Forever Fathers

Our late Ah Kong, Ng Ngoh Tee
with some of his trophies; 1940s
Compared to the hype surrounding Mother’s Day in May every year, Father’s Day often passes quite inconspicuously.  Most families have celebrations, usually with a family dinner at dad’s favourite restaurant or eating his favourite food at home.  Some merchants even rolled Mother’s and Father’s Days together and dubbed it Parents’ Day – a name that has negative connotations for me because it reminds me of that dreadful day when my parents would meet my teacher in school to get a painfully honest report about me!

Father’s Day may come and go and fathers may still be here or no longer with us, but we just go on treasuring them and making precious memories.  A friend, who lost her dad to cancer four years ago, told me that she still misses him dearly, especially on his birthday and on Father’s Day.  To cherish our fondest memories of him, we have established an annual dinner date on his death anniversary to celebrate his life at his favourite restaurant!

Another friend recalls that each time he and his dad ate chicken he was always offered his favourite drumstick while his dad eats the bishop’s nose.  For a long time he thought that his dad’s favourite part of the chicken was the bishop’s nose until he discovered that his dad’s favourite was also the drumstick.  Then it dawned on him that his dad was making a sacrifice and always giving him the best of everything. 

Newspaper article on Ah Kong written by Bobby Chee
that I found in a cupboard at home
While cleaning out a cupboard at home recently, I discovered an old newspaper cutting written about my Ah Kong or grandfather shortly after his demise on 30 March 1980.  As I re-read the yellowed newsprint paper, I vividly recalled that day because I was on afternoon shift during the 33 days when he was in the Officers Ward of the then Johor Baru General Hospital.   I was at his bedside when he breathed his last and can remember making that phone call home from a public phone in the lobby to inform the family of his demise because back then, nobody used mobile-phones yet.

Ah Kong did not recover from his third stroke and the first lines of that article by Bobby Chee dated 16 April 1980 read, “The champion maker is dead.”  Chee said, “Old timers will learn with regret the death of Mr Ng Ngoh Tee, one of the greatest badminton players Johore has ever produced.”  [At that time, the spelling for Johor was with an “e” as in Johore.]  Chee went on to say, “Johore has certainly lost a great badminton pioneer… He has trained a long line of champions since the forties.”

It’s been 33 years since his passing but to this day, Johor Baru folks familiar with Ah Kong would still refer to mum as “anak Ngoh Tee” or a child of Ngoh Tee, when they happened to meet up.  It fascinates me to hear this because traditionally, it is common to link a person’s identity to his father reputation.  It was also recently that I discovered that Ah Kong was thus named, Ngoh meaning fifth in Teochew and Tee for younger brother because he was the fifth among his brothers.

Ah Kong with his beautiful daughters, [L to R]
Sylvia, Lily, Lucy, Annie and Polly
I had the privilege of experiencing Ah Kong in my childhood and understand that while he was quite an Anglophile who decided to register all his children with English names, he was still big on culture and traditions.  He and grandma often had movie dates to watch Teochew opera movies at Capitol or Broadway theatres and they would walk downtown and back quite safely from our house at 154 Jalan NgeeHeng.  After his retirement, I remember how Ah Kong used to stretch out on his reclining chair to listen to Teochew operas from long-play vinyl records and later when he went about watering his orchids, he would be humming those classic tunes!

As grandchildren living with our grandparents to attend nearby schools, my siblings, cousins and I were on the receiving end of Ah Kong’s goodwill and generosity.  On weekends, after we have completed our homework and assigned household chores, he would take us for morning shows at Rex or Lido theatres at Jalan Wong Ah Fook and I was always thrilled to watch movie trailers on the big screen before the main feature, usually a cowboy story set in the Wild West.  Other treats was our pick of sweets like Fruit Gums or Mentos Mints from the snack stall and the unforgettable to and fro walk that gave us an interesting view and taste of the stink of JB’s infamous Segget River!

Ah Kong with some of his grandchildren at 154 Jalan
Ngee Heng [side of badminton court]; Peggy is at
back row center
While Ah Kong was Johor badminton champion in the 1920s and 1930s and he trained champions in his Companion Badminton Party since the 1940s, he also encouraged us in the game by modifying rackets into shorter shaft lengths to match our heights.  I remember how Ah Kong used to sit on the umpire’s chair to keep score and sometimes he would partner one of us kids to play a doubles game and send us running around the court with his tricky cross-court strokes.  One of my fondest memories of Ah Kong is how he would joke that he could beat us even when he played with one hand tied behind!

Ah Kong’s passion for the game clearly influenced the sports careers of his 11 children and his badminton knowledge has been passed down from one generation to the next as they trained together as sparring partners and developed a winner’s mentality as a great badminton family in the South.  Just as Ah Kong will be forever remembered as a father who wants the best out of his children, we can fondly remember our fathers and honour them for their part in moulding us to be the best we can be.  Happy Father’s Day!

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 27 June 2013


  1. Lovely article. He was a special father and grandfather....said little but when he spoke, it was worth listening to! mng

  2. Who's the little one in AhKong's hands?

  3. That little one in Ah Kong's arms is cousin Jessie!