By Solomon Lim
In the video, the youthful-looking senior grins at the camera and starts… with a stammer.
“Hello, I’m Uncle Ch…,” he says, before laughingly asking the director for a restart.
But in real life, Chris Ng, or Uncle Chris, as he calls himself, is a chatty, cheerful sixty-something whose mile-a-minute talking speed will entertain and educate you at the same time.
The 67-year-old has spent most of his career as a tour guide, going overseas on driving holidays over to Malaysia and Thailand and as far afield as Australia, New Zealand and even Morocco.
He did it for 20 years after a mid-career switch from magazine publishing. But his first love was always being a tour guide, he says.
“In 1976, right out of National Service, I entered the tour industry… and now it looks like I’m back in the same industry I started in!”
But now, with Covid putting a stop to overseas travel, he has reinvented himself as a local walking tour guide.
Says Uncle Chris: “Many of us Singaporeans like to think that we know about Singapore. We say things like ‘come on, I’m born here, what is there that I don’t know of?’ But when they actually go on the tours, they realise that there’s a lot about Singapore they don’t know!”
For example, he says, did you know that there is a Japanese Cemetery Park in Singapore, for the Japanese community that was here long before the occupation in World War II?
Talking to Uncle Chris, his passion for sharing about Singapore’s heritage is obvious.
Go on any walking tour, he promises, with any tour guide, to any part of Singapore, from Chinatown in the south to Nee Soon Village up north, and it would be an eye-opener.
Tours from Geylang to Bukit Brown
From opening eyes to raising eyebrows, Uncle Chris even has a red-light district tour.
“One of my most popular tours is the Geylang red-light district walking tour,” he says. “This is a very sensitive itinerary so I often plan it very carefully, especially with what I’m going to say.”
For those who get squeamish, he advises them to go on his Keong Saik tour, which takes a more academic approach to the sex industry, he explains, choosing his words carefully.
The Geylang tour is a more firsthand look at the seedier side of Singapore, he adds, which might make some people uncomfortable, though the majority are more curious than judgemental.
“I had no idea that people would be so curious about it. And I think it is the curiosity in everybody that drives these tours.”
But of course it’s not just about Geylang and Keong Saik, Uncle Chris also takes people on nature and historical walking tours, such as through Bukit Brown Cemetery or at the Sembawang black-and-white colonial houses.
First in a video series
And his tours are popular, so popular in fact that videos of him have appeared on TikTok, which was how Raynard Ong, 22, decided that the indomitable senior would be a great profile for a video series by Everyday Elderly, the educational arm of Hey, You Got Mail! (HYGM).
The ground-up non-profit was set up in 2020 to help seniors battle isolation by sending them greeting cards.
This year, as part of its expansion plans, HYGM is extending its efforts beyond greeting cards into empowering youths to be a positive impact by reconnecting with seniors, says Everyday Elderly co-head Max Chua, 22.
“Our vision and mission at Everyday Elderly is to inspire youths to be change-makers by raising awareness on social isolation among the elderly in Singapore, and to bridge the generational gap between youths and the elderly by creating content that educates and engages,” he tells The Pride.
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Adds Raynard, who is HYGM’s director of publicity and marketing: “Uncle Chris is very well spoken. He really does his research and he knows what he’s talking about. And he brings his personal experiences and anecdotes into his tours.”
Spending time with Uncle Chris changed the 22-year-old’s mind about seniors as well.
He says: “I always got the impression that most seniors like to take it easy but Uncle Chris is really passionate about his work and the history of Singapore.”
Not only that, his energy levels are impressive, laughs Raynard.
“During the tours, he walks super fast! He’s always in front of everyone and he talks a lot but he doesn’t seem tired at all! I had to run ahead to take shots of him and I was exhausted from keeping up!”
Raynard, who shot, directed and interviewed Uncle Chris for the video (another teammate handled the second camera as well as video editing), says that he is very open to questions and willing to share his experiences.
He adds that Everyday Elderly would continue to post one such video story a month on its social media.
“We have two more profiles in the pipeline but we’re always open to more stories! You can always send us a DM on our Instagram or drop us an email at [email protected].”
It is important to keep telling these stories, whether it is by young people like Max and Raynard from HYGM, or by seniors like Uncle Chris himself.
Says Uncle Chris: “There are some assumptions about seniors, and some of these assumptions are made by seniors ourselves! We should also not think that just because we are older, that we know everything.
“That’s not necessarily true because the world is changing all the time! Sometimes, it’s the younger people who might know more than us! So we should give each other a chance to speak up and to learn from each other.”
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He ends with a smile: “Another thing, we tend to think that as we get older, we should always take things slow. But for seniors, it’s most important to keep moving – do your exercises, go for a walk!”