The Chinese believe in mourning for the deceased for 49 days. I had barely finished one semester of translation studies with Monash University and would never have thought of entering any competition, let alone an international one like the Beijing Language and Culture University's Annual T&I Competition. But it was precisely my father's sudden passing that prompted me to do so. I was always more of the nonchalant, procrastinating type. Never the competitive sort. But this time I had a goal - I wanted to try and win at this competition in honor of my father.
For almost 30 years, my father woke at 4:30am on the dot every day to run his own business, working 15 hours a day. He had a brilliant mind and if he had been born in my time, I suspect he'd have had a much easier white collar life.
Despite only having had secondary education, he was an avid reader. He watched the news daily and devoured every page of the Chinese daily. I picked up Traditional Chinese by reading the Jin Yong (金庸) novels he'd borrowed from the library when I was in primary school. If ever I had any question on current affairs, Chinese history or why countries were going to war, all I had to do was ask my dad. He was like a walking Wikipedia through self-motivated lifelong learning. A trait that regrettably has yet to be instilled in me.
On 21 December 2015, I received a call at work. Seeing my mother's name flashing on my mobile phone screen, my heart dropped. Somehow, I knew. The rush home remains a blur till today, and I still cannot bear to recall those 48 hours at the critical ward where my beloved father never woke from. Shortly after the funeral, I received a mass email from my faculty head encouraging all students of our Master of Interpreting and Translation Studies to participate in the 5th BLCU International Translation & Interpreting Competition.
It was the worst time possible. Barely a month after arriving in Melbourne, Australia from my home country Singapore to undertake this Masters program, my boyfriend in Seoul was diagnosed with cancer. We'd made plans to start a future in Australia together in early 2015 and had spent 6 months preparing for the move. He struggled to come to terms with this shocking news and I had to fly to Seoul during mid-term break to console him. Just as I was coping with settling down by myself in Australia, a country I'd never even visited before, and supporting my boyfriend via long-distance, my father passed away unexpectedly in a sudden heart failure back in Singapore. I'd just spoken to him on the phone 2 weeks ago on his 64th birthday on 5 December, and the last time I'd seen him was at the airport in July when I was leaving for Melbourne. He'd said then, "it's okay, you'll be back in December for your holidays." I'd told him over the phone, that I will not be coming back this holiday as I'd found work here. There was a tinge of disappointment in his voice, but he was ever supportive and understanding as always.
The immense guilt of pursuing our own adult life is a struggle for any traditional Asian child. Making the choice to spend most of my days away from my aging parents had always been a struggle for me personally. So that phone call from my mum, was my worst nightmare come true.
Anyone whom attended the funeral would have witnessed how traumatized I was. I was withdrawn at times, an emotional mess at other times. After the funeral, I took on more translation work than I could handle - working 20 hours a day, to the point where I was falling asleep in my chair whilst typing on my laptop. I couldn't bear to grieve, still can't bear to grieve. It is simply too overpowering. Perhaps I'm dealing with this wrong, but all I could do was to ask myself: how would my father have coped in this situation?
I can picture him saying: "Whatever has happened, suck it up and deal with it. Life has to go on, do what has to be done with your best efforts. That's all there is to it."
So when I saw the email on the competition, I decided to give it my best shot.
I've not been dealt with the worst hand in life. Not anywhere close to it. I shan't compare myself with extreme cases such as starving kids in Third World countries, but I've had loving parents and a doting brother for 34 years and counting. There are orphans whom have had to struggle growing up. The families of MH370 victims or accident victims - they will find it much harder to find closure than me, albeit my father's death was sudden for us. Nobody has an easy life. Okay, fine. So some fortunate ones have it easy. But majority of us will go through valleys of dark days. Of course, we have the right to lament, to whine, to rant... for a bit. We cannot control what happens in life, but we can decide our attitude towards it. Our actions moving henceforth.
Everyone wants to take good care of their loved ones, but many fail to realize responsibility towards self.
We can only take care of others when we first take responsibility to take care of ourselves. I had a mentor at work when I was a money broker, whose young daughter passed away after a hard fight in the hospital. He told us at the funeral wake, that she'd told him she will be brave and take on the pain like a good lil' soldier so that daddy can stop crying.
I had a high school classmate whom jumped to her death at 17. Witnessing her mother's cries for her daughter was the first heart wrenching experience for me.
As my sis-in-law, a wise woman, told my brother whom later comforted me with the same words,
"there will always be something you wish you'd done for Father."
It doesn't mean that I have to stop what I meant to do for my father just because he is no longer here. In his name, I'd trekked the mountains of Nepal and witnessed dawn upon Mount Everest. In his name, I'd won at the BLCU translation competition. And this is merely the beginning. Whilst it is still heartbreaking, I allow myself a few minutes a day to break down and remember him. Then I look at his face on the family photo overlooking my work desk in Melbourne, and smile. And I endeavor to work even harder at the path I'd chosen, just like he did when he started striking out on his own.
My parents taught me to always stay calm, be strong and do your best. And so, my coping mechanism is to live life even harder, to take even better care of myself as a form of responsibility towards my loved ones, and to stop procrastinating on doing my best.
I write this late, open eulogy and publish it on my company website, in the hope that my peers, fellow city dwellers feeling burnt out, and younger generations entering the workforce can see the point in pushing themselves. Am I stronger than most? No, I am not. We all have the strength in us - it is merely up to us to tap on it. There's no such thing as "that's cos you are driven/have a strong mind" etc. I don't find it easy to be strong either. Nobody does. It's merely a matter of choice - to take the easy route and find excuses for yourself, or take the route to take accountability for your own life and what you can potentially achieve. "Potential is nothing until realized" - my Scottish boss once told me. I have been fortunate to have had many wise men and women in my life unselfishly dishing out sound advice to me. But it is up to me to take action on my life.
To the many young people out there wistfully wondering on the meaning of life, or philosophically lamenting on the purpose of life: life is what you make out of it. Find your own purpose. And take action. Dump the excuses. Efforts may not equate success, but nobody will ever fault efforts. Whenever you think you're having it hard, think again. I am absolutely certain, there will be plentiful peers out there who have had or still is having it tougher than you are. And that people whom have gained success definitely did not make it through non-action.
on the 110th day of my father's passing