You hear her before you see her

SINGAPORE- She has been going to her neighbourhood coffee shop and market in Hougang almost every day for years.

So it is no surprise that the stallholders there know Madam Ng Lai Poh, 79. They might not know her name, but they know who she is - they call her Sheng Siong Auntie or Sheng Siong Ah Ma (Hokkien for grandmother).

Her son, Mr Lim Hock Chee, is the chief executive of the Sheng Siong supermarket chain.

When she first went to the coffee shop several years ago, some of them did not take to her because she was loud and would complain about the service.

But having since embraced her as a regular, the stallholders were stunned to find out yesterday that Madam Ng was kidnapped after leaving the coffee shop on Wednesday.

ORDEAL

She had endured a 12-hour ordeal - blindfolded and with her limbs bound - before being released after Mr Lim paid a $2 million ransom.

Lee Tze Yong, 41, and Heng Chen Boon, 50, who lived together in a Hougang flat, were yesterday charged for the kidnap.

When The New Paper went to the coffee shop at Block 644, Hougang Avenue 8, and the nearby market yesterday, the words used to describe Madam Ng included jovial, sharp, fierce, generous and loud. So loud that you hear her before you see her.

And one of the stallholders, a drinks seller who wanted to be known as Jenny, 45, had shared a meal with Madam Ng on Wednesday morning, before she was kidnapped some time after 11am.

Madam Ng was abducted while walking home from the coffee shop, after a man approached her and said that her son had been injured in a fall. She then accepted his offer to take her in his car to see him.

Ms Jenny said she learnt of the news from other stallholders as she was opening her stall at 4am yesterday.

She said: "I couldn't believe they took the Sheng Siong auntie. No wonder I didn't see her on Thursday."

Ms Jenny recalled having asked Madam Ng how she had got to the coffee shop on Wednesday.

"She said she came alone using the overhead bridge, with her umbrella as a walking stick," she said.

"I asked her if it was safe and she said it was. I said, 'Auntie, you're very steady.'"

Ms Jenny said that when Madam Ng started showing up at the coffee shop, some stallholders didn't take to her.

"She speaks very loudly. Sometimes she would complain that the drinks took so long to arrive," she said.

But as time passed, some of them became friends with Madam Ng.

Ms Jenny said Madam Ng would sometimes ask her to sit with her. The elderly woman was often accompanied by a friend who lives above the coffee shop.

"I'd offer her some of my food and vice versa. On Wednesday, she offered some of her char siew (barbecued pork)," said Jenny, adding that Madam Ng was having kway teow that morning with her usual teh 'O' kosong (tea without sugar and milk).

She also likes mini wok noodles and laksa, other stallholders told TNP.

CHAT

Ms Jenny said: "We chatted mostly about food, sometimes about her children. One of her daughters came with her once."

Some stallholders were surprised that Madam Ng was easily baited to get into the kidnapper's car.

A noodle seller, who wanted to be known as Madam Zhou, 30, said: "She's very sharp. If you get her order wrong, she'd scold you. She's very fierce."

The landlord of nearby market Bang E Nan Ba Sha, Mr Raja Kumar, 52, said he was shocked to hear of the kidnap.

He said: "She is such a good person. I hoped and prayed for her safety."

He said Madam Ng has been patronising his eight-stall market for many years, showing up three to four times a week.

Madam Ng, who would buy all sorts of produce and spend $100 to $200, was kind and generous.

Mr Raja Kumar said: "Some of our stalls can't compare to other bigger stalls. But she will buy from our fishmonger, for example, because his business is not very good."

When Madam Ng travels overseas, she would buy gifts such as fruits for them. Sometimes when she sees that the market staff are busy, she would buy curry puffs for them, he added.

"Even though she's rich, she shares the food we cook for ourselves. She even takes some away."

Vegetable seller Tay Jiah Kee, 60, said Madam Ng was well known in the area.

She dresses in floral blouses and pants and wears gold necklaces and Buddhist bracelets, Madam Tay added.

"When we see her from far away, we all call out, 'The Sheng Siong Ah Ma (grandmother) is here!'," she said.

"She's so loud that you hear her before you see her. But she's very jovial. We're all happy her ordeal is over."


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