Man killed in road accident misses 90th birthday surprise celebration

Mr Tan Cheng Hau, 90, was killed when an SMRT bus hit him at Jurong East Ave 1 on Nov 17, 2014.

What was supposed to be a day to celebrate his 90th birthday has now turned into a day of his funeral.

Mr Tan Cheng Hau was killed when an SMRT bus hit him on Jurong East Avenue 1 towards Toh Guan Road on Monday at about noon.

The grandfather of 10 and great-grandfather of eight died on the spot.

Unknown to him, his children had planned a surprise birthday celebration for him this Sunday. His birthday would have fallen on Nov 28.

But now, they will be sending their father on his last journey instead.

Mr Tan, whose wife died from an illness about 30 years ago, leaves behind four sons and five daughters. His second son, Mr Paul Tan, a 52-year-old deliveryman, said his father liked to keep a low profile.

He told The New Paper in Mandarin: "My father would never ask people to celebrate his birthday for him.

"But surprisingly last Sunday, he kept telling everyone that it was his birthday that day even though it wasn't."

This could be due to his dementia, which showed up about three years ago when he had a fall and hurt his head.

Mr Tan said of his father: "Once, he went missing till the wee hours of the morning and the police were called. He was later found.

"After that incident, we let him wear a tag with our details on it. He went missing again and luckily this time, someone called our number."

Despite his age and dementia, the elder Mr Tan liked to roam the neighbourhood and frequent the Bukit Timah Seu Teck Sean Tong at Jurong East Street 24, a Buddhist temple he founded with 19 others 56 years ago.

The younger Mr Tan, who is also a committee member of the temple, said: "My father would go there three to four times a day. Nobody could stop him.

"Even if we locked the door and didn't allow him to go out, he would blame my younger brother (whom he was living with) for doing so.

"My dad would usually take the bus there and then take the taxi home. Sometimes, I would pick him up and send him home. But moments later, he would be back at the temple."

The daily routine of the elder Mr Tan included being at the temple at about 9am and chit-chatting with old friends while drinking tea.

"Sometimes he would have his lunch here," said Ms Lim Ah Hong, 62, a regular at the temple.

"Otherwise, he would disappear for a few hours to be back again at about 3pm. He loved to joke. He would ask me to give him a hug, which I would decline. Sometimes he even offered to give me money, but I declined, too."

The younger Mr Tan said his father was physically healthy and could even walk on his own despite carrying a walking stick.

He said: "The walking stick was more like a habit. He could leave his walking stick somewhere at the temple and walk around unaided. He would later on ask where his walking stick was."

Mr Tan said his father, who was a vegetable seller, contributed a lot to the temple.

He said: "He loved to help people and didn't expect anything in return. He would chant for free but there were people who took advantage of this.

"He was so busy that we started imposing charges for his services. It was for his own good."

His father eventually stopped chanting about six years ago when his hands started hurting, said Mr Tan.

Following his retirement, the elder Mr Tan took up the role of an adviser and was highly revered, said temple staff.

MEMORIAL

Even though it was just a day after his death, his photograph was already up on the memorial wall of the temple, next to those of the chairman, founders and contributors.

"His heart was here," said a temple employee, who is in his 60s and declined to be identified.

Because of this, the younger Mr Tan said that the funeral procession on Sunday will pass by the temple so his father "can have a last look". The elder Mr Tan will be cremated at Mandai Crematorium.

Police confirmed that the driver, a 34-year-old Malaysian woman, was arrested and that investigations are ongoing.

Pictures of the accident are circulating online. The younger Mr Tan is requesting that the pictures not be shared as a show of respect for his deceased father.

My father would never ask people to celebrate his birthday for him. But surprisingly last Sunday, he kept telling everyone that it was his birthday that day even though it wasn't. - Mr Paul Tan on Mr Tan Cheng Hau, who suffered from dementia

chaihyn@sph.com.sg

This article was first published on Nov 19, 2014. Get The New Paper for more stories.