When MPs let their hair down

The Straits Times | Dec 23, 1995
By: Chiang Yin Pheng

Some sing, some paint, while others collect fountain pens and antique maps. Chiang Yin Pheng discovers another side to the busy lives of Members of Parliament.

SPEAKER of the House Tan Soo Khoon does a mean version of Elvis Presley's It's Now Or Never, standing with his feet apart and an electric guitar strapped across his chest.

Jalan Besar GRC's Choo Wee Khiang and Hong Kah GRC's John Chen also sing, and have stretched their vocal chords at fund-raising or karaoke sessions.

Another Jalan Besar GRC MP, Mr Peh Chin Hua, does Chinese ink painting. His art pieces have been presented to well-wishers who donated to his community centre's building fund.

Speak to MPs and you will uncover anything from bathroom singers to collectors of items ranging from old maps to paintings.

MPs say their hobbies help them unwind and allow their worries over work to fly out the window, even if only for a short while.

Speaker Mr Tan, who is a Bedok GRC MP, says of his guitar-playing: "For a couple of hours, I can just forget about everything else. It is a form of escapism for me."

And escape he does, during jam sessions he has with half a dozen former schoolmates from Anglo-Chinese School every two or three months.

He laughs when asked if the band, which includes a lawyer, an accounting firm partner and a banker, would ever give public performances. They just make music for fun, he says.

Mr Tan owns four acoustic guitars and an electric one, collected over the years.

Mr Choo, another musically-inclined MP, says he has loved singing since his schooldays. He feels at ease performing because he is not a professional singer and people do not expect him to sing that well.

Still, ask him what he thinks is the worst thing that can happen when he takes to the stage, and he will say: "It is quite malu to start off a song on the wrong key!"

Mr Peh specialises in the bougainvillea flower that he admires for its range of hues.

Mr Peh, who also does Chinese calligraphy, took up painting in secondary school. After he left school, he put aside his brushes.

When he became an MP and had to raise $700,000 in funds for the Geylang West community centre, grassroots leaders suggested he give his paintings, instead of the conventional plaques, to people who had donated $5,000 or more.

Ever the perfectionist, he adds: "The problem was, I had not painted for a long time. For one year, I spent my free time brushing up my skills. I threw away about 100 paintings before I felt my work was good enough to give away."

Among MPs who are collectors is Kampong Glam GRC's Loh Meng See, who draws pleasure from his fountain pens.

Rather than keeping them in a display case, he finds delight in using them in turn. He confesses that entries in his diary are in inks of different colours.

Bukit Batok's Ong Chit Chung's hobby, collecting old maps and prints, betrays his interest and training as a historian. Over 10 maps and prints of old Singapore and Southeast Asia hang on the walls of his office and home.

He does not spend very much time on his hobby, although his pocket lightens considerably each time he makes a trip to Antiques of the Orient, a shop in Tanglin Shopping Centre which specialises in maps and prints. Each print or map can cost between $50 and several hundred dollars.

Good maps surface occasionally, and if Singaporeans do not snap them up, foreigners will.

"If somebody else buys it, we are the poorer for it in terms of our historical heritage. These maps should remain within the country," he declares.

He also collects old navigational sea charts, which show where coral reefs and rocks lie.