Inspired by his incredible grandfather, Simon Wong keeps his work and personal life varied.
What’s your story?
I’m a British born Hong Konger, and came to Singapore in 1999 for my late wife. I grew up heavily influenced by my grandad, who was a Tai Chi Expert and lived to 94 maintaining total physical health and mental dexterity the entire way. I first met him when he was 75, he could still do 3 fingered push ups and pistol squats. He had run a 200 year old family tea empire that stretched from Fuzhou to Guangzhou, a clothing business, and raised 5 kids while having time for a daily nap, studying, and frequent calligraphy practise. One of the strongest impressions he left was that he was always energetic, and never, ever sick. It made me rethink about human potential and how to achieve such a balanced life in a modern context. Maintaining wellbeing and living authentically doing things I truly enjoy, as he did, has moulded the way I live. I have my fingers in a few pies.
The two main pies are design and tourism: being an owner and director from 2003 at the award winning design firm Chemistry, I got to contribute during its formative decade to the foundation of its graphic design business, and sat at the helm of major rebranding projects.
As a designer, in my early years in Singapore I designed the iconic Singapore Management University’s ‘tangram lion’ brand-mark.
While wearing the tourism hat, I recently launched Singapore’s vintage vespa sidecar tours. With the support of STB and other investors, I put on the roads a fleet of fully restored sidecars – the first tour in the world using vintage vespa sidecars. I get to utilise my branding and design expertise to create something we see has the potential to become truly iconic – as synonymous with Singapore as the Singapore Girl, Shophouses or Chilli Crab.
Aside from conceptualising tour experiences, I also oversee Fleet Services – the restoration and upkeep of vintage bikes, from maintenance to design and development of new ride technology.
And yes, in keeping up with Gramps, I Taichi every day and get a powernap on most.
What excites you most about your industry?
Having my fingers in several pies. I get to be a Taichi practitioner, a designer, and a scooter guy. I believe it’s healthy to maintain freedom of movement and shift from one project to another, and not be confined to one workspace. The common link in my work is they’re creative and expressive businesses – and the outcome of my work frequently enriches lives, or puts smiles on stranger’s faces, be it an item of design or a vintage vespa experience.
What’s your connection to Asia?
Through family, it’s people, and culture – after my wife passed away fighting cancer, I make sure I live a conscious life – conscious in the meditator’s sense of the word, in that one remains aware of one’s thoughts as they arise, and chooses to go with those that lead to constructive outcomes while negating suffering. I try to ensure fair effort is concentrated in giving back to people in need, through organising fundraisers and putting profits to good causes.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I have personal connections to Hong Kong, Malaysia and of course Singapore. These cities are humming with interesting connections and opportunities, it’s always exciting to see the ideas that emerge from conversations! Ultimately I do have a soft spot for Singapore. All the pieces of the jigsaw can be found there. Things get done fast.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Listen to your breath. That’s from my retired meditation teacher.
Who inspires you?
My Grandad and my godma. She’s 91, with a memory sharp as a knife and mentally, extremely agile. She suffered a stroke last Christmas that rendered her unable to call for our weekly chats, for four months. 11 months later, she was speaking normally again, and amazed doctors asked her to help coach other stroke patients.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Feldenkrais Method. Completely complementary with my practise in Taichi – a few sessions of gentle moving with awareness led to experiences of catharsis, full release of tension in the hips and shoulders, and emotional reset. I now incorporate ideas from Feldenkrias Method into my Taichi work.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing at all.
How do you unwind?
Truthfully, I don’t usually wait until I have to unwind. I take frequent exercise breaks throughout the day – maintaining wellbeing has become intertwined with my work life. I also love being near vast areas of greenery, and find silence and mountains, extremely energising.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Too many! Nepal, Myanmar and Sri Lanka come to mind. I found the people extremely gentle, sensitive, and gorgeous and I love the varied scenery. The diversity of Sri Lanka amazes me. Colonial railway rides, lush tea plantations, clear beaches, seaside forts, ruins of ancient cities, and swank places to stay. It’s all there. But it’s still hard to pick a fave. I recently came back from a 200 year old stone hill village in China, isolated deep inside bamboo forests. The accommodation was a farmhouse restored to an international boutique hotel standard, and I’m going back. You always find something new in Asia.
Everyone in business should read this book:
Krishnamurti: Think on These Things.
Shameless plug for your business:
Triquetra.sg – the world’s first vintage vespa sidecar experience provider, operated by it’s B2B brand Sideways. We’re very popular with MICE groups, and have accommodated between 25 – 120 pax. For larger groups, we go in rotation with other heritage or tour activities. We work with partner tour operators and are open to collaboration. Sidecars have been hired for filming – both as filming vehicles (cameraman in sidecar) and in front of camera. Upcoming projects include incorporating an augmented reality experience with the rides, plus we’re calling for partners to work with in the creation of sidecar merchandise. We have STB behind us.
We like working with socially conscious partners – sidecars were founded on charity and fundraising over a decade ago, and we continue to support good causes. Drop us a line at [email protected] for inquiries on rides, event rentals, collaborations. Like our Instagram at Vespa_Tours_Singapore.
How can people connect with you?
Feel free to drop me a personal email at [email protected]
This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.