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Descendants Of Leong Fee - Leong Eng Khean, A Brief History
These photographs are reproduced here with the kind permission of the author of Days Gone By, Christine Wu Ramsay (a great granddaughter of Leong Fee) and the publishers Areca Books. It shows Towkay Leong Fee's first son, Leong Eng Khean, posing for studio photographs around 1910 when he lived in Ipoh.
On the left he is in traditional Chinese attire, while on the right he is dressed as an elegant English gentleman in his three piece Western suit. Being a young gentleman of leisure he had plenty of spare time to dress up and pose for photographs.
Although his father Leong Fee was a very traditional Chinese and a strong supporter of Chinese language schools, Young Eng Khean, like all the Towkay's sons, was given an English education. He therefore studied at St Xavier's Institution in Penang. Not a particularly strong student, he only completed secondary school and although proficient in English, could not read or write Chinese.
Married at 16 to a total stranger from Pontianak, the couple first lived in Penang before moving to Ipoh for a few years. When his father passed away in 1912, he was forced to become the head of the family (at age 20) which gave him responsibility for his mother and his siblings from several different wives, tin and iron mines, rubber plantations and a multitude of properties. He was totally unprepared for such huge responsibilities having previously led a life of luxury and leisure. Consequently most of the business responsibilities were vested in the clerks who almost did as they pleased.
On moving back to Penang Leong Eng Khean took up an interest in racehorses, owning several trained by experienced European trainers. However he had very few successes in this area. He also spent many hours playing Mahjong both at home and in exclusive men's clubs.
One surprising aspect of Eng Khean's life was that unlike most Chinese who kept all their wives under one roof, he did not. Christine Wu Ramsay puts this down to the strength of his first wife who somewhat out of character did not allow this. Consequently his two wives and offspring were kept entirely separate with little or no contact between them.
Apart from wives, cars, racehorses and gentlemen's clubs, Leong Eng Khean did branch out in a completely different direction when he got into the cinema business as a young man in Ipoh by founding the Oriental Cinema. At the beginning he rented Harima Hall (in Anderson Road) from 1910 till 1917, but then built his own Oriental Cinema in 1917. A few years later the building was leased to Run Run Shaw (of the Shaw Brothers) who renamed it the Sun Cinema.
However, as so often happens in wealthy Chinese families, things did not go well in Penang due to a variety of reasons including Leong Eng Khean's lack of business skills, the late 1920's depression, falling tin and rubber prices and the Japanese invasion. Consequently the family had to cut back and the racehorses and some of the grand houses had to go. Nonetheless appearances were kept up, but at a race meeting in Penang in 1955 Eng Khean collapsed with a stroke. On returning to his home in Codrington Avenue he was a semi invalid and terified of death both he and his first wife became Christians. Never regaining his strength, he was not fit enough to travel to Ipoh to see his second wife and family, but always sent them a monthly allowance. He never saw them again.
In 1957 he decided to build a new home at Ayer Rajah Road, as he felt that his luck had never been good at Codrington Avenue and so engaged the danish architect B M Iversen to design the house. But although the house was completed it did not change the luck and shortly afterwards Leong Eng Kheong and his wife were persuaded to move to Singapore with his children who lived there. He passed away there in 1960.
To read more about Leong Eng Khean and his first wife Lim Sin Kiaw, click here.
To read more about Leong Eng Khean and his second wife Chow Yoon Soo, click here.
To read more about the Sun Cinema, Ipoh, click here.
To read more about the architect B M Iversen, click here.
To read more about the book "Days Gone By: Growing up in Penang", click here.