Minister Tan Chuan-Jin gets blasted over seemingly callous remarks on elderly cardboard collectors

Surely he tried to mean well, but man, what a way to shoot yourself in the foot. 

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin has been attracting a lot of disapproval and castigation online after he posted on his Facebook page about his latest expedition among the hoi polloi — elderly cardboard collectors in the Jalan Besar area in particular. 

Instead of expressing his sympathy for these aged folk who are working their bones off to eke out a few dollars collecting discarded cardboard, the minister insinuates that what they do is more of a hobby than a forced circumstance. Much like collecting stamps, Lego building, scrapbooking or LARPing. Tan — in a rather out-of-touch display — wants to eradicate all negative stigma of cardboard collectors being financially strapped by stating that some of them do it “as a form of exercise and activity”. Oh dear. 

“Who needs a membership at True Fitness when we can do this shit for free?”

“The normal perception that all cardboard collectors are people who are unable to take care of themselves financially is not really true. There will be some who do this as their main source of income. Some do so to supplement what they have. Some prefer to earn extra monies, treat it as a form of exercise and activity rather than being cooped up at home. They do this to remain independent, so that they can have dignity and not have to ask their families for help.” 

Though to be fair, the rather inane findings were the conclusion of the Youth Corp volunteers who befriended the cardboard aunties and uncles and followed them over a 2-month period. Nonetheless, both the volunteers and the Minister have been criticised by numerous netizens based on the fact that they miss out on the true depth of the overarching issue. 

Indeed, his post has meant well in trying to point out that not all of the cardboard collectors we see slogging out under adverse weather are deeply in need of aid, but the truth remains that a large portion of them actually do need help and are forced to do so for a meagre living. The best reaction to the whole controversy would be by sociologist Daniel PS Goh, who remarked that they simply committed a basic error in conducting social research. 


TCJ is getting a lot of flak for his FB post, “Have you ever spoken to a Cardboard Uncle or Aunty?” But I don’t think…

Posted by Daniel PS Goh on Sunday, 12 July 2015

Photo: Tan Chuan-Jin Facebook page

Subscribe to The Coconuts Podcast for top trending news and pop culture from Southeast Asia and Hong Kong every Friday!

Reader Interactions

Leave A Reply


Support local news and join a community of like-minded
“Coconauts” across Southeast Asia and Hong Kong.

Join Now
Coconuts TV
Our latest and greatest original videos
Subscribe on