...and another, makes four funerals

On June 9, I published, A wedding, birthdays and three funerals to document some family happenings during the series of lockdown periods dubbed the Movement Control Order (MCO), the subsequent Conditional Movement Control Order and the Recovery Movement Control Order.

Newspaper cutting with the report on Uncle Roland when
he won the World Veteran Champion title in Taiwan
Among the many ups and downs, the most significant were the three funerals to celebrate the lives of Grand-uncle Leong and Grand-uncle Mak in Singapore, and Aunty Elizabeth.

While these send-offs were scaled down according to the limits set by MCO regulations, the sorrow and loss experienced among family members was no less.

This was compounded by the fact that interstate travel was prohibited, and the borders were still closed to those from abroad who wished to pay their last respects.

When his mother’s remains were interred in the memorial park, cousin Philip and his family were comforted that they had fulfilled her wishes for her interment.

1957: Roland Ng, Johore state badminton
champion for four years, just like his father!
It was early afternoon on June 10 when I received the sad news from cousin Philip that his father was very weak. An hour later, he called to inform that he had passed.

It was hardly a month since his wife’s passing in mid-May and now he too left us at age 89.

Uncle Roland was unwell since last November and was in and out of hospital for various ailments.

Last month, when I met him at the wake for his wife, Uncle was lucid enough to instantly recognize me even though I was wearing a mask.

It was simply heartbreaking to witness his grief at the loss of his life-partner of more than 60 years. Her passing must have dealt a heavy blow to his grieving heart and the romantic in me believes that he probably died of a broken heart.

I have always seen Uncle and his wife together as a couple whenever they came to visit us at grandfather’s house from Kota Tinggi, where they were based for work with the district hospital.

Roland Ng, looking rather dapper
Uncle was a Hospital Assistant while Aunty was a Nursing Sister. And because they enjoyed the lifestyle in Kota Tinggi, Uncle and Aunty decided to retire there.

Besides a passion for playing badminton, Uncle had a hobby in hunting wild boar and the nearby jungles provided him and his hunting friends, ample opportunities to pursue this hobby.

After his retirement, he surrendered his gun license and focused on his other hobby in cultivating orchids and planting fruit trees – including durian – in his garden.

Uncle was very proud of the quality of the durian and mangoes cultivated in his own garden and I remember once – when our grandmother was still with us – how Uncle brought us durian all the way from Kota Tinggi by riding on his motorcycle!

I know that Uncle was an avid follower of My Johor Stories when my “grandfather stories” on the family were published regularly in Johor Streets, a pull-out section of The New Straits Times. [This section ceased publication at end 2015.]

Mr & Mrs Roland Ng; 1955
He would collect these full-page publications and have them laminated for better storage. When he showed them to his visitors, these became talking points for interesting conversations.

When his cousin visiting from Singapore was shown this carefully preserved copies of my articles, she was keen to have her own copies, so Uncle graciously offered to prepare a set of these laminated pages for her.

Later I learnt from his wife that one afternoon in August 2010, while she was having her nap, Uncle rode his motorcycle to collect these laminated pages from the bookstore.

Aunty was not even aware that he had left the house to do this errand until she received a telephone call from a stranger who informed her that Uncle was involved in a collision and was admitted to hospital!

I just could not get over the fact that he met with this motor accident while he was out to collect copies of my articles laminated for his cousin!

Uncle Roland [Center] with his colleagues in JB GH
[Bear in mind that Uncle was unacquainted with social media or online versions of my published articles and was only comfortable with the old-school, hard-copy versions of these publications!]

As a sportsman, he continued to train badminton enthusiasts in the finer points of the game and Uncle earned himself the enviable title of Sifu among his trainees.

When I was researching about grandfather, Ng Ngoh Tee, and his badminton career, Uncle was my source of information on the family’s history in badminton.

In fact, Uncle was Johor state badminton champion for four years – 1955, 1956, 1957 and 1958 – just like his father who was Johor champion for four years – 1935, 1936, 1937 and 1939.  

Uncle's handwritten notes for me!
Ask anyone who has met Uncle and they would attest to the fact that Uncle had an uncanny ability to remember names, dates and even scores in specific matches between who and who, when and held where.

He had a habit of repeating himself while he talked animatedly and would often write out the facts to make his point even clearer.

On one occasion, I kept the sheet of A4 paper that he wrote on and this is my own hand-written memento from Uncle.

In 2015, I received a request from a Kuala Lumpur production company that was producing a documentary dubbed The forgotten men of 1949, about the team who represented Malaya to participate in the inaugural Thomas Cup tournament.

Uncle pointing to the 1939 photo of the team who won
the Foong Seong Cup, later renamed the Khir Cup
They wanted to meet with someone related to Wong Peng Soon, one of the members of this team, and wondered if I could connect them to a family member.

Wong Peng Soon was grandmother’s cousin and the only member of the family who had interacted with him (still alive and lucid!) was Uncle Roland, who was then a teenager when grandfather was training the Wong brothers in the game.

So, I set up an appointment for the crew from this production company to meet with Uncle to record his comments from an interview.

Looking back, this time with Uncle was very precious because he was in his element and generously provided all the relevant information they required and more…

Using his valuable collection of newspaper cuttings, Uncle shared his memories and comments that were captured in hours of recordings.

Handwritten inside the book, Talk About History,
a message from Dato' Eddy Choong to Uncle
I knew Uncle could quote players’ names, dates and the match scores from his memory and observed how he impressed the crew with his thorough information.

I am also familiar with his friendship with Malaysian badminton legend, Dato’ Eddy Choong (1930 – 2013) and I remember Uncle showing off the cover letter that was enclosed with a book on Eddy’s badminton career, Talk About History.

On the inside cover of this book, I read the handwritten message Eddy wrote to Uncle that started like this, “To my very good friend Roland Ng…”

Uncle Roland’s last international title was singles World Veteran Champion held in Taiwan and he partnered Eddy Choong to win the doubles Veteran Champion title.

Uncle was four-time
Johore badminton champion!
I can recall Uncle sharing his experience about how he and Eddy worked hard to win this prestigious doubles’ title through sheer grit and smart strategy.

In fact, these two experienced doubles players did not meet for any training because Eddy was based in Penang while Uncle was in Johor. They trained separately and only met in Taiwan for the tournament – and won the title!

Even after their retirement, Uncle and his wife would often drop by at our house, usually after their regular appointments at the clinic in Hospital Sultanah Aminah (HSA), to visit with my parents.

My parents, Uncle and Aunty were retired from the health department and had postings to Kota Tinggi Hospital as well as HSA, then called JB General Hospital, so they had much in common to reminisce and chit-chat.

In their advancing in age, they also exchanged notes about their ailments, aches and pains and discussed remedies. I could not help overhearing their loud conversations because Uncle was hard-of-hearing, even while wearing a hearing aid!

Chinese New Year 2020 with
Uncle Roland and Aunty Elizabeth
Besides being posted to Kota Tinggi Hospital, Uncle was also posted to the Health Clinic at the Lumba Kuda Flats and the mortuary in JBGH’ forensic department.

I am sure friends and family members can fondly remember Uncle’s pleasure in regaling us with his well embellished stories that ranged from morbid mortuary tales, badminton experiences and hunting adventures to English idioms and riddles.

He did so enjoy having a captive audience…

After grandfather’s demise, Uncle’s home in Kota Tinggi was the meeting place for the extended family on the first day of Chinese New Year (lunch time).

And among the regular visitors were his friends from former hospital staff and his badminton disciples who called him, Sifu.

Chinese New Year 2020 was extra special because many members of the extended family gathered at Uncle home for lunch and a cake-cutting ceremony to celebrate Uncle’s birthday on January 26.

While this turned out to be the last birthday celebration for both Uncle and Aunty, we are glad for the privilege to have shared birthday joy with them, one final time.

After a two-day wake to celebrate his life, Uncle’s remains were interred alongside those of his beloved wife in the memorial park. Rest In Peace, Uncle and Aunty.

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