Nothing could stop this 90-year-old

Nothing could stop this 90-year-old

Seated in the University Cultural Centre (UCC) yesterday was an ordinary man invited to the state funeral service for an extraordinary man.

Mr Chong Youn Toat, 90, who has lived in Tanjong Pagar all his life, considered the invitation, which came in an "On Government Service" envelope, a great honour.

But that invitation would cause great consternation among his four children and two daughters-in-law.

I know because I am the elder of the two daughters-in-law.

At first, we had been sure he would decline the invitation. You see, my father-in-law, who runs a stall selling textiles in Tiong Bahru Market, has a weak heart. He becomes breathless if he walks too fast or too much.

He avoids all outings if possible, except for five to six times a year on very, very special occasions.

So when my nephew told us on the Chong family chat group, 'Ah Gong says he's going', you can imagine our frenzied reaction as messages flew back and forth.

"Does Ah Gong know how long it'd be?"

"Can someone explain to him that he'd be seated with strangers and that we won't be there?"

"Watch from home where there'd be Mandarin voice-overs."

He does not understand English and would be sitting alone for more than four hours.

But nothing, absolutely nothing, was going to dissuade my father-in-law.

We had to make plans fast and furious. It was decided that my brother-in-law would take him there in his work delivery van.

And when he was at UCC, we decided we'd keep our faith and leave it to the people on the ground to help guide him through.

We only had to make sure he had taken his medication and that he had his walking stick with him.

Just when we thought we had things under control, the next flurry of messages came a day before.

Attire for Men: Long-sleeved shirt and dark-coloured/black tie.

My father-in-law is most comfortable in his white, cotton singlet under a short-sleeved shirt.

SHIRT

But he pulled out a light blue long-sleeved shirt that he wore to my brother-in-law's wedding two years ago.

It just had to be laundered and pressed, which his youngest child, my sister-in-law, took care of on Saturday night.

And the tie! The men, including my husband and brother-in-law, do not own ties.

I managed to go through my 15-year-old son's wardrobe and found his only tie - he had worn it for his Primary 6 year-end party.

Yesterday, I watched my father-in-law dress for the big occasion.

With a pair of tremulous hands, he put his shirt on and buttoned up, one by one.

Then he worked his way round to the tie.

Where most men would take about 10 minutes to dress up, my father-in-law took more than twice the time.

Then he put on his pair of trusty old black shoes and shuffled his feet out of the home, helped by an umbrella-walking stick.

Assisted by his other daughter-in-law, he heaved himself up into his son's work van.

On the way, I asked him: "Father, why? Why do you insist on going?"

His reply was simple: "Singapore is what it is today because of Lee Kuan Yew."


This article was first published on March 30, 2015.
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