In The Durian

Meet Uncle Cheow, our longest-serving employee going strong at 80

Meet our Traffic Control Officer, Cheow Eam Jee. He takes care of the Esplanade car park and the spaces leading up to it, as well as the motorists and patrons who use them.

Within the Esplanade family however, he is affectionately known as Uncle Cheow and he is our oldest and longest-serving employee!

Uncle Cheow has been walking these grounds even before the centre was built. In the early '90s to early 2000s, while Esplanade was being constructed, it was no more than a group of container offices by the bay. Uncle Cheow was working for the project company overseeing the construction as a security guard, watching over the construction site and the makeshift workplace.

It was then that Uncle Cheow befriended several of Esplanade’s earliest employees including Theresa Yeo, who is our Head of Human Resources. “Even after the project company’s contract with Esplanade ended, Theresa kept in touch with me,” he recalls. So when the arts centre officially opened five months later in October 2002, and needed someone to attend to the car park and several other spaces, Theresa called Uncle Cheow to ask him if he would be keen on taking the role.

“I was 67 years old then so I asked her ‘sure can or not’? She then advised me to just try—go for all the required medical check-ups and if the results are okay, why not join Esplanade and try for a while,” said Uncle Cheow. He did, and has been with us ever since.

One of the funnier stories went something like this: Uncle Cheow once tended to a little garden on the Esplanade grounds where he grew sunflowers. Among the sunflowers, he planted a number of fake sunflowers, making sure to face them in the opposite direction from the real ones. He had a good laugh every time he caught passers-by looking very perplexed as they admired his sunflowers!

Uncle Cheow is now 80, which means he has been with The Esplanade Co Ltd for 13 years. When asked about what has made him stay with Esplanade all these years, Uncle Cheow says, “Everyone here is just so nice!” His fondest memory is of Esplanade’s former Head of Programming J P Nathan, whom he used to bump into a lot as Nathan often worked late into the night.

“He spoke English and no Mandarin whereas I can only speak largely Mandarin, and yet we would still find ways to communicate through gestures and a few simple words. He was a very nice and friendly coworker.”

On 19 June, we planned a surprise party for Uncle Cheow to celebrate his birthday and time at Esplanade. Colleagues from across the various departments gathered at the Concert Hall Foyer to cheer for him as he arrived at the surprise party. There was a reception, a specially made Longevity Bun cake and a few journalists from Shin Min Daily News, who came down to chronicle the occasion for posterity.

Uncle Cheow was the celebrity for the day—reporters were eager to speak with him and colleagues took their turns to wish him well.

Ever so humble and perhaps a little shy from the sudden shower of attention, Uncle Cheow politely declined to make a speech and only exclaimed, “Happy hour!” as a joke for the celebration and the feasting to begin. And when asked to make a wish before he blew out the candles on his specially-made Longevity Bun cake, he announced “To live for 10 more years!”

Our best wishes and heartfelt thanks to you, Uncle Cheow! Here’s to many more happy years ahead!