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To save money, ex-MP Lee Bee Wah used only half packet of instant noodle seasoning


Former Member of Parliament (MP) Lee Bee Wah was 20 years old with just 20 ringgit ($6.44) in her pocket when she ventured solo from her village in Melaka to Singapore for her tertiary education.

Her parents, who were rubber tappers, could hardly afford her university fees even for her first year of studies. But Lee, who excelled academically as well as in sports, managed to receive a bursary and other grants.

In a recent interview with host Quan Yi Fong on the meWATCH talkshow Hear U Out, Lee, 61, recounted how in order to save money, she would cook instant noodles using only half a packet of seasoning, saving the other half for another meal.

“I’d buy instant noodles that came with packets of seasoning. I’ll use half and use the other half to cook beehoon. Because one big pack of beehoon cost less than instant noodles and I could use the seasoning to cook the beehoon for another meal.”

She added: “Nutrition wasn’t a concern at that time, as long as I wasn’t hungry.”

In order to help with the family’s expenses, Lee gave tuition daily throughout her undergraduate years and even when she was a working adult.

“I could make $700 to $800 a month, twice as much as what my parents were making,” she shared of her income from giving tuition as a second-year undergraduate.

While life was tough then, it was a sense of gratitude that kept her going.

“I was ecstatic that I had the chance to study in Singapore, so I had to make full use of the opportunity,” said Lee.

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The only day which she gave herself permission to relax was on Christmas Eve.

“I’d buy a cup of Coke and sit by the roadside to people-watch and admire the beautiful lights. That was my only outing in a year,” she shared.

Lee graduated in 1985 amid the recession, but despite stiff competition for employment, the engineering graduate was among the first among her peers to land a job, thanks to her ingenuity.

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“Whenever I passed by construction sites while on the bus, I would write in to the companies with my job application. Because by the time they advertised for the position, you’d basically see all your course mates at the interview,” shared Lee.

Even though she had a full-time job, she continued to give tuition to supplement her income so that she could support her family. “I’d be an engineer during the day and a tutor at night.”

“My income from tuition was comparable to what I made in my job, and that enabled me to pay for all my siblings’ education,” said Lee, who has six younger siblings.

An avid sportswoman in her younger years, she recalled that her most extravagant purchases were basketball shoes or badminton rackets — and only if they were worn out.

Lee continued her relentless hustle until she got married at “27 or 28 years old”, prompting host Yi Fong to marvel at how she even found time to date amid her busy schedule.

In fact, it was sports that first connected the couple, who were introduced by a mutual friend. They met during a game of badminton.

“Maybe he hadn’t played in a while, I gave him a few drop shots and he found it very tiring,” Lee recounted with a loud chuckle. Her husband, an electrical engineer, subsequently asked her out for a game of table tennis — without realising that she was a table tennis champ back in Malaysia — and later on for runs together.

Of the secret to her blissful marriage, Lee shared that it boils down to trust and “how you make the other person happy”. 

“Before getting married I told him, ‘If you’re looking for someone to iron your clothes and cook for you, then you’re with the wrong person. I need my job because I still have my own family to take care of,'” Lee divulged.

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“He accepted that and agreed to share in the household chores,” said Lee of her husband, who also did the marketing and helped to take care of the children’s needs. Their two kids were teenagers by the time Lee ventured into politics in 2006.

Describing her husband’s easygoing personality, she added how whenever she gets angry, he’d be the first to apologise before they retire for the night. “He’d say ok lah, I’m sorry, let’s go to bed. He’s very cute,” she laughed.

When asked to grade herself for her many roles as politician, mother, daughter and wife, Lee ranked herself lowest when it came to being a partner, admitting: “I guess I didn’t perform very well as a wife.”

Known affectionately by her former constituents as “Hua Jie” or Sister Flower, Lee acknowledged that her family had to take a backseat during the 14 years that she was an MP. But embarking on a new chapter in her life has also allowed her to refocus her attention back on her family and herself.

“I don’t believe in regrets. The past is the past, you can only learn from it. I’ve to say that I’ve been very fortunate because my husband has always been behind me, 100 per cent. He could see that I enjoyed my career in politics and exuded positivity, so he supported me.”

candicecai@asiaone.com





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