‘Age catches ‘up with ‘towkay’ ‘social club

  • AseanPlus News
  • Monday, 27 Oct 2003

EVEN as the ranks of the rich swell, membership of a 108-year-old millionaires' club continues to shrink. 

Blame a change in culture. 

Like many other Chinese grassroots organisations, the Ee Hoe Hean Club in Bukit Pasoh Road is feeling the impact of an increasingly English-speaking and cosmopolitan society that is less bound by community ties. 

Formed by Hokkien towkay (bosses), the Ee Hoe Hean is one of Singapore's oldest social clubs for wealthy Chinese men. 

Its lunch menu hasn't changed since the days when trishas were still a popular mode of transport– sweet potato porridge with side dishes such as fried fish, char siew and stir-fried vegetables. 

Today, its members include luminaries such as United Overseas Bank chairman Wee Cho Yaw. 

However, renewal has proved difficult.  

“We want more younger members to rejuvenate the club and chart its future directions,” its secretary for general affairs Hong Poh Hin said over lunch at the club. 

It is even prepared to admit women now – though only as associate members. They will be able to participate in all activities, but they won't have voting rights. 

The club serves a free lunch every day except Monday, at 1.15pm on the dot. It also serves a free dinner at 7pm. 

The club's attempt at self- renewal began as early as 1991, when it started to organise annual golf tournaments. 

It attracted new members but still membership shrank – from 234 a decade ago to 183 today. 

“Some have died,” said Hong, 55, who reckons the average age now is about 60, slightly lower than a few years ago. 

Club officials say the oldest member is probably Overseas Union Bank founder Lien Ying Chow, 97. 

The club plans new activities to woo younger millionaires and shed its image as a social club where members while away the time with mahjong and karaoke. 

Vice-president Melvin Yap, 62, managing partner in a financial consultancy, thinks it may emulate the Lions and Rotary clubs, which raise funds for charity. 

Have more events to raise awareness of Chinese culture, suggested deputy secretary for general affairs C.K. Tok, 60, managing director of a trading firm. 

Some things won't change. It is still a Chinese men's club and membership is by invitation only. 

Half a dozen members have been recruited in the past six months. 

Ask how many millions a man must have to be eligible, and committee members say money is not the sole criterion. 

“We are looking for people who want to contribute to society,” insisted Tok. 

What's the draw? Besides free meals, the opportunity to network and overseas trips arranged for business opportunities. 

“We have people of many trades here. If any member has any problems, he just has to talk to other members,” said Tok. 

Membership fees are not astronomical: S$3,000 (RM6,600) to join, down from S$5,000 (RM11,000) before, and a S$480 (RM1,056) annual fee . 

Although the club is quiet most days, it perks up every other Saturday, when 60 to 80 members sit down to an eight-course dinner catered by a hotel. 

So why is sweet potato porridge still a staple on the lunch menu? 

Precisely because members are so rich. 

Said Hong: “The towkays eat well every day. They get sick of it and crave simple food.” – The Straits Times/Asia News Network 

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