National Day Special: Celebrating the Singapore Spirit

Clockwise from top left: Mr Lai Chang Wen, Madam Jumiah Yunus, Ms Eirliani Abdul Rahman and Ms Prema Subramaniam.
Clockwise from top left: Mr Lai Chang Wen, Madam Jumiah Yunus, Ms Eirliani Abdul Rahman and Ms Prema Subramaniam.

Experience the Singapore spirit through the stories of its people: the adventurers, good neighbours, enterprising individuals, sportsmen, lifelong learners and the kind souls.

Adventurous spirit: Blood, trek and charity

Mr Tay endured 40 deg C heat during his trek through the Gobi Desert, and was forced to continue his journey on bike after losing time when he was laid low by blisters. He and his team pitched tents whenever they could not find people to stay the night with. PHOTO: TEMUJIN

As he trudged along the Mongolian highway, he tried not to think about the blisters that were multiplying on his feet. Cars zoomed past his lone figure while the heat enveloping him soared above 40 deg C.

In those moments, when the inner voices told him to give up, Singaporean Scott Tay dug deep to remind himself of his mission - to conquer his own limitations while doing good for others.

In April, the avid traveller who had been to 28 countries over nine years, and had just completed a six-month backpacking trip in Mongolia, realised he was losing the drive for roughing it.


Adventurous spirit: Cold slog with eye on South Pole

At age seven, Ms Eirliani Abdul Rahman somehow became convinced that she would die by the time she was 40. She has no idea where this belief came from, but she promised herself that she would achieve all she wanted to by then.

Now 40 years old, she is very much alive, and has done plenty.

Ms Eirliani Abdul Rahman learning polar survival skills in the frozen Canadian north to prepare for her South Pole expedition in December next year. Her training includes cross-country skiing as well as dragging and flipping a 25kg truck tyre up and down mountain roads. PHOTO: ERIK BOOMER

She worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a diplomat, and co-founded the charity Youths, Adult Survivors And Kin In Need, which tackles child sexual abuse.


Adventurous spirit: Woman with a conquering attitude

Ms Nur Yusrina Ya'akob at Everest base camp (above) and on the summit in May. Her desire to climb the world's highest peak stems partly from her love for challenges. "If I don't put myself in a difficult situation, that's not me. I look for challenges, especially physical challenges," she says. PHOTO: JEREMY TONG

The obsession with mountains for Ms Nur Yusrina Ya'akob - who recently became Singapore's first Malay woman to conquer Mount Everest - began with a poster.


When she was a first-year student at the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2006, she saw a poster featuring an NUS Centennial Everest Team that had successfully summited the world's highest peak the year before.

She took it home and put it on her bedside wall, where it stayed for four years. "I just loved it... It was beautiful, it looked very adventurous, and it made me want to go to the mountains."


Community spirit: Try a little kindness - it works magic

Dr Sin Yong hopes his magic shows will make people think more about kindness so that they can share it with others.
Dr Sin Yong hopes his magic shows will make people think more about kindness so that they can share it with others. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Magic tricks are often associated with deception and sleight of hand.

But there is a sincere motivation behind Dr Sin Yong's use of magic as a tool, to contribute to community bonds in his neighbourhood and encourage Singaporeans to be kinder to one another.

Dr Sin, 29, who works at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital's ear, nose and throat department, has been weaving messages of kindness into the magic shows that he stages in Ghim Moh.


Community spirit: A friend in need is a friend indeed

Madam Veerama Talaniyandi Sivalinga, an HDB Good Neighbour Award recipient, organises block parties, Deepavali events and flea markets. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Housewife Veerama Talaniyandi Sivalinga, 66, has deep roots in the community in Marine Terrace, which has been her home for close to four decades.

A familiar figure in the neighbourhood, she organises block parties, Deepavali events as well as flea markets, which let residents generate extra income by selling used items.

And as an executive member of the Marine Terrace Breeze Residents Committee, she visits residents, listens to their woes and refers anyone who needs more help to WeCare@MarineParade, a community network that supports vulnerable residents.


Community spirit: Spreading the qi of community bonding

Madam Jumiah Yunus leading her class through their qigong moves. Her students - Chinese, Malay, Indian - are mostly fellow Tampines residents, and the sessions, which take place four times a week, are Madam Jumiah's indirect way of fostering a stronger community spirit. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

It is 8am on a rainy Wednesday, and a group of about 20 adults is focused on their qigong movements at an amphitheatre next to Tampines Park.

Leading them through the 90-minute session, a series of gentle body exercises, is Madam Jumiah Yunus, 73.

"It's raining, so there are fewer people... Usually there are around 0," she told The Straits Times.


Entrepreneurial spirit: Leading light of family's solar energy business

Mr Frank Phuan has also been growing his family's vertical farming business, Packet Greens, since 2014. What started out as a test bed for light technologies in growing crops indoors has since grown into a farm which sells over 50 varieties of pesticide-free crops. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Having taken over the reins of the family's business in solar energy, Mr Frank Phuan, 40, considers himself a second-generation businessman. But there is no denying his entrepreneurial spirit nonetheless.

Over the years, he has expanded the family's business in solar energy into a group of companies - including the Sunseap Group, which made headlines in 2015 when it got a contract to supply tech giant Apple with 100 per cent renewable energy for its local operations.

In addition, Mr Phuan has been growing his family's vertical farming business, Packet Greens, since 2014, renting more space in an industrial building along Boon Lay Way to grow more crops.


Entrepreneurial spirit: The Ninja way to efficient delivery

Mr Lai Chang Wen said Ninja Van used technology to optimise its sorting, packing and delivery processes. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The sight of a red-shirted, parcel- carrying ninja appearing on their doorstep just two days after placing an order online has become the norm for many cyber-shoppers here.

But when Ninja Van founder Lai Chang Wen, 29, started his delivery service in 2014 with two co-founders, such speed and efficiency at non-premium prices was unheard of.

While Mr Lai and co-founder Tan Bo Xian, 29, had start-up experience with their own online custom apparel shop, Marcella, before Ninja Van, they had no experience with logistics, which meant throwing themselves in at the deep end of things, said Mr Lai.


Sporting spirit: Fighting injury and pain to get back in the swim

For Jeremia Christy Suriadi, to be able to stand at the start line at the upcoming SEA Games is victory enough. "It's been a dream of mine for so long," said the 20-year-old who will be part of the Republic's triathlon team. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Hit by a lorry while cycling along Woodlands Avenue 12 in October 2014, Jeremia Christy Suriadi's fledgling career as a triathlete looked to be over at the age of 17.

The then fifth-year Singapore Sports School student suffered compression fractures in seven vertebrae and a fractured hip bone, and was bedridden for two weeks.

Doctors warned that her mobility might be affected in the long run.


Sporting spirit: Punching above his weight to nurture young talent

More than four decades after becoming a coach, Mr Syed Abdul Kadir retains his zeal for nurturing young talent, having overseen the development of several generations of local boxers. His influence also led some of his former students to take up coaching themselves. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

For some, the fullest expression of a life dedicated to sport is found only after they have stepped away from the arena, helping others follow in their footsteps.

Mr Syed Abdul Kadir was 27 when he retired from competitive boxing in 1976 - just four years after competing in the Olympics - saying he did not enjoy the sport any more.

That might have been it for his involvement with the sweet science but for a remark from then International Boxing Association secretary-general Anwar Chowdhry.


Sporting spirit: Rolling back the years for the SEA Games

Lawn bowler Chia Tee Chiak is headed to Kuala Lumpur later this month as the oldest member of Singapore's SEA Games contingent, where he will try to win another medal for the Republic to add to his silver from the 2007 Games. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM 

At his age, no one would fault national lawn bowler Chia Tee Chiak for choosing to kick back and relax in his retirement.

Instead, the 68-year-old is headed to Kuala Lumpur later this month as the oldest member of Singapore's SEA Games contingent, where he will try to win another medal for the Republic to add to his silver from the 2007 Games.

"Competing is always a challenge, I always want to beat the other guy. But the feeling is different when you get a medal," said Chia, who will compete in the men's doubles.


Inquisitive spirit: Putting law studies on hold to explore AI

Mr Yap Jia Qing decided to take a leave of absence from the National University of Singapore in May last year so that he could focus on exploring the fields of AI and robotics. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Back in 2015, Mr Yap Jia Qing was just a freshly minted law student at the National University of Singapore (NUS) who had zero programming experience.

But that did not stop the 22-year-old, who discovered a new passion for artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, from signing up for a nine-week Web development boot camp and spending hours working through online courses in deep learning.

He subsequently took on positions as an instructor in data science and deep learning at two institutes here.


Inquisitive spirit: Relishing new chapter as a senior student

Mr Paul Ng decided to pursue a specialist diploma in business and big data analytics at Nanyang Polytechnic when he reached retirement age. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Mr Paul Ng could not help but feel apprehensive when he stepped into the classroom for his first lesson in business and big data analytics.

"I felt so out of place. I looked around me, the class age range - so young. And there I was, so senior," the 62-year-old recalled.

Mr Ng had attended more than 50 short-term courses on technical and interpersonal skills during the over three decades he had worked in the IT industry.


Inquisitive spirit: At 64, she's going for a doctorate next

Despite Ms Prema Subramaniam's age and many hats - she is a grandmother of two, a kindergarten English teacher, a grassroots leader and a regular volunteer - she is doing a doctorate in entrepreneurship to be completed by next year. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

At 64, Ms Prema Subramaniam is a grandmother of two, a kindergarten English teacher, a grassroots leader and a regular volunteer.

But despite her age and many hats, she is getting a doctorate in entrepreneurship to be completed by next year.

"I've been working and studying all my life. I can't stand being idle; I'm always on the search for know- ledge and answers," said Ms Prema, who is doing her degree part-time with an Australian university.


Compassionate spirit: Bringing fun and games to many lives

Ms Lin Shiyun (centre, in blue and white top) started Let's Go Play Outside! for children from low-income families in Toa Payoh Lorong 1, where there are some blocks of rental flats and a park with two playgrounds. Initially, the activities were more arts-based but later, after she roped in other adults as facilitators, the activities included soccer and obstacle courses. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

There are play activities in museums and arts centres that are free for children. But many children from low-income families do not go for these, for various reasons.

Freelance arts producer Lin Shiyun, 35, realised this after conducting an art workshop in 2011 at the Chinese Development Assistance Council, a self-help group, and met disadvantaged children who said they rarely had play time with their parents.

"Parents don't have the time to take them out as they are busy looking after other children in the family. They also don't have the money to travel to town for such activities," she told The Straits Times.


Compassionate spirit: She offers support to women and cancer patients

Ms Dincy Lim has won awards and nominations for her work with the menopause and colon cancer support groups. She was nominated for the Singapore Woman Award in 2009 and won the Healthcare Humanity Award in the Volunteer category last year. PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

It has been more than 20 years, but 84-year-old Dincy Lim still remembers the first menopause support group meeting she hosted.

All the women were avoiding eye contact. Nobody wanted to be the first to talk about their condition.

"Twenty years ago, nobody even thought about menopause," Ms Lim said. "It was something so intimate, so private, that nobody wanted to touch on the subject."


Compassionate spirit: He has saved nearly 20 lives since age 13

Seventeen-year-old Muhammad Luqman Abdul Rahman responds to emergencies because he knows he would want others to do the same for him, should he need help. PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The first time Muhammad Luqman Abdul Rahman saved a life, he was just 13 years old.

He had received his first aid certificate less than a month before, and was on the way home from school.

Then, the Singapore Civil Defence Force's MyResponder app alerted him that someone nearby needed help.