Millennials, make way for the centenarians

Madam Cheng Wah Joeng, 102, still makes new friends – neighbours in their 70s and 80s. They spend the afternoon sometimes playing cards in the void deck.
Madam Cheng Wah Joeng, 102, still makes new friends – neighbours in their 70s and 80s. They spend the afternoon sometimes playing cards in the void deck.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Singapore has become an enchanted island for centenarians - it is home to 1,200 centenarians who have struck the genetic lottery for longevity. There were just 50 of them in 1990.

Singaporeans are living longer and healthier lives than people from most other countries, with the World Health Organisation ranking the country third in the world for average life expectancy last year, trailing behind Japan and Switzerland. 

Little is known about these 1,200 - who they are, how they lived their lives, and who looks after them.

Until now. 

In a Straits Times special, heritage and community correspondent Melody Zaccheus speaks to 10 of them, including Mr Mok Jin Seng, 106, who said of working for the enemy during the war years: "You had to do as you were told, or they would chop off your head." 

She writes about their bravery getting onboard a ship for a week-long journey to Nanyang in the 1920s, and how their stories unfolded across the years - eating sashimi with Japanese soldiers during the war; dancing joget in the 1950s, and replacing pig farms and villages with new developments in the 1960s.  

There is a story for every decade. 

Meanwhile, social affairs correspondent Janice Tai finds out the "secret sauce" behind the longevity of her fellow Singaporeans. Could it be biology and the presence of certain cells that just do not age? Gender, as well as education and ethnicity, play a part as well. 

Where do you fit in in all of this? Find out more on this special microsite which features artwork and short clips on the stories of these centenerians who have a combined age of 1,000 years of wisdom.