Tue, Sep 08, 2009
The New Paper
S'pore towkay burns $258,888 for this $100 urn

By Maureen Koh


Click the thumbnails below for more about the record-breaking Seventh month auction.
(Photos: TNP, Shin Min)

HIS beaming face has been splashed on the front pages of Chinese evening newspapers, with an ash urn cradled, like a trophy, in his arms.

His claim to fame: A $258,888 winning bid for a $100 gaudily-decorated urn.

For that sum, he could have bought a HDB flat, or even a Mercedes Benz E300.

Or he could have given the money to charity, at a time when philanthropy will be deeply appreciated.

But businessman Lim Chwee Kim wanted the urn. It was a must-have at 'any price as long as I get it'.

The 51-year-old businessman, who owns several companies dealing in logistics, won a bidding war for the 'huat chye lor' (prosperity urn in Hokkien) at a Hungry Ghost Festival banquet on Thursday night at the Lorong Koo Chye Sheng Hong Temple Association.

Is this extravagant superstition? Was he showing off?

'It's not because I'm superstitious or anything like that,' replied Mr Lim in Mandarin, 'but the 'huat chye lor' has become a part of my life.'

Do others see him as a show-off? Those who know his rags-to-riches story are quick to defend him.

Other bidders, and even the man who eventually lost the bid for the urn to Mr Lim, say they are more impressed than envious of him.

Mr Tan Teck Soon, 57, a restaurant owner, said: 'Most of us have heard of Mr Lim and his legendary bids. In fact, every year, we look forward to this time of the night. It's exciting and it lifts the spirit to know that, maybe, times are not so bad.'

The story behind his huge bid? His special feelings for the temple, having accompanied his mother to pray there since he was a young boy.

He has much to be thankful for.

Mr Lim has gone from being a bus driver, lorry driver, vegetable seller, fishmonger to a successful towkay (Hokkien for boss) living in landed property and driving a BMW 7-Series.

And it all started at the temple in 1992, when he prayed for guidance in his gamble to start a business.

He went to the temple and asked for a divination lot. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Mr Lim set up RichLandLogistics. In July last year, he sold 70 per cent of his stake for $30.1 million.

His rags-to-riches story attracted the attention of many, including the then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in August 2003.

Citing him as an example, Mr Lee had told union leaders then: 'You do not need to be rich or well-educated to become an entrepreneur - just brains and drive.'

Because of his humble beginnings, Mr Lim wants to share his blessings with the less fortunate.

Said the father of two, a 21-year-old undergrad daughter and 13-year-old son: 'One reason I support the bids so enthusiastically is because the temple plays an active role in charity work. I know the money that I contribute is for a good cause.'

Aside from the prosperity urn, Mr Lim had also successfully bid for a gold turtle at $20,888, a piece of pure gold at $32,888 and a gold Chinese character for longevity at $15,888.

His wife, Madam Chong See Moy, 54, a housewife, said she is fully supportive of his bids, but she declined to be interviewed further. If what happened that night is any indication, seventh-month auctions seem virtually recession-proof.

In one night, the organising committee raised $610,000 from 84 items put up for bidding.

Mr Lim, who paid $158,888 last year for the same urn, told The New Paper on Sunday in Mandarin: 'It's all about sharing what you reap.'

The Chinese believe that paying top dollar for auspicious items will bring a year's worth of good fortune.

Hot items include the prosperity urn and 'or kim' (black gold) which is a meticulously decorated piece of charcoal.

This is Mr Lim's sixth successful bid. He 'entrusted' the task to his younger brother Lim Chwee Poh, 49.

He said: 'This year, I decided to enjoy the excitement from the side. I did not have any budget in mind. I only told my younger brother, 'just get it'.'

The 15-minute 'battle' started with a $3,000 bid. When it reached the record set last year, the atmosphere became electrifying.

Challenger thought it's his

For some heart-stopping moments - at $188,888 and $238,888 - it looked like 'opponent' Alan Mok had the upper hand.

Said the 34-year-old businessman: 'I thought the deal was mine when the auctioneer called out $238,888 a few times and was about to seal it on the final call.'

Mr Mok had also challenged Mr Lim's bid last year, but gave up then, too, after it surpassed his budget.

He added: 'Well, just too bad. But it's okay, I'll be back next year.'

Even Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Zainul Abidin Rasheed, who has been a guest at Sheng Hong Temple's celebrations for the past eight years, was caught up in the excitement generated by the bidding.

The Aljunied GRC MP told The New Paper on Sunday: 'I've always enjoyed coming here.

'Such events are a priority on my calendar because it allows me the chance to reciprocate the support the temple leaders have shown.'

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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