By The Way

Hopping on TikTok, going green and blue: What politicians are talking about

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung has joined TikTok, while MP Yip Hon Weng posted about a food rescue gig on Facebook. PHOTOS: SYED SADDIQ/TIKTOK, YIP HON WENG/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - The Straits Times looks at what politicians, and the politically related, are up to in this weekly series.

Achievement unlocked

Singapore's Cabinet got a new "TikToker" this week, when Health Minister Ong Ye Kung joined the viral video app.

He was apparently convinced to sign up for an account by president of the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance political party Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman while on a working visit to Kuala Lumpur.

Mr Syed Saddiq, a former Malaysian youth and sports minister, could easily be a top influencer on social media if he ever decides to leave politics, having amassed over 675,000 followers on the short-video platform.

The Johor MP posted about his coup on, well, TikTok, after hosting Mr Ong to a meal of his homemade asam pedas and Mee Bandung Muar. Food diplomacy at its finest, we say.

"New achievement unlocked! Convinced the Minister of Health of Singapore to get on Tiktok," he wrote in a note accompanying a video of Mr Ong which has been watched over 70,000 times.

@syedsaddiq

New achievement unlocked! ✅ Convinced the Minister of Health of Singapore to get on tiktok 😂. #fyp

♬ DARARI - ︎ ondu

Mr Ong, a TikTok newbie, has yet to post a video as of Friday (March 25), but has already attracted more than 200 followers. His first could well have been Mr Syed Saddiq, who had said "don't worry, I'll be your first follower" after Mr Ong joked that his first follower "better be Singaporean".

Perhaps another of the minister's followers could be his colleague, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, who had gotten a head start on TikTok. Mr Wong's first video on the platform was back in 2020.

Despite what looked like a chock-a-block trip filled with meetings - plus an appearance at the multi-ministry taskforce press conference on Thursday - Mr Ong managed to make an appearance in another TikTok video, this time with his Malaysian counterpart Khairy Jamaluddin.

@khairykj

Reconnecting once again with Singapore this 1st April. #ReopeningSafely

♬ Peaches - Justin Bieber

The two ministers had a meal together after meeting to discuss the full resumption of air and land travel between Singapore and Malaysia on April 1, and ended up talking about hawker food.

"I look forward on April 1 (to) drive up to JB (Johor Bahru) for our favourite hawker food, and our JB friends can come to Singapore to also taste our food," Mr Ong said.

This drew a quip from Mr Khairy, who said: "And then we can settle the great debate - which food is better, Singapore or Malaysian."

Mr Ong's diplomatic reply: "We are one epidemiological zone; we're also one hawker zone."

Meeting the people once more

Following Thursday's announcement that Covid-19 measures will soon be eased, some people made restaurant bookings, others called friends up for get-togethers while yet others planned family reunions.

Politicians, meanwhile, announced the resumption of their meet-the-people sessions (MPS).

These sessions had been mostly moved online during the Delta and Omicron waves in the interest of public health, though house visits had continued.

MPs seemed keen to finally get some face time with residents and volunteers, with some like Ms Yeo Wan Ling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) restarting on Thursday itself her face-to-face meeting with the Community Club Management Committees at Punggol 21 Community Club.

"It was pretty awesome to discuss cool ideas, and clever execution methods in person, face to face, with my chairpersons from our various interest group committees!" she wrote on Facebook.

Manpower Minister Tan See Leng, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor and Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin are among several MPs who will be restarting physical MPS sessions. Safe management measures will still be in place for people's safety, they said.

Taking Covid-19 in stride

Minister of State for Social and Family Development and Education Sun Xueling became the latest politician to test positive for Covid-19.

Announcing this on Monday (March 21), Ms Sun said she had come down with a bad throat and cough and did not manage to meet every resident who had arranged to meet her over Zoom at her MPS.

"But please rest assured that I will go over all the cases. And our volunteers were also on hand to attend to our residents," she wrote.

Her colleagues, including Ms Yeo, Minister of State for Manpower and Education Gan Siow Huang (Marymount), Ms Poh Li San (Sembawang GRC), and Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development and Culture Community and Youth Eric Chua - who was himself down with Covid-19 last month - took to Facebook to wish her a speedy recovery.

Meanwhile, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth and Trade and Industry Alvin Tan (Tanjong Pagar GRC) got a post-recovery boost while visiting Pek Kio Market in his constituency.

Mr Tan had tested positive on March 1, and had recovered in a week.

In a post on Monday (March 20), he said: "Feeling super loved at Pek Kio Market! I was buying fruit juices for my (Moulmein-Cairnhill) team when Aunty asked me how well I've recovered from Covid (she read Zaobao). She then offered to make a special fruit drink for me to aid my recovery."

Aunty is keeping her recipe a secret though - no word on what goes into her special drink.

Waste not

While children here have been told umpteen times not to waste food, the advice has truly stuck for some MPs. Several have started "food rescue" gigs, as Mr Yip Hon Weng described it in a Facebook post.

The Yio Chu Kang MP had gone along with Minister of State for Manpower and Education Gan Siow Huang to visit Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) in Fernvale to learn about how Food Rescue Sengkang reduces food waste.

Each week, 40 volunteers with the ground-up initiative help to transport, sort and pack all kinds of food, from bread to fruits to vegetables.

These are then distributed to food rescue stations across the island, Mr Yip learnt.

Ms Gan said: "Despite the hot weather, everyone was working hard to sort the food items...they're truly food rescue heroes. Respect!"

Mr Yip said he hopes to start a similar effort in his constituency. "Don't waste food! Cut waste, save (money), feed the less privileged and save the (earth)," he urged in his Facebook post.

While some politicians are going green, others are going blue.

Another precious resource people are often reminded not to waste in Singapore is water, and on World Water Day on Tuesday (March 22), politicians took the chance to drive the message home.

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing shared an April 23, 1963 article from The Straits Times on water rationing. Singapore was divided into seven zones in the 1960s for water rationing during prolonged droughts, with each zone receiving no water for six hours, four times a week.

"Unimaginable in Singapore today, where clean water readily flows from our taps!" he wrote.

This is a stark reminder of an alternative reality that could face Singapore, said Mr Chan, who encouraged young people to "make every drop count".

Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu also gave a cold splash of reality, in keeping with her portfolio.

Singapore has come a long way in strengthening its water security, but water remains a scarce resource, she said.

"Water is and will always be an existential issue for Singapore."

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