Bee crazy

by | March 31, 2022

A MOE teacher for 37 years trades classroom teaching to teaching visitors about bees.


John Chong and his bees.

While most of us would typically run away when faced with bees, but not 63-year-old John Chong. He heads straight at them, but not in a provoking manner mind you. He is a beekeeper and owner of BEE AMAZED Garden in Yishun, and is happy to share anything and everything about bees.

He wasn’t always a friend of bees many years ago while working for the Ministry of Education (MOE) as a teacher, head of department and vice-principal of a number of Singapore schools. He was also one of nine Singaporean teachers who started the Singapore International School in Hong Kong. But, who is to say as maybe it was a hidden liking to bees which only got revealed in 2015 while in Penang on a field trip near an archeological site with his students. From then, he got hooked like bees to nectar. The bees became his acquaintance but a full-blown friendship took shape during school holidays when he travelled to Malaysia, Australia and other places to learn more about bees.


The business of bees

In particular, on a trip to Australia accompanying his son for his studies, John wrote to 10 beekeepers but only three responded and he decided to pay each a visit. This was going to crucial as his seedling of an interest grew into so much more. The first professional beekeeper he met in Australia told him that if he wanted to get into a beekeeping business, he would need to have 400 hives to keep the business thriving. He said, “400 hives? This would be impossible in Singapore!”

This didn’t deter him so he went on to meet the second beekeeper, who is an urban beekeeper. The man shared that he keeps his bees on the rooftop in the Central Business District (CBD) in Brisbane and this got John excited as Singapore has a CBD and there are rooftops, and he saw the possibilities open up. Finally, the third beekeeper keeps his bees in his backyard garden. John thought of landed properties and backyards in Singapore, and thought this could be the direction he could go.

He also made a trip to Myanmar with a consultant to visit apiaries where beehives are kept. They found him trustworthy and offered him to buy their honey so he could sell them. This was great news, however, “the goldmine didn’t turn out to be much of a goldmine,” shared the father of two. In order to sell honey, it has to be of high quality. So, he sent a sample of the honey to a testing centre in Europe and discovered it was of inferior quality. So instead of selling of honey, he started a bee school in Myanmar to train locals how to harvest honey. Things however did not work out the way he wanted and the company failed after he left MOE for early retirement and 37 years under his belt teaching.

Now with more time on his hands, he went on a trip to Israel and brought along honey (which he calls “bee vomit”) from his previous trips to Malaysia, Nepal, etc, to try to sell, however, that didn’t go well either as they were not interested. He knew why they weren’t biting, as their own honey in Israel was very good. He even tested a sample. With this discovery, he turned a negative situation into a positive one by inking a deal to sell their honey but under his own brand called My Honey.


Bringing in his love for teaching

With all the information he learned about bees, in December 2017, John decided to combine his love for teaching with his love for bees, and created BEE AMAZED Garden. He uses bees as a motivation tool to the children in his workshops to instil the concepts of working hard and working together, and at the same time, debunk bees’ bad reputation. “If you work hard, you will be somebody, whether you have a university degree or not. The bees don’t care. Just do whatever you want to do.” John is a role model himself as he came from a poor family and lived in a wooden hut next to a jungle. He also had low self-esteem but today, that is all a distant past.

At BEE AMAZED Garden, he conducts workshops for children and families as well as basic beekeeping lessons and honey-tasting sessions. He also sells the honey from Israel. Asked why he doesn’t make local honey instead and sell that, John explained that to get one kilo of honey, bees need to visit about two million flowers. “Where to find two million flowers in Singapore? Our bees can survive but just not enough to make local honey.” He still holds out hope that one day Singapore can make its own honey. Continuing along his mission to bring about more understanding of bees, at his garden, there is a long narrow observation deck where visitors can safely observe the seven beehives in the garden with about 140,000 bees behind a mesh wall. John has two species of honey bees including local and dwarf.

Besides all this, he also helps relocate beehives, which he shared is part of a beekeeper’s job. He learnt this skill from scratch and is proud to share that over five years, he has relocated 300 hives! One caveat is that he is only interested in hives that have honey bees – “if wasps or hornets, call the pest control,” he said. He added that there are five types of honey bees in Singapore and two of which can be domesticated and make honey. “Solitary bees can look after themselves!” John shared that relocating bees is not like relocating a goldfish. For certain types of bees, he can only relocate beehives after dark when the bees become docile and have all returned to the hive, and he does this with protective gear as sometimes hives are located in narrow places.

He then puts the hive in a box and relocates it to his BEE AMAZED Garden, or to one of his beekeeping students who have their own gardens and want to make honey. He also relocates some bees to Sentosa Golf Club, where he holds the title of “John – first beekeeper in Sentosa”. There, he looks after seven beehives and firmly believes that bees are an “indicator of environmental friendliness and a solution to global warming”. However, sometimes the bees may not like their new location and may abscond to somewhere else.

“It is my greatest satisfaction seeing relocated bees in a hive thriving and in teaching the children, seeing the glow on their faces and seeing them no longer afraid of bees,” said John. “It is a lie to believe that bees are out to harm us, and that they see us and sting us. If you are not a flower, they are not interested in you. If they sting you, they will die. Who wants to die?

“If you don’t provoke them, you will be ok. Sometimes, bees come if they want to drink water from your sweat and can’t find another source of water. If they land on you, don’t swat them. Once they have enough, they will fly away automatically. There is no need to fear them.”

Bringing in yet another reference of bees in his advice, John said, “There is no retirement age for bees. They work until they expire. Seniors should continue to keep their minds active – be it physically or mentally active. Take up fishing, farming, or whatever. Go learn and do something new and you will be forever young.” As we closed the interview, he shared that after his workshops he would bring out his guitar and sing a bee song he wrote. Like his workshops, we will end this interview with his song which goes like this:

“Honey in the morning.
Honey in the evening.
Honey at suppertime.
Take a little honey.
And bee healthy all the time.

Honey in the morning.
Honey in the evening.
Honey at suppertime.
Bee my little honey
And love me all the time.

Honey in the morning.
Honey in the evening.
Honey at suppertime.
Bee my little honey.
And love you all the time.”


 Five unknown facts about bees, courtesy of John:

  • Honey bees have more eyes than us – five eyes. Vision is important as they have to find flowers to feed on nectar and pollen.
  • Honey bees cannot see the colour red.
  • Honey bees can see ultraviolet light, which we cannot.
  • It takes the entire life of one honey bee to produce just 1/12 teaspoon of honey.
  • Honey bees hiss when expecting danger.


(** Come and listen to more about John and others at Temasek Shophouse’s “Lend Me Your Y…ears” auditory exhibition that ends on April 30, 2022. To find out more about the exhibition, go HERE.)


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