By Vidhya Nair
It was a usual Sunday morning, but this time I was spending it in Nee Soon. A place I had seen evolve over the decades from the stories my dad used to tell when he grew up here and when I was growing up, as the flats increased and the amenities mushroomed. I made my way to Chong Pang Food Centre, located next to the Sree Narayana Mission.
It was just past 9.30am, the place was already buzzing with shoppers and residents tucking into morning delights like economy bee hoon, nasi lemak and wanton mee. The mood is relaxed and it’s a charming place, old-school even with long-time residents enjoying and chatting away their Sunday morning at leisure.
As I look around, I spot several figures in white, hovering over seated residents engrossed in their food, attempting a nod and a handshake. It turns out to be PAP candidate, Ms Lee Bee Wah, followed closely by Mr Louis Ng trailing close behind. The former is the resident MP here and in the distance, you see posters everywhere with K Shanmugam, the Minister for this ward, his image looming large over this public space. It appears that Ms Lee is attempting to shake as many hands as possible while she tries to introduce the new upcoming candidate. She moves through the hawker centre swiftly, stopping sparingly for eye contact and a greeting. They are surrounded by a bevy of white-clad grassroots workers.
Louis Ng looks nervous. His beige pants seem mismatched with his white shirt, he seemed to have put it together hurriedly and he was shaking hands with residents with trepidation. I don’t think people knew who he was. Just a young man.
A few steps ahead, I noticed a shaded open space and there was a line of men gathered in a single line facing the people eating at the hawker centre. They were flashing a large stack in their arms, it was the Hammer newsletter and they were dressed in blue T-shirts with Worker’s Party (WP) logos.
As I approached, I realised that a large number of a WP volunteer contingent has gathered and I noticed several cameramen were setting up their equipment. A press-briefing was imminent.
Just after 10am, Sylvia Lim swept into this space and within seconds, everyone swarmed around her. WP’s media liaison had to step forward asking everyone to take two steps back to give Sylvia some breathing space. There was certainly some excitement in the air as many onlookers started to take photos. It turned out that there was a fairly substantial media presence. I managed to get a spot very close to her and turned on my Iphone video and started recording.
In almost 8 minutes, Sylvia handled a barrage of questions; confirming that her party was planning to defend all their current MP seats without changing any candidate and would announce which new candidates would stand in other GRCs and SMCs in due course, according to their own timeline.
After the barrage of inquiries, the media started to disperse and began filing their reports and uploading on social media. It was interesting to watch Sylvia and her fellow teammates go back to speaking to residents, giving them the Hammer and warmly thanking them when they dropped coins into their donation boxes. Some children gamely went up to Sylvia to be carried in her arms as she began to speak to their parents. It all seemed rather ordinary and you had a sense that her contact with this area seemed to be commonplace and they were recognising each other like old neighbours, even friends.
Minutes later, there was a louder burst of sound as certain elderly men cheered and clapped. Turning around, you see the leader of WP, Mr Low Thia Khiang, enters the square. The media clamour fervently towards him. He is surrounded by an avalanche of microphones and recording devices, and cameras start recording. There is hardly any breathing space but he seems to be able to handle it. The questions come fast and furious, he rebutes certain comments put to him with calm confidence. It’s all of 5 minutes. He says it’s over. Soundbites captured, the media again disperse.
Many sitting at the coffee shops stand up to shake his hand as he approaches them with a big smile and his hand out. There is a friendly camaraderie. Some stop to whisper in his ear, he gives short answers and moves on. There is much to cover, and many residents to approach.
There is chatter in the air as the blue-clad move around the square. Eyes darting, people discussing in small groups. The Sunday morning sighting is over. The anticipation of what is to come is clear. Everyone knows it will start to get busy soon and we will all be hearing a lot more and there will be much to discuss, ponder over. Decisions will need to be made. Similar activities are going on around the island. Citizens and their votes are being wooed. It’s time to get serious now.