Tag Archive | money

Once famous heiress dies in obscurity

It was the littlest of obituaries.  A single column, about 5 cm long, and tucked into an obscure corner almost at the bottom of the Straits Times obituary page.

It appeared in an old copy of the newspaper, perhaps sometime last month or this month. In any case, that paper was among a pile that my nephew dropped for me to scan through be4 discarding, since I no longer subscribe to the ST.

Her name caught my eye. As did that tiny, tiny photograph. Perhaps her age too. In the 90s. Then I remembered who she was.

She was the woman whom a Western journalist — making it big in Singapore in days when they came here in droves to make the fortune they couldn’t at home (some things never change, hur hur!) — drew my attention to years ago.

She asked why this woman with her millions bothered to head fund raising drives. Why couldn’t she just open her cheque book? I didn’t know enough back then to retort that many hands made light work and it wasn’t just about writing a cheque but about raising awareness on the plight of the poor.

The woman who died almost in obscurity was none other the widow of the founder of Chung Khiaw Bank, now part of United Overseas Bank.

Here is what was written about her by her grand-daughter in the grand-daughter’s infamous biography called Escape from Paradise, a long slanderous slam against Singapore and some members of her family but not her grandmother!

Aw Cheng Hu, known as “Emma,” was born in Rangoon, and brought to Singapore by her father, Aw Boon Par, who formed one half of the famous Haw Par brothers. Emma is May Chu’s grandmother.

From the book:

“My grandfather’s name was Lee Chee Shan, but I called him “Kong Kong,” Cantonese for grandfather. My grandmother, Emma, was “Mamak,” literally, “great mother.” Formally, my grandfather was known as Dato Lee Chee Shan, and my grandmother, Datin. Dato and Datin are Malaysian titles originally bestowed on tribal chiefs and their wives, but now reserved for the rich—especially the Chinese rich. Of course, at the time, I knew nothing of such things.

So much deference was shown to Kong Kong by Mamak, that you would never guess that she was the one with all the money. This did not mean that Mamak was subdued, or mousy. Not at all. While Kong Kong usually ate in silence, Mamak did all the talking. She was very animated, gesturing as she talked.

She enjoyed herself and laughed easily. She was truly Boon Par’s daughter. Still, out of respect for her husband, Mamak always dressed as he wished—colorfully, in traditional Chinese cheongsams, always with matching red lipstick and nail polish. Each cheongsam had its own matching set of jewelry—nothing subdued ever, not even during the day. Mamak made Kong Kong very happy. Everybody made Kong Kong very happy, and even at the bank, all the ladies wore cheongsams—they had to.”

Contrast this to the last known report about “Emma” in the TODAY free sheet from which I’ve extracted this telling paragraph:

” Today, the matriarch of the clan, Datin Aw Cheng Hu, 88, the daughter of Mr Aw Boon Par, lives in a spartanly-furnished rented HDB flat. When Today traced her to her humble dwelling last week, Datin Aw was lying in bed, about to start on her evening meal – a bowl of porridge.”

Those circumstances explain why her passing has attracted no fanfare.


NUSS membership has its privileges..

.. really…and many…
I have four club memberships and the one I hold at National University of Singapore Society (NUSS) is the best value for money, service and variety.

latest NUSS outlet

latest NUSS outlet

I first became a member in circa 1970 when the society, called Guild House then, had its premises in a rather dingy bungalow at 15, Evans Road.

I had no intention of becoming a member but the friend who brought me for a drink there was part of a group trying to expand the membership. The price of membership was $100 and I paid just $50 because one of the membership activists offered to put up the difference, as a sort of incentive.

Atho I wasn’t a product of the NUS (at that time called University of Singapore), I was welcomed as n associate member.

So voila, I became a member and for a few years, paid my monthly subs which cldn’t have been more than $5, but remember in 1970, a Grange Road apartment of 1,400sf could be bought for under $100K.

Thereafter disinterest set in. I stopped paying my subs and resigned myself to the fact that I might b kicked out. The years passed. Then one fine day i received a letter asking me to revive my membership. No demand for past dues; no recrimination.

And I thought why not? Kent Ridge Guild House was about to open and the monthly subs were a “princely” $20!

Unlike the other clubs I joined subsequently (at least two are hugely losing propositions in that I hardly use them; and their membership prices have gone from hero to zero-almost), NUSS didn’t stop at just one location.

It gave me Orchard Cineleisure for 8 or 10 years; and when that lease expired, gave me Suntec City. Be4 them, there were facilities at the then fairly new Amara Hotel as well as Adam Road, altho the latter has never been my favourite destination.

And even be4 the Kent Ridge premises could begin to fray at the edges, NUSS has since the beginning of November moved to spanking new premises at the Alumni Complex still in Kent Ridge.

In a few days time, another outlet opens in the old Singapore University premises in Bukit Timah Road, a five-minute drive from my home.

Great locations; delicious food at very decent prices and usually good service: these sum up why I never regretted being an NUSS member.

But that was not all. A couple of years ago, when I reached a certain magic number (hehe, better don’t reveal my age, hor!) in seniority, I found I no longer had to pay monthly subs which are now $45. Apparently, one has to be a member for a certain number of years to qualify for this privilege.

nasi worth zik-ba-ban

nasi worth zik-ba-ban

 With the $45 saved every month, I could indulge in the above as well as the many delectable sets offered at the Suntec location.

At $22 per person for a three course meal, (with coffee, tea, soft drink and garlic bread thrown in) it’s a steal because the ingredients are excellent, the presentation stylish and meticulous.

A picture speaks a thousand words and all of them directed at our stomachs as a medley of chicken n fish dishes (below) which my family and I had over a recent week-end shows.

nothing fishy here

nothing fishy here

my hallibut

my hallibut

the real mcCoy

the real mcCoy

To round up our lip-smacking mains, was a tiramisu made more delightful with candied orange slice. As usual, we order a liqour to toss into our dessert for an extra kick to end the meal.

sweet ending on a high

sweet ending on a high

I’ve regretted many of my club memberships but never, never being an NUSS member. That’s why I think anyone reading this and isn’t yet a member should make a bee-line for its about-to-xpire offer which ends on Dec 6.

Be4 that date, entrance fees are $3,000, but one-third of this will come back to the member in the form of a $1,000 F&B credit (no limit on what the amout could be spent on in the club’s many outlets).

For the introducer, there’ll be $300 worth of F&B credit but I’ll waive this $300 to anyone who asks me to be their introducer, so that their entrance fee in effect works out to be just $1,700. I’ll also share with the person any winnings from the lucky draw connected with the membership drive.

I’m doing this because someone did it for me almost 40 years ago and I’m still enjoying the benefits today.

After Dec 6, NUSS entrance fees will go up to $4,000 and $10,000 in March 2010. But why delay, as the length of your membership will determine whether like me, you will get a life-time gift of subs waiver when you reach that magic XX years old?