Turning a hobby into a second career

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21 Dec 2023
SOURCE: The Straits Times

CPF employees in the office

For most of his life, Mr John Chong nurtured young minds as a teacher. 


Now, he keeps bee-sy, diligently caring for the colonies in his bee gardens at Sentosa Golf Club and the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS). 


Mr Chong, who retired seven years ago, first developed an interest in the insect after a chance encounter with stingless bees during a field trip to Kedah in 2015.


“I’m fascinated by how hardworking bees are. They are always busy foraging for nectar, cleaning and maintaining the hive, producing honey and building wax combs. There is much to learn from them,” he shares.


Today, the 64-year-old also conducts workshops on beekeeping and the important role these pollinators play in maintaining biodiversity. When needed, he helps to rehouse bees from homes and offices to locations that are more suitable for them as well.


His story and unusual hobby, which he describes as a second career, has thrust him into the spotlight due to the growing appreciation of nature and sustainability in Singapore, and as more Singaporeans look for ways to stay active in retirement.

CPF employees in the office

Eager to spread the art of beekeeping, Mr Chong regularly hosts workshops for families, schools and corporate groups at his rooftop BEE aMAZEd Garden located at SUSS. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

Pollinating his dreams

Having exercised prudence in his home purchase, Mr Chong is able to pursue his passion without significant financial concerns. His current home was fully paid for when he retired while his 37-year teaching career and prudent lifestyle enabled him to accumulate sufficient retirement savings.


CPF Life payouts will also provide a steady stream of income for life, and MediShield Life offers coverage for medical costs if he ever requires hospitalisation or long-term care.

CPF employees in the office

The retiree also enjoys playing the guitar and the occasional game of tennis in his free time. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

When he turned 55, he did not withdraw any of his CPF savings, allowing the money to continue growing through the power of compound interest. As for his seven-year-old beekeeping business, it now generates enough revenue to pay two employees as well as yield a small profit.


When asked about regrets, Mr Chong says that he only wished that he paid more attention to financial planning in his younger days. He reveals he once lost a substantial sum of money when he invested rashly in a dot-com company in the 1990s.


“If I could turn back the clock, I would definitely spend more time understanding investments and how to maximise my CPF savings.”



Making prudent choices

Although financially secure now, Mr Chong came from humble beginnings. He grew up poor and still vividly remembers a time when he had only $10 in his bank account in the 1980s.


He and his educator wife believe in saving for a rainy day and lead a simple lifestyle. He shares that his family rarely eats at restaurants, preferring to have home-cooked or hawker meals, with their only indulgence being an annual trip abroad.


Says Mr Chong: “Be yourself. Live within your means, spend wisely and always save for the future.”


Finding an interest is key to a fulfilling life, especially during retirement, adds Mr Chong, an avid tennis player who still plays regularly.


“By exploring, pursuing your interests, you might open up a new career path, not only for yourself but for others too,” he says.

CPF employees in the office

Mr Chong and his assistant take turns to perform maintenance work on the bee hives. This includes greasing the stands to prevent ants from attacking the hives. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

Mr Chong points out that retirement does not mean one has to slow down. Retirees could use their time to “re-fire” themselves by pursuing their interests and contributing to the community.


For instance, he is exploring ways to grow his company so that he can create employment opportunities and help others in need. Besides his two assistants, Mr Chong also hires ad-hoc facilitators and SUSS students for his workshops and events.


“There are so many things to learn from bees. Bees cherish whatever little they have. They collect little bits of nectar and add value by turning it to honey. They then multiply and share. Bees are collectors and savers.”


This article was first published on The Straits Times on 1/12/2023.