It’s one month since you have passed Dua Pek, we still miss you. The above picture is the last one I have of you.
I had the privilege of writing the eulogy for you, I will always remember the lessons you taught me.
We are gathered today to say our farewell to my Uncle, John Leow. We are here today to say our farewell to a father, a brother and a friend.
Over the last four days, each of us have struggled in our own ways to deal with the loss of our beloved John, maybe even recalling all the possible “what-ifs” scenarios.
What if he had done that?”
“What if we had done that?”
Today, I would like to reflect on three key lessons that Dua Pek has taught me about life, family and our faith through three of his favourite stories.
The Umbrella Story
My Uncle, together with the rest of his brothers and sisters had very humble beginnings. My grandmother had to raise pigs and various other farm animals to sell in order to put my uncles and aunties through school. Dua Pek went to SJI, which was, then at Bras Basar.
He would tell us that he would have to walk out of Dairy Farm to Upper Bukit Timah Road to catch bus 170 to Queen’s street before walking another 10 minutes to SJI. When it rained at Bukit Timah, he would make the journey barefoot with a green-waxed umbrella. More often than not, he would arrive in town to find it completely dry.
Imagine a 16-year-old Dua Pek arriving in town without shoes; with an umbrella in tow. It is a funny image and his classmates agreed and so they made fun of him; calling him a “china man”.
We were all 16 once, and we know how such comments can sting at our self-worth and I am sure it stung Dua Pek’s.
The irony in it is that in the later part of Dua Pek’s life, he became very much associated with China – its history, culture and politics.
He doesn’t say it out very often, but I think in telling this story, Dua Pek wanted his nephews and nieces to know that hard work paid off, and that it doesn’t matter what kind of background you came from, we each had an equal shot in life.
Dua Pek also maintained his simplicity in his outlook, there was nothing extravagant about him. He would find joy in the smallest thing around him and his curiosity was often aroused by simple trinkets.
Stay curious, stay humble, stay grounded and never ever forget where you started from. That was the lesson that he sought to teach us.
The “Cow-Milk Pig” Story
The next story would be my personal favourite. I call it the “Gu Ni Ter” story because Dua Pek always referred to the protagonist as such.
For those who do not know the story, Dua Pek always found joy in recounting his duties as a young man, the oldest child in the household and the chores that Ah Ma gave him. These chores would include being the mid wife to the household sow. According to Dua Pek, sows only give birth very early in the morning and he would have to prepare a kerosene lamp as well as a bamboo cane to aid in the delivery of the piglets.
He would continue – once each piglet was born, he would have to use his bamboo cane to direct each piglet to suckle on its mother. Once, to his horror, the sow gave birth to one more piglet that she could suckle. He panicked and quickly carried the piglet back home to Ah Ma not knowing what to do.
Ah Ma then advised him to mix condense milk and hot water and to feed the piglet as if it was a child. I don’t know if Dua Pek adopted that piglet as his personal pet, but it did sound like he fed it the same diet until it was necessary to sell it away. Hence the reference to it as “Gu Ni Ter”.
This was Dua Pek’s way of telling us that every life is precious and that we should watch out for the lost, the last and the least, especially within our own families.
This story was often told in parallel with the story of how he took care of the twins in the family, my uncle Linus and my father Pius. His message to me at least was clear. “I was the oldest in the family; Ah Ma depended on me to take care of my younger siblings.”
This message resonates strongly with me and it has changed my perspective on various issues that I have faced and/or am facing. Dua Pek never complained about the additional expectations and workload being the eldest but gave his best and more; that is something that I would wish to emulate.
On my own relationship with my sister, Dua Pek always reminded me, she is your sister, you owe it to her to take care of her – when she calls, you must come to her aid.
Being the eldest child in a family is never easy; you would have to balance your role as a role model and a peer. Conflicts would be unavoidable. Dua Pek too had his share of sibling conflict to deal with. He never shared with me the details, but he left me with an important lesson- never stop loving the person because of the disagreement. Dua Pek always showered love and care on each and every one of his nephews and nieces – Joanne, Carmelita, Timothy, Philene, Myself, Mae and Lyn-Sue. He always made it a point to meet us up when we were back in Singapore after a period overseas. I think that would be his way of loving his siblings in spite of any differences. So to my uncles Lucas, Linus, my father Pius and my auntie Patricia, Dua Pek loved each of you, he had a hand in bringing some of you up. Though conflicts may have arisen in the years that have passed, his constant love and care for us his nephews and nieces is testament to his love for each of you.
One other little “piglet” that Dua Pek adopted was his Godson, Andrew. Uncle Andrew, you were Dua Pek’s godson, business partner and good friend. Both of you experienced so many things together and Dua Pek’s passing must be equally hard for you. Dua Pek always looked out for you like a son, and I can only offer comfort in that he is still looking out for you.
The Jesus-Mary-Joseph Story
The final story that Dua Pek would like to tell is his testimony of his faith and trust in our Lord Jesus Christ.
This story occurred when Belinda was a baby. This was a time when cot death was common and Dua Pek paid particular attention to taking care of baby Belinda. There was a time when Belinda wasn’t burped properly after feeding and she became, in Dua Pek’s own words “like butter”.
Dua Pek would re-enact this story every time he told it and it would actually border on dark comedy because he would make us laugh each time.
In his words, he carried Belinda upside down while sticking his little finger in her mouth, trying to induce a burp. And as he did so, he would cry out “Jesus – Mary –Joseph, please help me”. It did sound quite comical every time he told it both because of the absolute simplicity of his plea and how helpless he was at that point. He would laugh at himself at the end of the story, but I suspect more so out of relief.
His message to all of us was keep your faith in Jesus – Jesus never lets us down. Also, the simplest of invocations was the most powerful prayer we would ever need. I have said it only once since I have heard the story, and it actually did work.
Dua Pek has had a very colourful life with a huge range of experiences from his wide travels. He would have had plenty more stories to share but would repeat these three stories the most. These are the issues that were closest to his heart and his most precious gift to us.
In the last fourteen months since he was diagnosed with cancer, he made it a conscious effort to have dinner with the entire extended family every Sunday. These dinners were often filled with laughter and personal anecdotes, including the telling and re-telling of the stories I have mentioned above.
As the months past, we could see that Dua Pek was increasingly in pain but yet he kept insisting that Sunday night dinner was important. I always had the privilege of sitting opposite Dua Pek. This allowed me to see where Dua Pek’s gaze fell.
Despite his pain, his gaze was most often on Dua Em, Angie, Belinda and Willie – the ones who are the most precious to him. And I know, he must have been praying for Jesus’s blessing on each of them. On the nights where he caught me catching his gaze, he would leave me with the words “you must take care of one another.” His thoughts never strayed from you, his beloved family. You were the focus of his life and he always thought about you no matter what. The four of you will be most affected by Dua Pek’s passing; we share in your grief. We are also here for you, as your family.
Dua Pek also liked to visit us at home and he would always comment on how peaceful it is at dairy farm estate. He enjoyed the peace and quiet that the estate offered. As we gather here today, I am confident that he has found a peace that the world cannot give, a peace that would place him with his beloved Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Dua Pek, we will miss you. Watch over us, especially us, your children, nephews and nieces that we may grow into people you have taught us and shown us to be.
Say hello to Gong Gong, Ah Ma, Jo Kor Kor and Auntie Agnes for us.
It is very hard to say goodbye but our faith teaches us that we would be reunited in the kingdom of God. So when it is our turn to take our journey on our own, do be there to welcome us home.