Although wealthy, the Tans' lifestyle is far from ostentatious.

Living conditions are comfortable, if cramped, and furnishings are basic. There are sometimes four people to a room that measures 192 sq ft - and comes with a fridge, a TV set and air-conditioner.

There are no attached bathrooms, just two communal bathrooms and two toilets - one squat, one sitting - on each floor.

"The cleaning on each floor is taken care of by one family member living on that floor," said Hong Chiew.

Designated family members look after the garden, the drawing room where guests are entertained and meetings held, the dining area and the library where the children study. There are 10 washing machines and six drying stations for the laundry.

The giant household has only two maids - one to look after Hong Chiew's 86-year-old mother, and the other to help the hired cook.

Madam Ho Mee Yong, 65, prepares lunch and dinner for the family from Mondays to Saturdays. Meals on Sundays are prepared by eight family members.

"I plan my menu about two days in advance. Besides soup, I usually prepare at least four dishes - fish, meat and two vegetable dishes - for each meal," said Madam Ho, adding that she cooks for 30 at lunch, and double that number for dinner. She orders 150 eggs and at least 30kg each of vegetables, meat and fish every week.

"Our food bill comes up to more than $7,000 and our utilities bill, $4,000 each month," said Hong Chiew.

A set of rules ensures harmony. Family members, for instance, have to respect their elders, must not complain about meals or bring home members of the opposite sex to stay over.

Chairman Hong Khoon, voted by the family to head the business and household, said: "What I have is responsibility, not power. I have the responsibility of inculcating the values and living by example. Our values become our lifestyle."

His niece, Ms Frances Tan, 44, agrees. The general manager of Prime Supermarket, she is part of the family committee and helps to sort out issues younger members may have.

"The younger family members are more outspoken so you need patience to explain... why and how we can live peacefully together. But they've grown up in this environment, they understand."

Indeed, Hong Khoon's grandniece Tan Wan Xin, 22, will not have it any other way. Now working as a hotel receptionist before she leaves for a hospitality management course in Switzerland, she said: "You really learn the importance of family.

"When I was young, I always had cousins to play with, and elders to approach for help with homework. Now that I'm older, I see my friends worrying about housing problems and caring for their elderly if they should fall sick.

"But I don't have these worries. If my parents should fall sick, I know they will be well taken care of, not by strangers but by loved ones you trust and grew up with."

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