The New Age Parents had the great honour of conducting a face-to-face interview with Mr Baey Yam Keng, Member of Parliament from Tanjong Pagar GRC (As of 2011, Mr Baey is the Member of Parliment for Tampines GRC). Read our exclusive interview with Mr Baey and how he shares thoughts and insights in depth on being an unconventional MP, marriage and parenthood.
1) Tell us more about what is currently in the pipeline for you. What’s a typical day routine for a MP like yourself?
Mr Baey: I have a day job. During the weekends, there will typically be many community events, in different forms, be it constituency events or outside the constituency. For instance during Haji, I attended an event in the mosque whereby they introduced the Muslim practices, which was quite educational and I think it is quite a meaningful event for different races to be exposed to the Malay and the Muslim culture.
Elaine: How’s family life for you since your are so occupied with the community?
Of course compared to others, a lot less time is available for my family but I have to manage it. Besides the ad-hoc events on weekends, regularly I visit one block of residents every Tuesday evening and my Meet People Session is every Friday. On top of that, there will be monthly grassroots meetings, where I serve as their advisor. There will be two or three such meetings a month. When I am not involved with work or my MP duties, I’ll be home with my family for whatever time I have. So I do have very little time to myself. That’s the life of most MPs, I suppose.
2) We have read your profile and realized you are very involved in the creative side. After having had experience to spur creative industries, what made you to decide to make the step into exploring politics as your career?
I find this a very meaningful task where I have the opportunity to make my contribution in other ways to help the poor and needy have a better life. Also being a younger person with my exposure in the arts, I do have different perspectives and that’s where I can contribute in parliament debate as well. I am also heartened by the fact that the party wants to bring in different people on board so that there is a diversity of views in parliament.
3) Talking about debates, as one of the younger MPs in Parliament with overseas scholastic achievements and a more vocal view on homosexuality, do you feel that you represent the ideology of the young generation of Singaporeans? How has foreign culture influenced you?
Mr Baey: Yes, I am quite open-minded but of course, for a country, for the larger interest of the population at large, we need to promote family values (settling down, marrying and having children) because that is how the mankind can continue. So I think that is an important value that we should hold on to, but at the same time, we must be aware that there are some people who might have different preferences. I do know a number of people from the homosexual community, whether man or woman,. To me, they are just normal people.
I don’t think it has anything to do with my overseas education. I have known them since school days and we only subsequently realize that they have different preferences, but they are no different from us.
Besides being in the arts or more creative, there are people holding normal professions such as engineers, civil servants. Most of them do not dress or talk differently, so I feel it’s a bit of a pity or unfair to them when they are being discriminated, because it is just like we should embrace different races or religions. Homosexuals do not affect anyone so I felt like I should speak up for that to present another perspective.
There were remarks from one forum that as a MP, I should represent the mainstream majority view, and this is definitely not one. However, I beg to differ on this. Does it mean that everyone of us should speak in the same way taking the same position? In that case, it will be a one-sided debate in Parliament, which I feel is not what people want.
4) With reference to the People’s Action Party, you mentioned about your childhood. What do you miss the most about it? How has parenting changed since those days? What’s your personal style of parenting?
I think my parents are more old-school. I came from a traditional family whereby mum is a homemaker whereby the household is well taken care of which was a very good support for both my father, my two brothers and me. They have instilled good values in us, with whatever resources they had.
Today of course, I think the style of parenting is quite different. Maybe I am also influenced by my parents. I prefer my children to have some discipline, some routine in life, but of course we give them the space, the freedom, the flexibility to pursue what they want in life. However, I think we should still insist on certain things such as their bedtimes, certain manners at the table, how they greet the elders, brushing teeth before bed, washing their hands before dinner. These are small things, but I feel that it’s important that they have this sense of responsibility and duty. They shouldn’t be easily compromised. Sometimes, they feel that they can take it easy.
I think the mindset is important as we persevere and strive for what we want in life, this is a value, a philosophy that we need to have and this is manifested in the little things in life. My wife is more flexible but we always try to come to a middle ground when we do not see eye to eye on our parenting style.
5) You also mentioned about the culture of multilingualism in your family when you were young. Bilingualism is something that Singaporeans have grown accustomed to and has recently become a hot topic to discuss about again after MM Lee expressed his views on this. What do you think is the best way for the current generation of children to master both languages effectively?
I think the mastery of language is always a big plus, so if you are able to master 2, 3, 4 or 5, the more the better because that exposes each person to different cultures and different ways of thinking and there’s economic value as well. For Singapore, I think because of our beginnings, the way society is structured, it is natural or reasonable to have English as our first language because there’s how all the races can communicate.
It’s a mutual language, so I think that is something that we accept as a must. Do we place more emphasis on English or the mother language of various races? Should we teach Chinese in school or speak only English? I think for Chinese, it’s natural that we need to study both English and Chinese languages. There’s a recent debate about the way of teaching Chinese.
They learn how to read and write Chinese through “ting xie” and “mo xie” and it’s quite overwhelming for them. Their parents do not speak to them in Chinese and maybe their grandparents speak to them in dialect. Once they find there’s no real use for it, suddenly it becomes learning and memorizing for the sake of passing the test.
It’s a very strong point that you must first cultivate the interest for the language, whether through theatre or games. I do agree the approach of teaching needs to change, but I think more importantly, there needs to be an environment to use that language.
6) As parents with a passion for theatre, do you and your wife hope to see your children making their foray into the artistic profession in future?
I will let nature take its own course. Ultimately I just hope that they will do something good and useful, and being good people and happy doing what they are doing. I think that is most important. As parents, we just need to provide them the platform and opportunities. If they express their interest in doing something, we will encourage them.
7) Many parents are choosing private kindergartens over PCF (PAP Community Foundation), what are your views on this?
I think we need to understand why PCF was set up. It caters mostly to the lower income because of the fee structure. In Queenstown, there are areas that are lower income, so they have access to a lower fee and also, subsidies to help them, eg. some of them only has to pay $10 a month for their kindergarten fee. It is there to serve a community.
Of course I am glad if people do not need to make use of the subsidized fees. If parents are able to afford the higher fees in private kindergartens, it is good. Our society has become more affluent and parents are more able and willing to spend on their kids and it’s also an industry to be developed since the childcare and kindergarten industry is doing well.
In summary, it’s there to serve a certain need, it’s good to have competition, and society is able to have a range of choices.
8) What’s your personal advice for young fathers with children right now?
The love and care you provide and show for the child is different between a man and woman. However, I think we can be more involved in the upbringing of a child, in spending time, may not be as much time; but in teaching certain values in life to a child, e.g being strong, hardworking, those qualities you associate with the male gender.
Fathers of my father’s generation are very quiet, their job is to be the breadwinner; but I think we can do more than that. I don’t believe in being friends with the child e.g calling me by the first name, I don’t think it’s right, we are still an Asian society, I think there still should be respect for elders.
I think we can still be an elder, but yet be someone the child feels comfortable speaking to and that should continue in the life of the child.
We thank you Mr Baey for granting us this interview despite his busy schedule. We, at The New Age Parents, wish him a Happy Father’s Day.
This interview was first published in June 2010.
Photos by Colorful Photography