Sunday, 15 September 2013

Singaporean Millionaire With a Heart of Gold. Part 2.

Children at Batam Orphanage on 8th Sept. 2013.

I'm back to continue with the true story of Mr. Chan (not Mr. Chua), the  Charitable Singaporean Millionaire who singularly set up and run an orphanage in Batam with his own money.

An anonymous person correctly commented in my earlier post that he's Mr Chan not Mr Chua. I would like to share with you his comments about Mr. Chan as a person and a boss to him for your reading pleasure.


"From what I know, there is only one boss from that big shipyard speaks “pure teochew”, sixty-something, skinny, soft-spoken, polite, but he rarely wears a short-sleeve shirt, I hope I didn’t get it wrong. Or could it be one of his two brothers? which I don’t think so, neither of his brothers “co-owned” that business, and also, maybe not that rich. Mr Chan was originally an Indonesian many years ago before he started his shipbuilding business; the “pure Teochew” is more an Indonesian accent. I worked for him for a year or so when he had shifted to Jurong from Lorong Buangkok in the mid-’80s, he struggled quite hard in those days, with the kind of traditional management style and a soft heart; he did quite well but not really good before his big boss set up these yards in Batam and got it listed in Singapore. He is a very nice boss, I’m glad to know that he has since “semi-retired”, a man like him, with a great heart, is more valuable to be him today (in the charity) than in the money-making business. I sincerely wish him all the best. Eagerly waiting for your part 2, I would like to find out more about him and his orphanage house. And James, you take care and drive safe. Sorry for my poor English." 

Mr. Chan (nickname "Ah Sun" - skinny), had only a secondary Chinese education and speaks passable English but he's blessed with a sharp and intelligent mind and is always thinking of ways to get things done in the most efficient and pragmatic way.

One example of these is developing 22 hectares of virgin coastal land into the biggest shipyard with three floating docks and huge adjacent engineering and fabrication facilities in Batam, without paying a single cent to any professional consultant.

He builds oil rigs, oil tankers, livestock and cement carries, and ship conversion, among others also singularly. Mr. Chan did all these gigantic projects without even a diploma education or training in engineering practices but self-taught himself with a hungry and intelligent mind for details and experience.

His shipbuilding knowledge and engineering skill are astonishingly brilliant, comparable to any professional in the same line.

Mr. Chan was not born into a rich family and with his meager capital. he went into simple engineering works and barge building business in the seventies. Initially, the business was tough with lots of competition and scarcity of projects in Singapore.

Fortunately, he met a Mr. Tan, who saw something "special" in him and they became partners till the day their business was sold off to an Arabian company for billions in 2007.

Today, they are still partners in other business and good friends.

"The hardship was unimaginable in my growing up years in a village in Indonesia," Mr Chan told me a bit of his childhood while we were at his orphanage in 2013. "Those early years of existence living and experiences helped me to shape my character, encrypted my motivation to never knee down to poverty. It taught me to deeply empathize with the very poor as a fellow human begins". 

The dire faces of hungry orphans, as well as the lack of opportunities to escape poverty for the vast numbers of destitute, which he never forgot, were the key factors that motivate him to set up his orphanage in Batam.

"Presently, my needs are simple. I don't smoke, drink, or gamble. I don't splurge on luxuries, drive an expensive car or live in bungalow though I have the means to do it. I don't clamor for fame, demand respect or admiration because of my wealth. I don't exhort my friends and I lead my life as an example to them".

These days, the 60+ years-old Mr. Chan, who was once the CEO of the Batam facility of a main-board listed company in Singapore, wants nothing more than to spend his days at his orphanage, hoping to make a difference to the life of the kids there, not just with his money but more importantly, with his personal involvement and physical work.

His own children had grown up with professional careers of their own.

Now, let me share with you my short visit and what I know of Mr. Chan's orphanage in Batam as accurately as I possibly can remember.

Mr. Chan, two of his friends and I visited the orphanage late afternoon lone Saturday in 2013. It was my first visit to an orphanage and a day I'll remember for a long time.

About 20 kids, with ages ranging from 5 to 12 years old were at the gate, waving and screaming with joy as we arrived at the center.  

"Selemat Datang, Bapak Chan", they screamed and surrounded Mr Chan, who was beaming with the kind of joy, only man with a heart of gold can appreciate. Certainly not the same kind of emotion an MP felt when grassroots leaders and guests stand up and greet him/her out of protocol.

The orphanage, called "Panti Asuhan Yayasan Padmila" is about the size of a half a football field and sits in a center of vast vacant land about a mile from the popular "Batam Holiday Inn Resort" at Waterfront Ferry Terminal.

The premises is half-walled and manned with a security post at a single entrance. The housing is two rows of concrete, single-story building with insulation roofing, each row measuring about 100 x 20 meters, and a courtyard in between.

Inside the housings are two aircon classrooms, kitchen, dining rooms, toilets, bedrooms, and an office. All these facilities are built to modern standards like a hotel with piped water and electricity. And the cost.....nearly a two million US dollars.

Mr Chan established the orphanage 4 years ago in 2009 to provide a safe home for the orphan, abused, destitute, and abandoned children in and around Batam Island.

These children are given a stable and loving home where they are fed, clothed, cared for, and schooled. They are also given personal and professional development activities with the aim of bringing them up with a strong foundation for a happy and healthy life after leaving the orphanage at a mature age of about 18 years old.

Children at the orphanage are NOT allowed for adoption and their ages range between 5 to 15 years. As the orphanage does not have baby caring facilities, no babies are admitted.

Like most orphanage centers, all children are under close supervision for their own well begin and character development. Transports are provided to send children of school-going age to national schools and frequent excursions to local events and festivities for integration with local communities are arranged.

"Mr. Chan, how much does it cost annually to run your orphanage and why you do it,"  I asked while sipping tea at the diningroom with him alone

"Around half a million dollars annually. It's difficult to answer your second question". He replied and after a short pause, he continued...

"Honestly, I'm a humble man and do not wish to propagate or exaggerate my work. I did it because this is something I think it's worthwhile doing and I can  do it quite easily with what I have. Please don't ask me to speak more on this matter".

I salute this humble and unsung hero. Mr. Chan is truly a person who has the vision, the dedication, and the kind heart in doing whatever it is need to be done in and out of Batam.

He is helping those who are unable to help themselves by helping them to help themselves.

Mr. Chan is unaware that I'm secretly writing about him in this blog. I'm amazed and honored that he was willing to trust and befriend a lowly taxi driver like me to share a small part of his life.

The children in his orphanage are, without doubt, fortunate to be taken under Bapak Chans wings. It’s forever a work-in-progress and I’m secretly spreading the word about P.Y.P. Orphanage and hope that somehow, somewhere and someway, my friends and strangers could reach out to them and make our contribution in whatever small way we could.

"Mr. Chan, what are your view of the current society and government we have in Singapore in terms of charitable works" I pressed on with our conversation.

"Mr. James, I'm not a highly educated man. Therefore, I can't answer your question again. But I can say that society and government can be better if everyone (including the government) is willing to do a bit more, either in action or in cash than what they are doing right now".

Updated on 27/5/2020

Before I conclude this post, please let me share with you an update of the Batam orphanage facilities when I last visited it 4 years ago in 2016 i.e. 3 years after my first visit.

The orphanage had double in size to about 2 football fields and an increase in intake of about 100 residents. Some older orphans of above 18 years of age had left the orphanage to live and work on their own, usually with jobs recommended through Mr. Chua business connections. 

A new three-story concrete building with modern classrooms, library, IT facilities/rooms, assembly hall and sleeping accommodations had been erected next to the old building.

Behind the new building, a large plot of land is used as a farming area to cultivate and grow all kinds of vegetables and fruit trees. Adjacent to the vegetable farm is a large fish pond with plentiful edible fish.

I was told many orphans love to spend their extra-curriculum activities in the farm and pond.

For older orphans who are more active and sport orientated, there is a modern basketball court adjacent to the new building.

In conclusion, my parting words for this remarkable man, Mr. Chan, and all his benevolent friends who had contributed enormously to this orphanage in Batam......May God Always Bless You with Good Health and Long Life.

My photo in 2016 with the modern building in the background.


Eddy Fellow Cabby said...

God's calling to you indeed to be able to spread the good words. Bless you =)

Anonymous said...

hi James,

many thanks for your detailed part 2.
all the best

Nick Lim said...

Hi James,

My wife and I, ex-Singaporeans living abroad, were originally very impressed and fascinated with Dr Cai's blog on his trials and tribulations in driving a taxi in Singapore. When he stopped writing some time ago, we felt a sense of loss. Alas, my wife discovered your blog recently and introduced me to it.I was totally absorbed in your blog for 2 days over the last weekend-I read every blogs of yours from the earliest to the latest. You have provided me 2 days of wonderful entertainment, insights into human nature, humour and reflections. Thank you for your writing and looking forward to more of it.

Nick Lim

kim said...

I love your writing, command of the language, the style and the topics; some suspenseful some times and a bit naughty other times, all good and entertaining.

Someday, I hope to see a book form to contain your knowledge and experiences.

Thanks for shining!

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Anonymous said...

Hi James,

Are you alright? It has been a while since we heard from you. Hopefully you are just busy with work!

Warmest Regards,

Anonymous said...

Hi James,

This is Jie Ying from The New Paper. I am working on a feature about taxi drivers who blog. Would you be willing to share your blogging experience and the motivation behind it?

Let me know, thanks so much.

Jie Ying

Xianlong said...

Yes, it is materialistic in SG. Overmaterialistic i would say.

Materialistic values spewed forth from a govt that is obssessed with gdp growth. When the income inequality is the highest if not the 2nd highest among the developed economies, it is a downward spiral as people will buy more things to look good to others.

Ex-actor Xie Shaoguang became a monk recently after living in johor upon leaving showbiz in mid 2000s. I believe he is tired of the materialistic stuff in SG. Giving everything up at the peak of his career is not something the masses would do.

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Elgin said...

Hi James,

I read your post on knowing this Singaporean who built an orphanage at Batam. I also have plans to raise funds to build an orphanage in Batam but do not know how to start eg. construction requirements in Batam, permits, funds required etc.

Thus, am wondering if you are able to help connect me with this Singapore gentleman as I know he will definitely be able to help me in these areas.

I can't find any contact email of yours so I am trying to leave a message here. I can be contacted at my email: I can give you my mobile number through email.

Thanks much in advance and looking very much forward to your reply!

Diary of a Singaorean Cabby said...

Hi Elgin,

You can visit that orphanage in Batam and get the people to help you.


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