Ripples Following Ripples ~ SIXTY TRIPS AROUND THE SUN

DV and Joan were shocked at my general appearance when I came through the doors, and described me as haggard! We were soon on the way to Malacca, where they left me in my room above the shop and went home. Although tired, I didn’t sleep im-mediately, as I first had to unpack; moreover, my biological-clock was still on Kathmandu time, 2½ hours behind Malaysian.

I soon settled into a routine, and was given a vacant desk in DV’s office as my work-station. My first job was to type out an account of my trip using my diary-notes; it took two weeks, as I had over seven months to cover, and also, I wasn’t at full-strength yet. This was clear to everyone, and they were so solicitous of my welfare.

My appetite soon returned and I began to regain the weight I’d lost, as always happens; it wasn’t something I wanted. Although I exercise in my room as much as 3 hours a day, I don’t walk much because of the humidity; five minutes, and I’m wet with sweat!

Two years ago, I told DV that as we’d met on my 30th birthday when I arrived in Malacca for the first time, I’d like to observe my 60th with him and his family. I don’t celebrate my birthdays myself, but Chinese people consider the 60th auspicious, 60 being the multiple of the twelve signs of the zodiac by the five elements ~ earth, air, fire, water and wood ~ and regarded as the beginning of wisdom. Well, such things are unimportant to me, and I don’t live by them; nor do I believe that wisdom begins at a particular age; many people grow old without becoming any wiser than when they were born! On the other hand, some children are quite wise from very young. And as for me, sometimes, I think there’s no hope, as I often say to myself, “Oh, you stupid man!”

Anyway, he kept this in mind, and by the time I got back from Nepal, the idea had formed in his mind of doing it on a grander scale than with just his family, and, knowing that I intended to re-sume work on my memoirs with the aim of getting them printed, saw it as an opportunity to raise funds for it. The pressure was on, therefore, for me to get down to serious work. But what I’d written the year before was so voluminous that I wondered how I could get it all ready in the space of two months. One night, just before I fell asleep, the solution came to me: cut it into parts and get them printed separately; as one book, it would simply have been too thick, and people would have been deterred by the size. This decision galvanized me, and I settled down to work on the first part, which I called, “So Many Roads”, in answer to the first question of Bob Dylan’s famous song of the ‘Sixties, “Blowin’ in the Wind”: “How many roads must a man walk down, before you can call him a man?”

Preparing a book for printing is not a simple matter, and involves much more than just writing it. Although the contents are more important than the container, you want the appearance to be as nice as possible anyway. I spent many hours adjusting the text to get it how I wanted it, trying not to leave the last line of a para-graph with just one word, for example. DV’s accountant, Kenneth (Kenni-ji) was ~ and continued to be throughout the three books ~ most helpful, and I exploited him for all kinds of assistance, but he didn’t complain, and in fact, even seemed to enjoy it. I learned several things from him in the process, and owe him a great deal.

I’d not got very far with it before I came down with some kind of urinary-tract infection, which meant going to the toilet frequently, only to have a dribble come out. This was quite disruptive, so DV took me to see a doctor-friend ~ Goh Tiong Peng. His questions and my answers thereto convinced him that my prostate-gland was enlarged, a common complaint in men my age; he said that medication might alleviate it, but ultimately, an operation was the only way. I didn’t want this, and tried the medication he pre-scribed, plus Saw Palmetto tablets that other friends had urged me to try. When this brought about no improvement, I went to a urologist that Dr. Goh had referred me to. Dr. Yang Jin Rong ran the standard tests on me ~ somewhat embarrassing for me, but that was his job ~ that confirmed my prostate-gland was greatly enlarged; he also advised an operation, and explained what it would involve. Dr. Yang kindly charged us a nominal fee of just RM1 for his services. I considered going for the operation, and got DV to take me to see an insurance-agent friend of his, a Mr. Leong. He advised me on my policy, which was about to expire, saying that if I made my claim before the expiry-date, I should be covered. I decided on the op, visited Dr Yang again to arrange the date ~ August 7th, a Monday ~ and began negotiations with the insurance-company, via email. These, needless to say, were somewhat protracted. First, they sent me the claim-forms for both me and the doctor to fill in, and we faxed these off. Now, it is well-known that insurance-companies ~ though quick to take your money ~ drag their feet over claims, and so it was with mine. O-Day (Operation-Day) drew nearer, and they still hadn’t come through, so DV told me to go ahead and he would underwrite the costs ~ a sum of over RM6000.

My book was finally ready for printing. We’d had quotes from several printers, and decided upon the cheapest, although it turned out to have been false economy. She requested a CD of the book, and we duly gave her one. A week later, she produced a proof-copy, but I wasn’t happy with it, as the last line on many pages had jumped to the top of the next page, throwing the whole book out. She did a second proof-copy, but it was no better than the first. I’d never had such problems with previous books, which had all been done by off-set, so I decided to print out the manu-script myself and give her that. This was a lengthy job that took me two days doing little else, as the printing-machine I was using was rather slow. The printer then assured me that it would be done exactly as I wanted it. If only! I was unaware that since my earlier books had been printed, the technology had changed, and not for the better, either. DV undertook to monitor the printing.

Because this stay in Malacca was longer than my other recent stays, it was suggested that I might like to give a few talks in and around the town ~ something I’d not done for some years, when I’d ‘quit’ in frustration ~ and I agreed; after all, I needed to hone my skills. Several talks were arranged and needed translation, which was not always satisfactory, but I had to make do, and they turned out alright even so. I have almost no control over Chinese translation (as I do over Vietnamese or Indonesian, for example, but there are various ways by which I can tell ~ or feel ~ if the translation is accurate or not). The audiences were generally re-ceptive and kind. Sometimes, because of the distance, I would get back at 11:30 or thereabouts, so the next morning, didn’t get up at my usual time; my routine was disrupted, but it was for a good cause, so I didn’t mind.

The pre-op tests ~ x-ray, blood-test and ECG ~ were done, and I was all set for O-Day. On the Thursday before, I received an email from the insurance to the effect that after due considera-tion, they felt they were not liable to pay the costs of my opera-tion, since I should have returned to Australia for it (I’d already told them, several times, that I had no return ticket to Australia, nor did I intend to return anytime soon, but if they would like to pay the costs of a ticket, I might consider it). I wasn’t disappointed or surprised at their decision, as I’d been expecting it. The next day, however, I got another email saying that, after further con-sideration, they had decided to pay after all. Well, to say the least, this was welcome news; why else had I taken out travel-insurance?

I’d been instructed to fast from the night before the operation, so I checked into the hospital with an empty stomach, and was pleased to find that a fax had arrived from the insurance-company undertaking all costs. I was taken up to my private room ~ since the insurance would be covering it, why not? ~ and told to change into the gown ready for surgery. DV left me, saying he would return after the operation to see how I’d gone on. When the time came, I was wheeled along on a gurney to the operating-theatre and prepared for what I’d come for. The anesthetist gave me a long shot in my spine and waited until the lower part of my body was completely numb, and oh, what a strange ~ almost ter-rible feeling ~ or non-feeling ~ that was! Supported by arm-rests, my arms were stretched out beside me, in a crucifixion-posture, with electrodes attached to monitor pulse and blood-pressure.

Without going into the intimate details of the procedure here ~ known as TURP (I have my own interpretation of this, but anyone can check it for themselves on the Net), let me just say that I was able to observe what was going on inside my body on a CCTV, and was fascinated to see the greatly-magnified instrument ~ a tiny super-heated blade ~ ‘shaving’ pieces off the whitish prostate which was restricting the canal from the bladder; these pieces then floated away into the bladder to be sucked out later. As the knife sliced through the tissue, jets of blood spurted out, but the doctor quickly cauterized the wounds as he worked on. I felt no pain ~ or any other sensation ~ whatsoever during the 90 minute operation. Then, fitted with a catheter to drain the urine from my bladder, and an intravenous drip to replace lost fluids and flush out the detritus, I was taken to the recovery-room until my blood-pressure had stabilized (it had fallen considerably), then, an hour later, wheeled back to my room.

DV and his mother had been waiting for me, and because the operation and time in the recovery-room had taken longer than expected, he’d wanted to go, as he had other things to do, but his mother insisted on staying. After assuring themselves I’d come through alright, they went home, leaving me to further recover. The anesthetic took some hours to wear off, and then the pain set in. Panadol administered by the nurses had little effect.

Because I was unable to sit up at first, an orderly had to feed me lunch with a spoon ~ I felt like a baby! Other kind visitors came and went, and I was allowed to raise my bed, and later to sit up, but not fully, in case the injection-point on my spine burst open.

That evening, Leong, his wife, Lye Guat, and son, Yuen Jia came to visit me, and while recounting my ordeal, I described the loss of feeling in my legs, and how I’d wondered, “Where are my legs? I’ve lost my legs! Give me back my legs!”. The boy had been listening, and after some minutes, he slowly and quietly came to the foot of my bed and lifted the blanket to see for him-self whether I’d really lost my legs or not. We laughed so much!

After they’d gone, I was left alone, apart from the nurses check-ing on me, bringing antibiotics and changing the drip-bags. There was blood in my urine as it drained through the tube, as was to be expected, but it became pinker as the hours passed. The pain had not subsided, but I tried to bear it, until, at 10 o’clock, unable to sleep because of it, I called a nurse to ask for more pain-killers. She had nothing other than panadol, however, and I refused it, saying it had no effect. I didn’t sleep at all that first night, and it was good that I had a room to myself, where no-one could hear me moaning and groaning.

In the morning, when the nurse came to check on me, I told her that I needed to go to the bathroom. “Oh, you can’t,” she said.

I replied, “But I must!” I didn’t want to lie there smelling of b.o.

“Well, in that case, I will accompany you.”

“Oh, no, thank-you, I’ll manage”, not sure that I would.

It required quite an effort to get up, and I was unstable on my feet, but slowly made my way to the bathroom, with the nurse pushing the drip-stand ahead of me. I closed the door and di-vested myself of the gown and the towel I’d wrapped around my waist, and proceeded to shave and shower, understanding why she’d not wanted me to do so; the blood in my urine became red-der from the strain of bending over. I returned to my bed, mission accomplished, and when the doctor came around later, I told him of the pain and he prescribed stronger medication which worked; he also gave me a sleeping-tablet for the second night. More visi-tors came during the day. I slept alright that night.

The hospital food was not bad ~ better, in fact, than had been the food in Adelaide hospital the year before, and all-vegetarian, of course. There were mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks of tea and buttered-bread, too. More visitors came: Maggie, Hong and mother, friends from Muar, the printer-lady, and in fact, quite a number of well-wishers. I felt like a celebrity.

On the third morning, the catheter and drip bags were removed, and later, I was told I could leave. I asked if I could stay for an ex-tra day, however, as I’d done in Adelaide the year before, and when asked why, said it was because I liked it so much there. (Actually, DV had suggested it, as he would be away in KL and wouldn’t return until Thursday morning to check me out) Permission was granted, and I relaxed with a book I’d brought with me.

As it turned out, DV was delayed the next day, so called to say Leong would pick me up, which he duly did. I was ready, waiting for him. I was told to take it easy for several weeks and not do anything strenuous (as if I would!) Leong signed me out, and I was given various kinds of medication.

DV had been and continued to be concerned about me, wonder-ing if I’d be sufficiently recovered for my birthday-bash on the 19th (we’d decided to hold it on that date rather than the 18th, as it was a Saturday), so things were not yet finalized. When he saw how I was, however, he set the wheels in motion, and so much had to be done in the remaining days: notices printed and sent out, food ordered, the venue to be arranged, and so on. Ronnie Lim ~ a good friend of DV who I also knew ~ suggested holding it on the third-floor terrace of his condominium-block on the sea-front just outside the town. I thought this was a better idea than having it in a restaurant, where seating-capacity would be limited. I’d not yet seen it, but when I did, I knew it was the best place. The lengthy terrace included a swimming-pool with a waterfall running into it, and a lily-pond at the other end. DV went ahead and reserved the whole terrace for the event, although we would use only part of it.

The final few days before the Big Day, there was a flurry of activ-ity, and the Gohs excelled. DV came up with the idea of a slide-show, and I had hurriedly to select photos of places I’d visited over my travels; Kenni-ji arranged it all on CD, replete with music to accompany the slides. Then, Sister Maggie came up from her desk in the shop to suggest a large poster ~ or scroll ~ to hang in the venue; and was so enthusiastic about it that I couldn’t refuse, even though it meant more work for me. I chose some photos of myself at various stages of my life, and had Yen Ha in Adelaide make me a collage of them; as always, she got back with it very fast ~ in fact, she did several for me to choose from ~ and finally, after asking her to alter some things, I was satisfied. Maggie had the poster professionally done nearby, and proudly came to show me. I was amazed! It measured 2 x 1 m, on pvc, and looked really good. She then asked what topic I would talk about at the time. Well, I rarely put a topic on my talks, but one suddenly came to mind, and I said, “The topic will be: ‘How Hock-ky I am!’ “ (Hock-ky is the Hokkien word for lucky, and the Gohs, like most Chinese people in Malacca, are Hokkien speaking).

We were hoping to get “Roads” printed before the 19th, but the way things were going, this wasn’t at all sure. The printer gave us a sample, and I was shocked by the number of errors. How could it be so different than the mss I’d given her? DV moved into dam-age-control mode and through his diplomacy as a businessman, over several visits to the press, was able to get most of the errors corrected; nothing more could be done about the rest. 200 copies were delivered on the 18th, enough to distribute the next day; we would get the rest later.

Apart from people in Malacca, I’d invited some from interstate ~ some of whom I’d known since 1973. Some confirmed that they would come, while others weren’t sure they’d be able to make it, and in fact, due to sudden illness, one family didn’t.

To cut down on the details here, the day came and everything was prepared, with stools for seating (we’d decided to dispense with tables). DV was hoping to start on time, and actually, we were not far out. The food was brought and laid out, buffet-style, and people began to arrive, some early, some punctually, and of course, some late. Eventually, over 120 people turned up, most of whom I knew, many by name. I felt both honored and humbled to think that so many should remember me.

DV opened the show by introducing me and explaining why we were all there, and although he’d prepared his speech and read from his notes, his delivery was impressive, and I was quite touched by what he said. He spoke in English, and Harry Teoh ~ someone who had translated for me many times over the past 30 years ~ did the same for him. This part over, it was time to eat, and I was invited to lead the way to the buffet-tables to help myself from the many dishes that had been nicely prepared by caterer-friends. Then, while everyone was eating, the slide-show began, and ran for about 30 minutes.

It was then my turn to speak, and I began by saying that I’d just completed sixty trips around the sun ~ even though ~ like every-one else ~ I’d simply sat on the Earth as it hurtled through space!

Mentioning people gathered there by name, I related how they’d come into my life and changed it. Although we don’t realize it, our lives are not simply ours, but are made up of the stories of count-less other people and things. We depend so much upon others that not only do we need them so much, but simply could not ex-ist without them.

Everything went well, and we parted, going our different ways. The next day, when I awoke, it had the substance of a dream.

Above, backing me up, as they had done so well and for so long, are the Goh Family. Back row, from left: Hock Leong (DV’s brother), Ming Wei (aka ‘Tiger’, Maggie’s second son), Yee Hong (DV’s second sister), Ming Yao (aka ‘Peanut’, Maggie’s eldest son), Chee Keng (his father), Joan (DV’s wife), DV (Dharmavira Hock Guan), Shin, (Yee Hong’s youngest daughter). Second row, from left: Lye Guat (Leong’s wife), Katrina (DV’s daughter), Matriarch-Diong See, Mei (Yee Hong’s eldest daughter), Maggie (DV’s first sister); and, flanking me, two young bodyguards: Leong’s son, Yuan Jia, and DV’s son, Yuan Cheng. (Unable to attend were Yee Hong’s husband, Sah Tee, and son, Siang).

Many things have happened since then, to me, to you, to every-one and everything, but I set my 60th as the goal for my memoirs, so will draw them to a close at that point, and leave you to go on with your adventures while I go on with mine. Who knows what will happen next? Should we not just go for the going, and enjoy the trip as far as we’re able to? Adieu.

Malacca, October 1st, 2006.

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