Pursuing Opportunities Across Borders

Despite the pandemic, Tan Tam Mei’s (CS’15) fervour for adventure motivated her to relocate to Thailand as a foreign correspondent for The Straits Times.

Tan Tam Mei (CS’15) on her flight from Singapore to Bangkok, taken in June 2021.
PHOTO COURTESY OF TAN TAM MEI

-A A +A

When most Singaporeans were cooped up in their homes in June this year, Tan Tam Mei (CS’16) boarded a plane for Thailand with a one-way ticket in hand. 

She was heading to Bangkok to become The Straits Times’ Thailand Correspondent, moving on from her previous role as a local journalist for the paper since August 2015.

It was not an easy decision uprooting her life during a global pandemic, the 29-year-old said.

“These are the people bringing families the news. That left an impression on me as I realised this was a job that could give important information to help people.”

TAN TAM MEI (CS’16)

“When I first got the posting, I thought about it very hard, if I should be travelling abroad when times are so uncertain. But being in (journalism), it is very different from a normal job in the sense we have to constantly adapt to changes,” Tan said. 

And so she packed her bags for Bangkok, Thailand.

Tan’s first encounter with journalism began when she was only five years old. On 19th December 1997, SilkAir Flight 185 crashed in Palembang, Indonesia. Carrying 97 passengers and seven crew members from Jakarta to Singapore, all 104 occupants—including Tan’s father—perished in the accident.

Back then, social media was practically non-existent, said Tan. That meant breaking news stories would only appear in newspapers the next day or on television. Aside from authorities, journalists were one of the first information-bearers to come knocking on her family’s doors.

“These are the people bringing families the news. That left an impression on me as I realised this was a job that could give important information to help people,” Tan said.

The painful experience of being interviewed in a time of grief motivated Tan to pursue journalism rather than shun away from it. 

A career in journalism played into her strengths and her inquisitive nature as a young student, Tan said.

During her time in the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Tan took the CS2021: News Writing and Reporting module, conducted by Ms Hedwig Rasamah Alfred, Assistant Chair, Undergraduate Studies. This was where her passion for writing was put to the test.

“Hedwig made me cry once in class. It was just that one moment where I thought I was not cut out for journalism,” Tan said. 

“But it was never personal. Her honest feedback shaped me into the writer I am today,” she added. 

Surviving a gruelling internship at The New Paper reaffirmed her confidence in pursuing journalism.

“I realised the hours can be crazy and the work can be tough, but I felt I liked it enough to pursue it as a career,” Tan said. 

In Bangkok, Tan’s regular workday begins at 9 in the morning. She pitches and writes stories, does research and calls potential newsmakers. To assimilate into her new environment, Tan is also taking weekly Thai language classes.

She initially struggled to adapt to the lack of interaction outside of a newsroom because of the pandemic.

“When you get to a new place you usually would want to explore and build contacts,” Tan said. But Thailand was averaging 3,000 COVID-19 cases daily in June, which made her think twice about going out unnecessarily.

However, she still took the risk and went out on weekends to cover the ongoing protests against Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government.

“I have to be extra careful by wearing protective gear like a helmet, gloves and bringing hand sanitiser in the midst of a protest and a pandemic. Not everybody adheres to mask-wearing etiquette over here,” Tan said.

On giving advice to young writers, she said: “There will always be work to do when you are in the newsroom. It is important to know when to draw your boundaries and protect your mental health.” 

“Ultimately, you are a human before a journalist.”

Semester: