“Wah, now everyone knows my age!”
Spoken in jest in typical Singapore patois, CapitaLand’s Senior Vice President of Product Development and Design, Member of CapitaLand’s Sustainability Steering Committee and CMA’s EHS management representative, Chow Chee Khang typifies the kind of earthy charm that is so Singaporean.
The Singapore son who was born the same year the country gained independence, admits that the sound of Singapore is the one thing he associates most with home.
“Singlish is what makes us Singaporean,” he says about the country’s colloquial English.
“I travel a lot for work. When I am away, I can always recognise a fellow Singaporean from the way he speaks. And when we talk to one another, I feel so comfortable.”
Food for Thought
Growing up in Singapore in the 60s and 70s, Toa Payoh was his neighbourhood and home was a rented one-room flat.
“Life then was very different. We knew our neighbours so well. My mom would leave her keys with the neighbours when she went to the market. When one family cooks curry, all the neighbours on that floor get to eat it too,” he fondly muses about the good old days.
“My family has lived in our current home for so long but we still don’t really know our neighbours. My wife and I always joke that we only know their surname is ‘Ang’ because we always get our kids to call them ‘Ang-cle’ (uncle) and ‘Ang-tie’ (auntie).”
Like any true blue Singaporean, some of his fondest childhood memories revolve around food.
“I used to buy black chai tau kueh (savoury carrot cake) from the coffee shop opposite my block of flats. In those days, we would bring our own egg for them to fry with the carrot cake. The egg would become your queue number because the hawker would remember your order by your egg. Till today, I miss the taste of chai tau kueh wrapped with banana leaf and recycled telephone directory paper and eaten with a toothpick .”
Although the family moved to the East when he turned 13 and home has been that part of Singapore since, Toa Payoh still has a special place in his heart.
“I like to drive by with my kids and tell them this is where I used to live. This is where my neighbours and I would play football along a corridor that was only a metre wide.”
Apart from sharing childhood memories, Mr Chow also bonds with his family through the well-loved Singapore pastime – eating.
“I try to get my children interested in Chinese culture through food. I tell them the story behind the bak chang (rice dumpling) when we eat it,” he says of his two children aged 18 and 20.
Although, he admits, the authentic-tasting local foods of his youth no longer exists.
“The best bak chang are the ones my ah ma (grandmother) makes. Sadly, she is no longer with us.”
This Teochew boy also loves the Teochew porridge at Simon Road and the food from Hung Kang Teochew Restaurant at North Canal Road “because my dad loves it”.
Because of his family’s busy schedule, weekends are the only time they have to eat out together.
“My elder son Jordan is in the army and my younger son Jonas, who is currently in his second year at Victoria Junior College, has so many activities he sometimes comes home later than me,” he laments.
When Saturday and Sunday roll along, it is “ makan ” (eating) time, as Mr Chow puts it gleefully. Pig’s kidney mee sua (bean vermicelli) from Bedok North Block 511, Italian cuisine from Porta Porta across the road from Changi Prison, Good Chance popiah from Outram’s Silat Avenue, ji pow kai (paper-wrapped chicken) from Clementi – the Chows do not hesitate to scour the island for good chow.
Respect is Key
Mutual respect, Mr Chow says, is the other trait that makes Singapore special.
“From young, I was taught to greet my elders at meal times, when I wake up, and when I come home. If my elders didn’t touch their chopsticks you can’t start eating either. Till today, I still call my older cousins kor kor (older brother) and che che (older sister),” he recounts.
“We also have a lot of respect for other races and it is something which comes quite naturally. My colleagues in China are surprised by the cultural and racial sensitivity we display.”
Mr Chow is careful not to use utensils from non-halal Chinese stalls when eating Muslim food. When eating with Muslim friends and colleagues, he defers to their dietary considerations and always eats at halal stalls.
“My secretary is Muslim. She has been with me for 10 years. During the Ramadhan month, I allow her to work flexi-hours to accommodate the different daily break-fast times and to attend to her family commitments,” says the Victoria School alumni who has many Malay and Indian classmates during his secondary school days.
He believes this mutual respect is a legacy from Singapore’s kampung (village) days of old when the communal spirit was strong and different races lived side by side.
“My father can speak Malay so well because of our Malay neighbours. They really respected each other,” he says.
“Because of that respect for other races, when there is a crisis, we Singaporeans stand strong together regardless of race or religion. I have to salute our founding father Mr Lee Kuan Yew for his emphasis and efforts in advocating inter-religious peace and harmony from the early days of Singapore’s independence. We need to remind ourselves that the racial harmony we enjoy today is a result of the foundation laid by Mr Lee and his comrades. So we learn not to take it for granted and continue to inculcate such values in our children. This is what makes us a strong and united nation.”
Green Green Grass of Home
As the EHS Management Representative of CMA’s Green Committee, Mr Chow’s mandate to keep CapitaLand’s malls green and eco-friendly is very much in keeping with Singapore’s garden city image. To that end, he has been extremely successful. Under his guidance, CMA has won the gold award for four consecutive years at the CapitaLand Environmental, Health and Safety Innovation Award, an initiative which recognises outstanding green innovation voted by colleagues in the various business units across the Group. In 2014 alone, CMA earned 11 CapitaLand EHS Awards. On top of this, CMA has obtained numerous global green certifications from the Singapore BCA Green Mark to the Japanese CASBEE, China Green Standard and the US/India LEED.
“At our Green Day this year, we also set a Singapore record attempt for making the largest braided mat (3.08-metre wide) from old t-shirts - ,” says Mr Chow who has worked with CapitaLand for 19 years and was a key member of project teams responsible for the beautifully-designed and eco-friendly shopping malls across Asia that the real estate giant is synonymous with.
“I must thank my team who has always given me their support throughout these years. Without them, all these achievements will not be possible,” he added.
Mr Chow’s 50 th birthday was a quiet affair spent working. But for the coming Golden Jubilee of Singapore, he intends to mark it with his family and his fellow countrymen.
“We usually travel as a family over long weekends but this time, we agreed that we will just stay put. We’ll probably look out for a big screen somewhere and watch the National Day Parade with the rest of Singapore.”
As a parting shot, Mr Chow adds, “When I travel and tell people I am from Singapore, they always tell me ours is a beautiful green city, with a world class airport and a strong government. Somehow they also treat me with a lot more respect. This is one of those things that make me proud to be a Singaporean.”
Coming from a born and bred Singapore son, you can’t help but feel infected by this man’s sense of national pride and love for his country.