|www.corpun.com : Archive : 2013 : SG Schools Apr 2013|
Corpun file 24426 at www.corpun.com
The Sunday Times, Singapore, 7 April 2013
No more rebel, now he dreams of sushi
Fatherhood -- and the food industry -- ended Yoyogi owner's gangster days
Edwin Tan was a regular presence on the stage of Mei Chin Secondary School when he was 13 years old. A young thespian treading the boards? Not quite. He was getting his buttocks whipped.
"Public canings took place on Fridays, and I was always one of those getting disciplined. I was so notorious that if there was a public caning and I was not involved, the whole school would clap," recalls the former hooligan whose trespasses ran the gamut from bullying to fighting and extortion.
He was a hellraiser outside school too. A secret society member from the time he was 12, he regularly took part in gang clashes. Once, he was set upon by three men who stamped on his right hand, fracturing three fingers and breaking his tendons and knuckles. He needed surgery to insert a metal plate and four screws, which were removed only several years later.
When he dropped out after Secondary 3, nobody -- not even his long-suffering parents -- expected him to amount to much.
But today, Mr Tan, 43, is a popular sushi chef and owner of Yoyogi, a Japanese restaurant with an annual turnover of $2.5 million.
Formerly located in Mohamed Sultan Road, the eatery -- which counts politicians and professionals among its patrons -- moved to spanking new premises at The Grandstand (formerly Turf City) three months ago. It has a 20-seater sushi bar and a cellar stocking more than 100 varieties of sake.
For an amulet against bullies, he turned to the gangsters who often hung around basketball courts and coffee shops in search of recruits. He took to being a ruffian like a duck to water, and became a serial extortionist, fighter and all-round trouble-maker.
By the time he was 13 and at Mei Chin Secondary, he had his own gang called Land Hawk. There were nearly 80 members, all recruited from his school.
"I was the lao da," he says, using the Mandarin phrase for ringleader. "When we played truant to go to the East Coast to smoke and chill, there were enough of us to fill up a whole bus."
His chronic truancy -- he would skip school once he had his attendance marked in the morning -- caught up with him when he was in Secondary 3.
"One day, the discipline master called up and told my dad that he was giving me one last chance. He said I could remain in school on one condition: I had to wash the school toilets every Saturday. I told my father I was not going to do it," he recalls.
Job options for a dropout were limited so he became a storeman for retailer Homestead, earning less than $300 a month. After a year, he became an apprentice for a ceiling panel company.
His entry into the food industry was serendipitous.
"I used to hang around Liang Court a lot and there was a sushi counter where the chef would display freshly sliced sashimi in a sashimi boat. I knew nothing about sushi but I thought it looked interesting," he says.
So he started work, first as a waiter and later, a kitchen help, in a company which ran several Japanese restaurants in the River Valley Road shopping complex.
"I enjoyed the work because there were a lot of waitresses for me to ogle," he says cheekily.
He married one in 1989 when he was 19, three months before he started his national service with the Singapore Civil Defence Force.
Marriage and impending fatherhood forced him to finally take stock of his life.
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