Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew keeps tradition of planting a tree at Tanjong Pagar's annual Tree Planting Day

Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (white, centre) at Tanjong Pagar GRC's annual Tree Planting Day, together with (from left of row of seats) former Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Koo Tsai Kee (in pale green), Tanjong Pagar GRC MPs Chia Shi-Lu, Lily Neo, Chan
Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (white, centre) at Tanjong Pagar GRC's annual Tree Planting Day, together with (from left of row of seats) former Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Koo Tsai Kee (in pale green), Tanjong Pagar GRC MPs Chia Shi-Lu, Lily Neo, Chan Chun Sing, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development, and Indranee Rajah, who is also Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Law and Ministry of Education. -- ST PHOTO: RACHEL AU-YONG

SINGAPORE - There were games and snacks galore to enjoy, but the 1,500 Tanglin-Cairnhill residents who attended an environmental awareness carnival held yesterday afternoon were more interested in the arrival of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

In a rare public appearance, Mr Lee visited the ward in Tanjong Pagar GRC, where he is an MP, for its annual Tree Planting Day.

Smartphone cameras flashed as he stepped out of his car and made his way to a garden plot where seven sea teak trees had been planted.

Flanked by the four other MPs for Tanjong Pagar GRC, Mr Lee pressed a sphere that activated water sprinklers and bathed the trees in a kaleidoscope of lights.

It was the first time that the system had been used for such tree-planting ceremonies.

Mr Lee started planting trees 51 years ago as part of his efforts to keep Singapore green, and he has an unbroken record of planting a tree every year since then.

Tree planting is carried out across the island every November, as it is the start of the rainy season and watering can be minimised.

Yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Law and Education and MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Indranee Rajah said the ward was honoured to have Mr Lee back.

She said the annual tree planting was a reminder of the importance of the environment and the need to take care of it. She also spoke about her ward's defining trait - a spirit of caring for residents through regular activities for the elderly and barrier-free access to shared spaces.

Retiree Mak Tin Tee, 77, who last saw Mr Lee about five years ago, said in Teochew: "He looks older and more tired, but it only reminds me of the sacrifices he has made for our ward and our country."

Also present yesterday were the other MPs for Tanjong Pagar GRC - Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing, Dr Lily Neo and Dr Chia Shi-Lu.