The Associates: Chuck Lingham
If it weren’t for the photo, would you know who Velapa Chockalingam is? That’s the real name of Chuck Lingham, surely the Club’s oldest active member. Of Indian nationality, but born the son of a plantation owner in Malaysia 96 years ago, Chuck took pity on linguistically challenged Japanese and foreign friends alike and Westernized his name not long after coming to Japan as a student in 1935.
That was around the time the Land of the Rising Sun was seeking to build up an empire, even as the great power of the day -- the British Empire -- was witnessing its own sunset. Consequently, Japan was offering succor to various Indian freedom-fighter groups, and Chuck soon quit studying to be an electrical engineer to join one.
Later, an opportunity arose for him to manage an export business. “It was supposed to generate $200,000 to $300,000 a year, but revenues jumped to $2-3 million,” he says, without taking credit. Tiring of making money for others, he went into the business for himself. “All I had to do was find the right goods at the right price and make sure they arrived overseas in good condition on time.”
Nothing to it.
He continued doing this until eventually retiring a young whippersnapper at the age of 75. Having invested his money in several properties all those years ago, he can now live off the rent they generate, which he spends with gusto wining and dining at the Club.
“I like the Club. The prices are very reasonable. Unfortunately, many of the journalists don’t eat here. I hear they are not so well paid.” (Nothing wrong with this nonagenarian’s hearing.) “To wine and dine here every day, you need to be earning ¥500,000 monthly.” (Ha-ha-ha! He still enjoys telling jokes, too.)
Chuck also delights in the Club’s variety of membership. “Even though a majority of the members are Japanese, it is still cosmopolitan.” He comes in daily and sits at the Open Table located at the far end of the Main Bar. The space is eternally set aside for single visitors, the idea being that no one need feel uncomfortable when entering unaccompanied; rather than eat alone, they can sit there without a reservation or introduction and get to know the regulars like Chuck, who frequent the table.
And Chuck is a frequent visitor, as regular as a Seiko watch, in fact. Besides having lunch there at the Open Table most weekdays, he also attends some of the evening events and Professional Luncheons. “It’s a friendly place. If I miss coming here two days in a row, I get so many phone calls from people worrying if I’ve fallen ill. So I have to come just to stop the phone from ringing.”
Dislikes? “There is politics in this Club.” (He’s got that right.) “The Japanese are quiet, but wherever you have a group of foreigners, you have politics. You always get some who want to complain -- about the food, about the running of the Club. But when you have to cook for several hundred people every day, of course you will have the occasional mistake.” The kitchen staff loves Chuck.
“Now the Japanese, they don’t worry about who is president. They don’t even know who is president. They eat, they socialize and they get the hell out of it when the politics start. The ones who cause trouble are the foreigners.”
If he has a secret about living actively to a grand old age, perhaps it’s his philosophy of toleration. “I don’t lose my temper any more. There is nothing -- certainly at the Club -- to fight about.” Despite his political adventures as a youth, he says he now avoids politics completely. So when asked if he’s taken Japanese citizenship, he shakes his head, saying the only difference that would make to his current situation, would be that he could vote. “And I’ve no interest in voting.” Not unlike many of our Regular members, then.
While not religious, he welcomes all religions. “Unless they try to kill people. No religion tells you to go out and kill people.” Bin Laden might debate him on that one.
And as for food: “I’ll eat anything. I’m not particular. Whatever my wife cooks. Japanese, Chinese, whatever.” Like the kitchen staff, his wife loves him too.
When he’s not frittering his money away eating and drinking, Chuck enjoys going to the movies. Avatar was the last movie he took in. Reading is another pastime. “We have a nice library at the Club,” he says. “And I enjoy reading Time and Newsweek from front to back.”
Next time you are in the Main Bar, go and say hello to Chuck. You know where to find him now. ❶
John Boyd covers technology and business news and events in Japan and Asia and strings for several magazines, including IEEE Spectrum, FPD Today and New York Stock Exchange Magazine. He welcomes new assignment queries: firstname.lastname@example.org.