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Chen Show Mao – more than a SNAG!

Tan Meng Lee

Yesterday (Sunday, 29 May 2011) was the Workers' Party's "Thank You Luncheon" for its volunteers at Ban Heng Restaurant at HarbourFront Centre (off Telok Blangah Road).

Even though I only know a handful of the volunteers (that's because I did so very little for WP after Nomination Day in Apr), there was an easy camaraderie with the rest of the 500-odd invitees.  That was especially nice as we relived a little of the sweet and hard-won victory.

The luncheon event was billed to start from 11am and end by 3pm.  So, not wanting to be kiasee and kiasu, I arrived at 12:40pm.  Of course, by then, the WP 50th Anniversary Commemorative book was all given out.  Woeful little me did a mental kick-ass on my royal posterior (if you can imagine my supine contortion) as I started to ask around to see if anyone could spare me a copy (well, you see, some were holding multiple copies!) ... and I got one eventually after some badgering - Yeh!  Great compilation, tracing Workers' Party pedigree from the Labour Front days, with photos of the other illustrious Son of Singapore, Mr David Saul Marshall, our first Chief Minister in 1955 during our fledging break from our British colonial masters.

Mr Low and all the other WP MPs, NCMPs and GE candidates were mingling around with the supporters.   There were two queues at the front of the dining area - one for Mr Chen Show Mao and another for Mr Pritam Singh.  These two gentlemen were standing at the front of the dining hall, posing for photos and obliging with autographs on the commemorative book.

As the queue for Mr Chen was so long, I went around to collect autographs on my precious commemorative book from Ms Sylvia Lim, Mr Low, Mr Mohd Faisal, Mr Yaw Shin Leong, Mr Gerald Giam, etc, and chatted a little with each of them. But Mr Chen's queue wasn't getting any shorter although it wasn't as overwhelming as earlier.  By then, my tum-tum was protesting a little.  But there are priorities in life, eh?  Food later, autograph first.  So I joined Mr Chen's line which was stretching to about the third row of tables.

Just as it was nearing my turn, Mr Chen asked the couple in front of me if he could be excused as he wanted to talk to some people.  As I am the type who can never find an empty taxi on a rainy day, I thought to myself: Hmmmm ... what else is new?  Guess what, Mr Chen was scurrying to the back of the queue to thank the guests for their patience and apologizing for the long wait.  That's when I realized the line was extending to the fifth row of tables by then.  In a whizz, Mr Chen was literally bouncing back to his photo spot, throwing decorum to the wind as he sprinted!

Well, whaddayou know???  Do you reckon any PAP MP would have 1/5th of Mr Chen's EQ to:

(i) notice the lengthening queue whilst being engrossed in interacting with the photo-taking guests at the time, and

(ii) do such a thoughtful gesture for those at the back of the queue?

This was WITHOUT any prompting by an aide or any assistance by such aide to proffer such apologies on his behalf.  It all came from the heart of this one man!

The only occasion when you can see a PAP MP run is when they are running away from yapping small dogs snarling and sniping at their multi-million dollar ankles!  [That small dog deserves a medal for being so smart when it came to Minister Liu Tuck Yew's ankles, ugh?]

Now, is Mao-Mao a S.N.A.G. (Sensitive New Age Guy) or what???

Quite honestly, whilst I was initially impressed by Mr Chen's credentials and the astute comments and points he made at various interviews and election speeches, which were highly resonant with me, even I thought the public adulation (bordering on adoration) for Mr Chen was a tad overdone.  I couldn't quite understand the "phenomenon" because - from my quiet observation of YouTube videos that included Mr Chen - the guy distinctly and consistently downplayed himself.

In fact, I admired Mr Chen for what he did NOT do despite his "star" public attraction.  In the Nomination Day YouTube video, I noted that he was nudging Mohd Faisal towards centre-front to be closer to Mr Low.  He was always mindful to be way down the line after Mr Low or Ms Lim in terms of pecking order and was careful to walk behind them.  At GE rally finales, he would be standing to one corner rather than near the front-centre.

Post-GE, in another YouTube video that showed the PAP team driving round in a mini-truck, waving thanks to residents, the PAP drive-by happened to coincide with the WP candidates having a meeting at the void deck.  The other WP candidates waved back at the PAP with a wisecrack comment on the video about saying goodbye to PAP.  Mr Chen didn't wave to the PAP even though his WP colleagues did so and he studiously gazed at the papers spread on the void deck table.

On yet another point - I may be wrong as I'm purely speculating here.  I reckon that one of the reasons for Mr Chen to return to Singapore is to help his sister take care for his ageing parents.  From Facebook postings, his parents appear to be in good health.  But in the twilight years of our elders, downside potential is higher than upside potential with each advancing year.

With Mr Chen's credentials and wealth from his years as a high-profile M&A corporate lawyer with a top US law firm and his linguistic skills, Mr Chen can easily settle in the US, Switzerland or any other First-World country or some upshot gated community in China or charming rustic town in Indonesia.  So comments about Mr Chen returning home now that Singapore enjoys one of the highest GDP per capita are thoughtlessly spurious.

For Mr Chen to then step-up to the plate for Singapore by joining an opposition party as an underdog with little resources and battling on a most uneven playing field constantly skewed by the dominant PAP already speaks volumes.

That is a moral high road much harder even to walk.  And yet ......and for what, do you think?

Now, to continue my story. After the couple in front of me, it was my turn. Mr Chen broke into a big smile as he greeted me warmly and addressed me by my blog pseudonym.  I was astounded - most pleasantly so!

It is easy to laud and help the strongest (eg, giving a scholarship to the brightest who may not have the financial resources to go to a top university).  It is that much harder to help the weakest (eg, helping to pay the fees of a repeated secondary school failure).  That's likely the ultimate measure of a person's sense of goodness.

For all of the above, Mr Chen - to me - is not just a S.N.A.G., not just the perfect gentleman ..... but I reckon another true Son of Singapore - as time will tel..

I wish Mr Chen and all the WP MPs, NCMPs, GE candidates and members all the best.  I hope the PAP will give WP the space and play fair, and we as citizens give WP the space to do what's more important - on both national and municipal electoral issues,  for our country and our future.