Our city is turning 49 this weekend, and to mark the occasion, we salute 49 inspiring individuals. We don’t mean the head-honchos, big-deal businesspeople and policymakers either. We mean regular people—artists, farmers, history nerds—whose dogged pursuit of their passions makes Singapore proud, progressive and just plain fun.
Louis ditched his IT career to do something a lot more meaningful: his organization Transient Workers Count Too helps migrant workers find their voice and stand up against problems like like employer abuse and job scams.
SKL0 pled guilty in 2012 to the offence of plastering roads and traffic lights with tongue-in-cheek slogans (remember “My Grandfather Road”?), but now absolutely everyone, from MBS to Sentosa, wants in on her art.
“Meditation helps with making the madness in the city more bearable.”
Urban farming advocate Bjorn left the advertising industry to nurture Singapore’s self-sustainability, co-founding Edible Gardens and sowing seeds on the People’s Park Complex rooftop carpark.
Provocative poet and writer Alfian has loads of accolades under his belt. But have to say that we’re most fascinated by his honest, irreverent and incisive Facebook commentary, which has gained him quite an online following.
“Always carry two packets of tissue. You never know when they may come in handy—they might just save you a sock or two.”
Our 28 HongKong Street homeboy Peter did us proud at Diageo Reserve World Class this year—he won Southeast Asia’s Best Bartender of the Year.
Honey-voiced singer-songwriter Charlie has broken into the Australian, Malaysian and Hong Kong markets, where he has a steady following. He has also performed at international festivals like Hong Kong’s Clockenflap Festival and South Korea’s Jarasum International Jazz Festival.
“The amount of great success Singapore has enjoyed [in the last 50 years] will never be repeated again.”
As the head honcho of Les Amis Group, Raymond has been spearheading independent fine dining in Singapore for 20 years—way before the influx of celeb chef imports.
“No smartphones for me at all. I strive not to be faster or more efficient; instead, I try to slow down, learn to be stationary and look at stationary things around me.”
The founder of BooksActually gives a voice to local poets, novelists and essayists through his publishing imprint, Math Paper Press and colorful literary discussions and readings at the store.
The unassuming Singapore-based jewelry designer Mandy Wu turns out edgy, warrior-worthy metal gear we love, despite having no formal training.
Priscilla left her law practice to start womenswear label Ong Shunmugam, one of only five Singaporean labels to have solo shows at Audi Fashion Week 2014.
He was the first Asian inducted into the prestigious Jurade de Saint Emilion. Iggy’s is now a mainstay on San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Design evangelist Dennis’s online store Naiise is an indispensable platform for local talents of all design genres— even artisanal food producers.
Singapore’s unofficial hawker food authority KF Seetoh’s unwavering support of hawker culture—through World Street Food Congress and Makansutra—never fails to inspire us.
This author of three volumes of poetry regularly makes Singapore more literate through events like Lit Up festival and the monthly Singapore Poetry Slam (held at TAB), plus he mentors student writers on their craft.
>>See Marc at the launch of his fourth book Animal City, a Tim Burton-esque collection of children’s poems aimed at adults. Aug 23, 4:30pm, Aliwal Arts Centre.
“My vegetable ladies at Holland Village [make Singapore better]. They are always smiley and I have never met more hardworking seniors.”
Theater geek by day and cafe owner by night, Juwanda is the flamboyant titular man behind The Fabulous Baker Boy.
Drag queen Becca d’Bus and her surreal, self-made costumes break up the city’s homogeneity. She’s also one of the organizers for this year’s LGBT fest IndigNation.
>>Catch Becca at the next session of Dr Sketchy, her saucy life drawing series at Artistry.
“Working in the Singapore outlet of an internationally famous restaurant is not always the best career choice.”
Possibly Singapore’s answer to David Chang of Momofuku, the head chef of Dibs brings off-cuts and punchy, no-holds-barred flavors to the masses.
Leader of the first Singaporean expedition to Mount Everest back in 1998, David fought back from a paralyzing nerve disorder to regain much of his mobility and do over 30 more climbs, putting us couch potatoes to shame.
“I wish for Singapore to be a passionate, open-minded and truly inclusive society that values the arts—not for the sake of improving its ‘cultural capital’, but out of a genuine love for, and belief in, the power and necessity of art.”
We’ve had our eye on this talented musician since she started playing small gigs. Sure enough, she’s gone on to open for Tegan & Sara and play at F1.
“I sleep in my workout gear so that I don’t have a reason to skip my morning training.”
This gutsy rower helped boost women’s sports in Singapore by bringing home a gold medal at the 2013 Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar—Singapore’s first ever individual rowing gold in the history of the competition.
Our cinematic boy wonder was the first Singaporean to win the 2013 Camera d’Or at Cannes with Ilo Ilo, and his work for Tiger Beer, featuring Singaporeans who have achieved their dreams against all odds, was a recent viral sensation.
“Embrace yourself in your ‘downs’ to appreciate the ‘ups’.”
We’re ever so thankful that Janice left economics to whip up amazing treats at 2am:dessertbar. She was named Asia’s best pastry chef for two years running at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards.
The gregarious new director of Singapore Art Museum is a real powerhouse: not only did she steer last year’s Biennale, she’s also helmed new interdisciplinary exhibitions of seriously exciting local works. Susie is making national art venues cool again.
>>SAM’s latest exhibition is Sensorium 360.
The local startup scene is lucky to have Kristine as one of its advocates and promoters. She founded The List, a portal synthesizing the coolest networking, entrepreneurial, design and tech events in Singapore, and co-founded WalkaboutSG, an annual city-wide open house of over 70 companies.
“The best advice I’ve ever received? Be a better person than you were yesterday.”
Radeem was the first Singaporean to ever compete inside the [MMA championship] One FC cage. Sidelined by injuries over the past few years, he made a stunning comeback at the recent ONE FC in May, demolishing Malaysia’s Raymond Tan in a matter of minutes.
“My wish for Singapore is that we can one day truly become a real global city—a home more than a house. We have all of the hardware, but the battle is being fought at the moment for its heart.”
This tech startup whiz started Culture Kitchen, a social project promoting multicultural understanding through food, and pushes for girls’ education in India through her foundation Gyanada.
“I’ve been tremendously blessed by Singaporeans all these years.”
One of Singapore’s most decorated (not to mention adorable) homegrown chefs, Justin helms French-Asian restaurant Sky on 57.
>>Justin will host masterclasses at Marina Bay Sands’ Epicurean Market on Sept 12-14.
“Everything is empty of absolute meaning. Remembering this reduces my stress straightaway.”
The super-accomplished Cyril has published (take a deep breath) 12 volumes of poetry, a collection of short stories and a novel; won the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award in 2005 and the Singapore Literature Prize in 2006; and has read overseas at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the Byron Bay Writers Festival.
“What gets me out of bed every morning is knowing that I have survived another day and that I have another chance to try again.”
William has been helming The Arts House since 2009, one of our go-to places for excellent (and mostly free) literary arts series like the World Lit sessions and the Is The Book Better? movie screenings.
“It’s not enough to love your parents or hate racism or believe in a secular state— you’ve actually gotta go out and act upon those emotions and beliefs.”
This poet and writer is best known for his eye-opening book SQ21: Singapore Queers in the 21st Century— the book was listed as the best non-fiction book of 2006 by The Straits Times.
You can thank Lincoln Cheng for your late-night Zouk rituals. This Hong Kong native turned Singapore resident took an old river warehouse, pumped in millions of dollars and turned it into one of the city’s oldest and most beloved clubs.
>>Sadly, as is too often the case with good things in this town, Zouk is likely to close at the end of the year due to lease issues. Sign up to the Save Zouk campaign.
We’ve always loved a good troublemaker, so Ken gets our vote. His film Sex. Violence.FamilyValues, which was selected for several international film festivals, was banned here. His next project Unlucky Plaza will be released in 2015, barring any trouble with the censors.
“The role and contribution of a mother cannot be underestimated.”
This storyteller hopes to change the world, one story at a time, having co-founded MoonShadow Stories to revive the lost art of storytelling (yes, for adults too).
>>Catch her next at the upcoming Singapore International Storytelling Festival.
Aesthetics doctor by day and animal rights advocate by night, he co-founded and is the president of street dog rescue organization Save Our Street Dogs, which rehabilitates and rehomes abandoned puppies and dogs.
“To find the magic in life, drink coffee in the day, beer in the evening, and whisky at night.”
“You can’t inoculate a nation from everything.”
She did the unthinkable: quitting a career in medicine to pursue sports. And it’s paid off: she swam for Singapore in the 1992 Olympics and is now a prominent local MMA fighter.
One of the movers and shakers of the local dance music scene, Darker Than Wax’s Dean brings some much-needed variety, soul and local talent to our city’s nightlife scene.
>>Swing by Darker Than Wax’s record launch party on Aug 9, 10:30pm.
This visionary filmmaker and video artist has had a string of exhibitions at home and abroad including the Venice Biennale in 2011—his work has even been puchased by the Guggenheim.
She won the Singapore Young Artist Award in 2012 and is often abroad for solo and group shows, though her horror- and sex-glazed works are often featured in galleries all over town, too.
One of the local music scene’s most avid advocates (and harshest critics), Sameer promotes and nurtures artists through his company Secret Signal.
“You can’t undo injustice with the tools of injustice. Sometimes systems need to be replaced, not reworked.”
Arguably the city’s most prominent feminist and co-founder of women’s art platform EtiquetteSG, this outspoken poet also won the NAC-SPH Golden Point Award for English Poetry in 2011.
Formerly an ad woman, Shen trained up as a hawker at Maxwell Food Center and became an important innovator in the Mod Sin scene at (now-defunct) Wok & Barrel and Ujong.
Our very own island expert, the curator of the National Museum’s Balik Pulau exhibition, deserves a lot of credit for the resurgence of interest in Singapore’s offshore islands.
>>Balik Pulau: Stories from Singapore’s Islands, National Museum of Singapore through Aug 10.
Mod Sin became a “thing” in no small part due to the efforts of the chef-owner of Wild Rocket whom the New York Times named as one of three chefs who have changed Singapore’s culinary scene.
“We can and must continue weaving the amazing cultural tapestry that the previous generations have started. I remember a time when everyone spoke and understood a common local patois.”
By day, he performs lion dances and Chinese funeral rites. By night, he’s a cocktail whiz at Bar Stories. Yet the good Muslim boy doesn’t drink—how does he do it?
A second-generation celebrity sushi chef from Tokyo, Hatch continues the family business at Hashida, making omakase magic happen with incredible knife skills, premium seafood and a wicked, self-deprecating sense of humor.
Singapore’s stages are full of productions visiting from fancy places. But this veteran playwright’s piece Emily of Emerald Hill has taken local talent to New York, Sydney and Hong Kong.
The flamboyant stage actor Ivan Heng needs no introduction—his theater company W!ld Rice brought us unforgettable classics like Emily of Emerald Hill and Cinderel-la.
>>W!ld Rice’s next show is Monkey Goes West, based on the Chinese classic. Nov 21-Dec 13.
Singapore’s gender warrior, this surgeon founded women’s advocacy group AWARE and was the female Nominated Member of Parliament. The UN’s Development Fund for Women gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.