Ben is a 72-year-old man and had been in the pharmaceutical business for a very long time. He met an Indonesian Chinese who was very poor but is now worth over $700 million.
This contact bought a Singapore hotel for $35 million. "He just paid $4.5million for a Singapore apartment," Ben said to me as I picked him up from his house to visit the hotel to have lunch with the General Manager. "Everybody talked to him with respect, addressing him as Datuk but I don't give a damn," he said to me.
I had asked Ben whether he could refer a hotel with 30 rooms for 60 people from Myanmar performing in Singapore on Feb 3 and 4 (Chinese New Year). So he recommended this hotel which is 3-star and therefore affordable. At the same time, he would introduce me to the GM and all senior officers there. "The owner is my friend," he said. "Very smart and suspicious. He thought I was getting a commission or fooling around when I told him about 30 rooms requested by you."
"When people are so rich, they have to be suspicious. Everybody wants their money." The man had money embezzled by his staff before. If they have to remain rich, they have to be smart too.
At the lunch meeting, the GM of the hotel was very friendly. "Did the boss call about my request fore 30 rooms?" Ben asked him. "Yes," he said. This showed that a rich business man can be rich because he personally is on top of things. Ben said: "He picked the furniture for the hotel by buying them himself." In this way, nobody could cheat him. No wonder he is rich. How did he become rich? Producing medicine in a factory in Indonesia. As for Ben, he sells raw materials to him and so is just comfortable.
"Do you want to attend the AA seminar on what to do when your car has an accident," Ben asked me. I should be less brutally honest but I said: "Don't waste my time!" Ben was shocked. "Well," I said. "If it was a fashion model show, I will go. What is there to learn from AA about car accidents?"
Ben was also not pleased with me when he declared to everyone at lunch that he bought two bags of rice and eggs (banned by the AVA, he pointed to me as if I was AVA vet controlling the import of food from overseas) from Johor. He said: "People say Johor is dangerous. Robbery. But I have not encountered any incident."
"Do you drive a Mercedes to Johor?" I asked him.
"So you say to everyone that I have no Mercedes," Ben replied. "That I can't afford a Mercedes?"
"You say so yourself," I said. "I am sure you can afford a Mercedes. But it is a very common car in Singapore. I think you will own a Bentley like S.L Liem who was a big racehorse owner in Singapore many years ago when I was a horse vet. His driver drove him to the Turf Club in a Bentley or some rare luxury car."
Ben corrected me and gave the proper name of this rich Indonesian Chinese. It was a fun lunch. The GM was a very busy man with hotel occupancy 100%. "A 3-star hotel is affordable for many people, he said. "There are not many in Singapore as demand exceeds supply. So, no 30 rooms for you now. A 4-star is neither here nor there as its rates are unaffordable for this niche of tourist. Yet its standard not as high as 5-star." He recommended that I open a one-stop spa. Well, it was a good lunch. The GM would not permit me to pay for it. The 72-year-old man got me a free parking ticket from the hotel's sales manager as I had parked in the hotel.
"Use my card first," he said to me. He had an old card which I told him would have an expiry limit. He would not believe me. So I used his card. "Card expired," the machine said. The hotel guard came over, over-rode the machine and we left. I had told him so. He was born in 1932 and disliked all new technologies like facebook, blog, newer phone models. I can't blame him. There is so much to learn.