Tuesday, October 20, 2015


It was dark along the river, quiet, with mist rolling in among the rustling reeds.

There was a boat, bumping gently against the pier it was tied to, with a ferryman sitting in its stern, who looked up as he saw a man walking along the river's shore.

The man was quite old, with wispy white hair surrounding a bald pate, a belly that showed he appreciated good food, and laugh lines around his eyes that showed a life characterised by joy.

Those eyes though, were now idly looking at the fireflies flitting among the reeds, their lights leaving little glowing trails through the misty air.

The ferryman did not want to disturb the man's reverie, but as the latter drew closer to the pier, he felt it would be impolite to not announce his presence, so he cleared his throat.

"You're early," the ferryman said.

The old man stopped, looked up, then smiled. "Ah! Hello!"

"I've been sent to pick you up," the ferryman continued, "but there's still some time, so there's no need to rush. I'll let you know when we need to leave."

"Thank you," the gentleman replied, as he moved towards the bench at the end of the pier. "That's very kind of you."

He settled down on the seat, then pulled out a small plastic bag which he hung from the corner of the bench.

They sat in silence for awhile, with the old man occasionally taking out some tissue paper to sneeze into, before dropping them in the bag.

Finally, the old man asked, "Where are you taking me?"

The ferryman indicated across the river with his hand. Then noticing the old man frowning as he tried to see what the ferryman was pointing at, he added, "You won't be able to see until it's time to go."

At that moment, there was a sudden patter of feet, and a crowd of people appeared beyond a low fence that blocked them from the river and the pier. The old man looked up, beamed, then got up from the bench and went over to greet them.

"It's the people I know," he explained to the ferryman, as he reached out to touch them and hold their hands.

They ranged in age from those in their teens all the way up to some who were older than him. Some came from far away; others he had not seen in a long time. But as he stopped to talk or touch any of them, scenes of the old man's life showing his time with them flickered into life in the air nearby. There was the childhood in the kampung, the holidays in Malaysia, the visits to his clansmen in Hainan, the dinners and golf trips and church outings... And the memories continued popping into existence.

Eventually though, only a small group of people, his family, were left. The old man reached out across to hold the hand of a slight, dark-haired woman, then turned and proudly proclaimed, "My wife!"

The ferryman nodded, smiled back, then tapped his wrist, as if pointing to a watch. The old man noticed the gesture, then shook his head. "Wait, someone's not here yet."

The mood was starting to get sombre, as all those around started to realise there was not much time left. Where it had previously been like a meeting between old friends, it was getting more and more melancholic.

It was then that there was the sound of someone's footsteps, and a well-built young man ran up to the fence.

When the old man saw him, his face lit up, and he reached out to grasp his arm. "Thank you for coming back again so fast," he said, of his favourite grandson.

Abruptly, the sky behind the old man started to brighten. The old man started, glanced furtively across the river, then tightly embraced his wife. The ferryman moved over to the old couple, who now had tears streaming down their faces.

"It's time to go," the ferryman said, but the old man did not move.

"It's time to go," he repeated, and still there was no response.

"Stop pretending you can't hear me. Your hearing here does not depend on hearing aids, so that excuse won't work."

At that, the old man straightened up and slowly, reluctantly released his wife, who was now crying openly. But even as he stepped back from the fence, with the sky getting brighter, the years seemed to fall away from the old man, so that he was no longer an old man. He felt strength return to his limbs, his hair grew back and darkened and his body started slimming down. And beyond the physical changes, he noticed that he no longer felt like he wanted to stay; the places he had gone to and where he had spent all his life did not hold any attraction to him and the only attachment he felt was to the few who were dear to him.

He now looked out across the river, and where once it was dark and misty, it was now clear. Another shore was now visible across the river, with what looked like a great, gleaming made of gold, with gates of pearl. And the sky, which was now almost as bright as mid-morning, drew its light not from the sun, but from a source, someone, the man realised, who was on the shore. And he suddenly sensed a great yearning to be on the other side, to bow before his lord and worship in His presence.

He stepped towards the boat, but a distraught sob checked him. He looked back, at the woman who had caught his eye as a young man, whom people thought was a poor match for someone of his status but who had turned out to be perfect for him; who had nagged him and scolded him, but had loved him and supported him...

He walked towards her, reached out to embrace again. Unlike before, she didn't seem to notice his touch, and he realised he was already leaving this world.

Leaning towards her, he gave her a kiss on her forehead, smelt her hair one last time, then whispered to her, "I'll be waiting for you."

Then he strode back to the boat and the ferryman, now with his eyes firmly fixed on the other shore, on the figure standing on the water's edge with open arms. He was going home.

Goodbye Grandpa. Thank you for everything. We'll see you again on the other side.

Monday, March 23, 2015

O Captain, My Captain

News that former PM Lee Kuan Yew died in the middle of the night was both expected and unexpected.

Expected, in that he had been in the hospital for the past few weeks, and steadily deteriorating in the past few days.

Unexpected, in that it hit me harder than I would have thought.

I've never met the man, hardly listened to him giving speeches, lived most of my life after he had stepped down as PM.

But this is the man who shaped modern Singapore, from post-WWII British colony to modern metropolis. He may not have been a blood relation to most of us, but as Singaporeans (technically American, I know, but really Singaporean at heart), Mr Lee was very much a part of our lives, like a national grandfather, an analogy even more apt as he appeared to change from being a fiery speaker to becoming more like that stern old man who would smack you if you were misbehaving but whom you knew always had a soft spot for you.

My mom woke me up early in the morning to tell me that he passed away in the middle of the night. I was very much in a stupor when she told me the news, having worked late the night before, ironically, in case he had ceased to be earlier.

But then you finally wake up and think, hope even, that it may have just been a bad dream, and you go to check the Internet in case it really was some horrible figment of your imagination. But it's true; the website is in black livery, PM Lee Hsien Loong is making an emotional announcement of his father's passing, and you suddenly want to cry and feel empty, as if your world has been pulled out from under you.

But life will still go on. Contrary to the fears I've allowed to fester in the days before, chaos did not break out. Buses will run, people will go to work, children will go to school. The stock market will continue trading, as will the fishmonger in the market down the street. And the Government will function as before, in its oddly efficient yet occasionally inefficient way.

There is just one difference.

Singapore's Iron Man is gone.

Thank you for all you've done for us, Mr Lee. Rest in peace. You've earned it.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Home away from home

When Pastor Jabez organised the first youth mission trip to Japan way back in 2005, he contacted Louis, our resident missionary over there, to see if it was possible to get housing at a low cost. And as anyone who knows Louis and his family can readily attest to, their hospitality knows no bounds and they opened up their house to us.

We stayed initially in the tatami room, which was their guest room, and it was pretty good there, since it was warm, especially for us suaku Singaporeans who had never been to temperate countries prior to that and found the spring temperature of about 20 degrees at night somewhat cold.

 The tatami room. Of course, in summer, the place gets ridiculously warm. But if not, it's always a nice place to hang out at.

And since then, unit number 303 of Tokorozawa Century has been for me, the home away from home.
The entrance to Tokorozawa century. 

It didn't matter how many times I went to Japan. This place has always been warm and open, whether it was Louis or Steve who was staying there. Even when I had my own apartment just a few blocks away, I knew that if I wanted to drop by, I didn't even need to call ahead (though I usually did) and I would be welcomed in the place.

There would be food. And both Auntie Chris and Kathi are excellent cooks.

Place where you can get good food.

Place where good food is made.

There was also free Internet, which was extremely helpful if you're there just for a short trip, or when your own Internet has not been set up yet.

Place to get free Internet. Incidentally, this was where I ended up sleeping on that first trip in 2005 after some of the team members said it was too cold and they took over the tatami room.

But most importantly, it was like family; the Laus and the Weemes never excluded you, even if you did feel like you were an 居候 in the place.

Unfortunately, due to certain circumstances, it appears that the house will now have to be returned to the landlord, since there will be no one staying there for the next couple of years. Louis has always been proud of the fact that he managed to get a really good deal on the house, getting a rather large unit at a relatively cheap rate, but I guess it is time to move on from the place they've called home for more than 10 years.

And I, for one, will also be sad to see it let go. There's always this sense of nostalgia each time I've keyed in the security code and walked in through the sliding doors and smelt the air inside the building; I'm always brought back to that 2005 trip, when everything was new and exciting (not that it isn't any more, but the first time is always the most impactful anyway).

So thanks for all the happy memories, for all the fun and all the joy. And just perhaps, maybe in the future, the home may come into the possession of a friend again.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Hospital Interlude: my Saviour speaks

Ok, I know I've gotten to the part where I was completely knocked out by the anaesthesia that had been given to me and I'm lying on the cold operating table, but before I continue the account of my time in the hospital, I should mention something of great importance.

Now, while I was in hospital, I was definitely very very blessed and encouraged by all my family and the many friends and colleagues who stopped by and spent some of their time hanging out with me. The visits definitely made my stay in the hospital a lot more enjoyable, and like I mentioned often to them, left me with very little time to feel bored.

But it still didn't take away the fact that I could very possibly be dead by the end of the following week. It could be any number of things; the cancer suddenly spreading, complications during surgery, catching some other disease, the possibilities were endless, in a rather morbid, unwanted sort of way.

It didn't help that I was also starting to wonder about my faith, whether it was real or not, whether I had fallen away and not realised it, whether by my lifestyle, I had removed myself from being before God. It goes without saying, of course, that I was hardly living the most exemplary life. Sure, I looked and acted Christian, but there are definitely things that I wasn't proud of, and which I kept very well hidden.

It also didn't help that the last sermon I listened to in church before getting hospitalised (or at least, the last one I really remembered) was one of the hellfire and damnation ones that our church has been putting a bit more emphasis on recently (and a good idea too, if you ask me, since we've been focusing so much on God's grace and mercy that we sometimes forget His holiness and judgment). And I was really starting to worry that even though I thought of myself as Christian, perhaps it was only what I thought, and that the reality before God was that I had drifted away and not even realised it, and that if I died and found myself before the throne of Him above, I would find out, to my horror, that my name was no longer in the Book of Life and I would be banished from His presence.

Naturally of course, when people were around, this issue was put away in the back of my mind, but sometimes, when I was by myself, I would wonder. And pray. And wonder if the prayer was enough.

I had been thinking of telling Pastor Kee Oon (my YA pastor) when he came to visit on Saturday, but we had such fun talking and laughing that it completely slipped my mind. And so my fears were unaddressed.

At least, until God intervened.

Thing is, before Pastor Kee Oon came, he had been getting prompts to give me a passage from the Bible. And it was a rather specific one too, but like I mentioned, we had such good fun joking and stuff, and it also slipped his mind to mention it to me. But after he left and went back, the prompts started getting to him again. And he told me later he thought the verse wasn't the one he had thought of telling me, which probably had something to do with healing or how all things work for the good of those who love God. But the prompts got stronger, and the next morning, he sent me a message telling me that the Holy Spirit had been telling him to tell me to read a passage in Isaiah.

Now, for those of you who do know me, you would know that I am not particularly spiritually sensitive. In fact, I can be incredibly dense when it comes to this sort of thing. But as I read the passage, I started to tear almost immediately after scanning through it once, and it became extremely clear to me that God was speaking directly to me from a book that was more than 2,500 years old. This is the passage:
But now, this is what the Lord says - he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour...
- Isaiah 43: 1-3a

And just like that, all my fears of thinking that I had abandoned my faith and was no longer in God's favour disappeared. And even knowing that I might die by the end of the week was not as distressing as it had been.

And since the surgery was successful, it feels that I have been redeemed a second time, this time in the physical sense, and that I am now living, essentially, on borrowed time. It'll be up to me (with the help of the Holy Spirit) to make sure I use this time for something worthwhile in the name of God.

Friday, April 19, 2013


It's never pleasant hearing that someone has gotten cancer, especially if you are the person in question. But when the truth of it is out, it's always much better to face up to reality and put a brave face forward.

The morning after I had gotten warded into SGH, several other doctors came by and prodded me and looked at the scans that had been taken of me, and the most senior one in that particular group, Dr. Lai, sat me down (well ok, he was the one that sat down. I was lying in bed already) and told me quite bluntly that in all probability, based on the size of the tumour, I had cancer.

My parents had been listening in on it too, and I guess it sounded almost like the final nail in the coffin for them. It certainly seemed like that for me, as I started getting the feeling that I was sinking through my bed in despair again.

The one positive thing that Dr. Lai could see from it though, was that it seemed the tumour (which he said probably had an infection) was fairly well-contained, my body having reacted to it and sealing it off, which he said allowed him a bit more time to get more info and plan the best way of dealing with the cancer.

My siblings came to my bed after the doctor had left, but my parents didn't really need to tell them much, since they had also been somewhere in the room when the doctor was talking (even though he seemed to think that he was talking softly enough that no one could hear; he had a rather strong sort of voice, that kind of carries even if he didn't raise the volume). Quite a shocker, no doubt, but despite the situation, our faith in God remained strong, and we committed it all to Him in prayer.

At any rate, I was left in that bed for the next few days, and was not allowed to take anything in by mouth, which was a real bummer sometimes, since it wasn't just food, but drinks as well. They kept me on a drip the whole time, giving me either saline or a potassium solution. The downside of this, was that they kept on having to give me new IV plugs when the old ones stopped working, some of which had needles that looked very foreboding, and once, I was left with a massive bruise on my left forearm when the nurse couldn't get the needle into my vein.

This is one of the larger ones. In fact, I think this is the one that the nurse had to try to put in twice. If you notice, it actually has a valve which allows two drips to be used at the same time. How cool is that?

There were many more upsides to this episode though. For one, the nurses were all very skilled (they only missed the veins one time when putting in needles, and often, it didn't really hurt too much) and very caring. My bed was fairly comfortable, and placed in a decent position that let me see some scenery out of the window. And the other patients in the room were very very nice people.

One of them was Uncle Yap, who strangely enough, was the father of a man who went to our church (which led to knowledge of me being hospitalised for cancer being spread much faster than I had intended). Another guy, an Indian dude called Pala who was warded after me, came in because of shortness of breath, but he also told me his experience when he had a terrible hernia where his small intestine kept on popping out.

But the guy who was the biggest encouragement was in the bed facing me; his name was Mr. Neo. And coincidentally, he knew my mom from some teachers' symposium or other which they had both attended in the past. Mr. Neo had a terminal form of cancer, and the doctors had only given him only about a month and a half more to live, but he did not let that affect him. Every morning, he was up early and cheerfully talking with the other patients, with the nurses, with the guests. He even went visiting a friend's father in a different ward, and brought him coffee and his own breakfast one morning. In short, he was like a great big ball of energy and joy in the room, and he encouraged me by telling me how the cancer I got was easily the most treatable in Singapore, and horrified me by telling how many tubes had been put into him in the course of his operation and his treatment. He even offered to let us use his bed number to get more visitors in, since he said not many people dropped by to visit.

He was only there for a couple of days after I was warded before he checked out and went home, but it felt so much longer than that, and the impression he left behind, the positive face he put on even in the face of something so terrible gave me a lot of strength to push on.

I was also tremendously blessed by having many friends and family members drop by. Mom and Dad were near constants, being there almost all the time, and Hannah and Andrew were in quite frequently too. But there were many church friends and colleagues and former schoolmates and other acquaintances, some unexpected, who chose to make time to come and see if I was dead yet. And as such, I was never bored while I was there, since there was an almost constant stream of well-wishers coming and going. I just hope it wasn't too much of a hassle for the other patients.

While I was waiting for the op, the doctor who was to operate on me, Prof Tang, came by, and slated me for another x-ray, a chest CT scan, and a scope. But at any rate, on Tuesday, one of the doctors in his team came by to check on me, and told me that the operation was to be conducted on Wednesday, probably in the afternoon.

Up til that point, I had actually been somewhat enjoying my time, just sitting around, talking with friends, doing almost nothing, but knowing that the operation was just a day away started to get to me. I started wondering what it was like, whether the anaesthetic really prevented you from feeling anything, and what would happen if the surgeon made a mistake and I died on the operating table.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), I soon did not have to think about such things, as one of the nurses came by with a huge pitcher of an orange-coloured fluid and told me to drink it. Now, I have to admit that the taste itself of the drink wasn't so bad. If I had to describe it, I would say it tasted like an orange-flavoured, salty, warm, slightly thicker type of Gatorade. Which does not sound appealing, I know, but it was drinkable. It was meant to cause me to purge myself of anything that may be in my digestive system, but that wasn't the worst bit of it. The thing about it that was most disgusting was that I had to finish all of it. In three hours. I had to force myself to swallow the horrible solution (which tasted worse each time I drank a cupful) and by the time I was reaching the bottom of the jug, I felt that taking another cup would cause me to puke everything back out, thus purging myself in a totally different way. By that time though, it was midnight (the cutoff time), so I could avoid the last couple of cups.

Wednesday was more of the waiting. A few friends managed to get in before visiting hours, then I just had to wait for the nurses to come and call me when the operating theatre was ready. It almost felt like being in the army, and waiting to go for an outfield exercise. Or waiting to go for the obstacle course (which I really really disliked). The only difference this time was that I just had to go and lie there and do nothing.

Finally the nurses wheeled in a gurney and they put me on it and wheeled me off to the theatre. I guess it could have been a lot more traumatic thinking about what might happen ahead, but the way I deal with possibly distressing situations is to not think about it until it comes to a head.

At any rate, they wheeled me into operating theatre area, and left me at a corner while they went to prep some stuff. They then pushed me into what I guess is the pre-operating theatre room, where the anaesthetist came over and asked me some questions, and a nurse stuck some electrodes on me. They then brought me into operating theatre itself, and transferred me onto the table. I remember looking up and seeing the lights and several hooks (one of which they used to hold my saline drip bottle), and then the anaesthetist came over.

"I'm going to give you the anaesthesia now ok?" she said.

"You're going to use the (IV) plug right? You're not going to jab me again are you?" I was really not very fond of needles by then.

"Oh yeah. Since you have the plug, we'll use it," she replied, leaning over and inserting the syringe into the plug (it had two holes remember).

Now, several of my friends and colleagues had told me that what happens here is that they pump you with the drug, and then ask you to start counting backwards from 10. And so most people go like: "10... 9... 8... 7..." and then they get knocked out by the drug. But I never even lasted long enough for them to tell me to start counting backwards. Before I realised it, I was out.

Monday, March 25, 2013


"You have a tumour."

I was sitting inside a room at Khoo Teck Puat's A&E on a Friday evening, when the surgeon dropped this particular bombshell. As he, and the attending doctor, started listing out symptoms - abnormal bowel movements, poop appearing 'narrower' than usual, blood in the stool and loss of appetite, among others - I realised that many of these had been happening for close to half a year. But the single fact running through my mind was: I have a tumour.

I guess what made it harder to detect was that I had also had piles, thanks mostly to my penchant for reading or playing my PSP while sitting on the toilet seat, and some of the symptoms could have been explained away by it. In fact, when I had visited my GP earlier on, he had given me medication for piles, and some of the issues had gone away. This, together with the fact that I am just into my 28th year, probably led the GP to suspect it was something more akin to an infection in my gut.

And it most likely would have remained that way, had the tumour not started affecting my appetite, reducing it so much that I had not been eating properly for the past few days. And so on Friday, after going to work and going through a couple of articles, I felt really out of sorts, and spoke to Andrew, my superior, and said I wasn't feeling well.

He was concerned, of course, and suggested I go to see the company doctor, despite the fact that I had just been to my GP the day before and had received medication. Still, the fact that I was obviously zoning out at 4 in the afternoon (not that uncommon an occurrence, really) and that I was losing my balance while walking, must have appeared disconcerting enough for him to get me to go see the doc, at the very least, to get an MC for the day.

I made my way upstairs and I told him some of the symptoms I had been experiencing. Up to this point, I was still worried that I would be seen as a slacker trying to get an extra day off (probably something to do with the fact that in BMT, my platoon sergeant, who could have passed off as a drill instructor for the USMC, was of the mind that unless you had a 40-degree fever, you were well enough to fight for the country). But upon hearing what I told him, the doctor quickly got me to lie down and started prodding my stomach.

While generally ok, it hurt quite a bit more when he poked me in the gut below my stomach line. He then said it felt like there was an obstruction of sorts in my intestines, and recommended I get to a hospital as soon as possible for a scan to see if there was any infections that were causing blockages.

I got down to the subs desk and told Andrew that I had to go to the hospital for a scan for a suspected infection. This, combined with the fact that I appeared to be unable to keep my balance, led some of the desk to think that I had a ear infection, which would lead to some confusion later on. At any rate, he told me to quickly be on my way, and joked that I should  take a taxi instead of trying to bike my way to the hospital to save money. I laughed and told him I wasn't that stingy.

Fortunately for me, mum was finishing up work around that time, so she swung by my office to bring me to Khoo Teck Puat hospital. It wasn't the nearest to SPH, but it was the nearest to home, and my brother works there as a corpcomms officer, which made the place seem more attractive.

As I was fairly coherent, and did not seem to be in a lot of pain (I had a fever I did not feel though), I ended up waiting for more than an hour before I got to see a doctor, but he was efficient in his work, quickly taking blood samples and giving me a checkup, then getting me prepared to go for a CT scan. While waiting, mum said I felt really warm, and got me a glass of water to drink while she asked a nurse if there was any Panadol to be had. The nurse soon came back, and took away my water, saying I was not supposed to be taking in anything by mouth, and he attached a saline drip to me instead.

The interesting thing about the drip is that it feels cool when it enters your bloodstream, and much later on, I realised that you do not actually feel that hungry when you're on the drip. You do feel some hunger pangs after a while, but as it stood, I ended up without any physical food for the next 8 days without getting any gastric issues, which I tend to be highly susceptible to.

A while later, they called my name and brought me into the CT scan room (they had plonked me in a wheelchair by then), which looked very much like a miniaturised version of the warp gates in Cowboy Bebop (which is a really good anime). After the scan, I was brought out to wait, until the surgeon called me in and dropped the news on my head.

I guess it did not quite register for a while, but then it felt like I was sinking through the bed, as if the news immediately made me feel like an invalid. Later, however, when I sat up, I still felt really normal, albeit weak from the relative lack of food.

It was quite a shock to my parents too; although my mum's side has a whole bunch of issues ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes, cancer was not in either of my family lines. My father quickly made a call to Elder Julian, a church friend who works in the geriatrics department of SGH, and he recommended I get admitted into SGH instead, since the National Cancer Centre is based there and he personally knew a surgeon (whom he also said we should request for) who was an expert in that particular field of medicine.

I felt a bit upset about the news, since by then I was really out of sorts, not having had food or drink for the past few hours. We had also been making a lot of requests of the staff about the nature of the hospitalisation, and felt a bit sorry for the doctors who had been keeping an eye on me til then. But most of all, I was upset that I would have to get a new IV plug.

We got to SGH at about 11 that night and had to go through the whole A&E process again, this time, waiting a couple more hours before they finally admitted me into ward 78, where the doctors on call (two really attractive young women) came by and asked me questions and prodded and poked and examined me some more before allowing me to drift off into a sort of sleep.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Late post

A couple weeks ago, I got to meet Anna, a friend that I've spoken to over the phone a couple of times, but hardly ever face-to-face. It wasn't quite a first meeting then, but it did almost feel like it, since the one time we did meet up in Japan, it was a quick introduction before she had to go back to work and I had to go back to getting teased by CJ.

Anyway, apart from being able to chill out and eat lunch with her and her friend, she brought me something from Marie too.

Ooh! Such a pretty bag!

Something inside?

What's this?!

Plastic!! Yay!!

I'm kidding!!! This is the real thing. Thank you!

Thank you for the Valentine's gift Marie! And thanks Anna, for being the messenger!