Marriage tips from former Speaker of Parliament Abdullah Tarmugi

Both he and his wife say hard work and effort bring success to any partnership.

Illustration: Paul Eric Roca for The Straits Times

Both of them love food and spent time together scouring the island for the best eats. They also enjoy listening to jazz.

However, they have different ethnic backgrounds. Speaker of Parliament Abdullah Tarmugi, 71, is Malay, while his wife – Shirley, 69, who retired as the principal of Monks' Hill Secondary in 2002 – is Chinese.

They do not dwell on the differences in their culture. Instead, they focus on common ground.

This is what makes their marriage work, said Mr and Mrs Abdullah, in a two-hour interview with Little Red Dot in the couple's home in Bukit Timah.

The pair met at Raffles Institution, where both had their pre-university education. They married in 1969 after five years of courtship.

Their families gave their blessings to the marriage readily, said Mr Abdullah.

Their three-day wedding celebrations included a Chinese tea ceremony, where they offered tea to their parents and a Malay bersanding, where they sat on a decorated dais to greet well-wishers.

Like any marriage, both Mr and Mrs Abdullah had to make adjustments. One example, said Mrs Abdullah: "When I make bakchang (glutinous rice dumplings), I use chicken or beef as stuffing, instead of pork."

Mr Abdullah is Muslim, and Mrs Abdullah converted to Islam when she married him. Muslims do not take pork for religious reasons.

The Abdullahs have two children – Shireen, 33, an education and outreach programme director at a theatre company, and Hirman, 28, an assistant superintendent of police.

They are open to their children following in their footsteps, dating and marrying people of other races.

"You like a person because of his or her character. It does not matter if he or she is of a different race," explained Mrs Abdullah.

"More importantly," said Mr Abdullah, "I'd ask my kids: 'Where do you see the relationship heading?'

"If they're serious about their partner, I'd want to see them put in the effort to make it work."

"We did," said Mr Abdullah, holding his wife's hand and looking at her fondly. "And it was one of the best decisions of my life."

This is a fictitious article based on a real story.

Sources: Singapore Statistics website; The Straits Times

Mr Abdullah Tarmugi was a former Minister and Member of Parliament in Singapore. He retired from politics in 2011.

The former Speaker of Parliament was born to a Malay father and a Chinese mother. Mr Abdullah also took a Chinese wife.

Pairings like Mr and Mrs Abdullah's are common. In 2013, close to 21 per cent of marriages – or one in five unions – were of couples of different races.

This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on July 14, 2015. For similar stories, go to You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.