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Meet the Real Family That Inspired Crazy Rich Asians

Town and Country Logo By Kevin Kwan of Town and Country | Slide 1 of 7: Crazy Rich Asians may be fiction, but given the situation I grew up in, I've had an unparalleled view into the very real world it depicts. I come from an old establishment family from Singapore. Our family tree goes back to the year 946. Three families intermarried: mine, the Kwans; my grandmother’s, the Ohs; and my grandfather’s, the Hus, which made for a sprawling clan that helps inspire the stories in my novels and what you see onscreen in Crazy Rich Asians.In these photos you can see my grandparents on their wedding day in 1931, which was the second time they had met. My grandmother Egan Oh was an independent flapper type who didn’t want to get married. When she was 26 her neighbor Margaret Kwan Fu Shing introduced Egan to her dashing younger brother Dr. Arthur P.C. Kwan, and she changed her mind. Margaret and her husband Dr. Hu Tsai Kuen, who helped invent Tiger Balm, lived in an estate that had previously belonged to the sultan of Johor and was one of the grandest homes in Singapore. You see Margaret inside with her Art Deco furniture. There’s this idea that Asian people lived in these houses with lots of antiques and brocade, but when this house was built, in the 1920s, its furnishings reflected the height of fashion. And there’s my grandfather driving his car - a luxurious thing at the time. This is the first time we’re opening the family album to give a sense of the lives they led. During that era the elite Chinese families tended to be English-educated and took after the British - something that doesn’t happen much anymore. There was tea at 5 p.m. every day, and after dinner my grandfather would sit on the veranda and smoke his pipe. As a child I didn’t even realize I was Chinese. I was Singaporean, but my identity was wrapped up in the culture I was experiencing every day. For example, I didn’t know a word of Mandarin, and my parents didn’t either. I grew up with a posh English accent, and all my aunts sounded as if they came out of a Merchant Ivory movie. It’s a world that has all but disappeared.This story appears in the August 2018 issue of Town & Country.

Crazy Rich Asians may be fiction, but given the situation I grew up in, I've had an unparalleled view into the very real world it depicts. I come from an old establishment family from Singapore. Our family tree goes back to the year 946. Three families intermarried: mine, the Kwans; my grandmother’s, the Ohs; and my grandfather’s, the Hus, which made for a sprawling clan that helps inspire the stories in my novels and what you see onscreen in Crazy Rich Asians.

In these photos you can see my grandparents on their wedding day in 1931, which was the second time they had met. My grandmother Egan Oh was an independent flapper type who didn’t want to get married. When she was 26 her neighbor Margaret Kwan Fu Shing introduced Egan to her dashing younger brother Dr. Arthur P.C. Kwan, and she changed her mind. Margaret and her husband Dr. Hu Tsai Kuen, who helped invent Tiger Balm, lived in an estate that had previously belonged to the sultan of Johor and was one of the grandest homes in Singapore. You see Margaret inside with her Art Deco furniture. There’s this idea that Asian people lived in these houses with lots of antiques and brocade, but when this house was built, in the 1920s, its furnishings reflected the height of fashion.

And there’s my grandfather driving his car - a luxurious thing at the time. This is the first time we’re opening the family album to give a sense of the lives they led. During that era the elite Chinese families tended to be English-educated and took after the British - something that doesn’t happen much anymore. There was tea at 5 p.m. every day, and after dinner my grandfather would sit on the veranda and smoke his pipe. As a child I didn’t even realize I was Chinese. I was Singaporean, but my identity was wrapped up in the culture I was experiencing every day. For example, I didn’t know a word of Mandarin, and my parents didn’t either. I grew up with a posh English accent, and all my aunts sounded as if they came out of a Merchant Ivory movie. It’s a world that has all but disappeared.

This story appears in the August 2018 issue of Town & Country.

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