For two seniors, disappointment turns into lunch with President

Madam Sim Goon Hua (left) and Madam Lim Ah Kheoh posing for a picture with President Halimah Yacob yesterday at the Istana. During lunch of steamed fish, chicken, vegetables and rice, they chatted in Mandarin and Malay with the President about their
Madam Lim Ah Kheoh (left) and Madam Sim Goon Hua (right) posing for a picture with President Halimah Yacob yesterday at the Istana. During lunch of steamed fish, chicken, vegetables and rice, they chatted in Mandarin and Malay with the President about their lives and their activities at King George's Avenue Seniors Activity Centre.PHOTO: MCI
Madam Lim (at left) and Madam Sim at the nomination centre last week. The best friends had walked there to try and catch a glimpse of Madam Halimah, but did not get to see her.
Madam Sim (left) and Madam Lim at the nomination centre last week. The best friends had walked there to try and catch a glimpse of Madam Halimah, but did not get to see her.ST PHOTO: TOH YONG CHUAN

A missed opportunity turned into an invitation to lunch with the President for two lucky women, Madam Sim Goon Hua, 79, and Madam Lim Ah Kheoh, 82.

The two best friends had waited under the hot sun at the People's Association headquarters in King George's Avenue on Sept 13 hoping to meet Madam Halimah Yacob after she was declared President-elect.

Singapore would soon have its first woman president, and they wanted to congratulate her.

But they left disappointed in the end as the crowd was too thick outside the nomination centre for the presidential election.

Yesterday, Madam Sim and Madam Lim had "the experience of their lives" at lunch with President Halimah, who had read about them in The Straits Times.

The seniors, who live on their own in one-room flats in Jalan Besar, had expressed their disappointment at not being able to meet Madam Halimah that day.

"I read their interview and wanted to personally thank them for their support," Madam Halimah said on Facebook yesterday.

Speaking to The Straits Times after the lunch, Madam Sim quipped in Mandarin that when she first received the invitation from the Istana, she thought she had "said something wrong".

After she realised that Madam Halimah wanted to have lunch with her, she was thrilled.

Yesterday, she spent an hour dolling up specially for the occasion, putting on a silk blouse and gold earrings.

"The Istana is not a normal place, I must dress up because the President wants to meet me!" she said, with a wide smile.

Madam Lim was less fussed, but no less excited. She said: "I just showered quickly, dressed up and came!"

It was the first time both women had met a Singapore president.

During lunch of steamed fish, chicken, vegetables and rice, they chatted animatedly in Mandarin and Hokkien.

Madam Lim, who is single, confessed that she spoke only a smattering of Malay when asked by President Halimah.

They chatted about their lives and the King George's Avenue Seniors Activity Centre, where they sing, dance, and play mahjong and sudoku.

Helping to translate during lunch were Madam Halimah’s principal private secretary Benny Lee and Mr Alex Yam, a Member of Parliament for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, where Madam Halimah used to be an MP.

Madam Lim said: "(President Halimah) is very nice, she kept asking us to eat, and laughed a lot. We sat around the table like we are family... we are so happy."

Madam Sim added: "I told the President that she is Malay and I am Chinese, but in Singapore we are all the same, we are all Singaporeans."

Both women also gave Madam Halimah Chinese couplets that they had embroidered with phrases wishing her happiness and a joyous Mid-Autumn Festival.

Madam Sim, who used to be a hawker selling "economic rice", is widowed and has two daughters in their 50s.

In her Facebook post after the lunch, Madam Halimah said: "The two best friends are so full of energy. We had a good laugh at many of their jokes.

"They reminded me of my mum - warm and personable, always seeing the bright side of things. Definitely role models for all of us," said the President, who was known to be very close to her late mother.

Correction note: We misspelt principal private secretary in our earlier story. The caption also transposed the names of the two seniors. We are sorry for the errors.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2017, with the headline 'For two seniors, disappointment turns into lunch with President'. Print Edition | Subscribe