'Women seem to like me'

'Women seem to like me'

SINGAPORE - Man marries, has children, gets divorced. Then he meets a prostitute in Geylang, marries her and has another child.

She goes away and he meets another prostitute, and has more children with her.

Next, he meets a masseuse in China. And he has child number six, with woman number four.

This is no soap opera. It's the true story of mechanic Koh Soon Hong and the choices he made, living and working in the lorongs of Singapore's infamous red-light district.

The 62-year-old claims his then nine-year-old daughter from his second wife introduced the masseuse to him.

Smiling bashfully, he says: "I'm just lucky with the opposite sex."

His children are now aged between 42 and two.

Mr Koh, clad in a grease-smeared polo shirt, runs his fingers - stained black from machine oil - through his thinning grey hair, and adds: "Women seem to like me."

A bicycle shop boss, who did not want to be named, confirms Mr Koh's background. They have known each other for more than 10 years.

He says in Mandarin: "His personal life is complicated. I know about his situation only because he talks about it openly."

Though Mr Koh has a family in Singapore and supports two other families abroad, he lives alone in a dingy Geylang shophouse off Guillemard Road.

He says wryly: "I never imagined my life would turn out like this. I support the children, but I don't even earn enough to pay income tax. That's why I have to keep working."

He started the bicycle business a decade ago and claims he "could easily make up to $1,000 a day". But times are hard "and I must innovate to stay afloat".

Inspired by what he saw in China, Mr Koh installed two electric charging points at his shop in 2012, "so money can come in even when I'm sleeping".

Owners of electric bikes pay $1 to charge their rides for 10 minutes. It's fully automated so Mr Koh does not need to be around 24/7.

He is also in a partnership with others, running three other charging points in nearby estates.


"My ambition is to have 100 charging points across Singapore. If this takes off, I won't have to worry about the kids' future," he says.

Even when he was a student, Mr Koh preferred chasing skirts rather than straight As. His Dunman Integrated Secondary School report card was rife with red from all the subjects he failed.

The eighth of 13 children left school at 15 to be a carpenter. He dabbled in renovations and ran a minimart before setting up the bicycle business.

Along the way, he got hitched at 19 and divorced 11 years later. He is estranged from his first son and daughter.

Mr Koh remarried in September 1998 - to a "petite Thai woman". Fishing the marriage certificate out of a tattered A4 file, he baulked when asked how he met wife number two.

"We met in Geylang. You know what that means," he says. "No need to explain further."

Sara (not her real name) was born in 2000. A year later, his wife left to visit her family in north-east Thailand. She never returned.

Mr Koh then brought up Sara, mostly by himself. "Luckily I insisted the baby was too young to go abroad," he says. "Otherwise, I wouldn't have seen (Sara) again."

On paper, he is still married to the Thai woman as "a divorce is costly".

In 2002, Mr Koh met an Indonesian woman - also in Geylang.

She bore him a son and daughter, now 10 and five. Sara tags along occasionally when Mr Koh visits the family in Batam.

Then, during a business trip to Shenzhen, father and daughter went for a foot reflexology session. While there, he wooed a masseuse and child number six was born in China in 2011.

Mr Koh wants to bring the Chinese family to Singapore but lacks the means to do so. "I can't even buy a flat," he says, citing his marital status as a reason.

Mr Koh remains married to the Thai woman in the eyes of the law.

Lawyer Peter Ong from Peter Ong & Raymond Tan says: "Depending on the HDB scheme that he applied for, the flat can be purchased only if the spouse consents to it."

That's why Sara lives with a guardian, travelling alone after school to visit Mr Koh in Geylang every weekend.

Asked about his daughter's safety, he says: "What's there to be worried about? She has been coming here herself since primary school."

Despite Geylang's rough side and his unusual family situation, Mr Koh still calls the place home because "here, people leave you alone and let you get on with life."


The women in his life

Ex-wife in Singapore
Married in 1971
Divorced in 1982
Has a son, 42, and daughter, 39

Wife from Thailand
Married in 1998
Has a daughter, 14

Batam woman
Met in 2002
Has a son, 10, and daughter, five

Woman in China
Met around 2010
Has a daughter, two

This article was published on May 4 in The New Paper.

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