By Pearl Lee And Hoe Pei Shan
Around her private estate at Jalan Arif in Hougang, very few of her neighbours say they know Madam Ng Lye Poh well.
Some describe her as a polite but very private person who hardly interacts with them. Each morning, she can be seen tending to her plants in front of her home, pausing occasionally to greet passing neighbours with a "Hello".
But the veil of anonymity disappears just across the road, in a Housing Board enclave near Hougang Avenue 2 and 8.
Here, among shopkeepers and hawkers alike, Madam Ng is known as "Sheng Siong Ma", or the mother of the supermarket chain founded by her son Lim Hock Chee.
Business owners, workers and regular customers describe her as a feisty yet friendly granny whose daily routines are known by many.
Mr Lee Tong Lai, who supervises the coffee shop at Block 631, told The Straits Times that he saw Madam Ng at least four times a week. "She will come in the morning, about 9am, and drink a cup of teh-O and have some food," said the 55-year-old. "Sometimes she will go to the salon at the end of the block to do her hair."
He explained how almost everyone in the coffee shop knew that her son started Sheng Siong, and that she lives in a landed property across the street.
Mr Li Guo Qin, a 44-year-old who operates a wanton mee stall in the same coffee shop, said: "She has a very loud voice... it's almost like her trademark."
His 17-year-old daughter Kai Ying said she has seen Madam Ng around since she started helping out at her father's stall five years ago. "She might seem fierce if you don't know her, but once you do, she is all right. When she sees me, she will ask me if I've eaten."
The owner of Face Value Beauty hair salon, who wanted to be known only as Ms Yang, said she last saw Madam Ng on Wednesday morning, the day of her kidnapping.
"She was alone, and came over to sit and chat with us," said Ms Yang, whose salon has been around for the past 20 years. "She said she was feeling tired, and her legs were sore."
She added that Madam Ng was a regular customer, and had a hair wash about twice a week. "Sometimes, she pops by just to rest and chat before making her way home."
A salon employee pointed to a Sheng Siong calendar on the wall, saying it was from Madam Ng.
Elderly residents who gather frequently at the void deck of the nearby Block 626 said Madam Ng occasionally joined in their chats while smoking a cigarette.
"Sometimes we play 'four-colour cards' here with her, but we haven't done so in a long time, after the police told us not to," said one of the residents.
On Wednesday, she added, Madam Ng's daughter and son- in-law had gone to the void deck to look for her.
"They said she was supposed to go for a medical appointment, but they could not find her anywhere. Then, at 3pm, they told us they found her already," said the resident.
"Usually, if she's at the void deck, she would call her daughter to say that she would be home later."
It was only a day later that the residents would hear that she had been kidnapped.
At the Jalan Arif estate, some of her neighbours expressed worry about the area's security. A 92-year-old said she used to play mahjong with Madam Ng before she became wheelchair-bound. "Since then, she's been coming over at least once a week to sit in my kitchen to chat. But I've not seen her for about a week now."
Mr Lim told reporters yesterday that he would not be letting his mother venture out of the house alone after her abduction.