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Saturday June 2, 2007

Road named after a man with rags-to-riches story

By DEBBIE CHAN


Loke Yew: He dropped his surname Wong after arriving in Malaya when he was 13.
JALAN Loke Yew is one of those roads that are constantly mentioned on air during hourly traffic reports on congestion especially during peak hours. 

The road together with Jalan Cheras forms the Cheras Highway, which was built by Metramac Corporation but is now maintained and managed by Kuala Lumpur City Hall.  

The name Loke Yew is often shrouded in mystery, as not many know much about the man. Born as Wong Loke Yew in 1845, he spent his childhood as a farm hand in San Wui, southern China before he decided to set sail to Malaya when he was 13 to improve his fortunes.  

After arriving in Malaya, the young man chose to drop his surname Wong and to be known only as Loke Yew as he thought it was a luckier name.  

Loke took on his first job at Kwong Man, a provision shop in Market Street earning a mere $20 a month but four years later, with a savings of $99, he started his own provision store called Tong Hing Loong.  

The ambitious youngster soon grew restless and left his staff in charge of the store while he travelled to Perak to explore the tin mining business. 

He took many risks and worked hard and although he lost $60,000 in his first four years, he finally hit jackpot when he found a rich tin deposit in Kling Bahru. The stroke of luck changed his life and was the beginning of his family’s legacy. 

Loke then went on to own many tin mines, rubber and coconut plantations. He also dabbled in supplying provisions to British troops during the Perak War, monopolised liquor sales, managed a pawn broking establishment and held licences to run gambling tables.  

He was also the largest shareholder in Pahang Moto Car Service, owned shares in the Raub Straits Trading Company, Straits Steamship and Federal Engineers, partly owned Burmah Rice Mill, made investments in properties all over Singapore and Malaya.  

The successful businessman also strongly believed in the importance of education and was one of the founders who established Victoria Institution.  

Busy thoroughfare: Jalan Loke Yew, which is now part of the Cheras Highway, is managed and maintained by Kuala Lumpur City Hall.
His compassionate nature led to him lending help to many charitable causes including the establishment of the Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore. He was also believed to have played a leading role in establishing Kwong Yik Bank, which opened in July 1915. 

One of the stories that is often told about Loke Yew was on his humility. It was said that his wife had found him one day working in the rain as he taught his worker how to dig a hole with a hoe.  

Despite his wealth and success, he would never forget his struggles and sought to help others.  

Loke married four times and his fourth wife, Lim Cheng Kim, whom he married in 1914 bore him three children – Wan Tho, Yuen Theng and Yuen Peng.  

The family established Associated Theatres Ltd, which was renamed Cathay organisation. The family later built Singapore’s first skyscraper Cathay Building in 1939. 

The popular Loke Mansion in Jalan Medan Tuanku, which is currently abandoned, was bought by Loke in 1892 from tin miner Chow Ah Yoke. At that time, the mansion was 30 years old and over the next 12 years, Loke renovated and upgraded the house making it one of the most prestigious residences in Asia.  

Loke’s family lived in the home until the 1930s. 

The philanthropist passed away on Feb 24, 1917 from malaria.  

Today, the ever busy Jalan Loke Yew is home to many low-cost flats as well as the huge shopping complex UE3. 

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