People In Your Neighbourhood

45 clocks, 35 birds and 30 stuffed animals: Businessman collects all things weird and wacky

Towkay's hands 'feel itchy' when he sees something that he likes

"Your adventure begins here."

A red sign bearing those words is one of the oddities that you may notice when approaching the house in Jalan Chempaka Kuning.

Walk closer towards the sign and a parrot squawks. Looking for the house owner? Beware: a life-size Frankenstein figure stands a few metres behind the main gate.

This is no haunted house, but a colourful house of curios near Upper Changi Road. And its owner is no lantern-jawed hulk, but semi-retired towkay Cheong Boo Wee, 61, who is looking comfortable in a red shirt and blue shorts when I visit.

Mr Cheong lives in this Aladdin's cave of sorts with his wife, two sons and a maid. The former president of a multinational firm has spent decades in manufacturing. But his passion outside of work lies in collecting - antiques, curios, even a menagerie of real and stuffed animals.

A model of an arowana fish, bonsai plants, and a terracotta warrior on the rooftop can be spotted from outside the three-storey house.

Inside, the living room is filled with bric-a-brac - from scrolls and stone figurines to stuffed cats and a gramophone: A mannequin models a red dress amid the Peranakan furniture; an LG flat-screen TV is strangely sited between parts of a Peranakan wedding bed.

Asked if he knows just how many items there are, he says: "I definitely know. I bought (them), I know."

How many clocks? "45" - most do not tell the correct time and some are just placed on the stairs.

Exotic birds? "About 35."

Stuffed animals? "More than 30."

Mr Cheong started collecting when he and his wife bought their first home, a five-room flat in Bedok, in 1979. The collection grew as he moved to bigger homes - a maisonette in Simei in 1987, his current house in 1993.

"Many people have different hobbies. Some like to play golf, some go drinking, some go for karaoke. For me, my interest is in collecting these things. Whenever I have free time, I go to antique shops and flea markets to look for things," he says.

He admits he has the "collector's disease", saying: "When I see something nice, I like it, my hands feel itchy, I feel that I die-die must get it. I don't know where to put it, but okay lah, buy it first then decide."

His main interests are Peranakan furniture and exotic birds. Mr Cheong, who is not Peranakan, likes the ornate carvings on the furniture. He likes parrots for their bright colours and ability to "talk".

These two areas of his hobby are also among the most expensive. Pieces of Peranakan namwood furniture set him back by about $30,000 each. His exotic birds are worth more than $250,000.

He also collects stingrays. He has four adults, and six baby stingrays were born shortly before ST's visit to his home earlier this month.

Mr Cheong also sells items - when he runs out of space - and the parrot chicks that he breeds. This helps to defray just a fraction of the cost of buying and caring for his collection. The high-grade stainless steel bird cages alone cost about $100,000 and food costs about $1,000 a month.

His collection has also attracted the attention of thieves - four parrots were stolen several years ago, and he has since installed 10 security cameras. Motorists have stopped to take a closer look, leading to at least one complaint of traffic obstruction. But his family and neighbours have got used to the hoard in his house and noise from the birds.

His wife Doris, 61, says: "As long as he likes all the items, it's fine with me." Their helper Edna Rances, 55, who has worked for the family for 26 years, says: "I've grown very attached to the birds. As for cleaning the items, Sir and Madam are not fussy about it, so it's okay."

Mr Tan Dib Jin, 66, who has lived in the area for nine years, says of the birds: "It's just a matter of getting used to the squawking. For us, it acts like an alarm clock."

Mr Cheong is thankful to be able to afford his expensive hobby, saying: "If you earn a lot of money but don't spend it, it's not your money; it's still in the bank. But when you spend it (on collecting something), you have the chance to look at it, appreciate it and enjoy it."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2016, with the headline 45 clocks, 35 birds and 30 stuffed animals: Businessman collects all things weird and wacky. Subscribe