Just as I am, sang by the Gaiters Vocal Group during the Billy Graham's Crusade years ago, all over the world
Today I suddenly thought of my late cousin, Michael Lam. He was the tallest cousin amongst us all. Almost 6 feet. For an Asian, its kind of rare. But my mom said he inherited this tall gene from his dad who was also very tall. I never met my uncle. Never once. Nor seen his photo any where in our family albums. My uncle was separated with my aunt during the WWII during the Japanese Occupation in Singapore. When the war ended, my aunt gave birth to Michael and left the country to search for her husband. She heard from friends that they saw him in Hong Kong. She left Singapore and went to HK to look for him. She left Michael in the care of my late granny. Michael grew up in Singapore, under the tender loving care of my late granny.
My aunt never found my uncle. But she remarried and settled down in Hong Kong with Uncle Low. She would re visit Singapore every now and then for family gatherings and to catch up with Michael too.
When I was in Primary School at Bartley Primary School, Michael was in Pri 6. He was supposed to be in Sec 1 that year, but he failed English and Maths and have to repeat a whole year again. He was like my big brother in school. When I get bullied, he would come and rescued me. He help me to carry my school bag. And would share his packed lunch bag with me. And would rather go hungry. Sometimes I wonder if this was the reason why he was so skinny. He was always giving away his food to others.
Michael was a man with a cheerful and giving heart. He had very good vocals and could sing very well too. Its no wonder that he sign up to be in choir in his church. And when the late Billy Graham came to Singapore to preach the Gospel, he was one of the 1500 members who sang at the Stadium. At home, he was the joker and the mischief maker too. We grew up with him, all of our childhood days are filled with wonderful memories. He would make us laugh, sometimes he makes us cry too. With his endless teasing.
Michael loves animals. And would often bring home stray kittens, puppies and sometimes he thinks that a mother bird flew off and never came back for her chicks..he would climb a tree and bring home the chicks too. Much to the dismay of Ah ma...! He would loved each animal, cared for it lovingly. Maybe that was why he was skinny..he could have been feeding the pets with his own food!
After school, he joined ITE but he wasn't one that is good with books or studies. Thankfully, he loved to work with cameras and Uncle Andrew taught him a few tricks. Then when he was old enough for work, he went to work for a company that sells Japanese brand cameras. He work as an apprentice and learn with the masters who does repair work on cameras. During the economic slum in mid 1980s, he was retrenched from work.
It is through this fateful event that causes his 'downfall'. He became depressed and mentally stress out. He couldn't find a job anywhere because he didn't have paper qualifications. For months he sat at home, scanning newspapers and applying for the lowest paid job. Its not about the salary or the money. Its just to him, to be able to find work, just to go and do something. Because he wanted to be a good role model to his only daughter. He never knew what it was like to be a father. Because he never had one by his side. But he knew what he would have wanted and in that, he wished he was the same for his daughter too.
As if good things never come soon enough, bad things happened one after another. That year when he lost his job was also the year, my granny died tragically, suddenly. Michael was raised by her and he adores her for the world! His world came crumbling down when Ah Ma died. A year later, ah Gong left us after he suffered a brain damage. It is no end to Michael's grief and he became ill soon after.
Then he became mentally ill for a period of time. He would be hallucinting and hearing voices all the time. He was later housed in the mental hospital for a month or so due this nervous breakdown. Its sad to see him in this stage. At that time, Benny and I were still dating. We found time to visit him whenever we can. When we meet, Michael would cry and he would hugged me tightly. And would ask me how I was, what I was doing. He doesn't look sick as what people perceive someone was when its said that they lived in a mental hospital!
With timely medications, he left the hospital and stayed at home. He became frail and tired easily. Once you stayed in a mental hospital, even though you are not really that 'sick', most employers would think you are. So again, that added another black mark on his CV and he couldn't find work anywhere. For a period of time, Uncle Andrew took him under his care and he work at Uncle's shop to do repair work on cameras and to be a sales assistant to answer queries.
But Michael wasn't happy. Because he knew that Uncle Andrew was just being kind to him and took him in. He needed to prove to himself and to his wife and kid that he was well again.
Unfortunately, he slipped back to his stage of nervous breakdowns again. On one fateful day, while coming home, he drop the house keys. While he tried to retrieve it, he fell to his death....from the 9th floor of his HDB Apartment block to the pavement below.
Even in his death, Michael was smiling, his eyes closed and his hands were raise above his hand, as if he was Praising the Lord!
At his funeral wake which was held at the Casket company, the pastor prayed for his soul to return to God and was touched by the Holy Spirit to say that he was up there.
He was cremated a few days later and all of us went to retrieve the ashes from the crematorium. So much tears were shed for him. We wished he was here with us.
This Chilli in my Rojak is my beloved Cousin, Michael...or better known as Ah Siong Kor..Kor means Elder Brother. Our late grandparents taught us from young to address each cousin as Brother or Sister. The one person who taught me to love the unloved, care for the forsaken. It is thru Ah Siong Kor that I went into teaching under privileged children in unhappy homes.
Ah Siong Kor's birthday is just 2 days before mine. And every year when I celebrate it, I celebrate it in silence...because I am reminded of his love for us all.
May you rest in peace, and know how much we missed you...!
I have some old photos of him stashed away somewhere. I will scan it and post it here maybe tomorrow.