For Littlespeck readers
For the past month this website was inactive because my health took a sudden turn for the worse. Apologies!
It has now improved, but the lingering effect of weakening health and ageing - after living as one of the world's longest
heart transplant survivors with renal failure - has compelled me to stop writing
for The Star newspaper after nearly 28
It was a painful decision. But I am already 74 and am still undergoing regular medical
For a bit longer health-permitting I will continue writing
in Littlespeck but irregularly.
The following is a slightly expanded version of an interview with,
and written by The Star’s Soo Ewe Jin: -
pen in The Star
The Star, May 10,
A generation of Malaysians and readers around the world
have grown up with Seah Chiang Nee’s columns on Singapore. Illness, however,
has forced him to ease up and he has decided to stop being a columnist in The
In this farewell interview with Soo Ewe Jin, Seah gives
his readers an insight into his illustrious career as a journalist.
FOR the past 28 years, readers of this newspaper have
been given a weekly analysis of the goings-on in Singapore through the column
of veteran journalist Seah Chiang Nee, Insight Down South.
Seah began his career in 1960 as a Reuters correspondent based in Singapore. During that 10-year
stint, he was in (then south) Vietnam for 40 months to cover the war.
He joined the Singapore Herald in 1970, as Malaysia
bureau chief and later as news editor, before it was forced to close after a
run-in with the Singapore Government.
From 1972 to 1973, he worked for The Asian, the world’s
first regional weekly newspaper, based in Bangkok, to cover Thailand and
Indochina – Vietnam , Laos and Cambodia.
He then moved on to be news editor of the Hong Kong
Standard before returning to Singapore in 1974 to serve as foreign editor with
The Straits Times.
From 1982 to 1985, he served as editor of the Singapore
Monitor. And in 1986, he started writing for The Star.
Seah also became the first South-East Asian to undergo a
heart transplant at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital back in 1985.
And he already belongs to that rare club of those who
have lived for more than 20 years as a heart transplant patient.
Because of age and health reasons, Seah will no longer be
writing his column. In an email interview, he reflects on this journey with The
Question: Can you
share with us your thoughts about being a columnist in The Star?
With a heavy heart, I have decided to end my column in
this newspaper. I am grateful to The Star for the writing platform it has
provided me all these years, and you readers for making it possible.
Nearly a generation of Malaysians who were interested in
Singapore trends – including current affairs, politics, business, education,
and healthcare – has grown up getting their information here.
When I began writing, very few Singaporeans knew about
This soon changed with the arrival of the Internet. The
reason: within hours of The Star Online appearing, many social websites had
reproduced the article, crediting The Star but often rewritten.
I launched my website, Littlespeck, on my articles in The
Star to ensure people get the original version.
Question: Can you
share with us some of the key moments, which article generated the most
response, and also whether you had any trouble writing about your own country
The most significant story was the first loss of a group
representation constituency in 2011, the five-member Aljunied that could open
the door to further losses in future elections. That changed the face of
politics in Singapore.
The second was the forthcoming Singapore-Malaysia
high-speed train that would only take 90 minutes to commute between Singapore
This would change the lives of many Singaporeans and
Malaysians in terms of jobs, businesses, education and shopping.
The third was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s crackdown
on the Internet which has significantly reduced the amount of anti-government
Crackdowns have have been less severe during the regimes
of Goh Chok Tong and now Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong than Lee Kuan Yew.
Several times I provoked angry retorts from the
authorities, once when I quoted Devan Nair, for years Lee Kuan Yew’s comrade,
on why he was moved from the National Trades Union Congress to be Singapore’s
President in 1981 and why he resigned in 1985. Lee told Parliament it was to
get treatment for alcoholism.
Another was when I once wrote that the government had
begun practising pork barrel politics during an election.
This provoked a strong denial from the Singapore High
Several days later as the nine-day election campaign
period started, the pro-government main newspaper published a large front-page
photograph showing a long queue outside a POSB bank of people cashing out their
cash, given for the first time.
Until then the government had dished out top-ups to their
Central Provident Fund or reductions to conservancy charges.
The way to reduce official complaints is to make sure you
get the facts right. Use refined language, with no exaggeration. Accuracy,
When it does well, give it credit; if it does badly in
the eyes of most people, say so.
Question: As an
old-school newsman, what do you see as the future of journalism, with the
advent of social media when everyone thinks he can be a citizen journalist?
Frankly, I am not a techie. When something goes terrible
wrong, I still scratch my head and get a friend to help.
The World Wide Web is the wave of the future, but it will
take a very, very long time to completely take over from print. The reason is a
general news reading habit.
You take the paper to bed or the toilet. Housewives and
many seniors are still not familiar with online news.
Of course, managing a news website objectively and with
balanced reporting has its benefit, though it
has nothing to do with money.
The knowledge that I can put up a website in this
northeastern part of tiny Singapore that can be read anywhere in the world –
from Alaska to Zambia – 24 hours a day, every day is reward enough.
with us your health journey, especially your record as being the longest
surviving heart patient in the region.
Last Nov 12, I was reminded by my wife Pat that it was 28
years ago I had a heart transplant. Since then, I have become one of the
longest surviving heart transplant survivors in the world.
When my heart went bad, it affected several organs –
eyesight, hearing and of course, the kidneys. Although the new heart gave me an
extended life, it did not change the other organs.
On the contrary, the anti-rejection drugs had caused the
kidneys to worsen despite the doctor’s efforts to slow down the deterioration.
Two and a half years ago, they collapsed and I began my
peritoneal dialysis four times a day at home through a rubber tube through the
stomach. Each session lasts about 30 to 40 minutes.
Question: Is there
anything you want to say to your readers as you say goodbye to your column?
My renal failure also causes anaemia, a shortage of red
blood cells and their oxygen-carrying capacity which leads to fatigue,
weakness, dizziness and drowsiness, all of which has impacted my writing
Prescribed treatment: I have to self-inject a hormone called
Erythropoietin once a week.
(Additional information for Singapore friends: During the
past month, I suffered from a loss of appetite, a sharp drop in weight (by 7.1 kg
in 20 days) and a decline in blood pressure. I have since recovered partially.)
As a result of my failing health, I have to bid goodbye
to my column’s readers in Malaysia rather than provide below par work.
Thank you all for your support. I wish all of you and
Malaysia the best of luck and happiness.
By Seah Chiang Nee