The Mechelen Hundred

Portraits of a city's people, today

Nestled between Brussels and Antwerp, Mechelen has often been overshadowed by its larger neighbours. Yet teaming up with the City of Mechelen, our line-up of 100 of the city’s most prominent people, places and projects proves the extent of its potential. From artists and creatives to critical thinkers and fighters, these are the powerhouses driving Mechelen forward one step at a time.

Ng Sauw Tjhoi

Ng Sauw Tjhoi

Journalist and founder of 'Welcome In Mechelen'(1957)

Can you describe what you do?

I used to work as VRT-journalist. I had a great love for radio documentaries and I also produced a lot of television features. Our team produced one-hour documentaries every week, providing a critical view on social, cultural and political issues.

With my retirement in sight, I try to make time for different projects. One of those is ‘Welcome in Mechelen’, a network of engaged citizens. We try to support newcomers finding their way in our city and that is a hell of a job. In my opinion, the government requires them to integrate, but doesn’t take the necessary measures to counter all obstacles, prejudices and racism they encounter along the way.

But when I witness these people find their way, start a new life and enjoy the city …. I get this little magic feeling of happiness.

How do you perceive Mechelen? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?

In the eighties and nineties, Mechelen used to be like a lot of similar-sized Flemish cities: less metropolitan and more rural in mentality, but good to live in if you are an original inhabitant. The Mechlinians weren’t prepared for outsiders – even people moving there from other Flemish cities were regarded as aliens.

Luckily, the attitude towards a lot of newcomers has changed. They don’t feel undervalued any longer, they are just proud to be part of the community in Mechelen. As a result, Mechelen is a city with an open window to the world. The city now has an international feel, thanks to the variety of inhabitants but also through events like the world music festival Ottertrotter, or the world cooking workshops at the local service centre Den Deigem.

What would you say is Mechelen’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

Mechelen is a little ‘moonstruck’, hence our nickname of ‘Maneblussers’. We adore the moon, we get deeply affected by the moon, and after we slaked our thirst for the moon we started longing again for the feeling of ‘moony-ness’.

How has Mechelen contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

When I was a journalist at the VRT and a collaborator on the Prime Minister’s Royal Commission of migration policies and anti-racism in Brussels, the city of Mechelen was my safe haven and warm hometown. My day started and ended in this city, it gave me that secure feeling everybody is longing for. Mechelen was nurturing my career and my job.

Lately, I spend the whole day and night here, so the city has become not only my bedroom but also my kitchen and living room. Mechelen is my life nowadays, and that means a lot.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

In spite of my personal good feeling towards it and the cheery atmosphere in the city, there still remains a lot of poverty and inequality. The local government should urgently take action against this injustice. Priority should be given on the city’s budget to invest enough money in solving these problems that are not worthy of Mechelen.

If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what/where would it be?

Of course there are a lot of wonderful places in our city. The Grote Markt is one of the most beautiful city centre squares in Belgium. But the place I prefer to take my out-of-towner-friends to is the Vrijbroekpark. It is a large piece of nice ‘organised green’, almost at the border of the centre. All along the green and the little bushes, all kind of Mechlinians – locals and newcomers alike – come together to chat, chill and picnic… such a great atmosphere, especially on hot summer days. You can also go for a heavenly meal at restaurant ’t Park, or enjoy an ice cream bought at the other side of the park, at the cafe ’t Vrijbroekhof!

Can you talk to us about a local legend, a neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?

If I find the time I take our dog out for a ‘Koffie Veerle’ in the Vrijbroekpark. To make a long story short, Veerle was a older lady who had a little dog. Everyday she’d sit down for her coffee at the terrace of ’t Park, and ask for some cookies for her dog. To honour their most regular client, the lovely owners added a drink to their menu that was named after her: ‘Koffie Veerle’ – a large coffee with dog biscuits!