Wednesday, March 31, 2010

From KPss2 to KSA to BSC to STYLO to Solaris

Yesterday started off with a liaison task force visit to Kechara Paradise ss2 and Kechara Saraswati Arts - both a mere hop and skip away from each other. The liaison task force was set up as a roster for all liaisons to visit different departments in order to get to know how and what the whole Kechara organisation is doing. It is very easy to get so consumed by our own departments that we lose touch with what is happening in the other departments. As liaisons, we decided to implement this taskforce roster among ourselves to make sure this doesn't happen. My taskforce of Irene (HOD of Kechara Oasis) and JP (Head liaison of Tsem Ladrang, Exco of Kechara World Peace Centre (KWPC) and BOD) and I went to visit our outlet in Petaling Jaya.


KPss2 (ss2 is the area of Petaling Jaya where the outlet is) was our first retail store which was founded in 2000. It was also one of the first places I had visited when I got to know Kechara. It's managed by the petite always smiling Liaison Wan Wong who is always welcoming to all. I love looking at the items at KPss2.. there are more Buddhist statues and ritual items here as this outlet caters for Kechara members and the more serious Buddhist practitioner.


Wan is also the HOD for Kechara Saraswati Arts, which is the first ever Himalayan Arts Studio in South East Asia. Here, sewing of Buddha's clothes, brocade for thangkas, rolling of mantras for inserting into statues, beading, painting of statues and various other artistic activities happen. It is a fun and relaxing place to spend time while doing something superbly meritorious. It's a great place for families to hang out too as there are many different things to do. Anila, our Sangha member, is often seen at KSA helping to roll mantras.


After that, I rushed over to BSC to meet with my fellow liaisons Li Kim and Jamie aka Paris. Jamie had a fabulous fund raising idea for KWPC and we were meeting up with someone to brainstorm. I cannot reveal what the concept is yet as it's still extremely embryonic but suffice to say that the meeting was exciting, the potential is great and I can't wait to see how this develops.


From BSC, i ran back (literally, since I live almost next door) and after a quick check of emails, got ready to go to one of Malaysia's premier fashion events, STYLO. STYLO was conceived as part of the SE Asian region's Formula 1 activities to showcase Malaysia's top fashion designers. It was held in a boys' school in Sentul of all places - quirky but Dato' Nancy Yeoh, the organiser - did manage to carry it off!

Apprentice Liaison Bill Keith was chosen to showcase his beautiful designs (how i wish i had the figure to carry off his kebayas - kebayas are traditionally Malay figure hugging tops which Bill has interpreted in his own style) and he really did put on a show! He had a Malaysian version of Lady Ga Ga singing live while his models strutted their stuff on the catwalk. Awesome!

After the show, I bumped into a couple of Oxbridge friends who said nothing has been happening at the Society. Er.. yes... things have been rather quiet but we will have the Boat Race Ball in May which we are constitutionally bound to have.

Then Shirley Maya Tan, a long time friend who has been very busy in her media career, suggested we go for supper to catch up so off we went.


Shirley took us on a quick tour of her beautiful apartment while she got out of her glamorous dress and into comfy t-shirt and jeans while Susan and I remained in our STYLO outfits. I think we must have looked a trifle odd at the coffee house in Solaris that we eventually ended up in.

We sat there chatting, nursing our drinks on the pavement until the waiting staff politely told us that they were closing and needed to take our table away to keep. It was nice to catch up with Shirley which I hadn't done for awhile since both our schedules are quite hectic. I'm determined to make more of an effort to keep up with old friends this year. Especially since the passing of an old friend a couple of weeks ago.


After all that, I came home and promptly got on my laptop to finish off some work.

So another day ends and now another begins. And so the cycle goes.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Memorial to Hock

The memorial for Hock this evening was really special. The room was packed with friends, colleagues, family. All the people whose lives Hock had touched and it was really quite ironic that it would take such a tragedy to get us all in the same room. I met some friends I had not seen for over 20 years. I just wish it wasn't under such stupid circumstances.

The eulogies were of course heart rending, yet every single person shared a medley of Hock's unending stream of practical jokes which drew laughter all round. Tributes were also given to his brilliant mind - he was truly a Renaissance man. Every sharing was a reminder of how full Hock's life was. A life truly well lived. During the recounting of the jokes Hock used to play, I did have an extremely irrational thought that Hock was going to jump out from behind the satin drapes and scream - surprise! It was just a joke.

Unfortunately, it didn't happen.

So, it's done.

Here's to you Hock. And we WILL have that bloody London reunion this year - and it'll be in honour of you.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Choong Kuat Hock RIP

Last Tuesday, i was woken up by a phone call from an old friend, Michelle, who called from Singapore. She asked me if i heard what happened to Hock. I had no clue. And that was when the nightmare began. He had been missing since last Monday. I immediately smsed one of my oldest friends, Pyng, to ask what it was about and she was away in Germany but confirmed that Hock had gone missing. Later that day, I spoke to Huei who confirmed Hock's death as he was one of those who were at the police station to identify Hock's body. The rest of the day was spent fielding phone calls from friends and acquaintances, all asking about Hock. Some were just busybodies who wanted the inside scoop and I personally wanted to slap them. How macabre to use someone's death just for gossip. Oh well. Om Mani Padme Hum.

Anyway, I couldn't believe it. Hock was my neighbour in Penang but I only really got to know him in London. There was a group of us, mostly from Malaysia, who hung out together and later we always called ourselves the London crowd. The London crowd then basically consisted of the Queensway gang, who were Pyng, Huei, Jon, Don, Hock, Swee Im, Mee Lyn (yay - one person from Marble Arch!), Choy, Sook Kuen and many other friends. I was the youngest and only joined them during weekend exeats when I could steal away from my boarding school. Then we would have weekends of no sleep and plenty of parties. All legal though. We didn't do drugs though we did attempt to drink ourselves into oblivion and succeeded often. We'd rent cars for the weekend and go racing up and down Park Lane. Those were the days of Hippodrome and sometimes Stringfellows. Shopping in Bond Street and South Molton Street. Discovering Michiko Koshino and Issey Miyake. And Ixis in St. Christopher's Place.

We were young and restless. Very restless. I revelled in it. My parents had a flat in Marble Arch but I never went there if I could help it. I would come straight from school to the safe, friendly arms of Lancaster Close in St Petersburgh Place, where Pyng, Huei, Jon and Don and Honey lived. I'd stay in Pyng and Huei's flat, which was like a pub, so many people came in and out - the door was hardly locked. On the weekend, we'd invariably meet up with Hock and Swee to eat in our favourite hangouts in Queensway. And after a weekend of partying, one of my friends would often call my school to tell them I was ill and could I only return a few days later. Actually after too much partying on Saturday night, I did feel rather ill by Sunday evening. Those were the Halcyon days.

Then one summer, things changed.

We all grew up overnight when Don, Jon's brother, passed away. That summer, the London group grew closer, more sober (only just) with a realisation that we were not immortal.

That was a good couple of decades ago. Eventually, over the years, the London group went our separate ways, even to separate countries. People got married, had kids. No more partying. Jon was busy in Penang (though it was lovely to see him recently at Bangsar!). Mee Lyn is living in Hong Kong. Charmie is in Jakarta. Of course we'd meet up now and then and reminisce over the old times. Swee was in KL and i'd see her on and off too. I keep close to Pyng, who lives nearby and who i am very grateful for the friendship. Huei's kids and mine went to the same school for awhile, so we'd see each other occasionally. We'd talk about our kids, which school they are in, what medication we were on! Yes, we're growing old. All of us, probably except for Hock.

Hock - I had caught up with now and then. He was building his dream house in Bangsar, complete with pool and lifts! And this was for his mother who he loved very much. This was the kind of nice guy he was. We'd always did the muah muah air kiss thing and said we'd catch up soon. After all, we'd soon be almost neighbours - again. Or so I thought.

Famous last words. We were supposed to have another London reunion last year but everyone and I were just too busy in our little lives and never found the time.

So now, Hock has left us.

Now, all we can do is remember him. I remember him as someone completely mad. If there was a choice over two evils, he'd always try the one he hadn't tried before. He was always one for a laugh. A die-hard Peter Pan who never grew up and an irrepressible prankster. We got him back a few times though. Of course, aside from being this joker, he was an incredibly intelligent and talented guy. Qualified as an engineer and a chartered accountant, he was considered a financial wizard who had authored books and also wrote for The Star newspaper, 'Hock's Viewpoint', and the Edge.

Last Friday, a few of his old (literally and figuratively) friends got together at Swee's to remember Hock... I came with Pyng, and I saw Honey for the first time in years. That was a blast from the past. Sharon Wong was visiting from Singapore. I hadn't seen her for close to 20 years. The Choy family turned out in full - Wai Ceong, Wai Hin and Sook Kuen. George and Lai Cheng, who hadn't changed a bit. David Mah. We had cheese and wine and remembered Hock fondly. All his practical jokes. His joie de vivre. He was larger than life.

When I first heard of his untimely death, I wept. I wept for the old days. I wept for the times I was looking forward to catching up with him but never did. We always think there's plenty of time, then time passes. I forgot our mortality. Impermanence indeed.

Thank Buddha for being in Buddhism now, for I managed to pull myself out of the trough I was wallowing in. Fortunately for Buddhism, I can offer Hock something more substantial than tears and regrets, which would not benefit him one iota. Thank goodness for H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche's Dharma teachings and letting me have the opportunity to do Dharma work, so that I can dedicate my daily merits to his good rebirth and benefit him in the long term.

Our Friday London group get together was nice because no tears were shed. Instead we drank to Hock and his effervescent life. I'm sure he is wandering around somewhere, playing tricks and practical jokes on the dakas and dakinis or angels in heaven. Hock was an agnostic (well, at least now you know for sure whether God exists!) though we did have some good conversations about Buddhism, which I think he identified with the most out of all the religions. He was by no means religious, except about having fun.

Wherever you are, Hock, you're missed. I'm praying for you. May you have a swift and good rebirth.

A moving eulogy by Mark Chang