother.
Not long ago, when I curiously asked her about that adoption dream, she smiled wirily and told me that she has no dreams for herself nowadays.
I cringed whenever the local newspapers published the most distasteful and unflattering photos of Siok Chin, portraying her as angry and aggressive. Their portrayal is the exact opposite of the Siok Chin I know - a real woman with a strong sense of justice and a beautiful heart.
We were on our flight back to Singapore from Taiwan. I picked up a complimentary copy of the Straits Times before boarding the plane. My eldest daughter glanced at the front page and read out loudly, "Papa, 12 days; Korkor, 10 days...are they going to jail, again?"
I quickly surveyed those fellow passengers nearby, no one seemed to raise an eyebrow. I presumed they were either tourists or Singaporeans who were not quite on the radar of this island's political watch. For me, I was apprehensive that we were just in time to send them off to prison the next day.
Our kids are great, especially the eldest one who was born when her father was in jail. My then obstetrician was a bit fazed for a moment after sewing me up and looking for the new father for the customary congratulations. He ended up shaking my hand.
We have our kids late, but we always feel thankful that they came at the right time – just when things are getting more difficult and challenging for us, they are best in keeping things in perspective for us.
Several years ago, we met Malaysia's DAP politician Lim Guan Eng and his wife Betty when they were invited to speak at a public forum organised by the Open Singapore Centre. During our private conversation, Mr Lim mentioned that their young kids were told that "papa went to work" when he was jailed for 18 months. Subsequently, their children were frighten and didn't want him to leave the house whenever he told them he was going to work. We didn't have kids then, but I sort of learned that it's better to tell children the truth although they might not fully understand why.
Most parents will naturally think of what they can best provide for their own children. But we never know where life will bring us or what fate might deal with our dearest in future. To impart them a positive attitude and right values would go a long way than giving them things material.
Our children are involved in some of their father's activities and they are familiar and comfortable with the people who participate in these activities, too. Apparently, they come to know that these are decent and interesting people to be around and there's nothing sinister or needed to be fearful about. Our youngest boy always enjoys "going to the democracy place to light candles". In Singapore, these are certainly rare occasions that not every child gets to experience.
Before I embarked on my Ph.D. program in the U.S. decades ago, I was rather hesitant and uncertain about the prospect of continuing my miserable student life for a few more years in a totally different university located up north that the weather can get really icy cold in winter. That was about the same time I met my future husband. He was all very encouraging and saying things such as "you've got to have dreams in your life." - the kinds of words we frequently wrote for our composition class in school but we don't actually believe in them. I couldn't help to take a second look at him.
Indeed, I had my share of middle class prejudice such as that I would have readily agreed with the opinion that those who cannot provide for their own children financially should not have more than what they can afford. To respect each individual's reproduction rights is just one of the things I have learned over the years. With a life partner of beliefs, I am glad to be exposed to pluralistic ideas as well as humanitarian values and become a more sensible person.
The fact that I am from Taiwan, another Asian country with its own authoritarian past, has somehow equipped me with the ability to empathise with the present Singapore and continue to be hopeful about its future. What we are going through right now is certainly not the best arrangement, but I always believe that the process itself is as significant as its final destination, because often times our best human qualities are redeemed through these unenviable tasks and challenges.
It has become increasingly clear to me that my own destiny and the wellbeing of my family are closely tied to Singapore's political development. To me, it's very important to see Singapore democratised soon.
Last week, our children were feeling excited about the coming school holidays and they were talking about what they wanted to do as a family. My husband told them, "Well, I am going to prison next week."
My eldest daughter looked at me and asked, "Is Papa joking or serious?"
I said, "This government doesn't seem to like your Papa very much, does it?"
Soon Juan's travel ban resulted from his bankruptcy has effectively made him a prisoner in his own country since 1 April 2006.
I am partly pleased with the fact that he doesn't need to be constantly traveling and away from the family. At the same time, however, I understand his frustration at not being able to attend meetings overseas, to be there to network with fellow democrats, to make passionate presentations, and to impress upon the international community of the political situation in Singapore.
Most of the time, the world is rather uninformed of Singapore's authoritarian government and its sophisticated yet repressive controls, despite Singapore being a presumably modern, progressive, rich city-state.
Even when they know, many prevailing commercial interests tend to out-weigh the prospects of antagonizing the Singapore government that is very much into business itself. In addition, there are always many well-paid mercenaries to carry out the PAP government's public relations work among various international circles.
Apparently, for most people and organisations around the globe, the cause of those living in third-world countries with their familiar TV images of poverty and unrest seem a less threatening one to defend.
It is a lonely job at home and overseas for any Singaporean democracy advocate.
Despite the authority's rejections for all of Soon Juan's travel applications, there is little we can do about it. Neither do we know how long they will hold him under city arrest.
Personally, I don't really need to get out of Singapore, except to go back to Taiwan to visit my parents. Nevertheless, I can still feel the effects of being confined to a small place, a city without countryside, nor the change of four seasons.
There are people who ask me why I have not become a Singapore citizen after having lived here for more than 16 years. I thought the answer should be quite obvious - it would be a terrifying thought that your own government which is supposed to protect you is instead, your enemy. But, I told them that this place is my home, and I am prepared to grow old in Singapore with my husband and children.
One evening, when our three children were brushing their teeth before going to bed. Soon Juan looked at them and commented, "They are the cushion of our tough life in this political struggle."
True, when my mother asked me, "Are you happy?" I told her that I am not unhappy at all.
Nowadays, three weeks for Soon Juan to be away from home is considered a long time, especially for our children who always enjoy his being around. But, I told them that this unpleasant inconvenience is not going to be forever.
Meanwhile, we will wait patiently for his release from prison. We are not going anywhere else.
I left Taiwan for the US to study in the 1980s, when Taiwan was still under the rule of KMT's Chiang Ching-Kuo. I was not particularly concerned about politics, as Taiwan was a prosperous society and I didn't really experience any hardships during my growing up years.
When I went home for holidays in-between school terms, I noticed my younger brother's computer monitor was draped with all sorts of head bands he had collected from attending various public protests, be it for "amendment of the Constitutions", "calling for direct Presidential elections", or "anti-nulcear plants".
I was extremely uncomfortable seeing those colourful head bands and asked him, "Is it safe to go for those protests?" My brother laughed and said, "Time has changed! It's no big deal now."
I asked my brother how he got "involved" in politics, or at least how he started to get interested in it. He told me that he was "too free" during his NS days and was reading newspapers all the time. It happened to be the booming period of many independent newspapers in Taiwan after the amendment of Newspaper and Printing Presses Act.
In addition to head bands, my brother collected T-shirts worn during public protests. According to him, those T-shirts worn during the initial protests were collectors' items now because there were very few people who dared to participate. Protests were illegal then, much like it is now in 21st century Singapore. Subsequently, T-shirts from later day protests were less sought after as they were printed by the thousands.
It seemed that I had missed the whole transition of Taiwan's democratization process.
The present Singapore is the place many of my Taiwanese relatives praised as "very clean and orderly", whereas my husband is in jail for the 5th time for speaking in public without a permit.
Although Soon Juan's non-violent campaign has always been misinterpreted as "courting trouble", the purpose of his civil actions is to make a simple point that "if you are not prepared to go to jail, how do you stage a public protest when one day, there is a need to do that in order to put pressure on the government to change laws that actually work against the people".
Many Singaporeans have expressed their amazement to me about how we cope with such kind of circumstances. Actually, the political struggle we are in does not prevent us from leading as normal lives as any other family. Our kids know that this is part of their father's work, it's nothing frightening at all. Earlier this year, when my eldest daughter told her teacher that "my father is in jail", her teacher was rather embarrassed. She told her quietly that "you don't have to tell me everything, I will read the newspapers myself".
After Soon Juan's passport was taken away and he was prevented from leaving Singapore, I told my parents that he probably won't be able to visit them in Taiwan for the rest of his life. Surprisingly, my mother said, "Don't worry. It won't be a permanent situation. No authoritarian government is going to last forever."
I certainly hope she is right.