Yesterday evening, together with my colleagues from different depts of SMRT, we attended the 31st NTWU Annual Dinner 2012 at Orchids Country club. SM Wilson from PSR booked a table and gathered all of us at the same table. Our table was just two tables away from the VIP table. I could see Lim SS, Josephine Teo, Ong YK, Seng HT, Heng CH, etc seated there. Even our SMRT newly appointed CEO was there. It’s quite a rare occasion to see so many union leaders gathered together at a function.
We met at Tampines MRT station at about 5.30pm. We then boarded a bus from Tampines Interchange to Yishun MRT. By the time we arrived at Orchids Country Club, it was about 6.40pm. Around 7,00pm, we settled down at our table number: 16. This is the first time most of us ever been to Orchids Country Club since we don’t play golf. There were about 106 tabes in the huge ballroom. Indeed, it’s such a beautiful place!
Our table comprised different staff from many depts of SMRT. I was the only Train Officer with the others from station, maintenance and circle line. SM Wilson of PSR station was the leader of our table. This is not a company dinner. It is a union dinner representing all the transport workers in Singapore. As such, we have SMRT and even SBS Transit workers at the dinner.
Mr Lim SS went to the stage to give an off the cuff speech. He spoke in English and Mandarin. Basically, he expanded on the theme of “衣食住行” – roughly translated to mean the basic necessities in life such as clothing, food, housing and transport. His short speech is about “imagination.” According to Union Chief Lim SS, imagine if there is no clothing, we would now be naked. Imagine if there is no food, we would be starving here tonight. Imagine if there are no HDB flats, we would be homeless when we go back. The most important of all is still basic transport. Imagine if there is no public transport, our life would be miserable even though we have the basics in life. From there, he went on to thank all of us working in the transport industry making it possible for the public to travel to work, home and recreational activities.
Secretary-general of NTUC and minister without portfolio Lim SS then went on urging all of us to work harder. He says that the public expectations are getting higher and “higherer,” so we must work extra harder to fulfil these “higherer” customer expectations. He thanked brother Ong YK’s services who is leaving for the private sector soon. He made an announcement that he has nominated brother Desmond Choo and another old timer unionist to succeed brother Ong YK. The union members will have to choose between them.
Next to speak is brother Ong YK himself. He spoke in Malay, Chinese and English. He formerly announced his intention to leave the union movement for the private sector. He expressed his appreciation to some of the older union leaders who have guided him. He listed all the names of union officers to thank them for assisting and guiding him. There remains some minor issues that need to be resolved before his final departure on 25/11/12. Could he be referring to the unresolved bus drivers’ salary increase with an extra working day? He felt sad leaving the union movement.
Here in NTWU – National Transport Workers’ Union, everyone is addressed as either brother or sister. Even minister Lim SS is addressed as “brother” Lim SS! It’s rather odd, isn’t it? But it is the culture of the union movement here to address each other as brothers or sisters such as brother Ong YK or brother Desmond Choo etc. I remember it used to be “comrade.” Now it’s brother instead. “Comrade” is outdated!
I would like to say that I have never attended any union dinner function before. This is the first time I was invited by SM Wilson to attend a major union function. There is free flow of beer, music entertainment by professional artistes, cosy atmosphere and lots of lucky prizes such as computer tablets, notebooks, giant LCD TV, NTUC Vouchers etc to be won. Definitely worth more than the $20 each of us paid for the dinner.
The food was mediocre except for the steamed grouper fish. But the compere for the night, namely Wayne Chua was fantastic. He is perfectly bi-lingual and very professional with the handling of the evening’s programmes. He was irresistibly adorable; able to generate a lively atmosphere with lots of jokes, encouragements and games to create a boisterous environment. For example when few of the staff went on stage to play a simple game, they were asked from which company? SMRT or SBS? He then instigated us to support our staff member by shouting and cheering loudly! When SMRT staff was mentioned, we shouted in support. Same with SBS and so on!
There were two performing couples to entertain us. They were professionals doing comical magic shows, singing and performing some tricks on stage. There was a segment put up all the EXCO members of NTWU. It started with a Chinese man dressed in shorts singing in nostalgic Chinese, followed by a Malay lady mimicking to a typically energetic Indian Bollywood dance item. Few Malay EXCO members also sang a Malay song after the Indian dance item by that Malay lady dressed in sari. True reflection of our multi-ethnic cultural identity!
Lastly, all of them joined in to sing an English song, “Beautiful Sunday”. According to emcee Wayne Chua the item put up EXCO members clocking more than 72 hours was dedicated to brother Ong YK who is leaving us soon. The latter was so moved that he suddenly hopped on to the stage to sing with them the English song – “What a Beautiful Sunday” on a Friday night! Lol!
Whilst the activites were going on at the stage, we were also enjoying our food and free flow of beer. CSO Anthony of Aljunied was so pleased with his role of topping up our beer glasses whenever we finished. He was clearly in high spirit mood. He kept asking us to bottoms up and cheering us to drink more beer in between the dishes.
Our new SMRT CEO who just joined us at the beginning of the month was seen busy moving from table to table toasting with staff. Brothers Desmond Choo and Ong YK also came later to toast with us. They were mingling amongst the workers asking all of us to enjoy ourselves. Many group photos were taken together with those union leaders.
Out of all these merry making and entertainment, suddenly we heard different accent coming behind us from our next table. A group of SBS bus drivers mostly Chinese ladies were busy snapping group photos with their mobile phones. I also snapped a few of them. From their spoken Mandarin, it’s quite obvious they were PRCs. They were so happy and speaking loudly amongst themselves at the table. Later when I proceeded to the toilet, I noticed another few tables of PRC bus drivers. They could easily be identified by their unique spoken Mandarin.
The food was just nice but the beer was plentiful. When another jug of beer was offered to our table by the waiter, we declined. We’d had enough already. All of a sudden, we realised that it’s about 10.30pm. It’s time to go back. The NTUC Comfort bus was waiting to send us to Yishun MRT bus interchange.
From Orchids Country Club, in the bus, the sweetest melodious voice of our local Chinese lady charmed us. She was singing loudly “One night in Beijing!” Whenever we heard the English sentence ‘One night in Beijing’, we all sang along with her. The rest of the song was in Mandarin. Maybe, it’s due to the fact that she was a local Chinese lady that we took an immediate liking to her. We cheered her on and together inside the bus, we kept singing “One night in Beijing”with her over and over again until we reached Yishun Bus Interchange. Some of us just sighed when we reached the bus interchange. We then clamoured for her to take a photo and asking where she came from. She told us that she worked in Bishan depot at ESA dept.
I reminded them that it’s already 11.30pm. If we didn’t go catch our bus number: 39 back to Pasir Ris, we may have to end up taking a taxi. Reluctantly, we made our way to Yishun Bus Interchange to board bus number: 39 back to Pasir Ris. Chris, Wilson, Bobby, Simmon and myself live in Pasir Ris. We went back together sleeping all the way in the bus to Pasir Ris. It’s the best dinner party I ever attended. It’s the fun, atmosphere, the camaraderie of meeting old friends that made it an unforgettable event! Thank you for the invitation. Hopefully, SM Wilson will extend the invitation to me again next year.