Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Importance of values in our life

Someone sent this comment on the Blog posted by Dr. Lee Kum Tatt’s wife:

“With the present trend of couples (or may be juz ladies) in Singapore not wanting to have children, furnishing the excuse of “career”, I am surprised and amazed at Mrs. Lee’s credentials.

Not her academics, but her life. 4 children?! With a successful career, and a supportive wife. I am interested in her views and thinking. Is there anyway to obtain a copy of her books?

Here are the answers given by Mrs Lee Kum Tatt.

Tan Kin Lian


Importance of Values to Our Lives.

Why do modern couples shun having families? Many want the benefits of having spouses but not the responsibilities of having families.

In modern times some do not see the joy and benefits that families can bring to their lives, now and when they are old.

We belong to the “old” school. We treasure our family and give it priority over everything else. This is our value system. Without this we are nothing. This is our mind set. This gives us the peace of mind and the happiness we need to do what we have to do.

Others have their own priorities. In our effluent society there are many things people can enjoy. There is nothing wrong with this provided one is conscious of the consequences of one’s actions and not be a problem to others including our society and community.

It is tempting to want to be like the “Joneses” but to blindly chase after money to get the five C’s as soon as possible at the expense of other just as important values has to be seriously looked into.

Singapore is already feeling the problems faced by other effluent societies like care for the senior citizens, higher divorce rates, more choosing to remain single and others emigrate to other countries.

One of the common complaints is the costs of some of their basic needs like the car, the house or the condominium are beyond the reach of many, especially the young. The problem is real. The question is “what can they do about this”? Many are shouting for help.

The widening income gaps between the haves and the have-nots which we accepted as inevitable does not help either. This inequality between those who have inherited the new abundance and those who merely witness the promise without sharing in its fulfillment should not be left unattended to. This can cause problems for Singapore.

The next question is how did I solve my problems?

I married Kum Tatt when he was a “pauper” – a person with only a body and soul, a pair of hands for working and brains to think. No 5 C's. I was not supposed to expect too much. Whatever comes out of our union is a bonus which we both treasure. This is how we live our lives.

We are appreciative for the opportunities given to us. We are not wealthy but we are rich in the sense that our few needs have been met. We are at peace and happy with what we have. We are in our golden years now. Our mind set makes us what we are.

How can you get a copy of my books?

My books were written five to eight years ago and they are only meant for our family members. They contain many parts which are quite personal. It is part of their upbringing and the value system we tried to impart to them.

We do not expect every family member to accept our values and philosophy now. We do expect that with time and age they will see the wisdom in adopting some of the time honoured values which may appear to be outdated to the present generation. I hope I have answered the questions.

Engeline Lee
(Mrs. Lee Kum Tatt)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Woman behind Dr. Lee Kum Tatt

Behind every successful man there is a woman. Dr. Lee Kum Tatt’s woman is his wife of more than 50 years. Mrs. Engeline Lee herself is quite a unique lady. I encouraged her to share some of her philosophy and experiences with us under her husband’s blog. She can complement what her husband does. She can give her views on what motivates her husband, how he responds to his own fantasies and produced the results.

Mrs. Engeline Lee, who has contributed much to the development of the famous RISIS orchids, tells us her story and her feelings on this project.

Tan Kin Lian


Credentials Of
Mrs. Engeline Lee Eng Nio

1. First lady physics graduate of University of Malaya in 1950.
2. Fulbright Scholarship to M.I.T. ( Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1951)
3. First Hospital Physicist in Singapore General Hospital1954.
4. Senior Lecturer of Physics Department , University of Singapore 1961 until retirement
5. Honorary Consultant to SISIR in Non Destructive Testing, Industrial application of radio isotopes and Health Physics ( 1969 – retirement)
6. Wife, Mother of 4 children and grandmother of 7 grandchildren.

She has written a book on herself “My Profession and Career, Work or Play” for her family members only. She has also written three other books on the family, and individual grandchildren. She lived in a time where the woman’s place is the home. Her experiences and views should be of interests to the our modern girls who have to cope with their professions, careers, personal family lives and interests which Mrs. Lee handled during her life.


R I S I S: A Promised Wish Fulfilled

The famous RISIS Gold orchids celebrated its thirtieth anniversary on April -19- 2006. Many throughout the world know RISIS as Singapore’s Gift to the World. Many were and still are interested and curious to know the true story behind the creation of this product and how it became an instant success. How did it managed to last for so long and it is still growing strong after more than 30 years.

The true story was never told in full by the person who was really responsible for it from the very beginning. The stories which were told were mostly from hearsay and people who came in later in the development of the RISIS gold orchid itself. Nevertheless these stories were sensational enough to boost the sales of RISIS products and keep them popular even up to this day.

Why wasn’t the true story ever told? This is because the person who was responsible for the creation of the RISIS Orchids is my husband Dr. Lee Kum Tatt. He was the founder chairmen of The Singapore Institute of Standards and Industrial Research (SISIR) and the Singapore Science Council. He was a high profile public servant involved in the development of the Science & Technology infrastructure and manpower development in the early days of Singapore’s development. He created, championed the idea and personally directed its development and launch. He did not say much himself but he allowed others to tell their stories. These stories created the mystery of how the product was developed. This helped the products to sell. .

After all these years I thought that the true story should be told. How did Kum Tatt create a completely new product from scratch, growing from a fantasy to research followed by manufacture and marketing? What made him decide to put gold on natural orchids? How did he establish the manufacturing facilities and a market for the product and then expanded the business by creating other successful product lines? What were the difficulties he encountered and how were these obstacles overcome?

This is something many would like to know. This requires special passion and talents besides management skills to organize everything that was required. Above all he needed courage to champion what he believed in.

To fulfill his promise to me carelessly made during our courting days for something I wished to have, he made many attempts over several years and encountered lots of disappointments and frustration in the process. Many would have given up if not for the passion and inspiration in him to persevere under very trying conditions. I am proud of my husband for doing this for me.

This is the best gift any wife can ask for and very few can get - something created by your husband especially for you which many others would also like to have. The RISIS gold orchid became a national gift fit for queens and visiting foreign dignitaries. The family supported him every step on the way. This gave him confidence and purpose to do what he had to do.

For promotional purposes Kum Tatt wrote a light hearted book on the RISIS ORCHID with cartoons done by the well known cartoonist, the late Mr. Tan Hui Peng. More than 150,000 copies were printed and given to buyers of the RISIS orchids in the earlier years. This booklet was dedicated to me and our children. My husband used his pseudo name of El Jofel - a combination of our children’s names.

Kum Tatt is a talented person and an entrepreneur. He has pioneered many programs and projects and helped establish many institutions some of which he headed. Many people who are creative and entrepreneurial have indicated that they would like to know something about his experience and his philosophies. I have therefore persuaded him to put his thoughts and experience in writing to put on record of the many projects and things he did in his life. The family and others may benefit from these records. This is the result of my persuasion. It makes interesting reading.

There are many things he did and went through some of which even I do not know. The RISIS gold orchid was only the start of many products which followed. Just as chemistry is his profession by virtue of his university education Kum Tatt discovered that he could produce gifts that others also like. This became his hobby and occupation which started in the 1970’s till the year 2000.

During this period of some thirty years he has not only created the RISIS gold orchid for me but has also produced other products inspired by and created specially for his grand children. The “Aurigami” cranes and related products were created for our eldest granddaughter Laura Kee. This was followed by the Breakthrough Horse for his grandson Kenneth Lee. Other RISIS horses in the RISIS horoscope series of animals followed. The family members gave Kum Tatt the inspiration he needed to develop new products for them and many of these were mass produced for others to enjoy.

Kum Tatt’s reputation of creating and producing unique gifts is well known. Many with gift problems approached him for help he often obliged. This included Singapore’s Presidential gifts to visiting foreign dignitaries when Mr. Wee Kim Wee was President. The Singapore Professional Centre and the National Trade Union Congress ( NTUC) asked him to produce two special gifts for Singapore’s Prime Minister Mr. Goh Chok Tong when he became Prime Minister. Many also asked him to create gifts for those who have everything like Tan Sri Tan Chin Tuan, Chairman of the OCBC Bank for his 80th birthday.

Kum Tatt’s products have some common unique features. We call them ‘TATT’s products, an acronym of what went into the creation of the products, Technology, Art, Tradition and Talent created by Kum Tatt. . Besides having quality and attractive designs by Nature and artists every TATT product has a cultural story to tell. This is what makes the products interesting.

Kum Tatt will be writing on how some of the products were thought of in the first instance and how they came into existence after that. This should make interesting reading. Creating a new national Singapore gift and souvenir from scratch was not an easy task. For those who are interested in finding out how to create new products there may be some useful lessons to learn. As for me at least I know the type of person I married.

It is a pleasant surprise for me to discover the true person in my husband after all these years. After 1956 he has no one to tell him what to do and how to do what he was supposed to do. He was just assigned missions and the rest was up to him. Most people have their seniors but Kum Tatt seems to have a very good guardian angel to guide him. The hardship he went through during his youth, the Pacific War and Indonesian independence had harden him so much that he could take more knocks and stress than most people can. Probably because of this he could pursue his ideals and dreams to do what he liked and enjoyed doing with relative ease. He is a creative technopreneur, a genius in his own way.

According to Thomas Edison, one of Kum Tatt’s heroes in science, “A Genius is 99% perspiration and 1 % inspiration”. Besides inspiring others and being inspired by others Kum Tatt is a hands-on man. He loves and sweated for us. He believes in making things better for us all including his fellowmen. This we know and we love him for that.

Engeline Lee Eng Nio ( Mrs. Lee Kum Tatt)
25 March 2007

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Importance of Great Teachers

As the founder chairmen of the Singapore Science Council, SISIR , Standards Council etc Dr. Lee Kum Tatt has initiated and participated in the development of the Science and Technology infrastructure and manpower of Singapore for many years.

Has it not been for the timely influence of his great teacher we would have lost a good scientist. This is Dr. Lee’s story on how he was guided by a Great Teacher.

Tan Kin Lian


My Great Teacher - Professor Rayson L. Huang

I was taught to respect my teachers as I respect my parents. The result was I became my teacher’s pet in school and I was quite good also in my studies. Teaching is a noble profession and to be a teacher was one of my youthful dreams.

It was a god sent opportunity for me to be awarded a Raffles scholarship in 1948 to study science in Raffles College which later became the University of Malaya. After passing the first year I began to wonder what made me study science? Science was a tough course. Only 16 students out of 56 passed the first year. Many of us did not find the course interesting. The majority just wanted to get the B.Sc. degree and then look for a job. We worked hard in the second or Final I year merely because of the examination we have to pass.

In my Final II year my attitude towards the study of science, especially synthetic organic chemistry, changed. A new lecturer Dr. R.L.Huang, a Rhodes scholar from Oxford University, who did his post doctoral work in University of Chicago, caused that change in me. Without hesitation I chose to do an Honours degree in Chemistry instead of Physics or Mathematics.

During my honours course my childish dream of wanting to be a true scientist like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and Alexander Fleming came back to me very strongly. Being able to create new products, reactions or to save some lives was something worth pursuing.

I needed a good science foundation to be an inventor. This is a legacy I like to leave behind. I have to start learning how to do research, plan my experiments, make the proper observation and write scientific papers on my own. This was how I got interested in research.

Although I had a few good offers of overseas scholarships to do a higher degree and an offer of a research position in the Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia I declined all these offers. I was so impressed with Dr. Huang’s approach to teaching students that I chose to work with him as my supervisor for a higher degree instead. Looking back everybody involved is happy that this decision was taken.

I worked on the preparation of synthetic female sex hormones as my thesis for a M Sc. degree on a Shell Research Fellowship grant. For the first 2-3 months I could not even produce the intermediate chemical I needed. I was shaken because I thought that the weakness in my practical work was exposed and that I was not that good after all. And secondly time was running out. I panicked. I informed Dr. Huang. I expected him to tell me in detail what to do next. In stead of trying to find out the underlying reasons of my failure he calmly told me to accept the fact that the product may not be stable. I should try to find another way to make what I needed. I followed his advice and got what I wanted.

Dr. Huang never made me feel that I was not good enough to do what I was supposed to do. He never treated me like a junior laboratory assistant who has to be told in detail what to do whenever I got into trouble. Some teachers do that for their students to ensure that they will pass. These are good teachers. But Dr. Huang taught me how to have confidence and faith in myself if I am to be a good researcher.

As it turned out this ability to have confidence and faith in myself was the greatest thing he gave to me. My M.Sc was converted into a Ph D and I finished the practical part of my Ph.D. degree in just two years. This is in spite of the troubles normally associated with research work.

My ability to make many of the decisions I made in my profession, career, and life has been due largely to this training. With faith and confidence I could see what is not normally visible to others; believe in the incredible and receive the extra-ordinary or even impossible results. This often makes it difficult for me to explain to others the Why’s, What’s and How’s I did what I did. Because of this people like me are often classified as mad scientists or crazy fellows until they can prove themselves.

We know there are three types of teachers - the Normal teacher, the Good teacher and the Great teacher. The normal teacher just teaches what has to be taught. The rest is up to the students. The good teacher teaches, helps and guides the students. The Great teacher inspires.

Dr. Huang is my Great Teacher. He inspired me and developed in me the confidence and faith I needed to live the life I led. Prof. Huang was the Vice Chancellor of the Nanyang University before he became the first Asian to be appointed as V.C. of Hong Kong University in 1970 where he worked until he retired. I have been an honorary teacher for many years. I have taught many under graduate and some post graduate university students in my life. I have tried to be a great teacher to some of my students. I am not sure whether I succeeded. To Dr. Huang, thank you for being my Great Teacher. I enjoyed my life because of you.

Lee Kum Tatt

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A role model for Dr Lee Kum Tatt

Dr. Lee Kum Tatt has touch many people's lives. Quite a number of people has also touched his and made him what he is. Here is an account on how his life and outlook has been touched by his role model, Dr Ling Tien Gi.

Tan Kin Lian


Tribute to A Role Model

I find it very useful to have a good Role Model who can inspire and give me the courage I need during uncertain times. Most people read about their heroes from books. I am fortunate that I have a real life one to follow. Here is how it all began in 1954.

At the age of 27 years I started my professional life as a chemist in the Government Department of Chemistry.

There was this “old man” age 57 years, a displaced person from China, trying to restart his life in Singapore. He asked me to help him to analyze antibiotics and vitamins in the animal feeds he was preparing. I could not do these analyses at that time but I was prepared to read up and make suggestions to him on how these could be done. We struck up a very good relationship. Why did I do all this? I thought to myself then that when I reached 55 years I would have been happily retired.

Here was this “old man” ( Dr. Ling Tien Gi or Dr. T.G. Ling) still trying to re-establish his life at 57 years and I felt sorry for him. Then I discovered what he was trying to do – to manufacture animal feeds for chicken and pigs. There were no organized chicken and pig farms during those times.

As a boy I used to help my mother looked after some chicken at home for their eggs. We fed these chicken with our left over food and there was never a need to buy any chicken feed. I thought to myself this Dr. Ling was heading for trouble without a ready product, a market and money for the business. He was also looking a round for S $ 25,000 to get started. Poor soul!

I spent two years (1956- 58) in Canada on a United Nations and Singapore Government fellowship. On my return Dr. Ling offered me the Chief Chemist’s post in his new company Zuellig Gold Coin Animal Feed Pte Ltd. As I was bonded to the Government I could not accept the offer. I recommended a very promising young chemist to him instead. The three of us worked very closely together for many years after this in the Singapore Science Council, SISIR and the other organizations which I served.

Through Dr. Ling’s efforts and foresight not only did the animal feed industries grew in Singapore and Malaysia, it has also given birth to our important chicken and pig industries. These two industries together were our truly home grown industries at that time.

Dr. Ling was awarded the first Singapore Science Council Gold Medal for Applied Research by the then Prime Minister of Singapore Mr. Lee Kuan Yew on 29 October 1969. Then at the age of 72 he wanted to start another project to help keep our precious water resources clean by moving the duck farms out of Singapore. He contributed significantly to this project.

In 1979 when I was awarded the Gold Medal for Applied Research, Dr. Ling at the age of 82 invited me to start another project with him. I really admired that indomitable spirit of Dr. Ling who taught me that age and apparent disadvantages do not really matter if one has the spirit and the drive to do what has to be done. Dr. Ling lived to the ripe old age of 95 years.

There is a parallel between what Dr. Ling did for his animal feed industries and the RISIS orchid that I did with its impact on the gift and tourist industries in Singapore. We started with no product, no market, no technology, no finance, and no experience except a hunch or gut feel. Instead there were lots of ridicules and criticisms to live with. I survived because of the inspiration I got from Dr. Ling by his personal example.

Many people are apprehensive of their “retirement”. Some even live in fear of their twilight years. Dr. Ling has shown that we can have golden years throughout our lives. It is all in our mind and our attitude towards life itself.

Being the eldest in the family my parents always wanted me to show a good example to my siblings. Now as a father and grandfather it is natural for me to want to leave some legacies for my children and grand children. I learned from Dr. Ling on how to set a good example. Whether I will be accepted as a role model is a different matter.

Dr. Ling has taught me not to be afraid of life but to enjoy it as golden years.

Thank you, Dr. Ling. I salute you.

Lee Kum Tatt

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Blue Rose - Man does not live by bread alone

According to Dr Lee Kum Tatt, the rose may appear in several colours, but most commonly in red. But, in nature, you can never find a blue rose. Dr Lee is fascinated by this fact and invented this story of the blue rose.

Tan Kin Lian.


The Blue Rose
Man does not live by bread alone

When Singapore became independent in 1965 it was realized that political freedom would not give us freedom from poverty and disease. The difference between the developed countries and the developing countries was in their level of science and its application for national development.

Singapore decided to put emphasis in the development of its only resource - manpower, especially its scientific, technological, technical and professional manpower. Emphasis was placed on the study of science and technology in our schools, polytechnic and universities.

The Singapore Science Council was formed under the Deputy Prime Minister’s office. Being the founder chairman of this Council for the first 10 years I initiated and participated in many programs to achieve our mission. Besides manpower training at various levels I have to help promote R & D in our Universities and our industries. We were very limited in our funds for R & D then but we managed to generate a lot of activities. How was that done? Many like to know.

In 1968 I attended a big international conference on “Science & The New Nations”. Most countries, especially the developed ones, boasted on their spending on R & D and the poorer ones complained of their limitation to funding for these activities. I was asked to give a short comment on what Singapore did to keep the spirit of R & D alive. I presented the following story:

“Once there was a poor boy who only had one coin in his pocket. He went to buy himself a slice of bread. He saw a blue rose which he was strongly attracted to. He asked the lady shopkeeper whether he could also have the rose and was prepared to take a smaller slice of bread instead. The lady thought that this was rather unusual for a poor boy to want a rose when what he needed most was his food. So the lady asked the boy why he wanted the rose so badly. The small boy replied:

"Madam, The bread is something I need to live on now. The blue rose will remind me that I have something to live for.”

The small boy got his rose and he became somebody in life.

Many of the participants at the conference were quite impressed with this story. This story touches on the distinguishing feature between Man and Animal. Besides struggling for mere existence Man needs something to live for in life. This is the driving force that made civilization what it is today. I am glad my parents gave this to me. The blue rose does not exist. It only exists in our minds.

My blue roses are my family, my fellow men and the things I like to do. The Blue Rose has become a symbol of that very special “Somebody” or “Something” which every human being needs to lead a full and more meaningful life.

Who and what are your blue roses in your life? Let them give you the strength to do what you like to do.

Lee Kum Tatt

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Story of The RISIS Orchid (part 1)

Dr. Lee Kum Tatt is the Creator of the RISIS Gold Orchid – “Singapore’s Gift to the World”. Stories have been written on how the RISIS orchid came about by academics, journalists, and local T.V. programs over the last 30 years. Questions are still being asked on how did the RISIS orchid became such a hit? Here is Part I from the horse’s mouth on how a fantasy is turned into a reality.

Tan Kin Lian


The RISIS Story - PART I - The Power of Inspiration

In the 1960’s Singapore discovered that it did not have a gift or souvenir that it can call its own. Many attempts were made by many people to produce such a souvenir. Many innovative products were produced but none was accepted as original or creative enough to be accepted as a truly Singapore gift or souvenir. The RISIS orchids were launched in April 1976 and it caught Singapore by storm. The public, the tourists and the Government were surprised that such a product could be created without much fanfare.

Unlike other import substitution products available in Singapore then this product was produced from scratch. There was no idea of what product to produce that would satisfy the felt need. There was no technology, market, finance or experienced manpower to do what had to be done. Few knew the challenges some of us have to go through for many years (starting in 1955) before we transformed a fantasy into a reality. Some attributed this success to be a lucky “fluke” of a mad scientist who pursue his whims and fancy to please his girl friend. Whatever it was, it worked!

Many people participated in the development of this product from the exploratory to the development and production stages and then to the financing, promotion and marketing activities that had to be done. Having these people to work together, often on a voluntary basis in the beginning, was quite a challenge. I like to say a big thank you to them all for bringing RISIS to this world. Some will have their own stories to tell from their own perspective.

Do we need a mad scientist to bring something like RISIS to this world? My answer is "no". Follow your gut feel. Have courage, confidence and faith in yourself and your fellow colleagues. Use your inspiration to provide the energy to lead and to pull you through the uncertain times. You will be surprised at what the power of your inspiration can do.

How the orchid was chosen and how a fantasy was turned into a reality will be shown in pictures that follow. How we handled some of the problems associated with this project will be highlighted separately, hopefully to provide confidence to those who like to try to do what we have done. Can we get another lucky fluke to produce another RISIS product? The answer is a definite "yes". It is all up to you. Happy reading and Good Luck!

Lee Kum Tatt.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Important Motivating Factors

Lee Kum Tatt has often been asked what made him do many of the things he did in life when it was not his duty nor career requirement and there was no remuneration or material reward. His standard answer has been that if we have gone through what he has been through we would probably not have done differently.

I encouraged Dr. Lee to share with us some of his personal experiences which made him what he is.

Tan Kin Lian


Important Motivating Factors

I came from an underprivileged background. I was born a British subject, went through the Japanese occupation of S.E.A. and the events that followed after the war in the region. I lost 6 good years of my life. At one time I saw no future for myself. I was a charcoal seller, a farmer planting rice and other crops, a dealer in the “black” market and an odd job man. In the beginning I felt miserable and often cried till I had no more tears. My mother, whom I love very much, told me not to feel sorry for myself. She left me with the following advice:

“The world does not care for what you lack. It is only interested only in what you have to offer.”

My mother’s advice woke me up. I began to see the good in the things that I had to do. There is plenty for me to learn in what I have to do even as a farmer or charcoal seller. So long as what I do benefits and does no harm to others, my mother would be proud of me. This is what I always wanted for one who has sacrificed so much for me.

I adopted and promoted this philosophy in my personal, professional life and career. My academic, professional and personal achievements speak for themselves. I hope that this quotation when practiced properly will also motivate others, as it did for me.

Lee Kum Tatt