How passion makes recovery possible for Singapore

Since its inception in 2017, Singapore’s Passion Made Possible campaign has effectively guided the small but proud Southeast Asian nation to become one of the top countries in the region.

Indeed, it was the Singaporean’s passion for its own distinct flavors that catapulted hawkers’ cuisine to international fame. A passion for innovation that likewise turned many start-ups into lucrative businesses. A passion for design and nature integration that ultimately gave life to the wonder of Marina Bay Sands, Garden by the Bay, Changi Airport and other iconic Singaporean structures.

To be sure, nobody expected Singapore’s people to maintain the same fervor when difficult times gripped and stunned the world at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Like everywhere else, the once bustling city, made more dynamic by the influx of leisure and business tourists, suddenly came to a standstill.

Edmond Wong, director for CSR and Business Development for Rumah Kim Choo

Edmond Wong, director for CSR and Business Development for Rumah Kim Choo

Alvin Yapp, owner and curator of the Intan Peranakan Heritage Museum

Alvin Yapp, owner and curator of the Intan Peranakan Heritage Museum

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Shock, fear, uncertainty and even hopelessness loomed the world over and feeling such negativity was deemed but natural and understood.

On a recent visit to Singapore, however, The Sunday Times Magazine was astonished to see that the industrious and cooperative people never let their passion wane. Singapore almost seemed untouched by the deadly virus nor the economic and social crisis the pandemic provoked.

Truth be told, in meeting a good number of business owners and representatives of the trip’s host agency, the Singapore Tourism Board, to suggest their passion has doubled is not far-fetched.

Like the colorful Peranakan Houses on Koon Seng Road, Singapore’s spirited passion is boldly on display as the small but proud Southeast Asian nation recovers from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Like the colorful Peranakan Houses on Koon Seng Road, Singapore’s spirited passion is boldly on display as the small but proud Southeast Asian nation recovers from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We never stopped our businesses because we believe in our products and services,” said Alvin Yapp. Albeit pivoting online to keep going, the Singaporean’s unbreakable mindset saw them through the darkest stretches of the pandemic.

Samantha Tan, Awfully Chocolate’s Head of Retail Operations

Samantha Tan, Awfully Chocolate’s Head of Retail Operations

And now that the worst of Covid-19 is, hopefully, over, they are all the more impassioned to pick up the pace, move forward, and contribute to the revival of the dynamic, innovative and enticing Singapore they have always been proud of.

Bradley Young, Tanglin partner

Bradley Young, Tanglin partner

Passion for promoting Peranakan culture

While many foreigners today also call Singapore their home — where their unique cultural identities have always been welcome — even more locals are determined to preserve their basal ideas, values and traditions.

To be sure, Singapore’s population is diverse as they come, a melting pot of Chinese, Malay and Indian ethnic groups, and yet during this trip, The Sunday Times Magazine discovered that its primary culture bears the name Peranakan.

Alvin Yapp, owner and curator of the Intan Peranakan Heritage Museum, said this way of life traces its beginnings to the 1800s when the surge of male Chinese immigrants married the local Malay women.

Stepping in, Edmond Wong of boutique shop Rumah Kim Choo distinguished Peranakan as a marriage of cultures rather than races.

“We are basically living in a multi-cultural complex,” he added.

Singapore being a former British colony, Peranakan also carries a strong European influence.

“Like our Peranakan ancestors, we continue to thrive, no matter what, because we accept changes,” Wong proudly related.

Grateful that adaptability had long been rooted in their culture — a valuable anchor through the pandemic — it becomes clear why Yapp and Wong are driven by such passion for preserving and sharing their heritage with as many other cultures as possible.

A Peranakan shophouse

Wong remains dedicated to running his family’s shophouse at East Coast Road to this end. The first floor is a beautiful display of Peranakan fashion pieces and accessories, as well as Peranakan sweets and treats. On the second floor, he is always proud to present a heritage gallery where the family tradition of Peranakan beadworks on Sarong Kebayas and other traditional garments is kept alive.

Wong is eager to spread the word about his family’s unique offerings as he hosts private boutique tours to highlight an impressive collection of Peranakan artifacts and, as such, a comprehensive immersion in the Singaporean culture.

And even if the shophouses failed to see many visitors in the last two years, Wong has no doubt that they will soon go back to welcoming as many as 800 tourists a day in their continued desire to preserve their people’s heritage.

Intan Peranakan Heritage Museum

Returning to Yapp, who is in charge of Singapore’s smallest museum, the man is steadfast in contributing his share toward cultural preservation via an extensive collection of Peranakan heirlooms from many different proudly Peranakan families.

Admitting he had no idea of his heritage for the longest time, Yapp shared, “I’d say 30 years ago, as a nation, we were not focused on culture and heritage because we were all about nation building, because we [Singaporeans] were poor. So even if both my parents are Peranakan, I grew up not knowing anything about this culture.”

His interest was piqued when he started receiving Peranakan antiques from owners who were not just eager to display them publicly but regale Yapp with the stories behind each piece.

“This was never meant to be a museum,” he said as he opened the doors to his treasure trove. “It was purely for me to appreciate my culture, but word got around about the collection, so people kept knocking on my doors. And so 19 years ago, what started in a small apartment by the sea has come to this.”

Today, Yapp’s museum sits at the heart of the Peranakan District on the Joo Chiat Terrace. It’s a two-level small museum filled with Peranakan treasures — from clothes to furniture to accessories and shoes — of which Yapp has already lost count.

For his noble efforts, Yapp happily shared that in 2010, the National Heritage Board recognized the former Yapp house as a bonafide museum.

Yapp also felt the museum’s value to community and nation, when, following the decline of visitors amid the pandemic, the Singaporean government included Intan in a list of businesses deserving of help (via vouchers) to stay afloat.

Beyond government help, Yapp was already helping the museum carry on by going online. Admittedly intimidated by the technology at first, he started to live stream and his weekend virtual tours instantly became a hit.

“Covid has presented us with many challenges and opportunities we would have never seen. When I went virtual, I completely hated it — yes — because I couldn’t hear if people were laughing at my jokes,” he deadpanned. “But only then did I discover I had a certain talent and skill in connecting with people online.”

And even as travelers are starting to arrive in number, Yapp believes the integration of museum spaces and digital platforms is here to stay.

“Young people these days, they are not going to watch National Geographic travel shows anymore. They’re going to keep swiping up and down. They need one-minute TikToks. They need short reels, and they need culture in their gadgets.”

Passion for developing uniquely Singaporean brands

The Sunday Times Magazine also met the people behind Awfully Chocolate and Tanglin Gin — homegrown food and beverage brands in Singapore.

Awfully Chocolate started in 1998, borne of the owners’ passion for creating delicious chocolate cake.

“We were in an era where French pastries made popular that cake made of wafer and mousse, but no cake inside,” Samantha Tan, Awfully Chocolate’s Head of Retail Operations, recalled. “Basically, we wanted to create an everyday cake for everyone to enjoy, and of course, what better flavor to use than chocolate?”

What started as a single cake sold on a bare counter — both devoid of fancy frills and splashes of color — Awfully Chocolate is now a thriving 24-year-old brand that has expanded into 12 cafes. The flagship is located in Katong, and the other branches are scattered throughout the Lion City.

Moreover, from offering only one signature chocolate cake on the menu, they now have pastries and premium gifting items such as chocolate bars and cookies added to the fray.

“We have customers, especially those who now live overseas, come by during their visits and take home our cakes. It’s like bringing a piece of Singapore with them. So it’s always heartwarming to see people buy our products and share them with friends and family,” Tan proudly noted.

Meanwhile, Tanglin Gin originated from the fact that Singapore — despite its growing cocktail scene — didn’t have its own gin brand.

Backtrack to 2018 when four expats — Andy Hodgson, Charlie Van Eeden, Chris Box and Tim Whitefield — decided to begin the reign of Tanglin Gin.

With the internationally awarded Orchid Gin as the group’s original flagship offering, the brand slowly but surely established Tanglin Gin in the local scene. And like many businesses, its owners and partners were looking forward to the brand’s expansion beyond Singapore.

All hopes were shunned when the pandemic emerged, of course.

“We used to do big in duty-free stores, but because of the pandemic, we had to look for other means to sell our gins. We pivoted online, and luckily, we now sell 20 times more than we used to,” Bradley Young, Tanglin partner, shared during the media visit to the company’s distillery at Dempsey Road.


Edmond Wong, Alvin Yapp, Samantha Tan and Bradley Young are just four of the many Singaporean business owners who are grateful they never lost their passion for nurturing their homegrown brands even through the pandemic. They are proof as to how unwavering dedication can lead to more than just survival but the strengthening of a country to persevere.