When his mother died at the age of 59 after a heart attack in 2002, her friends slammed him for being a bad son, calling him "unfilial" and "irresponsible".
Just a year earlier, local photographer ND Chow, then 25, had left Singapore for Tokyo to carve out a career in photography - but was still not earning a stable income.
While struggling to reach that goal, he juggled two jobs - working as a part-time waiter in a restaurant and assisting Tokyo-based Singaporean celebrity photographer Leslie Kee, whom he had met a few years earlier.
Fast forward to today, and Chow - ironically unknown in his home country - is a sought-after name in the photography industry, having worked with Japanese and international celebrities and models.
The list includes Grammy-winning US producer-singer Pharrell Williams, British rocker Liam Gallagher, Japanese singer Ayumi Hamasaki and actress Rinko Kikuchi.
The portrait photographer's work features widely in Japanese publications like GQ Japan, Nylon Japan, Spur and Ginza.
He has also teamed up with renowned brands like Shiseido, Cathay Pacific and Panasonic for their publicity campaigns.
Chow, who returns to Singapore twice a year to meet up with friends, will be back in town next month to launch his first exhibition, Roots.