‘You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only option.’ I have read this line somewhere and I thought I knew what it meant. This year, two film projects brought me face to face with raw courage. One was for the Singapore Cancer Society, which involved interviewing cancer survivors, cancer patients, care givers and loved ones. I remember talking to this lady in her fifties, with a face that is virtually on the verge of a smile. She has battled cancer, not once, not twice, but three times. I cleared my mind before talking to her, giving her my full attention and not assuming anything. She started with a startling statement, “The way to love anything is to realise that it may be lost.”
There was a long silence before she resumed, “When I was healthy, I thought all these talk about staying positive in the face of adversity is new-age horseshit. When I was sick, I told myself, ‘Why don’t you try it? Really get into it? You have nothing to lose’. So I started with the discipline of a warrior. Each morning, I got up with a determination to practice my mind such that when I went to bed, I was satisfied with my progress”.
I woke up this morning to Yeewei‘s text – the story is out. Reading the Sunday Times article, Death Row’s Angel Of Hope, I remembered the meeting with Dr Sudha Nair and a social worker on the year-end parties for the PAVE children. Before leaving, Sudha said she would send me a copy of Alan John’s Unholy Trinity: The Adrian Lim ‘Ritual’ Child Killings. As a filmmaker, she thought I would be interested in Sister Gerard. I didn’t think much of it until the book arrived. Slowly, but surely, I saw this as a story Yeewei may be interested for #15shorts. I was not wrong. But Yeewei more than read the book. He started researching. So when the arranged meeting between him and Alan happened, there was a spark that signalled signs of not just a good film, but a great film in the making.
This afternoon at the gym I had a chance meeting with a friend, someone I have not seen for a while. We decided to go for coffee. I told him I was looking forward to a cappuccino. We ended in Starbucks. Half jokingly, I asked if he could buy me coffee this round, and he said he would. It was very crowded but we found seats. I attended to a text message from work while he ordered. After a while, he came back and said could we go to Yakun instead. He explained he forgot his Starbucks card and it would be expensive. I said sure. At Yakun, it was more crowded. We ordered and my equivalent of cappuccino came, kopi c siew dai. As we were chatting, I remembered more about this friend. He would wake up early to walk to work, which takes about forty-five minutes. He has a car but the ERP charges deterred him. Besides, to him, the parking is just too expensive. Talking about parking, we went for a movie once. He was slightly late, not for the movie but for the appointed time of our meeting. He was perspiring when he arrived. I found out that he had parked some fifteen minutes walk away because the parking there was free. When we had dinner after the show, it was at a place which took a few manoeuvrings to avoid having to pay ERP, parking and what he perceived to be food not worth the expensive price. I remember feeling a little tired of this constant calculation but he reminded me, “Daniel, we are living in the most expensive city in the world”. He is indeed Mr Frugal. During our coffee, Mr Frugal told me he knew I needed some donations for the movie night I am arranging for the children from PAVE. I said yes and suggested he could help me wrap presents for the children. He said he was moved by the pics of the Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties I hosted last year. He added he would want to donate some money. When I gave him the details for the bank transfer, he asked if he could PayLah me instead. As we parted ways, I told him the next coffee would be on me. When I reached my car, I received a PayLah notification. Mr Frugal has donated the highest amount to date. Six hundred dollars. For someone who stinges on himself, he is most generous to others in need. I reached home and started putting up my DIY Christmas tree. In this most expensive city, the spirit of giving is very much alive. And today I feel Christmas is already here. Thank you..
Does she really remember me, as I walked to the meeting room, I asked myself one last time. When did we last meet? It would have to be in the early 1990s. Over twenty years, a few lifetimes ago. My assistant producer showed me to her. Sitting in a corner, in a yellow t-shirt, she turned to face me, immediately breaking into a laugh while she greeted me. We spoke briefly. Her face became familiar, especially her voice. She has not changed much. She looked healthy and fit. her energy level was high enough to bring some cheer to the room. As we chatted, along with the director of the film, I was still not sure if she remembered me. I mainly helped in the marketing aspects of #actionforaids, AFA, in those early years. One night last year, when I was falling asleep, her name just popped into my head. Iris Verghese. The lady who ‘provided hugs’ to people with Aids at the Middle Road Hospital. When Aids just reached our shores. When Aids was a total mystery. When everyone was terrified. When ignorance of this ‘plague’ created abject fear and helplessness. Iris, in a way, humanised Aids for me. I made a mental note to message Junfeng. That I think I could have an idea for the film he was going to make for our #15shorts. He liked the idea. With the help of AFA, we still took over three months to locate Iris. Then Junfeng met with her. click on the link below to watch this film by Junfeng which we just released to coincide with #worldaidsday, today. Thank you, Iris, Junfeng, AFA and NVPC.
Recently an episode of a long running TV series on Netflix pointedly focused on being a father. A successful surgeon went on a countryside trip, sat in a restaurant all day, waiting. He was hoping the elderly owner of the restaurant would recognise him. He left disappointed. Urged by his wife, he went back the next day. The owner told him the restaurant was closed, but that he could cook him something special on the side. The surgeon faced up and said he did not come for the food. He mentioned who he was and the owner who was his father let the information sink in. The father was unfazed, and asked the son about his life, then asked specifically why he had come. The son said he had wondered ever since his father left, what it looked like to not fulfil an important promise in life. Each time he went into surgery, he made a silent promise to do his level best to save his patient. Now that his wife was pregnant, he had made a life-long promise. That he would be there for his child. The restaurant owner was silent. The surgeon turned around and left, without looking back.