A mountain named after Ong Teng Cheong

From far left: Mountaineers Shani Tan, David Lim and Wilfred Tok first ascended the mountain, which is located in south-eastern Kazakhstan, on July 29, 2005, along with mountaineer Muhammad Rozani Maarof. They named it after Mr Ong Teng Cheong, who w
From left: Mountaineers Shani Tan, David Lim and Wilfred Tok first ascended the mountain, which is located in south-eastern Kazakhstan, on July 29, 2005, along with mountaineer Muhammad Rozani Maarof. They named it after Mr Ong Teng Cheong, who was the patron of Singapore's first Everest expedition in 1995 when he was president.PHOTO: MOHD ROZANI MAAROF
The Ong Teng Cheong peak, on the far left with the snowy top, was first conquered by a team from Singapore, on July 29, 2005.
The Ong Teng Cheong peak, on the left with the snowy top, was first conquered by a team from Singapore, on July 29, 2005.PHOTO: WILFRED TOK

The 4,743m-tall mountain is believed to be the first in the world named after a S'porean

In the middle of a remote Tien Shan range that extends along the border between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and China, a soaring mountain bears a name familiar to Singaporeans: Ong Teng Cheong peak.

The 4,743m-tall mountain, named after Singapore's first elected president, was formally recognised by the Mountaineering and Sport Climbing Federation of Kazakhstan on June 28 this year.

It is believed to be the first mountain in the world named after a Singaporean.

The peak was thus named because it was first conquered by a team from Singapore, on July 29, 2005.

Kazakhstan gives a person the privilege of naming a mountain if he was the first to scale it, and has submitted documents such as a report of its exact geographical location and the climbing route for approval.

Mr Kazbek Valiyev, secretary-general of the federation, told The Straits Times: "Mr Ong Teng Cheong has done a lot for Singapore and should be recognised."

"The information submitted from the climbers is also especially important for those who are climbing in the region for the first time."

 

The mountain, which is located in south-eastern Kazakhstan, was first ascended by mountaineers David Lim, Wilfred Tok, Mohd Rozani Maarof and Shani Tan.

They named it after Mr Ong, who was the patron of Singapore's first Everest expedition in 1995 when he was president.

Mr Lim, 53, who was also the leader of the first Singapore team that successfully scaled Mount Everest in May 1998, said: "He believed in us. He worked behind the scenes to tie us up with major sponsors so that we could raise funds for training, equipment, airfare and the expedition itself. The peak was thus named in honour of him."

But the team was unable to get the name formalised because the federation appeared to have overlooked their application, said Mr Lim. Their GPS coordinates were also off, and they "never got round to approximating them with Google Earth", he added.

  • Naming their mountains

  • KAZAKHSTAN: The Mountaineering and Sport Climbing Federation of Kazakhstan obtains the report, climbing routes, names and dates of first conquerors before recognising the name of the mountain.

    Acknowledging Mr Ong Teng Cheong's many contributions, the federation decided to approve naming the mountain after him.

    However, recognition by the federation is not synonymous with official recognition by the government.

    The process is very long and the Kazakhstan government has yet to officially name any summits in the last 25 years.

    NEPAL: The Nepal Mountaineering Association does not entitle a first climber to naming rights. Names of mountains are usually given by locals.

    The official names of mountains are fixed by the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation. For a mountain to be named after any individual, it would require a decision by the Cabinet.

    US: The naming of any geographical landmark has to be approved by the United States Board on Geographic Names. It is a federal body created in 1890 and serves the federal government as well as other government agencies.

It was only 11 years later, in August last year, when Mr Ong Tze Boon, the younger son of the late president, attempted to climb the mountain that the data was obtained and coordinated with Mr Lim's.

The records were then sent to the Kazakhstan federation.

After many months of cajoling and paperwork, the mountain was eventually recognised this year.

The younger Ong, 48, explained: "Ong Teng Cheong was not known to the people of Kazakhstan. I explained to the federation who he was in the context of Singapore history." Given that he was the first elected president, "they were gracious to acknowledge and name it after him", he added.

And now, the Ong Teng Cheong peak may have a companion.

On Aug 22 last year, the late president's two sons Tze Boon and Tze Guan, along with Mr Lim Kim Boon and Mr Leow Kah Shin, scaled an adjacent virgin peak of 4,451m.

They named it "Ong Siew May peak", in memory of Mr Ong Teng Cheong's wife. The couple had met at a Christmas party when she was 15 and he, 16.

Mr Ong, who was president from 1993 to 1998, died in 2002, while Mrs Ong, an architect, died in 1999.

The Ong Siew May peak is currently pending formal approval from the Kazakhstan federation.

Having two mountains named after his parents is, said Mr Ong Tze Boon, "an honour in their memory".

He added: "I am thrilled to complete their love story."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2017, with the headline 'A mountain named after Ong Teng Cheong'. Print Edition | Subscribe