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New book to honour nine Hainanese who have contributed significantly to the society

Speech by Mr Lawrence Wong, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth at the Hainan Culture and Heritage Centre’s anniversary dinner cum book launch
27 September 2013
Dr Chau Sik Ting, President of the Hainan Culture and Heritage Research Centre
Mr Foo Qingyun, Chairman, Organising Committee; 
Board members of the Hainan Culture and Heritage Research Centre
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. I’m very happy to be here this evening to launch the new books on our Hainanese culture and our leaders, and also to celebrate the Heritage Research Centre’s anniversary dinner. This event is also personally meaningful to me because as you know I am a second generation Singaporean Hainanese and a proud member of the Hainanese community. Because we are one of the smaller dialect groups in Singapore, we tend to feel a sense of camaraderie with one another. As my father used to tell me, if you go to a Chicken Rice seller and speak to him in Hainanese, you will get more meat. I’m not going to speak to you in Hainanese tonight, although you are happy to give me better food. But I am still learning and I am still improving my Hainanese. So I’d keep to English and Mandarin. The Hainanese, I will reserve for later occasions. But I think this sense of kinship and bonding has always been an important part of the Hainanese community and long may that continue.
2. The Hainanese came to Singapore in larger numbers only around the 1850s, much later than the other dialect groups in Singapore. By the time our forefathers got here, all the other dialect groups had already established themselves, and were very well-entrenched in the various trades and crafts. So as all of you know the history by now. the Hainanese took up the remaining jobs in SIngapore, which were largely in the service industry. Many worked as cooks and domestic workers in British colonial homes. They became adept at cooking, and later many would start their own kopi-tiams and food stalls.
3. So if there is one thing which we can take pride in as Hainanese, is that we are the pioneers of Singapore’s food culture. Many of our iconic dishes like the Hainanese chicken rice, kopi and toast with eggs, and even the Singapore Sling were all invented by Hainanese. And today, modern incarnations of the kopitiam continue in successful chains like Ya Kun and Killiney Kopitiam. And Hainanese continue to helm many good cafes and restaurants all over Singapore, like our Kopitam chains, the Hans café chain and Shashik restaurant at Far East Shopping Centre.  
4. Another trait of the Hainanese community is the importance we accord to education. All Hainanese parents believe very strongly that a good education will pave the way for a better life, and so everyone seeks to train their children to be scholars. My background is no exception. My grandfather came from Hainan island to South-East Asia and together with my dad when he was a young boy when they were in Malaysia. And my grandfather came with pretty much nothing, with just a shirt on his back, worked from very little in Malaysia, but he made sure that my dad had a good education. And today, I think all of us appreciate the importance of education and knowledge. It is a value that is deeply instilled into the community. But I think we should also be grateful for the good schools and the fair and just system of meritocracy that we have in Singapore. This was what attracted my dad to move from Malaysia to Singapore as a young man. It is this same system meritocracy that has enabled me and so many Hainanese in Singapore to make progress in our lives and to pursue what we want to do. Indeed, though small as we may be as a community, we can be proud to have many prominent leaders across diverse fields in academia, business, medicine, law and government.
5. So tonight, we honour in this new book nine Hainanese who have contributed significantly to society:
i. Mr Mah Bow Tan, MP for Tampines GRC and former Min(MND)
ii. Mr Ngiam Tong Dow, Pro-Chancellor, NUS
iii. Prof Lim Chong Yah, Emeritus Professor of Economics, NTU
iv. Prof Cham Tao Soon, Chancellor, SIM
v. Justice Chao Hick Tin, Judge of Appeal
vi. Mrs Fang Ai Lian, Chairman, Great Eastern Holdings Limited
vii. Dr Han Cheng Fong, former CEO, Fraser & Neave
viii. The late Dr Chao Yoke San, Father of Justice Chao Hick Tin and Dr Chau Sik Ting
ix. And the late Mr Wu Teh Yao , former Acting Vice-Chancellor, Nanyang University (1976-1977)
I think we should give all of them a round of applause.
6. There are many more stories that we can write and I believe that this is a start of an endeavour which we can do to record the contributions of Hainanese in Singapore. And I hope that these stories
 will inspire the younger members of our community to work hard, to excel and distinguish themselves with their contributions to our nation.
7. These books celebrating Hainanese culture were made possible by Dr Chau and his team. So I would like to congratulate the team for all the good work that they have done and for putting together the research. Thank you very much.
8. I hope we will all as a community continue to do whatever we can, to preserve and strengthen our Hainanese tradition, culture and heritage.
9. So let me continue on, not in Hainanese but in Mandarin.
Last Updated: 06 November 2013

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