The Seventies and After
In the 1970s, right up to the 1980s, my father balanced a very busy schedule between family, work (academia, then later his clinic), sports (in particular rugby), research (in particular sports medicine) and, of course, friends. He was actively involved in many committees; apart from COBRA, he was Sports Chairman of the Selangor Club for several years, as well as Secretary of the Malaysian Rugby Union.
After he left University Malaya, he went into private practice as a general practitioner, and set up a clinic, Chan, Lee & Partners (also known as Mediclinic) with a branch in Bangsar and another in Klang. In the meantime, he also did research work for a pharmaceutical company, Warner-Lambert. I also vaguely recall his involvement with the local Rukun Tetangga (neighbourhood watch).
On Saturday, the 24th October 1970, I was born. Three years and seven months younger than my sister, I was a peculiar-looking baby with a big head. My body proportions eventually normalised, but my father always called me "Big Head". I do not remember much about the house I lived in during my early years, except that it had a nice balcony and garden with trees. I also remember the baby-cot with the musical toys. I was particularly fond of a red toy car which would do a backflip when it came to a wall and return to me on its own.
As a family, we did much together. In particular, I remember my father making very large kites (3 to 5 feet long) using stripped bamboo shoots to make the frame. His kites would soar so high beyond the clouds and just stay afloat indefinitely. Despite my father's busy schedule, or perhaps because of it, we had a regular weekly routine. Sunday was always family day. We'd begin by doing our weekly shopping at Jaya Supermarket. My father loved to cook; he relished making a fiery curry so hot that nowadays few curry dishes seem hot to me. He made lovely liver pâté and Welsh Rarebit. On Christmas Eve, we usually had a family dinner, in a formal setting (I had to wear a tie) and even had wine. As you can see, we were by no means a typical Chinese family...
Of all the things that my father gave me, this is perhaps my most valued possession. It is the one and only letter that I have from my father:
I often wonder if my father would have been disappointed that I did not take up athletics nor rugby, the two loves of his life. Instead, I dreamt of becoming an astronomer, spent my nights identifying constellations and stars and pondered over the mysteries of theoretical physics and marvelled at the latest cars and stereo high fidelity sound systems.
While my youthful mind was floating somewhere beyond Andromeda Galaxy, my father had his feet firmly on the ground, contributing actively to the world of sports and medicine. He compiled and edited some research on sports medicine and had it published. The book, Sports Medicine, was published by University of Malaya Press in 1973. He started a private practice as a general practitioner and continued to take an active role in COBRA, Selangor Club and the Malaysian Rugby Union. He had a social calendar that took him around the world, and to functions and events locally and beyond. He had many ideals; yet he was down-to-earth amongst his peers. As a very close friend of his, Oen Seng Fo, remarked:
"He was a man who walked with kings and yet was simple. He loved life, rugby, beer and most of all his wife, Suan See, and children, Su Mei and Chih Min."
He did actually walk with kings and others in that league, but not once did he ever behave as though he was superior to anyone. I recall going to Kuantan with my father when I was little. I barely knew what was going on, but I do recall sitting next to a man dressed in batik on a couch in a rather nicely decorated room. It was only later that someone told me that it was Sultan Ahmad Shah of Pahang, who was the Agong of Malaysia from 1979 to 1984. I recall him mostly because we share the same birthday. Sultan Ahmad Shah loved sports, and was very fond of my father. When he heard of my father's death, he gave his personal condolences to my mother.
There are so many reasons why people loved my father. Not just for his contributions in sports and medicine, but also for his sense of humour and cheekiness. To this date, he is well-remembered for a trick he used to pull on his friends: casually dunking his dentures in their beer. Of course they wouldn't have wanted the beer afterwards, so my father happily helped himself to their drinks.
I can only speculate what my father would be today if he was still alive. What he would have taught me. What stories he would have shared. For he was a great story-teller; even if he may not have told me the story of his life, his actions already have. What he said of rugby is just as true of his own life:
"One of the greatest assets that a Rugby club can have is not a star player, a rich President, a fine clubhouse BUT a story-teller."
This is the story of his life, but I suspect it shall never end...