Hanging On

HANGING ON
 
As parents, there are few things which are as precious to you as your children. In fact, for most parents, there is nothing of more value. When our children fall sick, our hearts ache a little to see how they suffer.
 
It is no easy task being a parent. As my own parents would say: you have kids, you worry a lifetime.
 
Cheong Kah Pin
 
When I first met Mr Cheong Kah Pin, a Malaysian, the first thing that struck me was his demeanour. You immediately see that this was a man suffering no ordinary pain. His dark, weathered and wrinkled complexion tells me he is not one who works sheltered from the sun. His hands are rough, which complement his stocky physique. Mr Cheong speaks in a halting and tentative manner, but you understand this because he has been under unthinkable strain and stress the last 5 years – since his eldest son, Chun Yin, was arrested in 2008 and sentenced to death in Singapore for drug trafficking.
 
His son’s fate now hangs in the balance, as his lawyer and anti-death penalty activists, friends, and supporters work to save Chun Yin. 
 
Mr Cheong’s own life has changed – from one of mundane daily routine of running a small pasar malam stall in Johor Baru, to one of desperate efforts and constant worries about his son. 
 
A father’s love, like a mother’s, will go the lengths to save his child from the precipice. 
 
And for Mr Cheong, like any other parent, it is an unbearable thought – that his precious son could be taken from him forever. 
 
It is a searing pain to know that the next time he touches his son is when Chun Yin is sent back to him in a bag. Cold and hard. Unmoving. Silent. Dead.
 
Mr Cheong spares no effort, no matter how small, in doing whatever needs to be done to give Chun Yin that little hope. 
 
For our meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Mr Cheong had travelled some 5 hours from his home in Johor Baru – this after closing his stall at 10pm. He arrived in KL in the wee hours, at about 3am, he said, and slept on the streets until the sun came up.
 
“I hope his life will be spared,” Mr Cheong tells me when I met him in Kuala Lumpur last week, the thought of his son constantly on his mind. “He is a good boy who used to help me with my business.” Mr Cheong then looks away into the distance. I keep silent. “He is too foolish, too trusting,” he says softly.
 
When he last visited Chun Yin in prison, his son told him not to worry about what will happen to him. “But I said to him, ‘You’re in prison facing the death penalty, how can I not worry?’” Mr Cheong says.
 
Indeed, his son’s fate is the only thing on Mr Cheong’s mind the last 5 years. How else could it be? He has no one else to share his pain as he now lives alone, since his divorce some years ago. His other 3 children live with their mother or in other parts of Malaysia.
 
It is almost impossible for Mr Cheong to relief his mind of the thought of Chun Yin but he tries. Otherwise, a father could go out of his mind. 
 
So, Mr Cheong busies himself with work – from the early hours till late at night. 
 
Besides tending to his pasar malam business, he also sells vegetables and picks fruits when they are in season. His eyes light up when I ask him about this. 
 
“They are very nice, well grown,” he says. “Sometimes my friends who have orchards would give some fruits to me too, and I give them to friends or sell them.”
 
Mr Cheong, always with a word of thanks for those who are trying to help save his son, also lugs these vegetables and fruits to Singapore sometimes and gifts them to the helpers. “They are trying to help my son,” he said, “so it is the least I can do.” 
 
When the time came for him to speak at the press conference in Kuala Lumpur, which the activists had called, Mr Cheong repeats the only words he could say: “Please spare my son. He is not a bad person. I hope his life will be spared and he be given a second chance.”
 
“Since he was young, he has always helped me in my business. I should not have let him have so much freedom, to go to Singapore on his own and meet up with these bad people who have led him to this terrible end.”
 
Mr Cheong wipes his eyes as his voice breaks, regretting on his son’s behalf, and accepting responsibility for Chun Yin’s misdeeds.
 
“Please spare him, give him another chance.”
 
As the press conference comes to a close, we all head out for lunch at a nearby restaurant. 
 
Mr Cheong sits with us but remains silent, perhaps wondering if the media publicity would help at all. No matter, doing something is better than doing nothing.
 
As the afternoon draws on, Mr Cheong tells us he needs to take his leave. As I walk him out, I ask him to take some rest, as he’d had a long day.
 
But Mr Cheong has other plans. 
 
“I have to pick durians tonight because I didn’t pick them yesterday,” he tells me. 
 
I was surprised and say to him, “But you have to rest, you travelled such a long way and hadn’t had enough sleep.”
 
“It is ok,” he says. “I usually work late into the night anyway. Besides, if I don’t pick the durians today, they may go bad. And I also have to give them to some friends.”
 
As I watch Mr Cheong walk away to the bus stop, I can’t help but feel a sense of sadness, and admiration. Sadness because his son has been denied the reprieve he was seeking. Chun Yin has been denied the Certificate of Co-operation which would entitle him to apply to the courts to commute his death sentence; and admiration for how Mr Cheong, living alone since Chun Yin’s arrest and imprisonment, continues to soldier on – tirelessly, relentlessly, holding on to that sliver of hope that his son’s life will be spared.
 
Not many parents have their love tested as severely as perhaps those whose children are on the verge of death. But for those who are, many a time they have shown the rest of us just what – truly – parental love is all about.
 
And we have much to learn from them.
 
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