Archive for September 2013

Back to school

September 27, 2013






I took up a short teaching stint once when I returned to Singapore in April, this time at my alma mater. The travel to and fro everyday was pretty intense since I live in the extreme east of Singapore, but there was just something about this school I couldn’t resist.

Even when I was 17, when I already had a place to study at a college closer to my home, I immediately changed my mind when I stepped into this school. I was awestruck by the rows of gorgeous raintrees and the lush greenery. It felt right.

I really felt at home at this place, loved the job, loved my bosses, loved the people I worked with, loved my students. Although it had been 7 years since I last stepped into a classroom and I was initially worried that I would be rusty, I took to the job right away.

I am blessed to have been given this opportunity to teach again. It left me with happy memories.

Losing Dad (4)

September 23, 2013

There was no space at my father’s rented house to hold the wake. It also didn’t feel like an appropriate venue. The alternatives were either at the funeral parlours downtown or at the void deck at my uncle’s residence. We decided to have it at the void deck to minimise the travelling required by my elderly relatives.

Everyday for 3 days, I travelled from one extreme end of Singapore (Pasir Ris) to the other end (Jurong West), where the wake was held. I managed to hitch a number of rides over the days to save money. My cousin kindly picked me up from home one day, and a kind elderly gentleman who works as an air-con technician at my father’s workplace drove me home on the first night.

It was very strange being in such close proximity with my paternal relatives continuously for days. Our interaction was normally restricted to 2 hours a year during Chinese New Year where we gathered at my eldest uncle’s flat for lunch. On the first evening of the wake, I sat at the dining table with some relatives to have dinner cooked by my auntie. I started crying, because I always had my father with me when I sat at that table for meals at Chinese New Year. I felt awkward, out of place and sad, to be alone with these people I hardly knew.

Oddly enough, nobody once asked me, “Are you okay?” I suppose it is the Chinese/Asian approach to just get on with things rather than openly talk about feelings. My father just died an unexpected death, and I was expected to be strong, calm and normal.

As an only child, there was a lot to be done, from organising what needed to be done, making decisions, observing and performing the rites and rituals. I was very thankful that we had an honest and helpful funeral director who made the process as quick, smooth and pain-free as possible.

On the day of the funeral, it started to rain just as the hearse was leaving. I was made to wear a pair of white socks as we accompanied the hearse on foot to the main road. Mid-way the rain pelted down. I started to laugh. This was my father alright. Always such a prankster. He wanted to see us drenched! My socks were sodden and disgusting.

After we returned from the crematorium, the funeral guys started tearing down the stands and lighting, we sat around to have a quick bite, and I took out a fat wad of cash to pay the funeral director. I was so physically and mentally tired, but there was still this constant hustle and bustle around me. All I wanted was a good lie-down.

That afternoon, we went to collect the ashes and proceeded to the temple’s columbarium. When I saw my father in the form of a pile of bones, I didn’t know what to think. My first thought was, “That’s what life boils down to. A pile of bones.” After a simple ceremony at the temple, we placed my father’s urn in his final resting place.

My father always wanted his own one-room flat, but was so choosy and picky when it came to the condition and location. He was once offered a unit by the government in the Outram Road area but he declined because he said the residents were mainly elderly. (I wonder what he thought of himself).

And so, I texted my mother. I said, “He’s finally gotten a place of his own. On a high floor, fully air-conditioned, clean, bright and spacious.” How sad that one could only get what they wished upon their death. At that point I felt even more determined to live life by the moment, seizing very opportunity to do what I wanted to do. I was never one who procrastinated, and after this episode, I felt even more motivated to live my dreams.

I didn’t want to be a pile of ashes with a million regrets.

I wanted to know I had given life a good go.

The next day I went to clear out his room. I dreaded this task, and although I knew I was going to be again deeply affected by the state of the room, I could not ask any of my relatives to go along with me. I didn’t want to subject them to the horror, and also I wanted to preserve my father’s dignity. Nobody should be allowed to see or know how he lived.

It was painful but I braced myself for it. Again by divine intervention, one of my friends invited me out for lunch via SMS that day upon hearing my dad’s passing and I instantly knew she was one I could rely on. I asked her if she could drive me to his house and help me to clear out his room. She agreed immediately without asking any questions.

We first dropped by a mini-mart to pick up some trash bags and wipes. I warned her that it was going to be messy, dirty and stinky so she could prepare herself. It took us about an hour to put everything into black bin bags. She sneezed and gagged a number of times, but was also very stoic as she had been regularly delivering food to the elderly living in one-room flats, and was used to the sight of filthy living conditions.

She said, “Wah, you look so gu niang. but you are quite tough ah! You are not bothered by the smell!”

It wasn’t so much the smell that bothered me, but more like how could anyone even live in such a place that disturbed me. “Eh, I think he didn’t stay here you know, look at the bed, didn’t look like anyone slept in there! Maybe he had a different place he went to,” my friend said to me afterward.

She seemed quite convinced and I also wanted to believe that was the truth. But I knew it wasn’t.


The following Sunday, on the seventh day after he died, I went to the temple to pay my respects. The moment I saw his photo at his urn I just cried uncontrollably.

I felt so sorry for this man. (end of series) 

Losing Dad (3)

September 13, 2013

After his death, I was shocked when one of my father’s colleagues turned up at the wake to ask me for the money borrowed from him. I ended up repaying my father’s debt using money from the donations. Days after, I went to three different banks to close his saving accounts. Each trip to the bank left me drained.

The TOTAL amount of money he left behind added up to the sum of S$14.14. Fourteen dollars and fourteen cents. The man was living from hand to mouth. It was saddening, but who was I to judge? I’m not much better off myself in terms of my finances. Still, I have 3 mouths to feed, so I also couldn’t understand why a monthly salary of S$1,500 was not enough for a single man without dependents or other financial obligations.

From the documents I found in his drawer, I knew he still had some money in his CPF. Only in the MediSave account in fact, the only CPF account which you weren’t able to draw the money out in cash no matter how old you get. (At this point I wanted to kowtow to the Singapore Government for implementing this rule). There was of course virtually nothing left in his other CPF accounts.

I had no idea if he had made a nomination on who would get the money. There was no way to check this information, because it was confidential. I was told by CPF that if there were no nominees, it would be up to the Public Trustee to distribute the money.

Today we got the letter from CPF.

He left his money to my mother. She was his sole beneficiary. Not me.

The woman who divorced him in 1989, who wouldn’t speak to him for 24 years.

The woman he felt so much guilt towards, the woman whom he had hoped would forgive him.

The woman he hurt so much that she couldn’t even bring herself to bade him goodbye.

If only he had learnt from his mistakes, if only he had the will to turn his life around earlier.

He was making amends for his mistakes, but it needn’t have ended this way.

Dead  – alone – poor – guilty.

It’s all terribly, terribly sad.

(to be continued…)

Losing Dad (2)

September 11, 2013

I was in the middle of mopping the floor when I received 2 missed calls that Sunday morning. From Dad. I thought it was not normal, because he never called me. We usually just SMSed. I put down my mop and returned his call, and heard an unfamiliar voice. Alarm bells started ringing immediately. Who was this person using my father’s phone. Then without warning, the most dreadful news was delivered without any attempt to prepare me on what was to come. He verified my identity first, then said “I am Police Inspector XYZ, and I would like to inform you that Mr XXX has passed away.” I think somebody should really put some serious money into training our police officers on how to deliver bad news. This was definitely not the right way.

Of course a million different thoughts came into my mind. My heart was racing and thumping, my hands were shivering as I tried to stay calm and take down important instructions. OK, SGH Mortuary the next day at 8am to identify the body. OK, looks like he died of a heart attack. OK, who else should I inform? Oh god, I don’t have the phone numbers of any of my father’s family. The police inspector read off the contact names in my father’s mobile. I recognised a few names of his relatives and jotted down their numbers.

That afternoon we gathered at his eldest brother’s house and discussed what needed to be done. As the only child and since my parents were divorced and my father never remarried, I realised that I had to make all the decisions. The questions came thick and fast. “Do you want him buried or cremated?” “What kind of ceremony do you want?” “Where do you want to place his remains?” “How many days do you want the wake to be?” “Where do you want the wake to take place?” “Do you want to place an obituary?”

I thought my uncles would know what to do. Then as time went on, it was evident that they didn’t have a clue or rather, they felt it should be my duty to make decisions and they must respect my wishes.

The next day we met at the mortuary and identified the body. Up till then I still hoped that this was a sick joke somebody was playing on me. It wasn’t. My dad was really and truly dead. The undertaker arrived and gave us an estimate on the costs. Nobody mentioned how we were going to foot the costs. I didn’t ask, and assumed that it was my responsibility. I didn’t have so much money of course, so I said we should keep it simple and forget the obituary.

My father’s colleagues from the security firm turned up at the mortuary with some of his belongings and $500 from their boss. They too were badly shaken by this sudden event. One of them administered CPR and tried to revive my father. I thanked them for being such wonderful friends and colleagues to him. At this point I was really just overwhelmed with emotions and all that had to be done. Everyone looked at me for directions and decisions. My mouth was so desperately dry and I asked for a drink of water.

We waited for a post-mortem to be conducted since it was an unexpected death. The body had to be butchered – not a very nice thing to happen when you die. During this time we went to his house to collect his clothes. This was yet another shock to all of us. Nobody had ever visited his home before, and were all saddened and taken aback by the state of his room. He rented a small room (without windows) in an old and badly maintained terraced house. The stench in the room from stale cigarettes and lack of cleaning turned stomachs. Balls of hair were all over the floor. A number of us cried upon the sight of this hellhole. We grabbed what we needed and returned to the mortuary.

The post-mortem was completed and we took the death certificate. We identified the body once again and let the undertakers remove him for cleaning, embalming and dressing.

I was supposed to meet my father on the Saturday after he died. Days before he passed away, we still exchanged SMSes. We were never close, but I tried my best to fulfill my daughterly duties. I visited him every time I came back to Singapore, stayed in touch through cards and SMSes.

The next few days I spent all my time at the wake. My uncles accompanied me to Kong Meng San Temple to pay for a space at the columbarium.I borrowed $5,000 from my auntie because I had no idea if we would be able to collect enough donations to pay for the funeral. We did in the end, and I returned the money promptly.

By the second day I had accepted his passing and stopped crying. Instead I comforted those who came, including his female colleague who was the first person who found him unconscious on the floor. She was inconsolable at the wake. But she told me something which gave me a lot of comfort – that is when she found him, he had a slight smile on his face. My father was a security guard and he collapsed at work.

After the funeral, I felt so relieved it was all over. To stand there as the only child was horrible. The weight of my burden was immense. I had collected JUST enough donations to pay for the funeral and the urn at the columbarium. The whole incident drained me mentally and physically. (to be continued…)

Losing Dad (1)

September 5, 2013


Experiencing death is as sobering as a tight slap. I felt the immense weight on my shoulders as I stood alone in front of the coffin. Finally I understood what it meant to be someone’s child. I realised my duties and responsibilities. Death can also sometimes reveal undesirable secrets, which may cause additional pain and disappointment. But I hope to fill my heart with happy memories we have shared: as a little girl running around in the playground, being read to at bedtime, enjoying days out at various attractions in Singapore, and then later as I grew older, catching up over coffee and meals. It hasn’t been the easiest relationship to maintain – it came with a lot of baggage. But I know I have done the best I could. And on this note, goodbye Dad, till our paths cross again. (to be continued…)