Straits Times Singaporean of the Year finalists share stories, draw inspiration from one another

Owners of French restaurant chain Saveur Joshua Khoo and Dylan Ong taking a selfie with PM Lee.
Owners of French restaurant chain Saveur Joshua Khoo and Dylan Ong taking a selfie with PM Lee. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Ultramarathoners Lim Nghee Huat and Yong Yuen Cheng with PM Lee.
Ultramarathoners Lim Nghee Huat and Yong Yuen Cheng with PM Lee. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Engineer Peter Ho with PM Lee.
Engineer Peter Ho with PM Lee. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - They were contending against one another for the first Straits Times Singaporean of the Year award.

But at the awards ceremony on Tuesday (Feb 2), there was nary a streak of competitiveness among the 10 finalists, who had all gone the extra mile to contribute to their communities.

Instead, they greeted one another warmly, and left inspired by the stories of their counterparts.

Ultramarathoner Lim Nghee Huat, 62, was touched by the selflessness of former businessman Ben Cheong, 56, who has built more than 16 schools in Myanmar after starting a charity two years ago.

"It must have been very difficult for him to soldier on quietly in his work, so far away from him. But he did what he did because of his heart, and not because he wanted to win," said Mr Lim, a media producer who had marked SG50 by running 2,500km in 50 days last year with Mr Yong Yuen Cheng, 44, a teacher.

Mr Ang Thiam Hock, 52, was struck by the sheer diversity of the finalists - which include a Paralympian, a conductor, environmental activists and a volunteer nurse.

"Each of us has a story to tell, and this has shown me that we can all contribute in our own ways," said Mr Ang, who gave up his sales consultant job to do grassroots work with youth at risk in Taman Jurong.

 
 
 

He added that it was a rare opportunity for them to meet other finalists like Mr Peter Ho, 37, an engineer who co-founded a tech start-up that put Singapore on the world map after pulling in big-name clients like Airbus.

The firm also designed the Red Rhino emergency vehicles for the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

"He'll be a great person to introduce to my kids," quipped Mr Ang.

Meanwhile, owners of French restaurant chain Saveur Joshua Khoo, 31, and Dylan Ong, 29, were thrilled to pose for a picture with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who had given out the awards. PM Lee chatted with them about their business, known for serving haute cuisine at affordable prices.

Mr Ong said: "Not many people have the opportunity to meet PM Lee in person and the experience of the whole awards ceremony is something that we can live to tell our grandchildren about."

Celebrity chef Willin Low, who was one of the judges, said the stories of the finalists put everyday grievances into perspective.

"We often like to grumble about little things like late trains but these people have accomplished so much despite adverse circumstances - what is our excuse for complaining?" asked the 43-year-old.