I’d never thought I’ll interview MP Tin Pei Ling for this blog. Till my friend, Andrew Chow, told me it’d be a good idea to do so. Admittedly, I was curious about this lady and how she had come to be portrayed by local media as being (in her own words) “juvenile”.
I discovered that she is a warm and friendly person and she doesn’t give the usual politically correct answers in our conversation over lunch. She was engaging and spoke most of the time – there were no “I don’t know what to say” moments.
She was forthcoming and open to sharing, clearing up some of the misconceptions that I had. I suppose local media is always out for a story and would take advantage of any opportunity to latch on to any one thing a person utters that could potentially cause a sensation.
Fortunately for my interviewees, I have a strict “off-the-record” policy in which I’ll publish on this blog only what the interviewees have given me permission to. Hence, here are the answers MP Tin Pei Ling sent me via email.
1) What’s a day in your life as an MP like? What’s your most memorable encounter with the residents – at MPS, walkabouts, or otherwise?
How the day pans out differs on weekdays and weekends. Just to give a simple and broad overview:
On weekdays, I attend meetings, such as with the Town Council officers to discuss municipal issues. I also meet residents and groups of residents with problems or suggestions. Sometimes, I meet people who may not be from MacPherson but who are interested to do something meaningful in MacPherson, and we will explore ideas possible for the community.
At night, I have Meet-the-People Session on Monday evenings (normally till late at night), block visits on two of the evenings each week (sometimes one instead of two, depending on whether there are meetings, functions or if it’s a public holiday), and (usually) grassroots or other official meetings on other nights.
On weekends, I attend several events in MacPherson, Marine Parade or others. I try to give support to ground-level activities, as I think it is positive to have residents self-organise, take ownership and contribute towards community bonding.
There are many memorable encounters and it’s really hard to say which one is more memorable than others. Perhaps, just to share one, I recall this resident who came to me for assistance at MPS. He was an ex-offender who had turned over a new leaf. For many years, he has been trying his utmost to earn a living and keep his family together.
The issues he faced were rather complex and multi-faceted (apologies, I am not sharing the details here to protect his privacy). While we have managed to help him in certain aspects, it is still an ongoing process. Nonetheless, in one of the follow-up visits he made at my MPS, there was a moment that made me feel very touched. He shared with me his difficulties all over again and I realised that he was pouring his heart out because he felt that he has been fighting life on his own all this while. And at MPS, there are people who would listen to him and offer him words of comfort. I was touched by his trust in us. That moment reminded me just how important MPS is. We continue to help him with the challenges he faces, but to be able to be there and lend a listening ear helps too (of course, we do not stop at being just a listening ear).
Personally, I find his spirit admirable, as he remains strong and determined despite the adversities he faces. Residents like him remind me of my purpose, gives me strength and makes me even more determined in continuing this journey of service.
2) Tell us more about the HDB void deck art gallery – the objectives, the inspiration, the artists and their assistants, reaction of the residents, the accolades, etc.
The project was called “GRACE” – Getting Residents, Artists & the Community Engaged. The main objectives were to not only make the void deck more vibrant and colorful (a fresh touch to a nostalgic neighbourhood I suppose), but to also provide the space for people to express creativity through art, bring art closer to people and provide the platform for various people to come together.
These included residents, volunteers from different walks of life, PCF MacPherson [PCF: PAP Community Foundation], ITE College Central, artists from Social Creatives and MacPherson Zone C RC. The main champions who helped make this a reality are Faris of Social Creatives (founder) and MacPherson Zone C RC. Project GRACE was very fortunate to receive much support and was featured by local media (e.g., Zaobao and Channel 8’s “Art Effect”) and CNN GO. Everyone involved was very happy of our collective effort certainly. I was most happy when residents tell me that it has made their environment a more colourful and vibrant place.
My friend Chris & MP Tin Pei Ling at the beautifully painted void deck:
3) What has it been like to be a young MP in a relatively mature estate?
As MacPherson is a mature estate, I probably have a disproportionate number of residents who are elderly and challenged in one way or other. I see many cases which need help, and feel strongly that more can be done for them. Many need help with medical issues and support for their daily living.
As a young MP, I feel I have more energy to do more. And I also hope that more young people can join me and work with me in creating new ideas and making them happen for the community in MacPherson.
So far, I have been working with my team of volunteers, whom I am very fortunate to have, VWOs and community partners within the ward, as well as external partners, to come up with programmes to help the elderly and the less fortunate. For example, we launched the “Say No to Fall” programme last year which aims to assess our seniors’ risk of falling and offer interventions for those with high risk, and the MacPherson Care Fund this year – we raised funds on our own to provide some financial support to seniors who find it difficult to cope with their medical expenses. These are examples of what we have been coming up with on top of the programmes (e.g., free meals and food ration distributions) and initiatives that are already available to them.
Helping them is an ongoing effort and the approach may evolve as needs evolve or as new ideas come about. However, it is most fulfilling to be able to give a hand to those who are in need and to bring a smile to others.
4) What inspired you to take up office and do you have fears of not being able to live up to the people’s expectations?
I have always been involved in community work as a youth volunteer, and had been helping at MPS for 7 years before the GE. I find it a meaningful use of my time to contribute to something larger than myself.
It’s great to be able to help others and make a positive impact. When the Party asked me to run as a candidate, though, I had some reservations. I was building my career then and my hubby and I were thinking about starting a family. In the end, I decided that I did not want to decline the opportunity to be able to do more, and then grow old wondering how things would have been if I had said yes.
Now that I have this responsibility, I am committed to doing as best as I can. I think it is a basic value – at least till the next GE, I have this job and responsibility that the voters have entrusted in me, and I must do it as best as I can.
5) How would you like the residents of your Macpherson ward to remember you as an individual and as their MP?
Someone who is sincere in wanting to listen to and help them, someone whom they can trust and be a friend with, and someone to make MacPherson a better home for them.
6) If we turn back the clock and you are given the opportunity to decide whether to enter politics or not, would you choose this route again? If you will, what do you think you’ll do differently?
The clock can never be turned back. All of us can only move forward. And moving forward, I am committed to doing as best as I can.
7) What do you think are some misconceptions people have about an MP’s duties and what he/she should do for them?
Let me share one example. At MPS, I sometimes have to explain to residents that as an MP, I cannot cause the decisions to be in their favor. The government departments have to decide in all fairness based on national policies, the broad national interest and merits of the case.
In particular, MPs cannot write to the judicial branch to overturn adverse court judgements against particular residents. However, I am my residents’ advocate and can put up the best case for them, explain their special circumstances to the authorities, and plead on their behalf to be considered as a special case.
Grace says: It was my first time walking around a neighborhood with an MP and I got to witness first-hand how much the MacPherson residents liked Tin Pei Ling.
My friend, Chris, described her as a “down-to-earth” person while I felt she’s almost like a friend as we’re about the same age and she does not have any airs about her.
For all that’s been said about her, I can only say that you need to get to know a person first and walk a mile in her shoes, only then should you begin forming an opinion about her. I think she’s doing a great job in MacPherson and I respect how she’s holding her head high in spite of everything that has happened. From her, I’ve learnt about fortitude.
Come back again soon! I’ll be sharing about another lunch with MP Tin Pei Ling at a cafe she highly recommends.