When Madam Chow Poh Chan died of a heart attack in her one-room rental flat in 2002, her only son was in Japan working as a dishwasher in a restaurant while hoping for a break as a photographer.
Mr ND Chow Meng Wah, then 27, got on a plane to Singapore and cried all the way home. At the wake, a relative ticked him off for being unfilial by leaving his mother alone and going off to chase an impossible dream.
The criticism hurt, but he kept his emotions under control. "I told myself she was happy and in a better place," he says. Madam Chow was an unwed mother who battled depression and had a hard time bringing him up.
"I also told myself I should not cry, that the saddest part of my life was over and if I continued crying, my mother would not be happy."
His energies, he decided, should be channelled into making good on his promise to her - that he would make her proud one day. He has kept that promise.
Mr Chow - who failed his O levels twice - is now one of Japan's most successful commercial photographers, commanding fees of between US$12,000 (S$15,200) and US$20,000 a day. He has shot bigwigs such as Hollywood star Tom Hanks and pop star Pharrell Williams, as well as campaigns for Japanese cosmetic company Shiseido and retail giant Isetan.
With his Japanese wife and two young children, he lives in a stylish house designed by an up and coming Japanese architect and built on a plot he bought in Chiba, near Tokyo's Disneyland.
Serendipity helped to shape his life. After leaving school, he applied for a job as a jeans salesman. The company asked if he would like to man a novelty photo booth on Sentosa instead - and his love affair with photography was sparked.
Cheery and boyish-looking, the diminutive man was born out of wedlock and grew up in a one-room rental flat in Telok Blangah Crescent.
"I seldom saw my dad and thought he must be a sailor since I had a neighbour whose father was a sailor and seldom around. One night when they thought I was sleeping, my parents quarrelled, and it was only then that I found out they were not married, and that my father had a wife and seven daughters," says Mr Chow, who was in town recently to shoot the stills for film-maker Eric Khoo's new movie In The Room, which comprises several stories about love, loss and lust.