Welcome to Episode 102!
STIMY Episode 102 features Notle Chew.
Notle Chew grew up a Crazy Rich Asian in Singapore.
But then things started to fall apart.
He ended up joining the Secret Society & running one of Singapore’s first social escort businesses (and a successful one at that!) for almost 7 years before he ended up in prison.
Which, as you can tell, is not a story you’d normally find on STIMY. But also a story I’ve really wanted to have told.
Because I believe that we can learn so much from people from all different parts of society.
And Notle’s life story is a cautionary tale, while also giving us a glimpse into a part of society that isn’t often heard of.
There is a price to be paid for our actions and in Notle’s case, a hefty one.
Some things we talked about:
- What it means be a member of the secret society;
- The concept of trust and brotherhood, the initiation process is like and how he ended up leaving the secret society;
- The 8 o’clock rule;
- Why he started a social escort business, and grew it to be one of the top businesses around;
- How he ended up being caught;
- What it was like being in prison;
- How he shook off his depression and suicidal thoughts; and
- Why he believes 80% of ex-convicts can’t be helped.
As we cover a lot of heavy topics, please consider this a trigger warning.
Want to learn about more inspirational figures/initiatives to become the most interesting person in the room?
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Who is Notle Chew?
Notle’s father once owned a business that produced 90% of the printed plastics in Singapore. As you can imagine, that meant that Notle never wanted for anything.
His parents also granted him full autonomy as a child.
Which was how he ended up joining a secret society – because he & his friends thought it’d be “fun”.
- 3:19 The name “Notle”
- 4:01 Life of a Crazy Rich Asian
- 6:49 Recruited to join the secret society in school
- 11:56 The 8 o’clock sharp rule
- 19:15 Paying the price to leave the secret society
- 22:08 Initiation process for secret society members
- 24:56 The secret society mindset
- 26:10 How trust operates in a secret society
- 27:01 What does “justice” mean?
- 27:30 Brotherhood
Running A Social Escort Business
After leaving the secret society, Notle ended up starting a social escort business because of… Lee Kuan Yew.
And he ran it successfully for almost 7 years. An operation that he thought was wholly legal!
Until the police came knocking. And he ended up in prison for 6 years and 4 months.
Which as you can imagine, had tremendous cascading effects on his life.
- 30:50 Starting a social escort business
- 33:44 Advertising for female workers
- 39:25 Staying competitive
- 41:08 The business model
- 44:40 Business expansion
- 46:48 Being caught by the police
- 47:47 Life in prison
- 49:18 Finding God
- 49:18 Not regretting prison
- 54:36 Healing broken relationships
- 59:57 Triad Trails & the girl
- 1:04:54 Best way for society to support ex-convicts
- 1:05:47 80% of ex-convicts will never change
- 1:07:40 Identifying the 20% that can be helped
If you’re looking for more inspirational stories, check out:
- Richard Lui: MSNBC & NBC News TV Anchor, and Peabody & Emmy award winner
- Adrian Tan: King of Singapore & President of Singapore’s Law Society
- Tan Sri General Borhan: Life of a Retired 4 Star General & Former Chief of Defence Forces
- Professor Robin Dunbar: Emeritus Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at Oxford University who formulated Dunbar’s Number, which determines the number of friends you can have at any 1 time
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Some of the things we talked about in this STIMY Episode can be found below:
- Notle: Instagram, Notle Tours
- Trial Trails: Website, Instagram
- Subscribe to the STIMY Podcast for alerts on future episodes at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher & RadioPublic
- Leave a review on what you thought of this episode HERE or the comment section of this post below
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STIMY 102: Confessions of a Former Ex-Convict, Secret Society Member & Social Escort Business Owner | Notle Chew
Notle Chew: It's not prison fault. It's the culture. At a young age they went in, they're used to it. They're exposed to all kinds of people. All these people inside will not teach you to be good.
And if you continue to bond with them, especially if you're drug addict, what are the chances that you'll go back to drug after coming out?
I seen quite a few guys leaving after me and then after that coming in before I left.
Whenever I ask , How can you back again? They always tell me no choice. You have to understand they don't know how to survive outside.
They have no education, they have no friend. Their friends are gangster. Will lead them back to the same thing. Thirdly, their characters already set in. They are used to prison lifestyle, you know, getting agitated, very angry about small, small little thing.
And most importantly, maybe they just keep thinking that, you know, their life is over. sadly, this statement will eventually become true after a certain age, usually after 50 years old. Maybe pushing it 55. Cause after that you were consider an old man
and you have been in and out of prison forever.
What more can they do or contribute?
That's why as they get older and older, they will be more, more depressing.
A few elderly in their late fifties, sixties, they are telling me they already give up.
There is nothing waiting for them outside.
In fact, some of them are so comfortable that they commit some petty theft to just go back in. Laundry is taken care of, medication is taken care of, meals are taken care of. Yeah. is taken care of. So they have everything taken care of. The only thing they don't have is the freedom. It's a very realistic thing.
Ling Yah: Hey everyone!
Welcome to episode 102 of the So This Is My Why podcast.
I'm your host and producer Ling Yah, and today's guest is quite unusual.
He's Notle Chew. An ex-convict and former Secret Society member who also used to run one of Singapore's top social businesses before he was caught and imprisoned for nearly seven years.
This is a very unusual episode, but also an important one because I've always wanted STIMY to feature guests from different parts of society. Not just your Forbes billionaires and successful artists, but also those who end up on the wrong side of the law.
What led them there?
Where were the experiences and lessons learned?
And there is a lot to be learned here.
Some of the things we talked:
how Notle went from being a crazy rich asian to joining Secret Society, what it means to be a secret society member, the concept of trust and brotherhood, what the initiation process is like, and how he ended up leaving, why he started social escort business and grew it to one of the top businesses around, and how he ended up being caught after nearly seven years, as well as what it was like in prison.
And how he managed to shake off his depression and suicidal thoughts, and also why he believes that 80% of acts convicts can be helped.
We touched on some pretty heavy topics here, so trigger warning.
Now. Are you ready?
I thought we should start our interview by talking about your name. It's a very unusual name, Notle. What's the story behind it? Is that your real name?
Notle Chew: Yes, it's a name that I've given myself and the story is because life before my incarceration. I named myself Elton since 15 years old, I think.
So, yeah. I went into prison and after the coming out, I thought, you know, my life has been turned around.
Notle is actually the turnaround version of Elton.
On top of that, Notle actually sounds like noble, but replacing the b with a T, which represent a cross.
So that makes having a cross at the center of my life. I thought, sounds good. I start using it.
Ling Yah: So before we talk about your current life, let's talk about your previous life.
At the very, very beginning. I understand that you kind of grew up like a crazy rich Asian, right? Your dad basically produced 80% of printed plastics in Singapore, which is a lot.
Notle Chew: It's actually more than 90% because they covers all the big brands back then.
So what was it like? Well I had a lot of money to spend. You have to bear in mind that's 30 years ago, I was having allowance like every month about $400.
On top of that, because my father's factory is very near my school and my house. Maybe two or three times a week after school, I will walk over or take a bus to his factory. Meet him a while, ask him for more allowance, and he would just pass me $50, $100.
So all in all, I would say every month I will have maybe $700, sometimes closing to 800 kind of spending power. This money are just purely for me to spend.
My dad was a philanderer. So he was most of the time not at home . My mom cause of this was driven into mental illness. So I was pretty much left on my own. Nobody there to discipline me.
My mom, she had her part-time freelance accounting job. So she goes to work in the morning and then be back home around one or two. After she come back, she'll just lie down that so far and start watching her TV through up all the way. Evening time, go to my grandma house to have her dinner, After having her dinner, she'll come back and continue watch her show until 10 plus 11. Then I have to wake her up to ask her go to the room to sleep. She will fell asleep on the sofa.
So that's how my life was.
The only real bonding I have is with my friends.
I was a hedonist. Always thinking of having fun.
Every school day I can be out there playing. I can come home late at night, doesn't matter. During my Sec 3 holidays, I still remember the entire June holidays, I only went home to sleep for three days, The rest of the time I was always out there. Hanging out in East Coast park or I would be just at my friends crashing up.
I didn't see anything wrong about it. I didn't realize it was not supposed to be this way because nobody told me so. I remember one of my friend's parent asked me before, Hey, you stay out over here so frequently. Won't your parents worry? My very instinctive reply to them is no, I don't think they really bother.
To me, I see it as a norm.
In fact I also can't understand some of my fellow friends when they say, Oh, my parent don't allow me to come out. I was like, Ah, why, you know, that kind of thing.
Ling Yah: Who were your friends? What did they get you into?
Notle Chew: I have a group of different friends. My best friend, he was from the same primary school, so when I move on to secondary, we are still closely in touch.
But within my school's, there is two friends that were particularly close with me.
One of them were the one who recruited me to join this secret society.
Ling Yah: This was when you were 16, right? What was the story?
Notle Chew: SEC four. Yes. 16.
My friend, let's just give him a name. We use Alphabet to represent that. One classmate is K and then one is E for better reference.
So K one day came to me and E and told us, Hey, I got to know someone inside this secret society that is of very high ranking and he wants to recruit us. if we agree right, this guy right will make us four, five, rank above from the bottom tier.
So we don't start from the bottom. bottom we usually call them "kina". Kina" actually is Hokkien for kids. So for low level for the beginning. So, we will be place at fourth and fifth.
If I don't remember wrongly, k would be the fifth rank, and I will be on the offering. If I remember correctly, the off rank is what we call hua si. Hua Si , I also not very sure, but if not wrong is the person who can have a say. Then fifth one is something called "zhong". I guess it means already the rank of like people who have a control over some subordinate kinda thing.
Ling Yah: How do you progress from each rank? Is it easy?
Notle Chew: I didn't actually stay long enough for any actual progression. From my understanding, as long as you have some contribution and you are active in the society doing your work and also recruiting. Recruitment is one of the biggest factors.
Similar to like mlm.
The more under you, then you will earn more and then your tier will go out higher in that yield account.
Ling Yah: Was there an initiation process?
Notle Chew: No, the thing is that K told us, other than us being the fourth and fifth rank, he said that the person also told us another part. And that's the sweet deal that closed the whole deal off.
He promises that if we join, we will take control of the whole secondary school.
Because We are SEC four, so anyone in our secondary school that belongs to our gang will report to us no matter what happened.
They will have to consult us before settling things on their own.
Ling Yah: But that's only for the duration that you're in that school, which is another two, three years?
Notle Chew: Mm. Kind of two years. But that is already good enough, isn't it?
Ling Yah: What was it that drew you to the gangs? Was it, it sounds like it's power, but also perhaps belonging to something cuz you didn't have the family side, right?
Notle Chew: Mm-hmm.
Oh, no, not joining Gang is not for belonging because I really have my friends, but because we thought it's interesting and we all joined together.
I'm close to my friend, so when my friend wants to join, and I also think that it's quite fun, I join. For me it's really more for the fun.
I'm always about seeking fun and experiencing life. So joining secret Society is also another form of experiencing life.
After we joined, indeed this guy put us in control of the whole secondary school. When the lower SEC got into some trouble with some other people or from other gangs or just strictly within their classmates, during the recess time, come over to our upper SEC block to tell us what happened.
Then we will settle for them. In a way telling them okay, meet us after school at the second floor toilet area. After school, we really meet there at the second floor toilet. Then one people will be there looking out then we tell them, Okay, by this one cigarette time, right as we smoke, you guys have to stop the fighting.
We would let them just do one to one. We don't meddle. We don't do group bullying in this sense. We say, you'all want to peacefully settle this or not?
If not, then we'll let you fight it out. If they choose to fight, then we just used to one cigarette time.
We finish the whole cigarette, you'll have to stop. If not whoever already got beaten onto the floor and can't get up. There's a few instance of this happening.
Ling Yah: Was there a limit to what you could do? A kind of punishment and rules that you could give or there was no guideline, just whatever you felt like ?
Notle Chew: Well, we were not shown any guideline. But of course we are just secondary school student. We are not sadist, so we don't go around punishing people, you know. We just enjoy having the power and influence. People acknowledging us for being a high ranking member.
Ling Yah: So why would all these people with all these disputes come to you? Is it because there was some kind of official announcement from the Secret Society and they all also belong to Secret society?
Notle Chew: Correct.
Once we are recruited, this head man will pass down the message to his fellow members. Letting them know that whoever that is under them and belongs to the secondary school would just start to report to us giving the name and which secondary, which class to look for.
Maybe I also share with you another instance of something really major that had happened, which got me even more impressed in a way about joining secret society.
One day I also recruited two guys.
Just a couple of years younger than me.
Ling Yah: But you didn go up to level five?
Notle Chew: No. It's not that easy. Like, I mean, in just few months, it's just that because I joined already, so I got two friends, not from my secondary school that that were also close to me.
So I said, Hey, I told them, Hey, I joined this gang, Do you want to join me? You know, kids are just kids. They were just don't think much.
So one of this guy got into troubles so in the end I met the person that he got into trouble with at this coffee shop in the afternoon after their school.
So we discuss how to settle. Because it's brought daylight, we say, Okay let's meet during the nighttime to settle this. The other person show back to me. Okay, can. In that case let's meet eight o'clock shop at this block, just nearby this coffee shop. I didn't think much of it.
Okay, 10, I'll see you then. After that, the guy was on bicycle, so he rode off. So I called the head man and let him know what happened because we already briefed him on this incident. When I told him that we are meeting eight o'clock sharp to talk, through things, right?
He was surprised. He said, What? He says, eight o'clock sharp?. Are you sure?
And he asked me, Do you know what it means or not?
I said, No, I have no idea. He said in the Secret Society code, right, if you put eight o'clock sharp, it means that there's no room for negotiation.
It will be head on gang fight. If you want to negotiate, discuss things, talk things through, the person should put a between time. Like eight to eight 10. Eight to eight 15. That means that there is room for discussion.
So we weren't briefed about that.
We've been that young and our head man didn't really go through a lot of this. After hearing that I say, No lah, I don't think so lad. We are just youngster teenager. I don't think he meant that. But my head man say it is better to be careful in case he knows about this code and that's why he's making it.
So he say, Okay, nevermind. He'll activate everybody. Yeah. Seriously, Everybody. When he say everybody, I thought it is just like maybe some of the ones that is closer to us, you know, closer to him that time.
In the end, during the nighttime, right when I go down to that coffee shop again, the coffee shop was full house.
Really full house. Everybody was sitting and then trying to squeeze together.
I stayed in Tapaya Lorong 8. That coffee shop was full and I got another friend at Lorong one. He told me the coffee shop at Lorong one was also full.
What I heard from the head man, right? Even Ang Mo Kio, Ishan, Bishan, all the coffee shop are all full house. All standing by.
Maybe to give you a context. My gang, can I say my gang name?
Ling Yah: Sure.
Notle Chew: My gang name is Ang Soon Tong. Those who are active or heard of it would know that uh, Ang Soon Tong are usually active from the North side on.
So papa all the way until Eastern? At eight o'clock shop, me and the head man and my friend who got into trouble and another few more , we went over to the block. We were waiting there, and shortly after that guy came, but he only came with his elder brother.
Ling Yah: Did the guy know? He clearly didn't.
Notle Chew: He didn't. Well, I didn't even know. How would he know? Yeah, we were just two young, innocent kids acting tough. Trying to be, you know, "yaya papaya" the kind of stage.
So he and his brother walk over and you can really know that they already fearing, because there's already a few elderlies ending there. Not just me and my friend.
My head man is also of age. He's at least 30 plus, 40 at least. When they walk over, they saw a lot people. Then they start to talk in a very incoherent way.
You can't help - teenagers. Suddenly so many people standing there and looking very fierce, seriously. Then they start to question those two.
Why do you all put eight o'clock sharp? Do you know what it means or not? Do you know we mobilize few hundreds people just because of what you say. Huh?
And they start slapping them. Keep slapping them around. He was being told off, lah. The two of them just have to take it in. Then he say, Sorry, sorry, sorry and then start crying .
Yeah, poor thing, right? I felt sorry for him. But I told myself, I'm glad I'm not at the receiving end. And After that they just let him leave and say, don't find trouble with our side anymore.
That got me to think that, wow, it's nice to join gang, you know. Have all this support. Right? I mean, few hundred people mobilized for your problem.
So I keep enjoying myself, you know, hanging out VOD and coffee shops, as and when when they want us. Hanging out Coffee shop and Videx is just to claim territory. Showing your presence. Meaning to say that you are taking care of this place in case some other people come along, you just tell them, Hey, this is our place, or "wo lan de bua"
Half a year later, we were called to this coffee shop block 3 0 7, I still remember. We went down as for normal. We thought it's just a gathering as usual. The three of us K, E, and I, we went down and we sat down. Ordered our drinks.
Oh, drinks are actually free, you know. For everyone, because as long as you belong to the gang, right, you can order for free because the coffee shop usually belong to our side. At least the owner will belong to us. What happened is they will always put certain amount of money, like few thousand dollars for the owner to deduct.
We can order whatever we want. But of course, no alcohol, no cigarettes lah. Just purely drink. So we ordered and after that we start chit chatting as per normal . Then suddenly our head man walk over and told us, Okay, later ah there will be a lorry coming. Everyone, including you guys, will go up to the lorry.
On the lorry there's a few fruit baskets. The fruit baskets are all the assaulted weapons. You just pick whatever weapon you think you want. Then he told us we are going out for a gang fight. That was the moment. So we tried to look calm and say, Oh, okay, okay.
But after he left, we look at each other. Panic already. How? How? You can see few in our eyes because this is the first time we are being arranged to go for a gang fight. it's really scary for us.
Is this really happening? We were discussing. What can we do, you know? Obviously we can't get away now. If three punk suddenly just stand up and start walking off. The whole coffee shop is our people.
It's too obvious. They will definitely pull you back. It's like what they call deserter inside the army.
Ling Yah: They were punished.
Notle Chew: They will be. Of course they will be punished. So you can stand and leave. So we start panicking and then just talking and, and discussing.
We know we have to go to this. We started to strategize and think of all the ways that we can help each other. What we come up with, is that once we reach the place, we will stand back to back in a triangular shape.
We don't stand right at the front. We stand somewhere at the back row, in the triangular shape back to back and help to fend each other off.
Because in the triangular shape you can see better. If it's two person, I can tell you it's more difficult. A triangular, at least give us a better cover.
We also thought that when the fight starts, when the people start moving forward to fight each other, we stand our ground. We don't move. We just stand there and wait for people to come to us instead.
Those people move to the front already They will be the one confronting them and fighting it out. So very unlikely that they will be coming into our side and fight. The most like one or 2%. At least easier to defend.
Then once they get messy and chaotic, we agree that then we slowly move backwards. Slowly step by, start moving backward in the triangular shape still until we are kind of out of sight, right? Then we quickly run off.
I mean we were not those a brave warrior. Even now I would not want to unnecessarily get into any fights.
Ling Yah: So did it work?
Notle Chew: Not exactly.
Well, so what happened? Almost an hour later, we got more and more scared.
Then our head man suddenly came to us. Okay guys, the gang fight has been canceled because the police has got wind about the gang fight and they have warned us not to do anything stupid.
When we hear this, we felt so relieved. But, being the gangster we have to act tough. The reply we gave him is, Oh then okay. No choice. Some other time.
Ling Yah: So after that, were you trying to get out of the gang? I don't think it would be easy.
Notle Chew: Yeah. In fact, the next day we started to discuss about this in school, the three of us. So we discuss and we realize this is not funny anymore. having to control the school.
To run the whole school is one thing. It's all fun but when it comes to gang fight, it becomes very real already.
You will anytime get wounded badly. You may lose a part of your body, you know, being chopped off your hand or suffer some condition So we say, Okay, no, we have to, we have to leave.
But leaving is not easy. there is still some conditions to be met . Nowadays it's very simple. You just say you want to leave, they don't bother about you. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Ling Yah: That's so nice.
Notle Chew: Yeah. Now it's like really free member, go in and out, no problem. Because firstly, our law and order is so much better now. Anybody tried to be funny to do some punishment or disciplinary action, right, the police if get wind of it, right, they will get into a lot of trouble.
The members themselves, the elderly especially, know there's no point staying in secret society anymore. So they encourage them to study hard and work hard and be on your own.
Ling Yah: Why is there no point now?
Notle Chew: Because nowadays secret society are mainly about doing business. If they need help, they don't need you to be in the gang to give you the job. Correct?
Ling Yah: They'll just hire you off the streets like anyone else?
Notle Chew: Correct. Last time their advisor so-called in the gang, it's now being replaced as lawyers.
So whether the lawyers are the member itself or not, I don't know. But unlikely. They are probably just closely associated.
Ling Yah: But what about in your time and before? It would have been very different.
Notle Chew: My time we will actually get a bashing.
But the bashing is not so serious until you will have to be into hospital. That was my time.
Slightly earlier one, two generation before me, the bashing will be quite serious. Usually you will end up having some fractured bones or even broken bones and will have to be admitted for a few weeks at least.
In the 18 hundreds or even in China earlier on, you have to give up a part of your body. And that usually depends on what your head man wants. It's not up to you to decide.
They will tell you, okay, also. That kind of thing. For those who don't understand, if you wanna leave, leave two of your fingers. Something like that.
That would be a very pleasant already. Some nasty one would just say, Okay, lift down your left hand.
But those are in the olden days. You can't compare. As we progress, got better and better. Why now bashing not so serious is because whenever they end up in hospital, right police start to interview and take statement.
They don't want all this to backfire. That's why even until now, no more such thing, even bashing can be reported and they'll also be getting themselves into trouble.
Ling Yah: But you must have also heard, like for those who decide to stay on. You set, you weren't initiated before. I suppose if you were to be properly part of the gang, there was some kind of ceremony?
Notle Chew: Yes, if you want to pursue secret society as a career path, then you can be offered to take the initiation ceremony. But that is only if you're serious about it.
Initiation ceremony nowadays is no longer held in Singapore because like I said the police are very strict about this.
They'll tell you, Okay, within this next few weeks, right, anytime you will give you a call. Stand by your passport, always with you, wherever you go. Once we call you, we will immediately come and pick you up.
Then we will go out from Singapore to go to Melaka. And then after you cross the custom, they will blindfold you because they do not want you to snitch to the police. They don't want you to be familiar with the route.
Usually it's going to some kind of plantation.
Then there will be a kind of hut or building. Very basic building.
You go in there will be altar right in front and altar will have all the joystick, incense. And there will be a rice bowl with a rice wine inside.
There's a big piece of paper before the rules and regulation written. Usually it's the key house rules you are to abide by them.
They will sacrifice , a chicken to show their determination to join us. Usually it's there will be like 20, 30 over people at one time joining.
Each person will take turn, and go to the rice wine either use a pin or use a knife to slit your fingers and drip some blood into the rice wine.
After that, you'll recite the piece of paper of the house rules.
Read through them. Once you have read through them, you will smush your thumb with the blood and thumb print onto the paper.
Everyone take turn. Once done they take the rice wine, stirred it and pass to everyone to take a sip.
Once that is done , it represents your blood is in my body and my blood is in your body. So we are bonded by this blood. We are blood brothers.
The piece of paper will be kept somewhere secret. Only the top two, three of the main leaders will know where they keep this piece of paper.
Because if this paper were found right, a lot of people will go jail for long term under a charge called 55. 55 means they can immediately throw you into prison and lock you up without going for a trial.
Oh, yeah. Lawyer, you should know.
Ling Yah: I dunno about 55. I don't do criminal law.
Notle Chew: My understanding is this rule is only applicable in Singapore and Hong Kong. No other country has it.
Ling Yah: Even now?
Notle Chew: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. There are many people inside for 55.
Ling Yah: How long? What's the sentence like?
Notle Chew: There's no time limit for that.
Minimum three years. After three years, they will review your case every year. If they deem that you have changed and not so heavy secret society mindset, then they will release you.
Ling Yah: What's the secret Society mindset?
Notle Chew: You know, like brotherhood. Supporting the gang no matter what.
You know. Every day shouting their slogan.
Ling Yah: What is this slogan?
Notle Chew: You never heard of it? There's a few well, for 360 9 is actually like I think you heard it like, Oh, oh, be thought.
That kind of thing.
So when people shout, Oh, oh, everybody knows this belong to the 369.
all this is just a way of saying, Nah, you can add whatever you want. That's why it's very commonly shout out in disco. They're dancing then they would shout and everybody would shout together.
People with heavy secret society mindset will be kept longer. Not just that they always believe inside the prison to be the one in charge and then have distributing things, help arranging things.
The prison warden will know about it.
Ling Yah: And they will allow it or they will stop it?
Notle Chew: They will catch it when they found it. That's why whenever they were caught, they knew that this person is being active.
Ling Yah: But wouldn't people in prison, especially for a long time, feel like their gang abandoned them?
Notle Chew: No. There's a lot of gang member inside. Why are you talking about? Prison at least a good 70% are society member.
I don't have the statistic, but I look around everybody is belonging to some gang.
Ling Yah: How does trust operate in the secret society?
Notle Chew: You have to understand one thing.
Secret society is really not much different from any association or any social gathering. Yes, they may be people who don't have the proper mindset.
But end of the day, they're still human. They still behave much like normal people. Just that they have more floss than usual.
They have their drugs, addiction. They have their anger. But of course there are some who If they are con then people will know and they won't trust him or even will kick them out of the gang. But I can tell you secret society, actually they talk a lot about brotherhood, about loyalty.
So there's no need to talk about trust. Like how you and your friend would trust each other after some interaction long enough knowing his character. Gang members, have this mindset about being loyal, being just.
Ling Yah: What does justice mean?
Notle Chew: To stand up for brothers. Don't let people bully us. When brother are in need of help, we will help out. In fact trust are easier built. A lot of time trust are being misplaced inside.
I mean, they are the good ones and the bad ones. because someone got into drug addiction or gambling addiction, and then they'll go to a friend, Help me out . I owe enough money. I need this and that. Because of the so called Brotherhood, they have to support each other. They will help whenever they can.
Ling Yah: Wow. You mentioned they always talk about brotherhood. Were there specific things they always did to create that feeling of we are brothers?
Notle Chew: Kind of. But is really more like hanging out.
Ling Yah: Hanging out in coffee shops. Just spending time together.
Notle Chew: Yeah. Chit chat and they always try to look for trouble and then they will support each other. In a way, when people look for trouble you have to support them.
Kind of silly. And in fact, right? they train you to look for trouble at the beginning stage. Not my gang.
Me and my three friends didn't do that.
But you know, I got this best friend who is in First Toa Payoh. So I hang out a lot with them. what happened is when they recruit someone new, right then, then we will go to boy around, sit around, right?
we will wait for prey to pass by then the new recruit, I will say, okay, you see that boy over there? Go up to him, find him trouble, just look at him and then call up to him and like, for example, or, or teach song , that kinda thing. I don't like you, I don't like your face, Why are you around here? They kind then after they keep trying to find a lot of troubles and it's more like what they so called build confident, in fact try to ask them to find trouble and try to want to get into fight la. Fights were encouraged or my friends like not my side.
Because Oh, my friends side is really huge. Gang
Ling Yah: It's a totally different gang.
Notle Chew: Totally different. His is 369 That's why I know about all the slogan because I hang out with his group of friends to disco quite often.
They have at least 10 over people. the usual ones that hang around. The extender one can be 20, 30 over people.
Ling Yah: How many gangs were there? Could you identify them?
Notle Chew: I can't recall all. I can only know the few major ones. As you know, because it's in Chinese character this is the more traditional one.
There's 369. There's 21, there's 24, there's 18 and there's 08.
So the biggest one will be like Ang Soon Tong, 369 and " chap kueh".
Rumors have it that 18 was actually branch out from 369 long, long time ago. You plus 369 together it's number 18.
There are rumors, the numbers originated long time ago when the police were, here and they formed their own gang , then they, branch out is, it's because of the coolie house that they were staying in.
The number even know the shop house That's why usually that's the number are quite, close. You don't get 78, you don't get 90 something. It's always comp to eat the DC is, but of course, 18 as people, some people say is originated from 369. So I'm not too sure.
And how did 369 came about? I have no idea.
Ling Yah: But what if you talked to a person and you said, Hey, let's meet at eight o'clock sharp.
And you don't know. You think that he's not in the gang, but he actually is, Or do you just make it practice to never say stuff like that?
Notle Chew: No, you have to understand, eight o'clock sharp , I don't think it's commonly used among the youngsters anymore. So even when I brought this up with some of my gangster friends, they were not aware of it. I was quite surprised.
If I didn't went through that incident I also would not believe that that is one of the thing and because now I don't really men mingle with secret society members. You see? So when I talk to people to meet up with them using eight o'clock shop is okay, but who use the word sharp?
If you meet up with your friend, you just say, Hey, let's meet at eight o'clock. Correct? I don't avoid using it, but I also don't use it.
Ling Yah: Fair enough. So after you left the gang, you later, when you were 16, started a social business. Why did you start that business?
Notle Chew: I can't remember very clearly. If I'm not wrong, it's in the year 2006 or five. I saw in the news there was this announcement that Mr. Lee, that our forefather, Mr. Lee, he announced that he is going to build this integrated resort aka casinos.
I was thinking, hey, casino, gambling. This type of activities are usually hand in hand, tie down with all the other ice trade. You know, being drugs.
Trust me, a lot of people book the hotels to take drugs. Those are the richer people and they don't usually get caught.
Wow, to those poorer one who can't afford proper hotel stay, they either use the budget hotel or just at their own house and they're easily traced and caught by police.
So drugs is one thing. And then other thing , you know, sex service. I thought, Okay let's try to see if, I can start this escort agency business to provide a escort service to those high rollers, whoever that is coming in.
So I went to Acra this fall to register the business. I went to the website, check it out, and true enough, I can register social escort .
Ling Yah: thought It's a legal enterprise.
Notle Chew: Yeah. I thought it means being legal. Many people know what is social escort. Do you know why social escort business?
Ling Yah: You accompany someone in a social setting?
Notle Chew: Yes. Many people know that escort service is actually providing the escorting time. But also providing sex service to the clients.
This is common thing in Europe, America, Australia and almost all the countries . Even in Japan and Korea.
So I thought, Oh, okay. Interesting. Singapore also allows it, so I register for it.
I thought what I need to do is just arrange for them to meet up somewhere, then they proceed with what they are doing. I'm not liable for it.
I thought that's how this escort business runs. Because if you provide prostitution service, you will have a house where you keep them and customers will patronize.
I thought I didn't house any girls. I just arranged meet up with the customers, usually to the customer hotel or outside in the public meeting area.
And after that, what they do is between the two of them and I never thought that I'm doing this illegal.
Ling Yah: So you put your name down.
Notle Chew: Yeah. You know usually you doing vice trade, right. Other illegal business. It's a common practice that you hire the scape goat because we so-called tua pei kong. Someone to sit there for you when you get in into trouble.
Someone that I sponsored to a sex forum advised me, Hey why don't you hire a scape goat? And you know what I told him? Oh, I'm running it legit.
I register my company and doing it properly. Submitting tax . I don't think I need a scape goat. How wrong I was.
Ling Yah: Where did girls come from? I mean, they weren't coerced in any way.
Notle Chew: I would say 99% were all local girls. I advertised inside this newspaper, called The New Paper.
Ling Yah: Oh, you even advertised the newspaper. Wow. What did the advertisement say?
Notle Chew: I mentioned, Female Escort Needed. High income. Easily over 10,000. And then interested, call this number. That's it.
Ling Yah: Wow. And you got lots of response.
Notle Chew: Mm. And to tell you the truth, I'm actually the very first one to advertise inside The New Paper. When you flip The New Paper, you will only see my advertisement.
Ling Yah: How did you come up with the idea? Were people against it advise you not to do it?
Notle Chew: Nobody advised me not to do it. To be fair, not many people knew that I'm going to this trade. I thought that since I can register the company, it would
Ling Yah: Advertise like any other company.
Notle Chew: Yeah. It would make sense that I can advertise. Right. And I went to SPH, Singapore Press Holding. Very near me, Toa Payoh. I asked them, Look, I have this uh, registration for this Escort Agency business. Can I advertise? And they say, Yes, you can, but only in selected newspaper.
You can't advertise in Straits Time.
That's all. I can advertise in the newspaper. I can advertise in singing one power, Xin Min Ri Bao, Lian He Wan Bao.
I you singing unhear of power. . Yeah. That's many. But I don't believe in advertising the Chinese sector because the market sector is smaller. Their readership.
So I advertise in The New Paper. Why? Because whoever can read English to me is educated .
If they take the effort to read newspaper, they must be educated. Don't get me wrong. Before me, there's already escort business around. But they recruit through words of mouth, friends of friends.
And usually those ah beng recruiting ah lian.
So the caliber wasn't exactly up there.
They are quite rough in the way they speak and they smoke. Vulgarity is common for them. When I advertise those people who call in, those better educated ones. So in a way, I'm the only one there.
Within the first few weeks, I already recruited many, many girls. And sure enough their education level is higher and they are more refined . And that boost my popularity. Yeah.
Just within a few years I got more popular. But of course with popularity, people will find out where I advertise and within half a year you will see a couple of other escort advertisement.
One year plus later you see like almost 10 of them. And another two, three years, you'll see like 10 over 20. And by 2014, before I was arrested , there was like 20 plus 30.
Ling Yah: Wow.
Notle Chew: Yeah. Every day.
Ling Yah: Every day. Wow. So what was the onboarding process like for the girls? They had a form to fill and all that, right?
Notle Chew: Yes. That's actually the thing that set me in as evidence . I need them to fill the form of their full details because I tend to be more protective of the girls.
I don't want them to end up later meeting with the clients and the clients expect some service and the girls are unwilling cause they are just not that open for all those stuff.
So I ask in detail what kind of things they can do, cannot do, and then I tick accordingly. But to be fair, when they call right or text I will explain to them first what is it about. I will tell them they can think about it. Don't rush into it.
Even when they came for the interview, when I talk to them and I sense that this girls is definitely not ready yet, she just desperately need the money for it, I would tell her, I let you go back and think about this for one week.
I explained this is not a normal job. It is something that if you are not ready for it, it will scar your life forever. I really want you to think about it because from our conversation, I sense that you are not yet ready for the style of job. So I give you one week.
Ling Yah: What does that mean, not being ready?
Notle Chew: Some of the conversation I know that this girl is more resesrved. You can tell. You have friends who are more open minded in their thinking.
Some girlfriend who are more conservative.
My interview, I ask them all the services and all this, and when they answer, sometimes they will be hesitant, bits and pieces here, and then not like, don't dare, but yet kind of being forced to say it because they need the money, so you can sense it.
It's nothing complicated. It's just the human guts, you know? So, yeah, I tell him go back, think about it for one week. If after one week you still think that you want to join this and you're ready for it, then you call me back. Or just text.
Quite a few times after that some of the girls don't call back anymore.
But of course there are a few that will eventually call me back and say, Yeah, they're ready for it.
But like I said, the interview form was the evidence that got me in.
because in law as long as you have the knowledge that you are earning in part fully on the sexual transaction Act, you are in the wrong.
It's nothing to do with consent because as long as I have the awareness that they are having some sexual deal, I'm straightforward in the wrong.
So I didn't know about this class discharge.
Ling Yah: Were other social escort businesses having this kind of form?
Notle Chew: Yes. Yes. Yes.
Ling Yah: They all got caught.
Notle Chew: No, they didn't get caught. I was the one and I guess it send out a message to them. So I guess I'm actually a first mover kind of agency.
A lot of people took up their practice over what I did. Like the interview forms because I chance upon this one form one of the girls showed to me, right? She said she just interview another side. This form looks almost exactly like mine. Seriously.
There's also these two pictures of a human shape front and back where I let them indicate where their tattoos are. That form has that as well. It's exact same picture.
Ling Yah: So how did you stay ahead of your competitors then?
Notle Chew: Being protective of the girls. As long as you're protective with them I guess you will build a good reputation.
A lot of agency don't understand. They always look towards the money. When you talk about money, it's always the customer first.
But I talk about safety first. I side most with the ladies. For example on the website, if nowadays you search, if you manage to find any escort agency you will see that they will show either, from the mouth downwards or some even from the nose tip downwards.
To me, they are Singaporeans. It's very risky. Even by the mouth shape, you try to cover your friend mouth. Some have very unique smile. You can easily recognize. Worse still some from the nose down.
How can you not recognize me? You tell me. Honestly. Sure recognize.
So for me it's only the chin below. If anyone can be recognized by the chin, this guy is really master of face recognition. That's what I did.
I saw a female friend on another competitor's website and I recognize her immediately because hers are showing the nose tip and below.
I immediately used my work phone to text her. I didn't reveal myself. Say, Hey, I'm actually a friend of yours and I'm actually in this industry and I just saw from the other person's website your picture and that's how I recognize you. I told I think it's unsafe for you to be there. You will be easily recognized. Why don't you come over to me? I would take a much lower commission since you are my friend.
I told her, I just want to protect you, that's all. Then she agreed and she came over lah. For a short while, then after that she left. Probably also realizing that this is not a long term thing for her.
Most of these are really very short term, few months, and most half a year, and they'll move on.
Ling Yah: Speaking of commissions, what was the business model like?
Notle Chew: In term of the commission level?
Ling Yah: Yeah.
Notle Chew: Standard market rate practice is six four. The girls will take six and we will take four.
Ling Yah: They were earning 10,000 a month.
Notle Chew: Quite easily. I mean because they're local girls, so their demand and their price would definitely be much better than foreigners.
Last time when I started out, because like I say, nobody else is doing this, so my price was relatively low.
I have to still match with the other escorts. Usually. per transaction is usually like 200, $300. So for me, I start off at least 300 because I know my girls have the quality. Before that I didn't know the other agency were providing different caliber. So I tried to at least match about at 300.
After that I realized oh, the difference is quite big. So I raised the price. And because as I raised my price and I have popularity, a lot customer comes to me.
Other agencies realize that I'm marking a higher price, and they thought for the same thing so their price just keep escalating higher and higher.
When I was arrested, it can easily be 800 to 1000. My website happened to be Google number one.
Ling Yah: You even won in SEO game.
Notle Chew: Yeah. yeah, I paid quite a bit of a long for it. Because like I said, I went to do this just to do business. I'm not trying to break the law.
I'm actually quite entrepreneurial because of my dad's influence, I guess.
Ling Yah: So where was your dad in all these?
Was he aware what you were doing? Didn't you wanna go back to your family business?
Notle Chew: No. Oh. The thing is, sadly because of the economic crisis. The biggest loss was actually during the nineties. suddenly just cut off all the shares that Singaporean is holding over there.
So my fathers have millions inside the Malaysia exchange.
There's no warning. They just suddenly cut and you totally don't own all these shares anymore.
So he was badly affected.
After cutting off shortly, 97 crisis happened. And then after 2001 crisis happened.
Competition was getting tougher because of China coming out and even Vietnam. He's losing market shares to all these foreigners, and yet local production costs is raising by the year JTC renter electrical.
We discussed about it and he also said that there's no point to stay on. So tell me that it's best to go out to find my own job.
Ling Yah: Did he know what you were doing? This business?
Notle Chew: No, no, no. Nobody knew. Not my family.
I actually went on to work for many years. I was mostly in the sales line.
It's just because of this announcement from Mr. Leader and I thought there's a business opportunity and went into it.
Ling Yah: If you don't mind sharing, what were the profits like for a business like that being a first mover? Cause you were going to expand as well to Asia, Australia. So you must have be doing really, really well.
Notle Chew: Yeah. Okay. I don't mind sharing that. That was all in the past. Within the two, three years after I stabilized office was anywhere between 20 plus to 30 plus k per month. There was only one year that was quite badly hit because of this 2000 child under age case.
You are not Singaporean, so you are not aware, but if any Singapore really listening to this, you'll probably know. So yeah, guys , I'm not the one that was heavily published in the newspaper. Yeah. There was the other guy before me.
Mine was very quiet, very low profile because all the customer who was charged in 2012 are practically the same people because the clients always book from all different agent.
That's why that's nothing new out of it. Mine was just keep hush, hush and get done with.
Ling Yah: You were talking about expansion as well.
Notle Chew: Hmm. Yeah, because I believe in reinvesting back to your business. Right? So I spend a good near to 50,000 to create this system where you just need a sim card and then put it inside a dongle and connect the dongle to a server.
With that, right. I can reply SMS anywhere as long as I have internet access. So first thing I did is hire an admin. With the admin, the system has a lot of beautiful functions that you can add in. Like record the client birthday if they are willing to give the birth date.
So whenever come near their birthday, let's say he's a July baby, once 1st of July, right? We'll send out SMS to him. Wishing him happy birthday and informing him that for the whole month of July, you will get a discount, like 20% during your booking.
So before the appointment one and a half hour beforehand, the system will automatically send a SMS to remind them. And after the booking, right at the dot, also a thank you sms.
Even more amazingly, for clients who are new, have never done any booking before, the system is able to track.
So when the appointment is fixed , the system will automatically, once it's confirmed send a SMS to the escort, the girl, to remind them that this is a first time customer.
Remember to check for cash before you enter into any transac. Because I don't want them to end up going through a service and then the guy tried to play punk, and all these things. Don't want things turn ugly.
Because there was once, my escort actually went in then I didn't have this rule yet.
She was the one who got me thinking and then I, I said this rule. She went in and her practice is always to check for cash first. When she asks to see cash, the guy say, Oh yeah, I forget to withdraw. Then she say, Okay, I, nevermind. I accompany you to the nearby ATM machine.
She initially was reluctant saying, Nevermind, you stay here. I go and withdraw. But she say, No, no, no, it's okay. I go with you. Halfway walking , he suddenly ran off.
Yeah, What a jerk .
My escort, she was quite vengeful. She went back to the hotel room. She pour water into the television. She pour water into the recorder. Try to break everything that she can break because it's under the guy's name.
Ling Yah: So you were gonna expand and this is when police came.
Notle Chew: So if this system, I was thinking, that's nothing stopping me. I can hire and mean anywhere. In fact, I just need to hire three to four admins, you know, doing a rotating shift, eight hours.
I was actually planning to officially launch myself in 2015, around 1st of July.
But unfortunately I was arrested in 2014 December. So everything came tumbling down. That was when my old life ended.
So I was arrested and the day itself, I can tell you I was so confused and so lost.
In the Cantonment headquarters, I was at the interview room waiting for my turn.
So with my handcuff, sitting there a alone, I keep thinking through firstly what are the things I can say to try to at least, get away or not have too much implication.
But other than that I also just keep thinking wishing time can go back to the time before I was arrested and then just destroy all the interview forms.
Ling Yah: You were in prison for six years and five months. What was that like?
Notle Chew: Hmm. Mixed feeling. Good and bad.
Firstly it was very austere. Just nothing. Many people still have the misunderstanding that we have a mattress to sleep on, or we get to go to the yard to hang out the whole day.
Those watching too much America show where they go out in the morning for breakfast and stay out in the gym or whatever they want to do and then go back after dinner to the cell.
No , we are lock up like 22 to 23 hours depending on the day. It is very simple life and initially I couldn't get used to it. It's a withdrawal firstly from the handphone.
There's nothing much for you to do, but I decided that I need to do something for myself. I believe that the government took away my freedom, but not my time.
Although I have limited resources I still have my dictionaries, my English, my Chinese dictionary, and my sister sent in two Japanese learning book, grammar and vocab.
So I decided to spend a lot of time to study. Learn new things. Using the dictionary, I memorize the new words increase my vocab.
When I read the novel, right? All the words that I don't understand, I write them down. And then once I compile, at least, right, I will use a blank paper, write the words on the left. And then write the meaning on the right hand side then. So I will memorize them every other day.
Initially it's the next day revise again, and two days later, then four days later, and then slowly become two weeks, one month. So this is my method.
Ling Yah: Did you also find God there? How did that happen?
Notle Chew: Well, it's kind of a silly to begin with.
I was locked up in the court, right? I met this guy. He say, When you go into prison, declare yourself as a Christian because Christian have two movement a week.
Wednesday usually. One is for Bible study and then one is for Sunday worship. Sunday or Saturday.
Huh? Two days. What's a big deal?
Oh, you will learn to appreciate it. Anyway, because I was actually a Christian back when I was a teenager, for a short stint, so I thought ok, since I was a Christian, I declare myself a Christian.
So being a Christian, whenever there's movement, you really go for it. I learned from what it was said, and over the few years, I think initially when I was remanded for one year plus, there's no chapel service or this, it's only after sentence you'll get all this.
Few years later, after learning a lot of what is taught in the Bible, I realized that what I did was wrong. The first few years I was quite resentful of getting such heavy sentence, seriously heavy.
I even told myself that, Okay, now I know what did I do wrong?
So I was thinking, okay, then in that case, I do away with the interview form. At least not the very detailed services that they can provide.
I was thinking, Oh, I can do this and continue with my that was the first one, two years.
But as I learned from Christ, from Jesus, what he says, I thought, Yeah, this is not proper.
Even if the law allows it, it's not right in the eyes of God, right? It's something immoral. I realized that the reason why I got into prison fundamentally is because I have wrong sets of values.
To begin with, I don't have real values that was taught onto me. All the values that I learned was all from comics, from magazines, from shows when I was young.
What is shown in the televisions and all this. Adding on, because my dad being a philander, and some of my friends, their fathers are also the traditional type of Chinese guy. With some money, they always try to be funny.
So my value was like, Oh, doing this type of business there's nothing wrong. It is just purely business, you know?
I thought providing sexual service, no big deal. What they do is their problem. Nothing to do with me. That was my mindset.
But after learning from the bible, if I run the business, I am abetting adultery at least more than half of the time. Let's be honest, young chap cannot afford this type of service. So most of the time they are definitely married.
It's worse. I'm not the one having the adultery. I am helping hundreds of people doing that.
Ling Yah: You actually hinted earlier in the conversation that you don't regret prison.
Why is that?
Notle Chew: Oh, a few things. Being a ambidextrous, learning so many new words. I got healthier, I exercise every day, when that's open.
So I was very healthy. In fact, I lost a lot of weight. Before I went in I was 80 over kg. When I was at my primary psych prison, I was around 62.
So yeah, very healthy and very muscularly built. And like I said, right, , it was very dangerous to expand overseas, right?
Imagine, this escort agency who runs all this business? It's not the proper businessmen. They are usually run by this mafia, the hooligans or something like the secret Society, the more shady kind .
So imagine I expand overseas and then because my system itself is very unique
with my system, I slowly encroach into other people territory. I take away let's just say 20%. When they do their accounting realize, hey, how come these few months out, every time is like so much profit has gone.
They would check around and eventually will find out that this, oh, this guy just came in with his internet website stuff, expanding overseas.
And they find out, okay, so I have so many other countries of expansion. they will try to contact people of other country and then, maybe collaborate.
When you talk about so many countries, the profit is in the hundreds of thousand by the millions if you go by year.
So they will see because, and I love to travel, imagine whether I travel to a place and then they just nice have some counterpart there and they can just arrange for something to happen.
they will just use a knife and then just suddenly step me a few quick one. I can't even have the chance to turn my head and I'm starting to lose blood and I'll be lying the date on the floor.
Ling Yah: Did you think while you were in prison, what you were going to do when you were released? How you would act differently as well?
Notle Chew: I came up with a lot of business model. But of course that didn't really work out. When I came out, I realized the world is moving at such a fast pace.
That was when I was very lost actually.
When I was released, I wasted a lot of time just lying on the bed, feeling very lost.
I came out near 44 years old.
I only have a diploma in business management, which is not specialized.
And that was like 20 over years ago. And I don't have the relevant group experience. Seven years plus of running social escort agency and then six years plus of prison.
And moreover, at the age of 44, I'm so worried that even if I work hard and four, five years later I realized that, hey, this is not what I want, this is not something that is suitable for me.
Then do I change or do I not change because I will reach 50 Neither here nor there. In a way this is my last chance to really do something for myself. That's why I don't know what to do.
Yeah. So every day I just lie there. I was so depressed. My relationship with my daughter was also very, very bad. She visited me in prison through this Salvation Army program twice a year. And during that time we were very We will hug and chit chat
But just when I came out last year, shortly after two, three times of meeting, she start to turn nasty and become very angry with me.
She told me that she was actually putting up a facade during prison. She hated me for everything.
Ling Yah: How do you even start to try and heal a relationship like that?
Notle Chew: initially whenever we quarrel she keep saying all the nasty things like, I don't see you as my father. You are worse than a stranger to me. Other people are much better.
At times, I felt hurt and I would also get angry initially and keep arguing. I was very thankful that, shortly after I attended a Christian Gathering. Happened to meet someone who was an expert in parenting.
I shared my problem and they actually decided that they want to conduct this bi weekly zoom meeting to discuss and share about parenting problems or even just our own problem that we are going through.
It taught me a few things.
Firstly, at home it's not about talking about reasons, not about rationalising things.
It's about the kinship in Chinese, in Simplifi, he told me young,
So even if your child or your family members are being unreasonable, you should still try to give in to them. To embrace them so that they know that you are loving them.
For my daughter instances, he told me that because of what happened, it's very normal for her to be reacting this way.
In fact, right, she told me that see it this way.
If they give you a lot of nonsense, or shout at you or throw their temper with you, it's also because they're comfortable.
I know a lot of parents who have kids who came back home and wasn't very pleasant.
They would be angry or this.
He told me that this is their way of communicating and letting out their stress. They may be facing a lot of stress in school with their friend and because they're so comfortable at home, the home setting, that's why they tend to be six over years, and I just came back. I have nothing.
But the thing is, because they move on they have such good life and I have nothing.
There's just so much you can talk about, especially when I just came out. After meeting them once, twice, then I decided it's really awkward.
So I was quite lonely. I have no friends. Last year I was still locked down with the covid. So imagine I was always at home still not knowing my direction. I went into depression . I actually contemplated the suicide quite a few times.
There's nothing to look forward already. eventually, it's just death, waiting for me. So might as well just end it now.
I was every day just watching, Disney plus movies, numbing myself until I knocked out every day.
Four or five months later, I realized that no matter how bad the situation is, I should s tart doing something rather than just indulging myself in this unhealthy lifestyle.
So, I decided to do something, but I still don't know what to do. So I prayed to God. And I give myself three years to get moving. And if by three years time after you did what you could, and you end up still where you are, having no friends, having no future, no nothing at all then three years later you can go and kill yourself.
This is what I told myself. That's why I did.
The social worker for my daughter and I sent me this application form for tour guiding.
It says that the only prerequisite is that you need to be an ex-offender.
After going through the training and I start leading, I realized that, oh, I can find a purpose in this.
I can do my sharing and hopefully through my sharing, encourage other people to be better and be more appreciative of things. It's something that we always took for granted.
When I was inside prison for these six over years, right? The first one, two years, I still don't felt much. But on the third year onwards, I actually miss the sun and the rain on my skin.
I mean, I can see them from my room, but I can't feel them at all because between my window and the outside world, right there is the maintenance zone, so the sky that we see is still far distance. So I can never feel the rain, feel the sun And you really miss it more and more as the years goes by.
I told myself the day when I release, I want to immerse myself under the sun to enjoy myself fully.
True enough, when I release, I did that. The sun felt great. I promised myself that I will never, ever take the sun and rain for granted. I will appreciate them and not complain about the weather being too hot not the rain.
But just three months later I was walking along the street and it was so hot that I started to curse and swear, you know? Suddenly I to remember, didn't I just promise myself three months ago to be appreciative?
What am I doing now? I actually felt scared, because it's only three months after my release. I went through prison six over years and just three months. I can forget all these small little promises that I made to myself. Then what?
More in one, two years to come four, five years, 10 years. Then I'll become the arrogant and, ungrateful brat, that I used to be. So tell myself, okay, I need to be serious. . I always be mindful about it. , and until today, like this year, the weather was very hot during the July, August, even September.
I never curse about it. I never complained about it. what I did was just a knowledge that it was hot. You know, I just say, Oh my God, the sun is hot.
Ling Yah: We've talked about appreciation. Speaking of the tours that you do, every single tour is led by an ex offender, right?
And you show them a part of Chinatown that most people will know because they weren't in that kind of secret society.
I wonder for you personally, since I'm sure lots of people have gone the tour, were there any people or stories that really impact you?
Notle Chew: Okay. so I was leading for this secondary school.
After the tour, Three of us guides will be giving our sharing on what we've done wrong. What we've reflected on, and some advice, right?
So I gave mine. I mentioned about my depression that I went through and even contemplated the thought of suicidal .
In the end, I tell myself that, this is the worst. Nothing can get worse than this. I work hard. I do something for myself I am sure things will be improved.
After sharing, I also didn't think much about it. I started packing.
This young girl came to me and thanked me for sharing. She say what I said just now impacted her. She felt very motivated and very encouraged because she was also feeling very, very depressed for a very long time, and also always having these suicidal thoughts.
I'm intrigued. I want to know more about what happened . So I say, Hey, are you free? Can wait for me to pack a while then I walk you to the station. We can talk. So she stayed. After done, we walked and I talked to her.
Then I realized, oh my God, she has it worse than me.
This girl was 16 two years ago when I think Covid just hit.
Her parents were PR from a third world country.
When covid hit , they have no means of survivor being foreigners and not much of a skill.
You know what they did? They decided to sell her to Geylang.
For those who didn't know, Geylang is Singapore most infamous district for prostitution.
I was so shocked. She told me that she was sold to the Geylang, to one of the brothels. I'm very angry by the stupidity of that pimp dare to buy this girl in Singapore. If you are talking about others, the world country, Vietnam, Cambodia, fine.
We heard of stories, right? There are child prostitution that is commenting. I cannot judge, but in Singapore context, do you know how serious and how strict our Singapore government are with all this thing? I can tell you my understanding from prison, right? And age two years ago, she's only 14. Please!
This guy would have easily get more than 10 years of sentence. Easily. I suspect it can be up to like 15, 16 years or more because it's a 16 years old.
And You're not just having sex with her under age. You are selling her for sex. I was a aghast.
She told me that she was arrested few weeks later. I felt so, so sorry for her because it's like few weeks. I, It's not just few days, That means she went through something. I told her I'm really sorry to hear that. But I encourage her. I tell her, look at it this way. The worst is already over. We cannot change our past.
I cannot change my past. You cannot change your past, although your past is not brought onto you by your own choice.
no matter what, all these are in the past, so what we can do is look forward and be better.
And I told her, with the experience, with the adversity that we went through, I told her I guarantee you will definitely come up stronger and better than many people because you'll be more appreciative.
You know what is it like to went through hardship. And that's why you will value what you will have. I told her just don't get greedy along the way.
Still remain very grateful, very appreciative with what you have. strive within your means to get what you can. But if it's out of your means, don't force it.
Just study hard and few more years you can start working part-time. Even now you can start working I told her.
After that when you got your degree, I guarantee you life will be so smooth for you. Cause you would learn to work very hard. You've been through all the shit.
I told her, please don't share this with anyone. Your friends even. No matter how close they are, because this may just come back to haunt you. It's already in the past. Put it in the past. Don't have to talk about it.
I told her if there's a need go to a counselor, in school or whatever, talk it out. But after that don't ever disclose to anyone because people may think of you differently.
I don't want you to get stressed and depressed again because of this. There's nothing to share anyway, I told.
Ling Yah: So that's the best way forward. Just seek a good counselor.
Notle Chew: You see what's the point of letting everyone around you know? If it's your own spouse in the future, then it's up it's not in the person and it's not your fault.
What if some people don't understand? Maybe they just make fun of you mock you then wouldn't make you feel even more worse?
Inferior. I tell, I don't want you to go to that. It's not your fault. Tell yourself this, this is not your fault. that's why I, I really don't think she needs to share. if sharing, then a proper counselor who is professional enough to keep all this thing. Yeah.
Ling Yah: I wonder for ex-convicts as well, what is the best way for society to support?
Notle Chew: This is a very tricky question. Because ex-offender, I can tell you about 80% of them or even more are not ready to change.
Cruel as I can be sounding. It is a fact. They are too rooted in their own way of thinking. I'm only a first timer.
For many of them, they are since young, 18, 19 years old, 20, they start to go into prison. And in and out, in and out, in Some have more than 10.
I've calculated right, for a 50 years old guy, about 30 years he's inside prison.
He was only out all add together one to two years. Can you imagine that? That's not just that one person. It's a common thing among them. Some maybe have bit longer, three, four years.
They spend a long decades inside prison.
Ling Yah: Do you think it's because of prison that they can't break out of it? Because it's not like you have any better role models or chance to do something.
Notle Chew: Correct?
It's not prison fault. It's the culture. They're used to it. At a young age they went in, they're used to it. They're exposed to all kinds of people. All these people inside will not teach you to be good.
And if you continue to bond with them, especially if you're drug addict, what are the chances that you'll go back to drug after coming out? So these people will be very difficult to change.
That's why I say more than 80% and I am not wrong cause I seen quite a few guys leaving after me and then after that coming in before I left.
Whenever I ask , How can you back again? They always tell me no choice. You have to understand they don't know how to survive outside.
They have no education, they have no friend. Their friends are gangster. Will lead them back to the same thing. Thirdly, their characters already set in. They are used to prison lifestyle, getting agitated, very angry about small, small little thing. They do not have the right proper value in them.
And most importantly, maybe they just keep thinking that, their life is over.
Sadly, this statement will eventually become true after a certain age, usually after 50 years old. Cause after that you were consider an.
old man And you have been in and out of prison forever.
What more can they do or contribute?
That's why as they get older and older, they will be more, more depressing. I'm not saying that there's no chance, but the chance lesser. A few elderly in their late fifties, sixties, they are telling me they already give up.
There is nothing waiting for them outside. In fact, some of them are so comfortable that they commit some petty theft to just go back in.
Laundry is taken care of, medication is taken care of, meals are taken care of. is taken care of. So they have everything taken care of. The only thing they don't have is the freedom. It's a very realistic thing.
Ling Yah: Two questions. Firstly, how do you even identify the 20%? And also secondly, how do you help?
Notle Chew: They will show their true self within three months. Max half a year. Not counting the time when they're released, but counting the time when they're out of the halfway house because some of them will be placed into halfway house for three months or half a year.
When no longer held back by prison, then you can see the difference.
Ling Yah: So you just see whether the old habits come back.
Notle Chew: Well, their mindset. You know how much they always complain. Because when one is not willing to change, they want things to remain the same one.
They will want everything their way still. They will start complaining when things doesn't go their way.
Alvin, our other tour guide, told me they always say, The society didn't give me a chance. They always look down on us. Alvin will say, Yeah, you are ex-offender. Of course they will look down on you.
You always complain that people don't give you a chance. Did you ever give them a chance by proving yourself. All you did was always complaining complaining. You didn't even try. We are in the wrong first.
Why do we deserve the second chance if we don't give ourself the second chance? This is what he always advocate. I heard this many times whenever I did tour with him, and I appreciate him showing this.
I respect him.
He also say before, those who have full tattoo of word body, always complaining that, you know, the police always find their trouble. and all this. Then he was saying then in the first place, when you go and put all this tattoo, have you ever thought of the consequences?
You know all this are things that people will have some opinion of.
Why do you want to complain over your own action and expecting people to be more, accepting because of your action? They should be more accepting only when you really show that you have changed and you have become a nicer person. Trust me, by then your tattoo don't matter.
Only those who didn't know you, the police officer doing their job, seeing someone full of all this weird tattoo and still looking, like those ah beng face. Some guys have ah beng face so no choice, they will check on you, but if you have done nothing wrong, they call you. I see. Show it to him.
Explain yourself a bit. Why are you doing, What are you doing there? Doing what? And that's it. Why do you keep thinking that people are finding fault with you? No, they are doing their job. If they're not doing this then I will be scared.
Ling Yah: How can people listening support you?
Notle Chew: Wow. I am certified tour guide by Singapore Tourism. I'm officially a licensed tour guide.
I'm gonna register myself, a company and lead my own tour. So I actually set out a Facebook page.
Just search for Notle Tour and you should be able to find my page. It's still very basic.
I realized Singapore actually 75% of Chinese and I think a good 20% were foreigners from China, Taiwan, They may be able to speak some English but their language is still Chinese.
If you are gonna lead a tour and speak in English, half of the time they will not understand. So I want to provide this Chinese version . Along the way, for all other tour that is in English I want to do a Chinese one.
Of course I would be also doing in English. So whoever would like to experience this trial walk with me can also contact me in the page.
Ling Yah: Fantastic. I'll add all the links to this website so they can just go and find you directly.
Notle Chew: Once everything is gaining some traction, I'm hoping to see if I can conduct talks to schools. Especially secondary schools and getting Alvin and the rest of the ex- offender to do sharing.
Secondary school in Singapore are always visited by the police force every year to share about not doing the wrong thing, not taking drugs, not joining gang.
But the thing is, those who will listen are the goody good shoe. The youth at risk, those rebellious ones will think what do you know your police, how would you understand my situation?
You have all your life nicely.
We can send an ex-offender inside to share. Our ex-offender were gangsters. They were drug addicts.
They've been there, done that. They can tell these youth at least, right?
Ling Yah: Not worth it.
Notle Chew: Yeah, I went through everything and looked at me. Yes, I'm giving speech here. Looks glamorous, but I could have been better.
I spent over 20 years of my precious life inside prison. You don't want to end up like me.
If we can encourage or change the mind of a few 50%, even less, 30, 20%.
Just even one guy per talk. I think we've done our part. I am thinking I need to pay the guide because if you do this on voluntary basis, how many times can they do? They still need to go about their income.
I call myself very lucky. I don't know, is it God blessing? I should be like, I always take it as God blessing no matter what. But for those who are not religious, then just take it as I'm being lucky.
Ling Yah: Notle, you have had such an interesting life. So many things to learn from.
I wonder at this point, do you feel like you have found your why or your purpose in life?
Notle Chew: I am hoping to advocate more for the youth, for the kids. Cause of my daughter. She was the collateral damage because of my nonsense. I know that I hurt her deeply.
When I was arrested they confiscated all my money and they post me a hundred thousand bill. no way I can afford that.
Imagine this young girl, so close to the father. We were very, very close. She always sleep beside me. I always hug her to sleep every single night.
I took care of her. I cook for her. I bathed her. Changed diaper. Yeah. All the way until she was like six years old and I was incarcerated.
So imagine so close and out of the blue one morning, the father sent her to the grandma and after that he's gone.
To her is forever.
She miss her father, but she doesn't understand what she's feeling.
All she knows is she's feeling sadness, unhappiness. And she has no way to channel all this.
Her best friend told me that, you know your daughter, the first one two years are in primary school out of the blue suddenly scream a loud . And there was once her scream was so loud, the whole school can hear. Really whole school.
I think after that, right, she felt embarrassed knowing that she's catching the attention.
What she did next was she always run into the toilet cubicle and lock herself in inside and keep crying there. So, yeah, I know it's tough for her.
I'm the one at fault. That's why whenever she was angry with me and giving me nonsense I try to control myself not to get angry. But it's difficult.
Sometimes she doesn't study hard and not being respectful to her mom or anyone else.
I need to discipline her. But if I scold her or lecture her, then she will be angry again, upset again. We are getting so much better now, but still tough.
She's spending quite a lot. Couple of hundreds or so every month. Her mom is giving her a lot of money to spend. It's kind of scared me. Yeah. She's living life like how I was. Also not into studying and then a lot of money to spend. A lot of freedom.
Her mom works from morning all the way to midnight most of the time and even go back to work during weekend. So I fear for her.
My only consolation is the fact that she is going to church, because at least I know I can put my trust in God. If we can't trust anyone else, at least there's God for me to trust.
If she's not going to church, I can tell you I will be super scared right now because with the kind of money I keep telling my wife, don't let her spend so much.
Control her spending. You know, she is letting her tie her account to Grab car and she can just happily take the Grab whenever she felt lazy.
And that's quite often.
I just hope that in time to come, she will come to her senses. You know what she told me? She complain that she's a material girl.
Ling Yah: I was wondering if you also think about legacy and what kind of legacy you wanna leave behind.
Notle Chew: Not much of a legacy to talk about. The only legacy I hope I can leave behind is that I did make a difference in the end.
After taking so much from the society. Being who I was back then. Trust me, I was so arrogant.
I hope that I can share my story to as many people as I can. And hopefully with some wisdom, learn from my mistake, especially the younger ones.
I want to help more teenagers. In the long run, I want to see if I can maybe conduct a biweekly social outing for them. Just bring them out for a simple meal or just do some by cycling. At least letting them know that there's someone out there looking out for them.
They're not alone. They don't have to fend for themself and mix with the wrong crowd.
Ling Yah: What do you think are the most important qualities of a successful person since you know different part of society for most people.
Notle Chew: Firstly, monetary a very practical thing. Money , interpersonal relationship , your wellbeing, yada, yada. The sad thing is everybody only tie success to money. If you are making it, you are earning a lot. 10, 20, over thousand, even hundred over thousands a month.
Wow. You are very successful. I once upon the time believed that also. But inside prison and after learning all the teaching, right, I realized that success other than money.
I think success, money wise, as long you have enough to give yourself a comfortable life for you and your loved one around you and having spare money to do good, that is success in monetary wise.
And for relationship if at least most of the people around you see you are a good person, and have high regards for you. You have a good social group of friends then I think that is success in term of relationship. And of course you must have a good relationship with your family.
Wellbeing is to find a purpose in life. Do things because you are sincerely wanting to help. A lot of social enterprises if you look deep inside, it's really just for the money.
The third point of being successful is to make a difference in people life. You don't have to be big.
Ling Yah: I think that is the perfect note to add. Just to encourage everyone that you can make little changes that can impact people's lives.
Notle Chew: Oh, by the way, if anyone who have more questions for me, you can go through Ling Yah to post the questions.
She will send it to me and I will reply and maybe she can post.
Ling Yah: Yes, I have a website.
I will create a webpage just for you with all the links that you just mentioned, so I'll put it there.
Notle Chew: Yeah, yeah. I'm very candid. I mean, I've been there. I told you before, everything is in the past already. So if people judge me for what I did, then the bad is on them, not me.
I am clear conscious now, unless I'm still doing some stupid stuff.
If not they answer to God or whoever they answer to la. I don't think I need to feel bad. So feel free to ask me any question. I try my best to answer to the knowledge I know of.
Ling Yah: And that was the end of episode 102. The show notes can be found at www.sothisismywhy.com/102.
And stay tuned for this coming Sunday because we will be meeting the senior VP of brand marketing and partnerships for Playboy Club, who once worked in the marketing MBA division for both Sotheby's and Christie's before overseeing the marketing and merchandising for Makeup Forever as VP of Marketing North America for LVMH.
It's a fantastic episode on finding a career that suits your talent no matter how unusual path it might be. Marketing, personal branding, and so much more. So to stick around and see you next Sunday.