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Published: January 2nd 2015
They say that history is written by the victors, not by the vanquished. History books can be rewritten or destroyed entirely. It’s a lot harder when the stories are tied up in buildings; they have their own stories set in stone. Ea Hoe Hean Club
As I was looking for the original Tiger Balm factory in Singapore (see previous post “A Tale of Two Brothers’) I came across references for the Millionaires Club. Well, I wanted to learn more about that – who wouldn’t? And once you head down that particular rabbit hole, it’s hard to stop.
The Ea Hoe Hean Club, popularly called the Millionaires Club, was founded in 1895, and while it may have originally started as a social club, it soon turned to political ventures. Several of its members were actively involved with Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s movement to overthrow the Qing Dynasty in 1911 and to form the Republic of China. (The Republic of China still exists – most people today call it Taiwan, but it was originally composed of Mongolia, China, and Taiwan.)
When Japan declared war on China during World War II, members of the Ea Hoe Hean Club raised money
and recruited people to help China in their war effort against the Japanese. They helped smuggle arms from Burma into China, and one of their members served as the head of the Overseas Chinese General Mobilisation Council. Of course, when the Japanese invaded Singapore, they did not take kindly to these efforts, and a number of their members were killed.
Today the club still functions as a business and social club. Some of today’s members include executives of the banking community as well as other businessmen. Their primary focus now is on charity. Jinrikisha Building
Also in this general are is the Jinrikisha Building. This building, built in 1903 was used for the registration and inspection of rickshaws up until 1945. After the war, criticism of rickshaws as an affront to human dignity grew, and trishaws became more popular. In 1947 rickshaws were banned.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority awarded this building conservation status in 1987. The building was refurbished and turned into commercial space. In 2007, Jackie Chan, the movie actor, bought the building. Today the building houses offices, restaurants, and karaoke bars. Chye Soon Long shophouse
I was on an elevated
walkway crossing Eu Tong Sen Street when I noticed a crest carved into the second floor of an old shophouse on the corner of Eu Tong Sen and Carpenter Streets. On the Eu Tong Sen side of the building the part of the crest that was in English said “Chye Soon Long.” On the Carpenter Road side there was an iron crest, and the words “Chye Hua Seng Wee Kee. Figuring that the building had once belonged to a wealthy Chinese, I set out to find what the building had been used for originally.
A little digging led me to a man named Lee Wee Nam, born in 1881 in Kwangtung Province, China. His mother died when he was young, and his father, a coffin maker, shipped the boy off to Singapore. He was apprenticed to a trader in Singapore, and was so well known for his hard work and diligence that other Chinese businessmen recruited him. He eventually became a broker for Sze Hai Tong Banking & Insurance Company Limited.
He did well here, too, and was soon appointed manager of the bank’s branch in Bangkok. After a year in Bangkok, he was brought back to Singapore
where he rose through the ranks to become the bank’s chairman and managing director. The Sze Hai Tong Banking and Insurance Company merged with the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation in 1998, and continues to be one of the largest and best performing banks in all of Asia.
So how does that tie in with the names on the building? Well, turns out that Lee Wee Nam was a wealthy Chinese businessman. He was also was part owner of the trading company Chye Soon Long. And he had a hand in Chye Hua Seng Wee Kee, a remittance company, where Chinese workers could send their pay home to their families. Today that building is occupied by a yoga studio.
And by the way, the title says “I Went to the Millionaires Club.” I never said they let me in.
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