ST writers to discuss mental illness, price of hawker food and Olympic medal chances

Meet The Straits Times' writers, food critic Wong Ah Yoke (left), sports writer Rohit Brijnath (centre) and senior writer Wong Kim Hoh.
Meet The Straits Times' writers, food critic Wong Ah Yoke (left), sports writer Rohit Brijnath (centre) and senior writer Wong Kim Hoh. PHOTO: ST FILE

In the inaugural ST Conversations, three veteran journalists will discuss mental illness, hawker fare and Olympic medal chances

For close to two years, The Straits Times' senior writer Wong Kim Hoh has mined Singapore for tales of human courage and perseverance.

In the It Changed My Life series, he chronicles the lives of Singaporeans who have overcome the odds - the gangsters made good, the men and women who have been rocked by loss and channelled their grief into helping others, and industry movers and shakers who clawed their way up from humble beginnings.

This Sunday, Mr Wong will share the stage with some of his interviewees who have weathered encounters with mental illness.

He is one of three Straits Times veteran journalists featured in the inaugural ST Conversations, a series of talks at the Singapore Writers Festival that will see the newspaper's writers discussing issues with guest speakers who have stories to share.

The sessions are open to festival pass holders.

  • BOOK IT / SHOULD HAWKER FOOD BE MORE EXPENSIVE?

    WHERE: The Arts House

    WHEN: Saturday, 12.30pm

    ADMISSION: Festival Pass event. Passes at $20, excluding booking fee, from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

  • BOOK IT / MADNESS N MAYHEM

    WHERE: The Arts House

    WHEN: Sunday, noon

    ADMISSION: Festival Pass event

  • BOOK IT / WHY SINGAPORE WILL STRUGGLE TO WIN OLYMPIC MEDALS

    WHERE: The Arts House

    WHEN: Nov 8, 4pm

    ADMISSION: Festival Pass event

  • • ST Conversations is part of the Singapore Writers Festival.

While Mr Wong discusses mental illness, food critic Wong Ah Yoke and his guest speakers will discuss hawker fare and sports writer Rohit Brijnath about Singapore's chances at an Olympic medal.

Mr Wong Kim Hoh will have a reunion with three women he has featured in his series: Miss Chan Li Shan, who has written a book about her brush with schizophrenia; Madam Yohanna Abdullah, who has grappled with bipolar disorder for 15 years; and Ms Leela Jesudason, who started a support group for people struggling with mental illnesses after her sister was killed by her schizophrenic son.

Since it started in November 2013, It Changed My Life, which runs in the newspaper every Sunday, has gone beyond print. Some 30 videos, directed by the newspaper's executive video journalist Shawn Lee Miller, have been produced for the series. Earlier this month, the series bagged the award for Best Use of Online Video at the World Digital Media Awards, which BBC won last year.

Senior writer Wong, 54, says: "I thought it would be a good idea to discuss mental illness in public. For a lot of people, it's still taboo.

"But these three women, who are also activists and who have been rallying for support for others who are struggling, can help the audience understand the issue."

On Saturday, Mr Wong Ah Yoke will look at whether hawkers can afford to sell their food at higher prices. The 54-year-old has roped in cafe owner-turned-hawker Douglas Ng and Mr Dennis Wee, a judge for The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao's Hawker Masters award and the son of veteran Peranakan chef Jolly Wee, for the discussion.

"Very few people want to go into the hawker trade because it's a tough life. And it's getting tougher. Rental and the cost of ingredients are going up. Some hawkers say they're not making enough. But people expect hawker food to be cheap," says The Straits Times food critic. "So at the centre of this is the question of how long hawker food will be around if people don't want to be hawkers because they can't make money, but customers don't want to pay more."

The session on Nov 8 will be hosted by Mr Brijnath. Says the 53-year-old senior correspondent: "It's important for people to know how difficult it is to win an Olympic medal and understand how many obstacles athletes must hurdle on their way to greatness."

With him are three athletes he describes as "all having made a little history in their own way". They are athlete Dipna Lim Prasad, who holds the national 400m hurdles record; Lim Heem Wei, the first Singaporean gymnast to compete in the Olympic Games and former national swimmer Mark Chay.

"We have athletes from different sports. You can say we have land (running), water (swimming) and air (gymnastics) covered. We need this diversity to help explain the variety of challenges that Singapore athletes face on the world stage," says Mr Brijnath.

"People usually have the chance to watch athletes perform, not listen to them talk. Being able to ask them questions is an important interaction. It is a way to understand and appreciate our athletes."

  • The Straits Times is the official media partner of the Singapore Writers Festival. For more stories on the festival, go to www.straitstimes.com/ tags/singapore-writers-festival-2015
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2015, with the headline 'ST writers onstage with interviewees'. Print Edition | Subscribe