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


Shirley Maya said...

Thank you for sharing this and I a glad that you are writing your blog.

Gurdev singh said...

It is unfortunate whatever happened to him. Your story is very touching and pleasant to read.It is encouraging to read positive thoughts than the usual crime filled and bad news stuff in the news. Take care and may he rest in peace and of course start a new life again.

pg-girl said...

Can you believe that I'd only just read this piece.......... Thanks for reminding me that we are near but still far.....lets meet soon......hugs Pyng

pg-girl said...

Can you believe that I'd only just read this piece.......... Thanks for reminding me that we are near but still far.....lets meet soon......hugs Pyng