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Oct 19, 2019

The real and reel of Edmund Chen

"To HOUGANG with LOVE ... from THE CHENS'

I am surprised to bounce on this article by Lynn Lee in The Straits Times on 3 June 2005 to share on this blog.

No, that's not the name of a new sitcom starring Edmund Chen.  This is for real.  Television actor Edmund Chen, younger brother Eric and sister Loretta, are all active grassroots volunteers in Hougang.  They tell insight how it became a family affair.

"Edmund's presence adds spice to grassroots activities.  In fact, more people want to take pictures with him than with me!"

- Mr Eric Low, grassroots adviser and People's Action Party candidate to Hougang

Growing up, Edmund Chen and his siblings Eric and Loretta used to see their father rise early on weekends to accompany then-Queenstown MP Jek Yeun Thong on his rounds.

Other nights, their father Mr Tan Chiew Hock, 69 in 2005, would return home late from the beauty contests and fund-raising dinners he helped organise for residents.

Mr Tan is conversant in English, Mandarin, Malay, Hokkien and Teochew, and was an active grassroots volunteer for many years.

In 2005, thirty years later, it's the Chen children who are active in grassroots organisations in Hougang, helping the grassroots adviser and People's Action Party candidate Eric Low.

Edmund Chen, 43, better known as Chen Zhicai (陈之财)  to fans of Mediacorp Chinese drama serials, is a member of the Hougang Citizens' Consultative Committee (CCC).

Younger brother, Eric, 40, runs an events management company, and is the PAP branch secretary for Hougang.

The "baby" of the family, Loretta, 29, is a Young PAP member and research fellow with the National University of Singapore who also dabbles in theatre and is creative director of her own events management firm.

Loretta Chen, sister of Edmund Chen

How did they get involved in grassroots work?

It all started, they say, when Eric met Eric.

Mr Eric Chen;s firm, VM&SD, was in charge of organising the event to launch the Christmas celebrations along Orchard Road.

The night before the lights went on, the company was told that the decorations needed some jazzing up.

Instead of just barking out orders, Mr Low rolled up his sleeves and pitched in to help the crew.

Recalls Mr Chen: "He stayed till 3 or 4am helping us.  I was so impressed with him, and that was what began and sealed our friendship."

Three years later, Mr Chen joined the Young PAP branch at Clementi.  Mr Low was active in the CCC there.

When Mr Low was despatched to Hougang as the second adviser to its grassroots bodies in 1999, Mr Chen followed.

By then, the friendship had grown to become a family affairs.  Mr Chen's older brother, Edmund, became friends with Mr Low, and their family members all got to know one another.

When Mr Low, whom Edmund affectionately refers to as lau hia or older brother in Teochew, asked him to join the CCC last year, he did not hesitate.

Says Edmund: "I think that I've been quite lucky and blessed.  So I believe in giving back to society.  And Eric is a dear friend so why not help him."

The Chen brothers then roped in younger sister Loretta, who was looking for community work to get involved in, after returning from studies in the United States.

After her first Meet-the-People's session in January, she knew she had found a worthy cause to be active in.

Referring to the constituents who came to see Mr Low for help, she says: "Seeing those hardship cases made me feel privileged to have what I have.  Some of them don't know that there are policies in place to help them, so that's where I can help explain it to them.

It has given me an insight into another slice of life that I wouldn't otherwise know about."

For these siblings, volunteer work goes hand-in-hand with cementing family bonds.

Mr Eric Chen explains: "In the past, we never met as often, because both Edmund and myself were busy and Loretta was studying overseas.  Now, we have a common platform to do what we enjoy."

The Chens say they like being in Hougang, a laid back Teochew-speaking area.  Although none lives there now, they have fond memories of eating at hawker stalls there in their childhood days, after visiting their grandmother on weekends at her Serangoon Garden home.

Nostalgia aside, there is no doubt they are all active in Hougang also because of a certain loyalty to Mr Low.

Mr Chen describes him as a "righteous, firm and fair man with a quirky sense of humour".

Mr Eric Chen adds that Mr Low has "done a lot for Hougang", citing as examples a programme to provide free medical checkups for the elderly, and a weekly programme to serve free breakfast of kaya toast and boiled eggs for senior citizens.

On his part, Mr Low knows he is fortunate in having the Chens help out in Hougang.

For example, Edmund lends star appeal to community events like Teochew Opera night.

The rosy-cheeked father of two aged five and 14, sits in regularly when Mr Low meets residents.  He has also participated in community events to plant trees and hand out bursaries to bright Hougang students.

"Seeing me on television makes people feet like they already know me.  So it's easier to connect with them because they warm up to me quite easily.

"It's like going back to the kampung," he says.

As for Mr Low, he is quick to stress that having Edmund on the CCC is not a ploy to gain political advantage.

"I do not make use of Edmund's presence to swell the ground.  Neither do I feel small around him, and the rest of my 250 or so grassroots leaders for their help.  All of them help enhance the work I do."

He adds that his close-knit community of helpers have been key, for example, in raising Hougang Community Club's profile and qualify of activities offered.

Two years ago, it was ranked close to the bottom in a nation-wide survey of community clubs.  Now, it has climbed to eighth spot out of 75 CCs.

The Chens now want to use their different strengths, such as Edmund's prowess in art and acting, Eric's expertise in technical work and logistics, and Loretta's flair for directing and producing to organise different activities, like fund-raising and community-bonding events, for Hougang residents.

Edmund Chen the artist

They've already had one successful collaboration.  Last November, they staged a musical with a cast of 30 at the launch of the International Crime Prevention Conference.

Mr Low is looking forward to more contributions from the Chens.  He acknowledges: "Edmund's presence adds space to grassroots activities.  In fact, more people want to take pictures with him than with me!"

Real and Reel Roles of Edmund Chen

I am not an actor or a celebrity on TV, and I was not acting with Edmund and Xiang Yun in these photos on the blog.  We are friends on Facebook for many years, but met as real persons for the first time here .
We are like-minded friends and heritage fans as volunteers at the Singapore Memory Project.



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