It’s the Thursday morning before Christmas, and I’m sharing a meal with Shen-Tel Lee and Bobby Ting, the dynamic couple behind Malaysia’s most creative entrepreneurial ventures. In-between bowls of piping hot Sarawak laksa and cups of herbal tea—exactly the way Kuching-ites do it, as Shen-Tel tells me—they let me in on a little secret: they’ve been dating intermittently since they were 12. My wide-eyed response comes as no surprise as they whip out a photograph of them in their teens, grinning from ear to ear at a party they attended together. Who would have expected two childhood sweethearts to live happily ever after some 15 years later? With a fine balance of yin and yang in their respective personalities, it is easy to see why they managed to make it work, effortlessly.
When the elevator doors open to the penthouse of The Republic by Elica in Kuching, I am immediately greeted with a multicoloured light, suspended from the ceiling in the corridor. So Shen-Tel, I think to myself. Walking through the main door, a bright space springs to sight—marbled floors, grey walls, and taupe cushions—a bit of Bobby. Ultimately, who decides what goes where? “We will battle it out, but at the end, Bobby gives in and I get the final say!” Shen-Tel laughs. And sure enough, the apartment is a reflection of their relationship. It is modern European elegance meets vintage Asian kitsch, muted tones against bright shades, while bold prints bring out the simplicity of the dramatic but clean lines.
For Shen-Tel, who grew up in Australia, settling down in Kuching was a foreign idea at first. “Bobby proposed, I said yes. And then I spent the rest of that year crying, mulling over how things are going to be such a drastic change, before moving back here to Malaysia!” she exclaims.
Shen-Tel moves with ease from room to room in the new family home she shares with her three boys, Benjamin, 4, Kingston, 2, and Bobby, the mastermind behind this condominium complex. His company, Elica, specialises in property development. More specifically, sustainable housing where environmental impact is taken into serious consideration. “People in Kuching are accustomed to living in landed houses. Our aim is to introduce luxury condominiums. It is, after all, a new choice in lifestyle living,” Bobby explains.
Playing the perfect hostess in a Dolce & Gabbana maxi, Shen-Tel guides me through the penthouse. Familiar items from our younger days, such as a yellow acrylic painting of the Pop Pop bang snaps packaging and a green Milo can with the words “Terima Kasih” on a white canvas, come into view. As if to answer my unspoken question on cue, Shen-Tel tells me the artworks are from Nala Designs. “All items are shipped fresh from Lisette [Scheers]’s studio in Bangsar! Her work has created so many wonderful memories for me. They represent the time when I was first pregnant with Ben and when we first opened The Playground Borneo. When I see paintings from Nala, I am reminded of how far we’ve come, and that itself is pure joy and happiness.”
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