79-year-old Mdm Tan Nai Keow is savoring the happiest period of her life now. Her golden years are free of worry as her children have grown up, allowing her to do what she loves. Each morning, she is a qigong instructor, leading 50 Yuhua residents at a park near her residence at Jurong East Street 21. She firmly believes in the value of exercise for older folks, as it can strengthen them and even enable them to recover from a fall more easily.
She started off learning qigong at the Yuhua Community Club. After 10 years of practising qigong, she took a test in order to quality to be a qigong instructor. Some of her friends took the test too. The newly qualified instructors branched out to start their own qigong group in different parts of the constituency. Mdm Tan did not have to make any special effort to get faithful followers for her group.
“Just turn on the music, and people will start coming,” she says.
She is so committed to leading the group that she has become an active grassroots volunteer so that her qigong group can get facilities such as a locker near the park for the CD player for qigong music.
Her charisma as a leader is obvious. During the interview outside the RC at Block 214, residents came by to ask her to join them for dinner. She had invited them to come by to be interviewed for the project at the RC, and she spoke in Teochew, Cantonese, Mandarin and Malay to the residents with an easy charm, oozing concern from the smile in her eyes.
Born in China in 1933, Mdm Tan came to Singapore when she was 5 years old, and stayed in a rented room in a two-storey building in Chinatown. She remembers that there were floods in Chinatown, near to where OG is now situated. Then her family moved to the Jalan Besar area, near the New World, which was once a popular entertainment hub. She went to Zhonghua Girls’ High School (Zhonghua Nuzhong), which, strangely, was a primary school. She studied there for 8 years. It was a Chinese medium school in the Tekka area. Sadly, it is no longer in operation.
During the Second World War, Mdm Tan was about 9 years old. To avoid the bombs, her family rented an attap hut at the Black Bridge area, near the Tua Pek Kong temple. There, they had to dig a bomb shelter in the ground. Peace returned when she was 12-13 years old.
She got married at the age of 20. Her husband rented a flat from the government in Queenstown. They lived there for 27 years, and she gave birth to two sons and 3 daughters. The most difficult period in her life occurred when her children were small. She had to look after her many young children, and even though her mother-in-law helped her, it was still tough. From 1997 to 1985, she worked as a hawker’s assistant to help contribute to the family’s finances.
In 1984, she moved to Jurong East Street 21 because her flat in Queenstown had to be pulled down to build the Queenstown MRT station. She obtained a compensation of $100 to pay for transport costs. The family paid $77,000 for the new five-room flat on the 24th floor. None of her neighbours moved to her block as different families had relocated to different places. As only four families occupied the 24th floor, she got to know the new neighbors naturally.
In 2006, she converted to Christianity. It happened when her husband was sick. Her children had all become Christians, and they asked their Pastor to pray for her husband. When he got better after the prayer, she decided to become a Christian.
Now that the tough times are over, Mdm Tan enjoys being a grandmother to her 9 grandchildren. She lives with her husband and one daughter in her flat. As her 97-year-old mother is still alive and well, let us hope that Mdm Tan will also enjoy this happiest period in her life for many more years.