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Three simple words – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 29 March, 2014

5th April, 2014 - Saturday

Three simple words
by Peter Tan. Posted on March 29, 2014, Saturday

THE living room was a haphazard mess of mismatched furniture. The previous owner of the house had them custom-made by inmates from the prison nearby. My parents did not see it fit to have them replaced since they were still in good condition. A microcomputer connected to a 16-inch colour television occupied a work desk that an uncle left behind when he moved to another state.

My father was standing beside me in a Pagoda T-shirt and a pair of loose striped cotton shorts that men of his generation usually wore. My mother made these shorts for him by the dozens. Those were the only shorts I ever saw him wear.

I was showing him something on the television. It was such a long time ago. I cannot remember what it was any more. All I know is that I had wanted to tell him one thing that I had great difficulty in coaxing out of my lips. The display on the television was just a way to get his attention while I mustered my courage.

Ours was a family that did not speak openly about matters of the heart. Expressing our inner feelings was not a forte that was cultivated. My parents, ever cautious, also always discussed sensitive issues like the Communist insurgency and the May 13 incident in hushed tones and out of earshot of us children. We were never allowed to ask why those issues happened. That was how we were brought up. Children were to be seen, not heard.

“I love you,” I finally blurted out as I held on to his arm tightly.

A chill ran down the entire length of my spine.

He was taken unaware. There was a stunned look on his face.

“Why?” he asked, partly confused, partly amused and mostly delighted.

“Because you are my father. Thank you for everything.”

I had meant to say more, to say I was sorry for making him spend so much money for my treatments, for having to take care of me even in his old age and for breaking his heart when I dashed his dreams for me but those were all the words I could manage.

His eyes were wet. He tried hard to contain his emotions.

“There is no need to thank me,” he said softly, his voice almost inaudible.

There was long silence after that as we both pondered over the brief exchanges. There was never a more awkward moment for the two of us. A sense of liberation and relief overwhelmed me, nonetheless. I ultimately told him what I had wanted to tell him for the longest time.
I was proud of myself for having broken that invisible barrier that had repressed my true feelings when it came to my parents, even just for that one time. Our subsequent conversations neither moved beyond that nor did we speak about what happened that day.

One sentence. Three simple words. How often do we tell our loved ones that we love them? In our busyness to climb the career ladder, to put food on the table and to provide all the creature comforts for our family, we frequently neglect to bear in mind why we are doing what we are doing in the first place.

The tragedies in the recent weeks have clearly reminded us once again of the fragility of life. We or our loved ones could be here today but gone tomorrow. Sometimes, we get to say our poignant goodbyes. Other times, we are unknowingly parted without any indication.
For one reason or another, we tend to procrastinate when it comes to things like spilling out what is in our hearts. There are always other priorities that require our undivided attention. What we fail to realise is that there is always more money that can be made, more mountains to be climbed and more business deals to be sealed.

Our loved ones on the other hand are each unique and the only ones we will ever be blessed with in our lifetime. Spending quality time with them is a goal we must strive for at all costs. Life is short. There are times when opportunities missed can never be regained.
The failure for us to share our feelings with them is one regret many of us have had to live with for the rest of our lives, wishing we could have one more chance at it. Unfortunately, regrets can not be be use to buy back time, missed opportunities nor loved ones.

Let us not wait. It does not cost us anything to tell our parents, spouse and children how much they mean to us. Before this day is over, however busy we may be, make it a point tell them how much we love them and how much they have made our life more meaningful. Give them a hug. Give them many hugs. They are worth it. They are worth our time. They are worth the only thing money cannot buy — our love.
Comments can reach the writer via columnists@theborneopost.com.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2014/03/29/three-simple-words/#ixzz2y1djm9SL

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He made his mark – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 22 March, 2014

5th April, 2014 - Saturday

He made his mark
by Peter Tan. Posted on March 22, 2014, Saturday

WHAT is death? Is it the end? Or is it a new beginning in another place? These are questions we do not normally mull over out of taboo or simply because they are issues that are furthest from our minds. It usually takes the passing of someone close to make us ponder profoundly over our own mortality and the meaning of life.

My father-in-law passed away at a ripe old age of 83 last week. His demise was sudden and unexpected although he had been unwell for a couple of weeks before that. There is always this notion that our parents would live forever even though deep in our minds we know for certain that they would die one day.

I did not know my father-in-law that well. We were separated by the distance of the cities that we lived in and our interactions limited to the few hours spent together during meals whenever we could find time to visit him and my mother-in-law.

On the long drive back for his wake and funeral, my wife Wuan, the second of his three daughters, reminisced about the full life her father had lived. He was a school teacher for over 30 years. He swam competitively, and participated in 10-pin bowling and golf tournaments.

The many trophies and medals proudly displayed in the living room are proof of his athletic talents. Nevertheless, the silverware did not define him as the person he truly was.

Wuan remembers him for teaching her and her sisters swimming and bowling. He was that hands-on when it came to educating them on these activities. During the school holidays, he would pack the family into his green Morris Oxford and took them on road trips to Taiping, Penang and Kuala Lumpur.

He was an accomplished photographer. He developed his own film and printed his own photographs that chronicled the important milestones of his daughters and the family. Each daughter has an album of those important events, which will be even more treasured now than ever.

The son of a Nyonya from Taiping, he was adept at cooking some of the most mouthwatering Peranakan dishes that Wuan still craves for every now and then. Unfortunately, I did not get the opportunity to savour his specialities like perut ikan, otak-otak and tau eu bak, which coincidentally are also my favourites.

In his lifetime, he touched many lives in his vocation as an educator. His former students, now in their 60s and 70s, who went to pay their last respects, remembered him as a kindly teacher who was always patient with them during classes. That alone spoke volumes of him although he had retired from teaching for more than 20 years and had probably taught them 50 years ago.

As for me, I remember him most for what he said to me during our first meeting. I was a nervous wreck then as I was not sure how he would take to me as a son-in-law who is also a wheelchair user. Would he chide me? Would he ignore me? There were a thousand and one questions and doubts swirling in my mind.

All my apprehensions melted away when I heard him say, “Welcome to the family.”

He never judged me. He accepted me for who and what I am. I could not have asked for a better father-in-law and a better family.

The last major decision he made in his life was to get initiated into the Roman Catholic Church a few years ago. He chose Mark as his baptismal name. Incidentally, the house that he lived in for the past 40 years was just across the road from the church but he had never once stepped into it until then.

There were tears and sniffles throughout the wake, especially from my mother-in-law. We grieved. We prayed. We ruminated. Family and friends came to lend a hand to see us through the trying period. They also came to celebrate a life that was well lived. I am certain my father-in-law had no regrets about how his life turned out.

As family members, we have one regret though. We did not get to say our goodbyes to him. He was staying in a nursing home temporarily while the house was in the process of being renovated to accommodate him. None of us were there when he breathed his last. That is our regret.

Having experienced the loss of my parents and now my father-in-law, I have come to see death as a rite of passage that all of us have to go through one time or another. Eventually my time will come, too. It is a process of life. There is no escaping from it.

While I cannot say that I am fully prepared for it, I try to live each day to the fullest. I live as if it could be my last. There is nothing macabre to this. I have lived an interesting life in spite of the circumstances. Every new day I wake up to is a bonus by itself. I am contented.

When I finally go meet my Maker and He asks me, “What have you done with the time I gave you?” I hope I will be able to tell Him that I left the world a little better then when I first came just like what my father-in-law did with his time here.

Comments can reach the writer via columnists@theborneopost.com.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2014/03/22/he-made-his-mark/#ixzz2y1d8EbJF

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Our feline friends – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 15 March, 2014

5th April, 2014 - Saturday

Our feline friends
by Peter Tan. Posted on March 15, 2014, Saturday

ONE sunny afternoon, my wife Wuan found her hiding behind some flower pots in the garden. She had a white kitten with her. We fed them and let them be. They became familiar with us after a few days and graduated to sleeping on the steps just outside the entrance into the house.

The little one would scamper all over the grass and even sneak into the house while the mummy cat, whom we later named Fei Por (fat lady in the Cantonese dialect) watched from a short distance away. The kitten disappeared mysteriously one day later but Fei Por stayed on.

She delivered another litter a few months later. The three kittens were adorable and full of energy. They would play and rest inside the house during the day, and huddled together under the car in the porch with Fei Por at night. One of their cutest antics was to climb onto the roof of a neighbouring house and peek at us from above when we called out to them.

We did not realise that there were dangers to letting the kittens run around the neighbourhood. One was hit by a car. Another disappeared just like that. We named the remaining kitten Patchy for the unique patches on his back. When he was old enough, we had him neutered together with Fei Por. Unfortunately, he succumbed to unknown causes a few weeks later.

Fei Por was heartbroken. So were we as we had grown very fond of him. She would come into the house, search all the nooks and crannies that the kittens liked to hide in and mewed out to them sorrowfully. It was heartrending to see her in such grief. She recovered eventually which was a great relief to us as it was painful for us to see her in that condition.

From then on, we were determined to take better care of her. We sent her for regular check-ups. The vet concluded that she was a mature cat but was not sure how old she was. Whenever we had to be away for several days, we would send her to pet boarding to ensure that she had sufficient food and was taken care of for the duration.

On one occasion when we went to pick her up from boarding, Wuan was enamoured by a little kitten that was put up for adoption there. He was the only kitten out of three that approached her when she went near. He even licked her fingers when she held him up. We took him home with us after he was inoculated and dewormed.

Fei Por took an instant liking to him when Wuan put them together. She started grooming him. Her maternal instincts were obviously still intact. We named him Cheeky for his playfulness and fondness of nipping on our finger and toes. Fei Por became the mother he never had and he in turn became the object of her affections in place of the kittens that she lost a while ago. They have been inseparable since. That was six years ago.

We lost Fei Por last year. She was unwell after we took her back from the boarding place. We thought it was just the difficulty in adjusting in an unfamiliar environment but we were mistaken. She was restless and we let her out. It rained heavily that day. I called out to her but she did not return.

Early the next morning when Wuan was getting ready for work, Cheeky excitedly asked her to follow him. After living with them that long, we understood what they wanted each time they came to us. He led Wuan to the main door. Fei Por was crouched outside. She was soaked, dishevelled and appeared very sickly. When we finally managed to take her to the vet, the prognosis was not good. Still, we kept our hopes up that she could pull through. She did not.

Losing Fei Por was as painful as losing a loved one. She was one of us. She was family. Cheeky was exceptionally docile for the next few weeks, perhaps grieving for her in his own way. Her cremated remains are now kept in an urn that sits in her favourite corner in the living room overlooking the garden that she used to frolic in.

From our bad experience with allowing Fei Por’s kittens to roam freely outside, Cheeky has never gone out of the house unsupervised. The furthest he is allowed is the fringe of our small garden where he would sit contentedly and chew on the fresh grass.

He has the most endearing personality. When he was younger, he liked to sit on my lap or just sleep beside my wheelchair while I was working. He likes to accompany me when I take my afternoon naps by sleeping beside me on the bed. Other times, he would ask for my hand to rub his face on or knead my tummy while purring very loudly. I am mostly home alone on weekdays. His companionship is truly a godsend. And he still nips at our fingers occasionally after all this while.

We now have two other adopted cats living with us. Wuan and I do not believe in buying pets, especially when there are so many strays running around in the streets. Adopted animals can be equally as adorable as bought ones. One animal adopted is one animal saved.

The other two cats have their own endearing characters as well that have kept us entertained to no end. Together, the three of them have injected sparkle with their antics into our otherwise very quiet household.

And as for Fei Por, she is always in our thoughts. We are forever thankful to her for initiating us into this path. Our lives have been abundantly enriched. May she have fun at the Rainbow Bridge with our other animal friends who have gone before and after her.

Comments can reach the writer via columnists@theborneopost.com.

Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2014/03/15/our-feline-friends/#ixzz2y1cTZOt3

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