[A Guest Blogpost by Esther Tan]
* Esther, pictured with Bryan Wong *
Darryl David was the emcee for this event, and he was brilliant at his job. He listened very intently to each of the guests’ stories and showed genuine interest in what each guest was speaking about. He asked the right questions and easily switched to Mandarin during some parts, so that it was easier for the audience (comprising largely of Mandarin speakers) to understand what he meant. Indeed, he lives up to his decade of experience.
I got to the Suntec City ballroom at 3pm (the event starts at 4pm) and there was already a snaking queue with approximately two hundred people. And I thought I was the only ‘kiasu‘ one around!
I was near the back in the queues, for both the goodie bags and entry.
However thanks to my (self-proclaimed) ingenuity, I managed to snag a seat in the 3rd row from the front. (The 1st and 2nd rows were reserved for the VIPs)
There were about 500 people in the ballroom, most of whom were middle-aged or the elderly. It seemed I was the youngest participant!
The event began with Darryl introducing the guests:
(in order of speaking sequence)
Catherine Sng, one of MediaCorp’s most hardworking and established veteran actresses.
Ms. M Kaarveri, a caregiver from Alzheimer’s Disease Association of Singapore.
Mr. Raymond Lai, Senior Education Officer
Ms. Tan Wai Jia, a final-year medical student attached to National University Hospital.
Bryan Wong – One of Channel 8’s most popular TV hosts.
Chew Chor Meng, a Mediacorp actor most well-known for his ‘Lobang King’ role in 《敢敢做个开心人》.
Catherine was a bowl of sunshine, poking fun at her linguistic skills, and making jokes at how she’ll never finish within the 7 minutes time limit, to lighten the otherwise serious and gloomy atmosphere.
She shared her story, of how she only had up till Primary 3 education back then, and she knew she had to learnt new skills, and to never stop learning.
When she was 26 years old, she was a sales coordinator who had to do house-to-house visits to get sales. It was tough, but she persevered.
Since her command of English wasn’t really good at that time, she made some mistakes in pronunciation, such as “comfort-table” instead of “comfortable” (with literal emphasis on “table”).
She was apparently on very good terms with her customers, as some of them helped her to learn English.
Tragedy struck when she found out that she had 3rd stage colon cancer.
Nonetheless, she remained positive.
One phrase she used stuck with me: “Cancer is just another virus“.
During her speech, Catherine emphasized on how it is most important that we remain positive. It isn’t how long we live that matters, but how well we live.
She caused a few teary eyes when she mentioned that she was very glad that she was the one who got the cancer virus, and not her husband or her son who was in the army.
Like many women whose husbands work overseas, Catherine was also afraid that her husband would have a mistress. The time zone differences also caused some communication difficulties. Catherine was undergoing chemotherapy back then and was afraid she’d lose her husband, to the point that she contemplated suicide. Thankfully, a friend whom she called persuaded her into staying alive, by making sure he’ll get to see her on the following Monday. Hence, Catherine is very grateful for her best friend and pillar of support.
One takeaway I got from her speech is that sometimes you may have something that you can’t exactly tell your family, so it is important to have other hands around to help you up when you fall down.
The next speaker was M Kaarveri, a caregiver whose own mother suffers from dementia.
She read from a script but she was eloquent and her speech was fluid and deeply emotional. Having her own mother forget who her child is caused Ms Kaarveri a lot of emotional turmoil and even suicidal thoughts. However, she put herself in her mother’s shoes, recalled how her mother had always taken good care of her, and quit her full-time job to be a full-time caregiver.
Ms Kaarveri has seven other siblings, but since each have their own families and problems, she tried not to burden them further. Luckily, blood is thicker than water after all, and her siblings offered assistance to face this issue together as a family.
She mentioned that mellower years would bring about a clearer mind. Perhaps dementia isn’t that bad after all; since she learnt a lot of things and is spending more quality time with her mother than ever before.
Her positive attitude is indeed admirable!
The third speaker was Mr Raymond Lai, a Senior Education Officer.
Previously, he worked in a bank for 13 years. The bank held the Japanese mindset that longer hours at work equaled productivity. Therefore, Raymond worked really hard throughout those 13 years, forfeiting even the chance to go back home to celebrate Chinese New Year with his family. Instead of tossing Yu Sheng, he stayed back in the office to eat cup noodles alone. Even on the eve of his wedding day, he left work at 10pm, despite the many preparations required for the next day.
In 2001, when the 2nd merger for his bank started, it occurred to Raymond that he should spend more time with his family – for a legitimate reason. His own son, having hardly seen his father around, called Raymond “uncle” instead of “dad”. Heartbreaking, isn’t it?
Later, he was headhunted by another company, with better employee benefits. However, Raymond felt that he couldn’t find a feeling of satisfaction in his job, and during the SARS outbreak in 2003, he quit his job to care for his mother who had suffered a stroke.
Throughout this time, his friends and family showed their utmost support, and soon, Raymond started venturing into entrepreneurship, a new concept then. He toyed with the idea of providing eldercare services, with inspiration from his own mother.
However, like every other job, this job had many challenges and was extremely labor-intensive.
He then received a call asking him to teach inmates and prisoners, which he originally declined, but later accepted. Raymond proceeded to teach inmates resilience and self-belief, hoping to change and inspire each individual he met. Some of his students even moved on to get degrees!
Raymond, who has ventured from the corporate world into the service sector, which is a big shift in environment, has this one piece of advice: Have the guts to step out of your comfort zone, and realize your dream. Have a never-say-die attitude, and always question yourself about what is it exactly that you want.
Many would have been enticed by the high-paying job. How many would choose a more difficult and challenging, perhaps even thankless, job that you know would be fulfilling eventually?
For that, I respect Mr Raymond Lai, and kudos to him for being an inspiration, teaching us that it’s never too late to seek what we truly want.
The next speaker was a young lady, but her youth didn’t compromise the valuable lessons she had to share.
Tan Wai Jia is a 3rd-year medical student attached to National University Hospital. She shared with us her tough and embarrassing past (for a medical student).
Six years ago, when she first moved into her medical school hostel, she was living there by herself, and for a student, this is definitely overwhelming. Without even realizing it, she slipped into depression and anorexia, and refused to admit that she had a problem.
When family and friends expressed their concern, she took their worry as them judging and belittling her. It was only much later did she realize that she indeed had a problem, and went to seek help.
For a medical student facing this issue, it was very “pai seh” (embarrassing) and she suffered much guilt and shame back then, but Wai Jia urged everyone to be honest with ourselves, and to seek help.
It isn’t the number of times you slip, but the number of times that you pick yourself up that truly matters.
When she decided to raise awareness for anorexia, her family opposed. After all, it might ruin her chances of being a doctor in future. How can a doctor who is sick herself treat others?
Wai Jia taught us that stigma prevents people from getting help, and she pressed on with her aim. Things took a good turn, as she unexpectedly got selected into the training program that she wanted – even though she was honest about her illness.
Hence, Wai Jia encourages us to be brave – share your story, it will not only help you, but everyone around you who might be facing the same issue. Furthermore, there will always be light at the end of the tunnel, so be positive, and get rid of bleak thoughts.
Wai Jia’s speech marked the end of the first half of this event. After the 10-minute break and a sumptuous buffet spread, it was time for the highlight of the event – Bryan and Chor Meng’s speeches.
During the interval, the audience (including myself) grabbed the opportunity to snap some shots of Chor Meng and Bryan who were already seated onstage.
They posed a stark contrast – Bryan was warm and friendly, ready to flash a grin for the aunties and me while Chor Meng was brooding and deep in thought, occasionally giving a reluctant smile.
Bryan volunteered to speak first, much to the audience’s excitement.
Throughout his speech, he switched comfortably between English and Mandarin, whichever he felt could emphasize his point better.
Bryan led us into his story of how he overcame many obstacles. Despite his being voted ‘Favorite Variety TV Show Host’ during Star Award ceremonies all this while, it turns out that he wasn’t very popular back when he started acting.
Bryan started out as a child actor, and one of his first few jobs was MediaCorp’s ‘Master of the Sea’ production, which he isn’t very proud of.
Later on, Channel 8 needed more male actors, and he was scouted to be a host for the show ‘City Beat’. Bryan worked hard for that one year. However, he was called up to his boss’ office one day, to be told that he was one of the most hated TV personalities at that time.
He was speechless when his boss asked him to explain, because he didn’t know what to say. If you’re a TV personality, you must be very egotistical and love yourself, if not, how else would you make others love you?
He was afraid to let his family know, especially his father who was ill at that time. Bryan didn’t want to make them worried, so the “new age sensitive guy” (in his own words) cried alone. Days later, he turned in a resignation letter, but was persuaded by his boss to give himself some time.
At that time, TV show hosts were only ‘saying the good things’. However, Bryan was known for being blunt and direct. He laughed at people’s mistakes. He seemed arrogant, and thus didn’t receive the public’s love. Perhaps it will change in the future when people want someone who is honest and funny. And it did change.
Bryan emphasized that it was better to confide in others, both good and bad things. When you share happiness, it is doubled. When you share your sorrow, the sorrow is halved.
I don’t know where he got the statistics from, but Bryan said that life consists of 85% unhappiness, and that’s why we have to treasure the 15% happiness, while we still can.
However, half a year later, his father passed away, and this was the second great blow to him. He knew that as the only son of the family, he had to stay strong for his mother and older sister, and place them as his priority, instead of wallowing in sadness. And so he did, using this as his source of strength to get through this challenge.
Rather than being unhappy, Bryan explains that it’ll be better to knock the wall down between you and your loved ones, so that they can share the burden with you. After all, family and friends will stick with you through thick and thin, and they’ll be your pillars of support.
It was then time for Chor Meng‘s speech. Chor Meng shared with us about his sickness – muscular dystrophy.
In 2006, Chor Meng was feeling out of sorts. After taking a few steps, he would fall over for no reason. This continued, his legs felt weak, and he grew tired easily. He visited many doctors, and was finally diagnosed with muscular dystrophy.
The doctors even told him that he had only two years to live, and to spend more time with his kids.
Chor Meng was stuck in a period of darkness and self-pity, till he saw how his mother was often crying for him in a corner, as she believed she was to be blamed for this hereditary disease.
His daughter even went up to him and told him that she wants to be a doctor in the future, so that she can cure his illness.
He came to the realization that you’re the one who can choose to laugh or cry. When you’re sick, your family is shouldering the burden as well, and you’re not the only one in pain.
Chor Meng learnt to cope with people’s judging stares, and accepted being called “pai kha‘ (‘crippled’). He believes that because he has walked too fast before and missed out on many things, life wants him to walk slower now and admire life and the things he didn’t notice before.
He even made a joke that we shouldn’t go for a “pity party”, because only “I, me and myself” will be at this party. When you’re sad, there’s someone who is sadder than you are.
Everything happens for a reason, so just look from a different perspective. You’ll lose all hope if you look down on yourself, so have a positive outlook on life, and everything that you do will be beautiful when you’re happy. This, he believes, will be the best medicine, and the choice lies with each of us.
That marked the end of the talk. During the Q&A session, someone with the same illness as Chor Meng spoke up and thanked him for sharing. It showed me that these Life Lessons in Resilience, despite lasting a mere two hours, have touched the audience and helped some people. As Wai Jia has shared, when you share your story, you’re helping not only yourself but many others too.
All in all, attending ‘Life Lessons in Resilience’ was a very enriching and memorable experience.