On the way to lunch today, 15 December 2013, I was sharing with my youngest daughter about my father.
As a result of famine and civil war, my grandfather Mr Liew Fui Yew set sail for ‘Nanyang’ (South of the ocean). He needed to make enough money to survive and feed his family.
He travelled with many others in a Chinese junk. There were barely enough food and space for all of them.
Day after day, night after night, they battered threatening waves and torturing weather.
They lived with despair and no inkling about their future.
Many of my grandfather’s friends, including new ones suffered bouts of seasickness and bad health.
Sadly, some of them never made it to the promised land.
Like most people from his village, he paid a tidy sum of his hard-earned money to headhunters. They made all the arrangements so that he could embark on his new life.
Without realizing it, he became a commodity for the “piglet” (賣豬仔) trade.
They were promised good wages and living conditions but it was not to be so.
They soon realized they were hired as “cheap Chinese labourers.”
They were traded as coolies and were made to carry out hard labour. Many of them had to undergo harsh treatments.
The foreign workers during my grandfather’s times were known as “new guests” (新客). It was understood they would eventually return back to their villages.
By the time they realized how tough it was to make a living, it was too late to turn back.
They did not want to lose face and go home empty handed. Many of them borrowed money to pay for their trip.
It was not an easy life for my grandfather.
To make matters worst, he was a doctor, a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine and was not used to doing manual labour.
While trying to eke out a living, he found out that his wife was sick.
There was no way at that point to make a trip back to see his lover. You could imagine the sorrow that he carried in his heart.
All he could do was wait in anguish for good news. He suffered in agony as he waited for updates from his family.
At that time and age, communication was not well established. It might take weeks for any correspondence to reach the other party.
One cruel day, a letter arrived from his village. That was the day my grandfather’s world collapsed.
He received news that his wife had passed away. She was alone and had no one to comfort her or stand by her.
The tragic news must have spun him into depths of sorrow. How he must have wished he could spent the last few moments with his wife.
She had not only loved him, she had also promised to go through the pits of life to wait for him.
As a doctor, he would live with the regrets that he could have done something for her. He could have possibly healed her.
The regrets must have multiplied his pain and tore his heart apart.
That was not the end of the story.
After some time, my grandfather finally overcame his grief. By then, he had saved enough money to start a small Chinese medical practice.
On one of the trips back to his village, he met my grandmother. She was much younger than him, a feisty lady who was endowed with good looks and relational skills.
After marrying her, he brought her back to his home in Seremban, Malaysia. They had all the plans to settle down to live a happy and fulfilled life together.
Life dealt them a bad hand.
Shortly after my father was born, he died.
It was a shock to many people around him. He was only 47 years of age when he passed away.
Somehow the years of malnourishment and hard labour must have affected him. It must have taken a toll on him.
With his demise, my grandmother struggled to keep the business afloat. My father was too young to be of any help.
Eventually, they lost everything.
They lived through great poverty for most parts of their life.
I was born and raised in poverty. I have experienced how hard life can be, not only to my family but also to many others.
When life was better off, my wife and I donated part of our property in Little India to support a counselling centre.
That was the time when a growing wave of foreign workers were being hired to support our fast growing economy. We wanted to do our small little part for them
I was no Mother Teresa.
I did it because there were times in the past when my family needed help. Many kind souls stretched out their hands to support us.
I was paying back and paying forward at the same time.
When I looked at every foreign worker, I could feel for them.
If I searched deep in my heart, I could feel that I’ve ‘met’ the person before.
That person was very much like my grandfather. He could also very well be me.
Just as I hoped somebody would offer whatever help to me if I was in a difficult situation, I wanted to do my bit for them.
I did not plan to help everybody. I just wanted to help one person for one more day to go through a difficult challenge in life.
Subsequently, I had a little more resources. I was able to spent more time to do more and to help others who were living in much poorer countries.
Together with some good friends, we started a charitable organization to provide humanitarian aids and services. Our mission was to build houses, improve living conditions, and dig wells to provide clean waters to villages.
For many years, every six weeks, I would be away in some villages for a few days. Those were some of the happiest days in my life.
I have always felt that our position, power, and possession are but gifts. They were given to us so that we can share them with others.
These gifts were given to us to help us to live. When we use them to bless others, we can live a happier and better life.
We are wired with a desire to do well with our life.
We are created to make something good of our life by doing good for the people and world around us.
There should be no inhibition and restriction as to whether we should help somebody locally or overseas.
The concept of locals and foreigners is an artificial and man-made construct. It has oftentimes brought more harm to humanity.
At the end of the day, we are handiworks of our Creator. We are all part of the human race.
Every human shares a similar structure of Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The DNA is a molecule that carries genetic instructions to help us survive and function in our environment.
Within the body flows similar blood, air and water. We also share by and large similar hope, fear and aspiration.
It makes every sense to accord to each other respect, kindness and compassion. We should do the same for our guests from overseas, including foreign workers.
The foreign workers in our midst are generally law-abiding people.
Like our forefathers, they are in Singapore to make a living and to earn enough money to help feed their families in their home countries.
They helped to build our homes and infrastructure, the benefits of which are being enjoyed by Singaporeans on a daily basis.
They have done their part to contribute to the economy and society.
We should be grateful and thankful to them for their effort and contribution.
Let’s treat them well and with dignity.
The greatness of our people is a reflection of the way we look after the people who are not from our land.
In this regard, I’m confident that our fellow Singaporeans will rise up to be a model to the world.
It speaks of our spirit and resolution to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.