updated 1 Mar 2009, 00:06
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Mon, Jan 19, 2009
The Special Projects Unit, SPH
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Traditional Teos
by Leong Phei Phei

EVER since she was in her 20s, Ms Teo Ser Lee has been answering the same old questions from her relatives and friends, especially during the Chinese New Year: Are you seeing anyone? Why are you not married? When will you get married?

The former Miss Singapore World and Miss Singapore International is 43 now and still single.

Having been in the limelight means that she has to keep facing the dreaded questions.

But these days, some of the attention has been deflected on her younger brother, Ser Luck, who is married with two kids Mr Teo, 40, entered politics in 2006. He is the Senior Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, and chairman of the People's Action Party Youth Wing.

The questions he faces from his relatives are rather different from Ser Lee's.

Mr Teo says: "People like to ask me why there are so many ERP gantries in Singapore, why the water pipes in their homes are leaking... The Chinese New Year gathering is almost like a meet-the-relatives session!"

The endless questions do not bother the Teo siblings, who, with a sense of humour, always take them in the right spirit.

Ms Teo is the founder and director of Protocol Academy, an institution that trains mid- to top-level executives in etiquette and communication skills.

She says her family is a close-knit one that observes the usual Chinese New Year traditions, such as the reunion dinner, exchanging red packets and staying up late at night for the sake of parents' longevity.

They almost never eat out for their reunion dinners because "those are too commercialised and the restaurants are always crowded", says Ms Teo. As she lives alone, she invites her family members to her apartment for steamboat.

What is unusual in the Teos' celebration is Ms Teo's practice of giving hongbao to her parents - something she has done since she started working in 1989 - "because they are not working"; and her getting hongbao from her younger brother - "because I am still single".

In turn, she will give her nephew and niece hongbao even though as a single, she is not obliged to do so.

For Mr Teo, who got married in 1994 and has two children aged eight and six, Chinese New Year is his most treasured event in the calendar, more so after he entered politics.

He says: "My daily schedule has become busier, but I always find time to spend Chinese New Year with my family.

"So far, I haven't had to miss reunion dinners with my family because of work, and I hope it never happens.

"It is important for us to still celebrate Chinese New Year and observe its traditions.

"Already, younger generation Singaporeans are fast losing the ability to speak dialects. Nowadays, some young people can't even hold a decent conversation in Mandarin.

"We need to keep the traditions alive to remind ourselves of our roots."

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on Jan 18, 2009.

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