The gentle pitter patter of raindrops cascades onto the swimming pool, its melodious rhythm inspiring calm. A squirrel scampers across the water wall feature, seeking shelter. Inside the house, a flurry of hushed activity underscores the event that is taking place — while our crew is setting up for the photo shoot and the hair dryer is trained on her tresses at full blast, Grace Yeh’s grandchildren are excitedly rifling through the racks of outfits we brought along, even as a small army of helpers are putting the finishing touches on a festive table of fruit, snacks and drinks.
“I’m not a person who does things in half measures,” Grace says with a broad smile as she is having her makeup done. “It’s all or nothing for me.”
And she is true to her word. Ever since she agreed to our request for an interview, Grace has activated her entire household to prepare for this shoot. From decorating the house to reorganising the grandchildren’s schedules and feeding the crew, everyone — from her family to her team of six domestic helpers — has been roped in to play a part.
No stranger to managing big events, orchestrating it all was a breeze for the grandmother of four, aged between four and 12. A director of her family businesses Yeh Brothers Wood Works and Yeh Brothers Electronic Works, which she founded with her husband Yeh Hsin, she has also served on the boards of charities including the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and Yellow Ribbon Project, and was involved in their annual large-scale fundraising dinners before the pandemic.
From her hometown of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, she’s moved with her children to cities including Los Angeles, Tokyo and London for their education, all while building the business with her husband. When her family finally settled in Singapore in the 1990s, she singlehandedly set up home here while her husband held the fort in Johor Bahru where their factories were being built.
Not one to let moss grow under her feet, Grace does not believe in wasting time. She is quick to size up a situation, swift in decision making, sharp-witted and fiercely loyal, making her a firm friend to her coterie of companions. Not one to mince words, she is known to “tell it like it is” — whether she’s standing up for the underdog or reminding her friends about “the right thing to do” — always with the intention of setting things straight.
A price is merely a figure that people put on an item to give it a value but whose judgement is this value based on?Grace Yeh
Her glamorous facade may make her something of an enigma to those observing her from the fringe of high society, but to friends and family, she is a woman who stands by them with unabating love and loyalty, generous to a fault and never hesitating to tap you on the wrist if you step out of line.
Over coffee and snacks after the shoot, she ruminates on her extraordinary life, which has taken her around the world and allowed her to brush shoulders with influential personalities from the political, business and art circles — and how never letting go of her beliefs has found her peace, purpose and prosperity in life.
01 | Family Comes First
The Chinese have a saying: “家和万事兴”. It means that when there is harmony at home, everything else can prosper.
I want my grandchildren to know that family is their rock and their foundation. Care for one another and love each other; talk it out when things go wrong. You can always count on family to be your shelter, safe harbour, support and strength.
02 | Embrace Your Chinese Heritage
In the ’70s and ’80s, I had to travel to the US and Europe very frequently for business as those were our biggest markets. So my children attended American colleges and universities, and went on to further their studies in Tokyo and London. I moved with them to every city they studied in. Along the way, we made friends all over the world, but I never forgot my roots. We speak Mandarin at home as it is our mother tongue. We observe Chinese traditions during festivals, and I also make it a point to inculcate the right manners in them. I am proudly Chinese and this is most evident in my “Chinese stomach” — everywhere I go, I must have Asian or Chinese food. I want my grandchildren to know their heritage, and to be proud of who they are and where they came from.
03 | Be True To Yourself
To me, this is the most important value in life and one that has guided my thoughts, actions and beliefs. I have never wasted time doing things I did not believe in or maintaining superficial friendships I did not care for. Being true to yourself may not be easy in a world full of people who don’t always mean what they do or say. But I want my grandchildren to know that if you walk your path by being true to yourself, you will be guided by your ethics to achieve results you can answer to yourself. Don’t live for other people.
04 | Health Is Wealth
Everyone is different, so it is important to learn what your body needs. I take care of myself by eating simply, sleeping well, having good friends to chat with and doing gentle exercise like taiji. No one goes through life without dealing with health afflictions. Find ways to deal with any issues and face them with courage. Don’t dwell on things or become too emotionally affected. If you have to live with a condition, learn to make friends with it and accept it as part of your life. That is my way of dealing with things.
05 | Understand Value Over Price
I like this saying by British author Oscar Wilde: “What is a cynic? He is a person who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” A price is merely a figure that people put on an item to give it a value but whose judgement is this value based on? I’ve always had a different way of determining the value of an item from other people, whether it is a meal or a luxury good or even the vitamins I take. This has guided me in deciding if something is worth my effort and expense. I would like my children and grandchildren to learn how to evaluate the value of something beyond its price tag, so they learn to value something on their own terms rather than that which is imposed by others.