TL;DR – Our friends may know us better than we know ourselves.
We recently caught up with 62-year-old Ms Shyma, Deputy General Secretary of the Amalgamated Union of Public Employees (AUPE). She considers herself a long-time friend of Madam Halimah, given how they have known each other for three decades.
A little background about her: She has been a union leader since 1979 and has worked closely with Madam Halimah in the NTUC Women’s Committee. She also helps out at Madam Halimah’s ward in Marsiling.
The two female leaders seem to have similar dispositions. Ms Shyma is soft-spoken, approachable, smiley and down-to-earth. Speaking to her reminds us of Madam Halimah.
In an exclusive sit-down session with Ms Shyma, we asked her almost everything we wanted to know about Madam Halimah.
We wanted to hear how the Presidential Candidate is like in the eyes of her long-time pal!
1. Candid, natural and sincere
“She is a candid person. It’s really a pleasure to work with her because she’s natural and sincere. Sometimes you may think that you will not be able to have a normal conversation with her but Madam is one of the kind that I think you will feel at ease with. Madam has some weakness for sweet things lah, although I tell her not to eat too much, sometimes she encourages me to eat just to share the sweetness. Generally, I find her a very warm person, easy to get to know. You don’t need to go to all the niceties. Just be yourself.”
2. Some residents even just call her Halimah
“At Bukit Batok once, we were very busy with the elections and I followed her. This resident happened to pass by and she proudly told her friend, “This is my MP”. I think by that statement itself, it shows how much your residents appreciate you and you’re on the right track. So although I am not her, I felt so happy and proud of her. Similarly in Marsiling, you find many residents hugging her, very comfortable with her. No need to call Mr or Mrs. Sometimes, they are so comfortable with her, they even just call her Halimah. And to her, it’s acceptable.”
3. Nothing is too small for Halimah to handle
“Residents have problems crossing the road because the traffic is heavy and maybe there’s no traffic light in that area. Sometimes I just ask, is this the job of an MP? But to Madam, nothing is too small for her to manage and handle. She works with, for example, the LTA. Because Marsiling is very near to Woodlands, traffic jams are always at the causeway and there is a lot of diversion and confusion at the area. So she works with the LTA and follow up to ensure that they implement something to ease the traffic there because residents are complaining.”
4. Halimah only accepts satisfactory answers
“The authorities respond to her quite timely but it is unlike Madam to allow any authority to not respond or take their time because she will follow up. Knowing Madam and having worked with her in the Labour Movement before, she is not the type of person to allow such things to just sit and unsettle. She is very focused in what she do and she will follow up. And if the answer is not satisfactory, she will further enquire and find out until she is satisfied. I don’t think any authority can just pass by her without giving her a satisfactory answer.”
5. Halimah’s daughter kept looking for mama
“All of us women especially married women, have family. When Madam first went into politics, we were there to help her, like going down to the houses, visiting residents etc. At that time, I think her youngest kid was quite young because every now and then we have to answer the phone for her because the daughter was looking for her. I think maybe the daughter was not used to, “eh this time at night, my mother should be at home”. Actually I learnt a lot during the first time, I thought you never know the life of an MP until you really follow them.”
6. No one knew Halimah’s mum was critically ill
“The other part of Madam, she holds it very well. During the last election, all of you know, it’s in the papers that her mum passed on. We didn’t even know her mum was very ill and in hospital. She held it very well until one day we had an appointment to meet and do our walkabout and she had to rush back because her mum’s condition worsened. And that’s where we found out about her mother. Then we’re wondering, how did she hold on to this emotion all the way? It requires somebody really very strong.
You see, for me now, I’m speaking with feeling, feeling for her. Because for anyone of us, we would want to be with our parent especially at the end time. And Madam was, I think, torn between serving the country and her mum. I really admire her.”
7. True blue Singaporean
“She likes to shop just like anyone of us. Of course she likes to shop on certain things she likes to buy. She is just like most Singaporeans who love durians. We had durians in an open park. Few of us, joking, relaxing, just enjoying the beautiful durians.”
8. Staying impartial at all times
“She’s very caring. She gives attention to everyone and I think she tries to be as fair as possible. Because at any one time, sometimes, everybody also wants her attention. Everybody also have ideas and to us, our ideas are always the best. Certain (grassroots) activities may be good but may not be the right time. Because of the limited time, you have to prioritize. So how do you allow the group amongst themselves to decide without you really interfering in their decision? Madam Halimah, I think, has the ability to do so.”
9. Cycling while tuning into the news
“We told her that she has enough exercise as you know, twice a week – house visits and she walks faster than any one of us. Madam and myself, our age is not that far but she is much faster than me. But I think, I do not know, maybe that’s her way of destressing. I learnt from the family members that she cycles at home – she has this stationary bicycle that she cycles. And because time is very precious, Madam also plugs into her ears and listens to the news. So she does more than one thing at one time.”
Ms Shyma also had lots to say about Singapore’s first female Presidential hopeful.
Speaking as a woman, she said she would be very proud to have a female President.
Having worked with Madam Halimah for several years, Ms Shyma knows how she acts and how she thinks. She also knows how meticulous Madam Halimah can also be if she wants.
“If you give her something it’s not that she will just accept it and that’s the end of it. She will question you and she will want to know. And whatever your answer be, it must be enough to satisfy her before she gives her decision.”
Madam Halimah would be happy to know that her long-time pal has great confidence in her abilities and sincerely believes she has the heart for the country.
If Madam Halimah ever becomes Singapore’s first Female President, we can be sure it will be a honourable moment for Ms Shyma too.