Backbencher's bite: Breaking the ice
Ms Cheryl Chan talks about her so-called “ice-maiden” image and how her singlehood became an ice-breaker with residents.
1. Not a "sacrificial lamb"
I was approached two years ago and knew that I could be fielded as a PAP candidate, so the idea that I was a "sacrificial lamb" is an inaccurate perception. Every seat is important to the Party and they would have made measured considerations before fielding any candidate. My predecessor and mentor, Mr Raymond Lim, had also put in a lot of effort in this area and he helped me tremendously in the lead-up to the election. During the GE itself, he checked every day if I needed support.
The activists who were with me are also people I have worked with for the past 10 years. Before GE2015, I have been through two other elections with them. In that sense, my grassroots experience and familiarity with the activists and residents helped a lot. Still, the only expectation I had of myself was to lead the team and smoothly cross the finishing line.
2. "Ice-maiden" image
I am calm and cool, and that may have led to the impression that I am an "ice-maiden". Perhaps it's just the way I look. Those who have interacted with me or if you ask my residents will say otherwise!
As an MP I have to meet many more people. Again, I don't have to act in a particular way or be a different person. I feel that my actions occur naturally because I put my heart into my job.
The residents are my friends. Even for the new faces that I encounter, we have modified our events so that I can spend more time interacting with them, not just casually shake hands. Over time, this rapport builds up into relationships.
3. Singlehood as ice-breaker
The uncles and aunties (the residents) are very concerned and they ask, "你在这里 花那么多时间, 你怎么结婚?" ("You spend so much time with us, how will you get married?") I jokingly comment, "你介绍给 我就好!" (It'll be good if you can introduce someone to me!") The young singles are even funnier. They use my singlehood to relate to me. A young man said to me the other day during my house visit, "Ms Chan, I'm single just like you. Don't you think the HDB ruling must change (for singles)?" It doesn't offend me at all!
The right person has not come along yet. As with any public figure, it will be difficult for my other half to accept what I do. But I love children - I have a niece and nephew aged 5 and 7 respectively - and I see myself settling down when the time is right.
4. Lonely elderly
A third of Fengshan residents are over 50 years old, higher than the national average. These lonely elderly are not all necessarily poor or live in rental flats. Some live in HDB and private estates with busy children who work long hours. They think - "I don't want to disturb my child since he's so busy from work." Parents always put their children first. It's sometimes worse when a spouse passes on, then the remaining elderly person pretty much keeps to himself or herself at home with little activity.
As a community, we want to enable them to contribute because they can and are willing to, as well as run programmes for them. For instance, some university students will be spending three weekends teaching the senior citizens here how to use smartphones, Facebook, Whatsapp and useful apps like SG Transport.
It benefits both old and young.
Cheryl Chan is first-time MP for the newly-carved Fengshan SMC and Head of Secondary Industries (Corporate Strategy & Market Intelligence) with The Linde Group (Gas & Engineering). This interview was first published in the Feb 2016 issue of Petir Magazine.