Diplomats are difficult to crack. They are usually stiffly formal, seemingly wrapped in a veil of confidentiality and are quite detached from subjects one isn’t supposed to talk about in polite company. But not on this semi-tell-all. In an interview with Daily Tribune, Singapore Ambassador to the Philippines Gerard Ho Wei Hong loosens his tie to give Filipinos a glimpse of his persona, the things that he finds endearing about the Philippines and what he misses most about Singapore since the lockdown.
Daily Tribune (DT): Was your path to the diplomatic line of work clear to you even as a child?
Ambassador Gerard Ho Wei Hong (GHWH): No. I applied for several public service jobs during my last year in university but the first to interview and offer me a job was the Foreign Service.
DT: Why was History your major in university?
GHWH: I’ve always enjoyed reading, particularly history, even as a child. So, I thought, why not just read History in college? If the readings are not a chore, that’s half the battle won.
DT: What lessons from history do you hold close as a guide to your work as an ambassador of your country?
GHWH: There is always the old adage of ‘study the past to define the future.’ But while we would obviously want to avoid repeating our mistakes, we also cannot assume that if something worked a certain way before, it would continue to do so indefinitely. If anything, history shows us that humanity has been continuously dynamic, innovative and adaptable. So, in the context of policymaking, a sense of history is critical, but it is one of many inputs in the process.
DT: What has your tour of duty been like in Manila since 2019?
GHWH: I’ve been very fortunate. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of our diplomatic relations last year and our President was able to make a State Visit to the Philippines. We also managed to undertake many bilateral activities before the pandemic slowed things down. On a personal level, I never cease to be amazed by the incredible warmth, hospitality and friendship that the Filipino people have shown towards my country and myself.
DT: Most admired Filipino trait.
GHWH: Optimism. You always bounce back from adversity.
DT: What do you miss most in Singapore?
ghwh: Hawker food, especially fried Hokkien Mee and Bak Chor Mee. Hokkien noodles, one of our many Singapore hawker dishes, are (made) with yellow noodles, bee hon, squid, prawns, pork belly and pork lard. It’s usually fried together in a broth made of prawn and pork stock. When you think of Singapore, we always think about laksa. We always think about chicken rice, we always think about chili crab. But hokkien mee is essentially Singaporean because you don’t see it very much eaten elsewhere. I think almost all Singaporeans grew up eating hawker food. Part of the reason is because it is affordable and it’s everywhere. That’s the wonderful thing about eating hawker food in Singapore: there are so many different choices. I can’t tell you which is the best, I can only tell you what I like.
When I was growing up in a housing estate, the way we developed and planned our cities, we would create what we call hawker centers and coffee shops. Singaporeans — often both father and mother or husband and wife — are breadwinners. So, they don’t usually have that much time to stay at home or cook dishes for the kids.
It’s not unusual to pick up food from the hawker center or the coffee shop to have a quick meal, whether it’s lunch or dinner.
It’s something that I can’t get outside of Singapore. So, whenever I’m posted abroad, it’s something that I crave for. In fact, it’s one of the first things that I do when I get back to Singapore. I always eat hokkien mee which is very tasty, simple yet very difficult to do.
DT: Favorite comfort food
GHWH: I’m partial to salted-egg snacks, especially when having a drink or watching telly.
DT: Filipino dish you like?
GHWH: Kare-kare. I like the stew rich and creamy, and the oxtail meat fatty and tender.
DT: Music in your playlist right now.
GHWH: Queen and U2. And lots of rock from the 80s and 90s
DT: Go-to music for relaxation.
GHWH: Usually female vocalists or acoustic tunes.
DT: Beer or wine?
GHWH: Wine. Beer is too fattening!
DT: Beach or city?
GHWH: City. But I might change my mind after enjoying the beaches in the Philippines.