We now live in an era that encourages us to forget how to remember. But I will never forget my encounter with this extraordinary lady whom I fondly named “Ah Neh”. I ran this marathon in her memory and enthusiasm.
Date/Time : 05-02-2012 / 6.45am
Temperature : 15-18C
Start : Nathan Road at Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Finish : Victoria Park, Causeway Bay.
Gloomy skies! And it drizzled somewhat that morning. But the spectacular ambience was more than enough to rev up the enthusiasm of the crowd of the 65,000 participants that gathered at Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui to run the 16th Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon.
After lying off running a full marathon for more than 2 years, I was a little lost. I wasn’t sure how to put up a strategy to pace myself. However, I like the theme for this marathon ‘RUN WITH A REASON’. I am so sure of my own reason of running this marathon. It was to celebrate my 20th year of running and I am also dedicating this Run to someone close to my heart…
Forget about strategy. I will just run with my heart. Soon, I found myself drifted away with the multitude of runners, perhaps each having their own reasons for running too.
About the Person this Run is dedicated to:
She came from ‘Tong San’ a small village in China, I was told. She raised 6 children of her own and I was the first baby she attempted baby-sitting. Not long after that, the whole neighborhood heard about her expertise and started bringing their babies to her! In a way, I had created a career for her in baby-sitting. My 2 younger sisters and a host of other children were raised by her good hands and her golden heart.
My childhood days were filled with loads of adventure and colorful memories all because of her existence.
Life moved on…but she was always there at each milestone of my life. She watched me grow from infancy to adolescence and in my mid-life.
I am indeed very blessed that our paths crossed.
First 15km – How our paths crossed…
My mom often told me that when I was a baby, I was a real difficult one. Therefore, I was passed from one baby-sitter to another because I cried non-stop especially at night!! (Which baby doesn’t cry?)
After 3 baby-sitters or so, I was handed to you.
The minute I was placed in your hands, I bonded with you instantly and this special bond lasted until today. How strange! It was as if I knew you before.
You spoke with a very unique dialect and yet I understood you perfectly. Sometimes I wonder too.
The minute I learned how to speak, I called you, “Ah Neh”. I don’t even know what that means but that name had stayed with you in this lifetime!
Soon this very difficult baby that you raised realized that you cradled her not just with your hands but with your heart, and she held close to you with love in her heart until today.
- The number of times you took me to the doctor and nursed me when I was ill.
- Those sleepless nights you had to suffer with me when I had my asthma attack.
- The old-fashioned steam cake and red eggs made for me on my birthdays.
- Whenever I had a loose tooth, I’ll come running to you and you would extract it for me within seconds and without any pain!
- Evenings of sitting together with the family around the old Redifussion set, listening to bedtime stories.
- The chicken drumstick that you reserved for me instead of your own children during special occasions.
My first 15km is dedicated to you for teaching me lessons in serving as Martin Luther King Jr puts it so aptly to describe you, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t need to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”
After 15km – Those were the days…
By now, I’ve completed a very slow and cautious 15km running on the Tsing Ma Bridge. I tried very hard to remain focus and
- How I cried bloody murder in the middle of the night when I woke up and realized that you were not sleeping by my side!
- Lantern Festival : the whole squatter area where we lived were decorated with array of colorful lanterns and well-litted. And the entire household would be filled with so much merriment and laughter!
- The joy of sitting around the long hot charcoal stove and twirling ‘kueh kapit’ moulds from morning till evening before Chinese New Year.
- Your delicious home-made kaya, rice dumplings and peanut puffs.
- The feast you never failed to cook during every festive season.
- Taking me with you on train to distribute your home-made cookies to your relatives and friends.
- Rearing fowls in the backyard.
- Rising up so early every morning to prepare breakfast for the family and the amount of household chores you had to do every day without a single complaint.
The stretch from Tsing Ma Bridge to Ting Kau Bridge is slightly easier, and this 5km stretch is dedicated to you for teaching me lessons of love at a very young age. You taught me what it means to be kind, generous, to have compassion and showed me examples of ‘Action speaks louder than words’ through your own determination, discipline and sheer hard work.
“Without love in the heart, life is like a sapless tree in a barren desert. What good is a body perfect in outer ways, if inwardly it is impaired by lack of love? With love in the heart, one lives. Without it, the body is but bone encased in skin.” – Tirukkural 8:78-80
20km – How the years have flown…
The marathon race course in Hong Kong is absolutely challenging with many elevated highways, flyovers, bridges and tunnels to tackle. Perhaps, it tells me very much about your life too – one that was filled with challenges, obstacles, ups and downs and yet you were able to overcome all of them with fortitude.
- When you shifted your house to Cheras, I cried and cried. I vowed that when I am able to afford a house, it has to be close to you. And I did!
- You raised all children well and did a great job in cloning them to be kind, compassionate and wise, just like you!
- Your children who gave me tuition on subjects when I couldn’t cope in my studies. They even took me along for outings!
- The small allowance that you sometimes gave me to spend on my favorite biscuits or candies at the old sundry shop down the street.
- How I fell into the drain and the moment I got up, I did not go home, I went straight to find you.
- The time when I got robbed and was in a mess, I came running to you first.
- The amount of support that you and your family gave to us when my father was ill and until he passed on and after that.
- Life was rocky after father’s passing but I always felt comforted by your presence.
- Days you took the public bus from Taman Lensen to visit me in Pudu, when I should be the one who should be visiting you. I was so ashamed!
- The tension I went through that day you fractured your hip but you survived a major operation. Bravo!
Having conquered 33km is a feat to me. This is dedicated to you for enduring some difficult moments with me and thus, teaching me lessons on endurance. I take this quote from Stephen Hoeller that said precisely of you: “A pearl is a beautiful thing that is produced by an injured life. It is the tear that resulted from an injury of the oyster. The treasure of our being in this world is also produced by an injured life.
If we had not been wounded, if we had not been injured, then we will not produce the pearl.” You are that pearl!
34km – Memories are made of these…
I heaved a sigh of relief having made it this far! But wait, ahead of me lay the 4km Western Harbour Tunnel and I was running under the sea. Due to my vertigo, I detested running through tunnels. My vision turned blur and every figure seemed to be dancing in the air. My only solution is to keep my eyes on the ground and dare not held my head up.
I kept focus and I treasure…
- When I invited you on stage during my Wedding dinner to toast with us. My ex-boss then asked me if you were my grandma. I answered her proudly that you are my nanny and you are family!!
- Rejoicing with you on the arrivals of all your grandchildren and great grandchildren.
- Celebrating your birthdays year after year.
- The meals that John and I had enjoyed at your humble abode. It was not just home-cooked meals; it is the love and the warmth that we could feel deep in our hearts.
- Your photographic memory and mental alertness that never failed to impress me. Despite your age, you always made efforts to remember…you were able to give genuine comments about our hair-styles, dressing and even our weight!
- Your endless supply of energy, common sense, sound advice balanced by love.
- Your cheerfulness, smile, charisma, patience, wisdom, kindness, generosity, character.
- In many ways, you have shown me to value people, relationships and simplicity than accumulating material gains.
This 4km run through the Western Harbour Tunnel is for the lessons of gratitude that I’ve picked up from you over the years. Like the Chinese proverb said, “when eating bamboo sprouts, remember the person who planted them.” In your own quiet ways, you have often displayed the importance of gratitude, to be contented, to be thankful, to give thanks and not accumulate greed.
“Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot.” – The Hausa of Nigeria.
37km – The last lecture…
After coming out from the Western Harbour Tunnel, I had completed 37km. The last 5km was the most difficult confronting the Rumsey Flyover which is winding and curving. Then there is the last killer at 39km: The Harcourt Flyover which I was not aware of. And as if all these were not stressful enough, I had to maneuver my way through the sea of runners made up of half and full marathoners.
But it was this final dash that is most significant to me as I reflected on Ah Neh’s last days and the one more lesson that she left behind for me.
I reflect and I thank you…
- How foolish was I to have thought that at this age, there’s nothing else left for me to learn from you. I was absolutely wrong!
- When I saw the pain and agony that you had to endure and struggle in order to make it for the first two days of Chinese New Year to see all your friends and relatives, you taught me a final lesson in strength and persistence.
- You fought hard and never gave up on things that matter most to you in life. You held dear to people you loved and cared even in your final hours.
- I thank you for giving me an opportunity to serve and care for you even though it was just for that few hours that few days. I know it paled in comparison to what you’ve done for me throughout these 48 years of my life.
- I thank you for appearing in my space, for inspiring me with your love and deeds, and leaving such valuable lessons for me at each milestone of my life and forever…
Your final lesson for me is one of persistence, perseverance and great strength. How right is Mr. Richard Devos when he said, “If I had to select one quality, one personal characteristic that I regard as being the most highly correlated with success, whatever the field, I would pick the trait of perseverance. Determination. The will to endure to the end, to get knocked down ninety eight times and get off the floor saying, “here comes number 99!”.
When I was approaching Victoria Park, there were so many supporters lining along the street to welcome and cheer us. The atmosphere was very heart-warming, one that we do not get to see or feel in Malaysia.
Memories of Ah Neh has driven me to higher ground…undefined emotions welled into my every pore and as I was approaching the finishing line, I looked up to the heavens above – the sun was shining so brightly with chilled wind softly caressing from behind. This lovely weather reminded me of the day we sent her home on 26th of January 2012.
I received my medal and whispered in my heart, “This one’s for you, my dear Ah Neh! Wherever you are…” With that, I completed the distance of 42.195km of the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon with a respectable time of 4hours 12mins 02seconds. Not a personal best for me, but I ran with my heart and I did my very best to one who has given so much of herself to me and to many others.
“There are those whose lives affect all others around them. Quietly touching one heart, who in turn, touches another…reaching out to ends further than they would ever know” – William Bradfield
Thank you for touching me so richly and profoundly!
I know I will miss you much but…
“One day in some far off place,
I will recognize your face.
Till then memories of you will remain,
You and I will meet again.”