National Day Rally 2018: 10 Singaporeans who got special mention in PM Lee Hsien Loong's speech

PM Lee acknowledged several Singaporeans for their efforts, during his National Day Rally 2018 speech, including (clockwise from top left) Mr Michael Ker, Ms Sim Chi Yin, Mr Azhar Ali, Ms Roshni Mahtani and Mr Darius Cheung.
PM Lee acknowledged several Singaporeans for their efforts, during his National Day Rally 2018 speech, including (clockwise from top left) Mr Michael Ker, Ms Sim Chi Yin, Mr Azhar Ali, Ms Roshni Mahtani and Mr Darius Cheung.PHOTOS: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION, ST FILE, KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted, in his National Day Rally address on Sunday (Aug 19), several Singaporeans who followed their passion and broke new ground.

Among them are a sneaker artist, a popiah business owner and a conductor.

He also made special mention of Singaporeans who contributed to the nation in their own ways.

Here's a look at who they are:

Mark Ong

Mr Ong is a sneaker and streetwear artist who took his first steps in the industry when he won an online competition in 2003 and received an order for 72 pairs of sneakers overnight.

He sold each pair for US$300, and his earlier works now sell for thousands.

Today, he designs customised shoes for celebrities and footwear companies under his brand, SBTG (pronounced as "sabotage").


Said PM Lee of Mr Ong's success: "To Mark, this is a dream come true, as he has loved drawing since he was a child, inspired by the art and creativity of his parents."

In July, Ong designed jersey numbers for English football club Arsenal when the team was here for the International Champions Cup. The designs featured Singapore icons such as the Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Sands.

Ong was also recently featured in a special issue of the National Geographic titled Singapore: City Of Tomorrow, said PM Lee.

The issue celebrates Singaporeans who excel even though they took the path less travelled.

Azhar Ali


Dr Azhar, a senior research scientist at the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore (CSI), was highlighted by PM Lee for leading a team of researchers from Singapore and the United States to conduct potentially life-saving research.

In June, The Straits Times reported that scientists from the CSI at the National University of Singapore and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in the US may have found a way to use a slimming drug to help deal with lung cancer cells resistant to treatment.

Dr Azhar said in the ST article that he hopes his efforts will help those suffering from the disease.

"If the information I've gotten from my studies can be used by someone else, to be applied in a clinic and benefit patients, I think I'll be very happy," he said.

Darius Cheung and Roshni Mahtani

Mr Darius Cheung and Ms Roshni Mahtani at the National Day Rally at ITE College Central on Aug 19, 2018. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Mr Cheung's entrepreneuring days started from as far back as secondary school, when he resold video CDs from Hong Kong not available here to classmates.

The 37-year-old co-founded, a search platform for property that connects agents, buyers and sellers, in Singapore and Indonesia.

The portal raised $2 million in Series A funding from the likes of Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin in 2015.

His wife Roshni Mahtani is also a digital entrepreneur. She founded media start-up Tickled Media, which operates popular parenting site

In his speech, PM Lee said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean had met them in Jakarta, and praised both of them for their success.

Sim Chi Yin

Photographer Sim Chi Yin, who won the Getty Images and Chris Hondros Fund Award in 2018. PHOTO: ST FILE

The documentary photographer's work is driven by a strong sense of social justice, which has led her to cover issues such as Chinese miners affected by silicosis, a lung disease, and documenting the lives of Indonesian women migrant workers.

The 39-year-old won the seventh annual Getty Images and Chris Hondros Fund Award this year, named after the photojournalist killed in 2011 while covering the Libyan civil war.

Last year, she became the first Asian to be commissioned as the Nobel Peace Prize photographer.

The former ST correspondent has said that her work is "super slow-burn, un-iconic and far from the frontlines".

"My work is dead unsexy, in the age of fast-food journalism and iconic photography," she said in an e-mail interview with ST in May.

Ms Sim could not attend the Rally, but her parents were there.

Michael Ker

Mr Michael Ker, owner of Kway Guan 

Mr Ker was a pharmacist for 12 years before giving the job up to take over his family's popiah and kueh pie tee business five years ago.

The 42-year-old took a 50 per cent pay cut to do so.

Mr Ker told ST on Sunday (Aug 19): "I decided to carry on our family tradition (of making popiah) because it has a history of three generations. It would have been a pity if I didn't do it and the heritage behind this food vanishes."

He added: "Food is one of the common things that bind Singaporeans together… younger people, if they find themselves in my shoes, should consider picking up the skills of making heritage dishes from their parents, and cherish it when they do."

He now wakes before daybreak to carry out the backbreaking work of preparing popiah skins by hand - like his father and uncle used to - and said he is glad the Government is taking proactive steps to preserve Singapore's food culture.

"From an air-conditioned office, I moved to a hot, sweaty environment with long hours," he said. "It's tiring, it's hard work, but it is something that I feel is precious."

Asked about his proudest moment since taking the path less travelled, Mr Ker said he and his team have since brought Singapore's popiah across the world - to New York, Copenhagen and Dubai. He wants to have a heritage gallery as well, to show the history of popiah to tourists here.

"My father and uncle are old, and we have loyal customers who come every year," he said. "I grew up watching the elders working in the shop, and this image was imprinted in my mind… Now, I'm getting the aches and pains that they had, but it's worth it."

Wong Kah Chun

Conductor Wong Kah Chun leading a national symphony orchestra in Europe. PHOTO: STEFFEN REISE

Had the conductor and composer taken the path of his schoolmates when graduating from Raffles Junior College more than a decade ago, he may have specialised in physics instead.

But Mr Wong, now 32, took on a full scholarship from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music at the National University of Singapore, studying composition.

"I was at a crossroads. I was from Raffles Junior College, and my peers were doing quite well, getting into Oxford, Cambridge and Yale, top schools in (the) Ivy League," he said of his education pathway. Had he done the same - and he considered doing so - he would have pursued physics.

"It was at that point when (Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music) offered me a full scholarship and I told my parents this was where I wanted to make a final decision," he said. "I'd always wanted to be a professional musician."

His parents supported him every step of the way, he added, even though there were no musicians in his family back then.

"They saw my interest in music and there was never once where they said I should focus on my studies and stop practising the trumpet or anything," he said. "That really encouraged me to pursue a very balanced education."

Studying music, he added, honed his discipline and focus. Being in a band also taught him the value of teamwork from a young age.

He was in Primary 1 when asked to join the school's brass band, opening his eyes to the world of music.

"My maths teacher was in charge of the brass band and gave us a consent form to take home for our parents to sign," he recalled.

Not quite knowing what it was about, Mr Wong, the eldest son of a Singapore Armed Forces warrant officer and childcare teacher, did so accordingly.

More than two decades later, Mr Wong has become chief conductor of the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra in Germany. He will also conduct the New York Philharmonic's annual Lunar New Year concert next year. 

He flies back to Singapore every two months or so to bring music to less privileged children, as well as those with special needs, as part of Project Infinitude - an initiative he co-founded.

PM Lee highlighted the project in his Rally speech. "He is giving back to society, so that others can discover music just like he did," he said.

Woo Yun Sum

Madam Woo, 88, was a samsui woman who came to Singapore to earn a living, and was one of five individuals featured in this year's National Day Parade (NDP) film.

She was mentioned by PM Lee in his Mandarin Rally speech.

PM Lee said she and the pioneer generation "toiled and built Singapore from scratch".

"She witnessed the dramatic transformation of Singapore and she is proud of what we have become," he added.

PM Lee also quoted Madam Woo in Cantonese as saying: "When there is rice, eat rice; when there is porridge, eat porridge", adding that it reminds Singaporeans of the importance of staying positive and being content, even as Singaporeans seek to improve quality of life.

Khairul Rusydi

Mr Khairul Rusydi leading some students in a discussion at an entrepreneurship programme organised by Reactor. PHOTO: REACTOR

Mr Rusydi is co-founder of Reactor, an educational technology company which conducts entrepreneurship courses and has mentored more than 6,000 students in the past five years.

"Our philosophy was that there are not enough young people solving the world's biggest problems", said Mr Rusydi of his inspiration behind starting entrepreneurship programmes in schools for students aged 18 to 24.

The 29-year-old is a recipient of the Anugerah Mendaki award, which identifies Malay youth who can be role models in the community.

PM Lee said in his Rally speech that he met Mr Rusydi at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in April, when Mr Rusydi was representing Singapore on the Commonwealth Youth Council.

"Having succeeded with the help of the community, Rusydi is now paying it forward by mentoring others," said PM Lee.

Asked why it is important for people to help each other within their community, Mr Rusydi said: "I think the narrative we've had for Singapore's first 50 years of independence will change, and the narrative for us in the future would be to have a Singapore diaspora where our young people will work around the region.

"I think it's important for us to decide where we want to call home, and home is where people can help each other and form a community."

Raymond Kiang

PM Lee Hsien Loong (centre) with (from left) Chicken Rice @ OTH owner Raymond Kiang, his father Sergeant Kiang, sister Susan and staff Wong Sen Chung. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Mr Kiang's chicken rice stall at Our Tampines Hub was mentioned by PM Lee in his Rally speech as a tasty and affordable option, and the dish was available at the Rally reception.

PM Lee mentioned that stalls in the new hawker centres are required to provide affordable food choices such as Mr Kiang's.

The 57-year-old hawker said: "Things can't be too expensive in a hawker centre, or people will not be able to afford them."

He added: "There are boneless chicken rice stalls all over Singapore. We may earn less, but we give everyone a chance to taste an authentic Hainanese chicken rice."

His father was among the pioneer batch of chefs who developed the famous Chatterbox Chicken Rice at Mandarin Hotel in Orchard Road, in 1971.

"Our Tampines Hub's request was for us to have at least one item priced at $2.80 on our menu," said Mr Kiang of his current hawker business. "We could pick something like porridge, but more people can afford that as it tends to be cheaper. I thought we should make it chicken rice instead, so everyone can afford it."