We're the Tan family - 80 under one roof

SINGAPORE - From the outside, it looks like a nondescript block of walk-up apartments: a tiled compound doubling as a carpark, a two-storey hexagonal structure to the left, and a horse-shoe, two-winged building to the right.

But it is possibly the largest household on this island. Built on a 27,000 sq ft plot, the 32-bedroom mansion houses five generations and more than 80 members of the Tan clan. The oldest is 86 years old, the youngest just five months.

The head of the household is Mr Tan Hong Khoon, 59, chairman of Prime Group International. Besides a chain of 19 Prime supermarkets in Singapore, it operates a modern pig farm, five Sun Island golf-cum- holiday resorts and two international schools in China.

The house was built in 1990, after the death of Mr Tan's father Tan Ah Chye, a Punggol pig farmer who had 13 children. All were involved in the family farm and lived together with their relatives until pig farming was phased out in the mid-1980s.

Under Mr Tan Hong Khoon's charge, the family diversified into other businesses. Most of those living in Toh Crescent work in the family business, holding positions ranging from cashiers to financial controllers.

Prime vice-president Tan Hong Chiew, 62, who refers to his cousin Hong Khoon as "chairman", explained why the mansion was built: "Because our elders worked so hard, both chairman and I managed to go to university and become the first graduates in the family. We feel it is our responsibility to repay and look after them."

The clan's unusual living arrangements made headlines not long after the house was built. Except for the addition of about 15 new family members, little has changed.

On Saturday, the Tans marked a family milestone - 100 years in Singapore - with a book about their clan and business.

The household runs on rules and standard operating procedures, with a central committee to take care of needs and iron out issues.

"People find the way we live strange. But we've always lived like this. We were taught to look after each other. It is how we were brought up and it works for us because we are firm, fair and open," said Hong Chiew, who heads the four-member family committee.

"We don't stop family members from living outside. Only a handful have done so. But why would they, when everything here is paid for and they are well looked after?"

Family members have most of their needs taken care of, including medical expenses and school fees for the children. Retirees get a monthly allowance.

Younger folk help to take the elderly to medical appointments and a bus takes the children to school. Students who do well are rewarded with prize money at a ceremony every December.

We're the Tan family - 80 under one roof
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: ST)

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