In a wide-ranging interview with the Straits Times’ Lunch with Sumiko column, Nee Soon GRC MP Er. Dr. Lee Bee Wah revealed previously unknown facets of her personal and constituency life.
In the article, Sumiko Tan described Dr Lee as friendly, and so frank that “what you see is what you get”.
1. Her pre-marriage agreement included “I won’t wear make-up”
Before she got married, Dr Lee made certain things clear to her husband-to-be. She will have to continue supporting her family in Malaysia and sending money home.
She needs her personal space because she has many friends and intends to keep them.
Don’t expect her to stay home to iron and cook.
And she doesn’t wear make-up.
“I cannot pretend to be somebody else, so I told him, ‘What you see is what you get. I don’t wear make-up one you know. So is this what you want or not?'”
2. Her family comes last for now
In the interview, Dr Lee declared that being an MP is the most important role in her life. When she was president of the high-profile STTA from 2008 to 2014, that was the No. 2 most important role in her life. Third came her work at IES (the Institution of Engineers Singapore). She uses the title Er, which stands for engineer, “to show support for the engineering fraternity”.
“Unfortunately, my family last, lah,” she laughs.
Her husband, Mr Soh Chee Hiang, 58, is an electrical engineer and manager at ST Engineering. They have a daughter, 26, who is a Chinese-language teacher, and a son, 24, who is studying finance in Melbourne.
Dr Lee went as far as to say that being an MP is the reason she checks her colon regularly.
“I have a responsibility to my residents, so I must go for regular check-ups even though I don’t like the preparation. The solution is very yucky. But so long as I am MP, I will do it diligently because I owe a duty to my residents.”
She once had colon cancer in 2004, but insists that she will stop the tests if she ever steps down. She feels that if the cancer comes back after that, it would be in her destiny.
3. She spends 50 hours a week in Nee Soon
Dr Lee revealed that after selling the company she built to an international firm, she now has time to spend about 50 hours a week at her ward.
She regards residents as “extended family members”. On most Sundays from 8am to 9.15am, she can be found at a coffee shop at Block 848 Khatib Central.
4. She came to Singapore with only RM30 in her pocket
Dr Lee was born in Malaysia, the eldest of eight children to parents who were rubber tappers. They lived in a rubber plantation and meals were sometimes just porridge with soya sauce and chilli. There was no electricity, and water was from a well.
She was offered a place to do science at the University of Malaya but she wanted to be an engineer.
The road from her home to school was made of gravel and pitted with potholes when it rained. “I thought, how to improve it? They told me that that is a civil engineer’s job.”
So she decided to do engineering at the then Nanyang Technological Institute, now Nanyang Technological University.
Her parents could only give her RM30 for the journey, but she came alone to Singapore anyway. She paid her way through school by giving tuition. In her second year, she also got a bursary.
(And the most important for Nee Soon residents…)
5. She wants to stand in the next GE
Dr Lee revealed that she actually considered being an NMP first. She was active in IES, which wanted to put her name up as a Nominated MP. She sought the advice of her university friend Inderjit Singh, then a PAP MP, ended up helping in his ward and was later asked by the party to stand for election.
She also told her interviewer that she wants to keep serving residents. She said, “99.9 per cent I am standing for the next GE.”