Friends. We all need friends. Some friends are good. Some are bad. Some comes and goes like a breeze. Some comes because they saw something I have but they don't. Then they go because they discover that I don't have it either. Others came and went away after getting what they needed. But I have a friend who sticks closer that a brother. A friend who stayed knowing that I do not have much to offer. A friend who stood in the gap when other fails. A friend who stayed when others went away. My friend in William Tan. A friend indeed. My good old friend. I am the good friend and he is the old one.
My good old friend William is on the right.
On 3rd September, William celebrate his birthday. I would like to wish him today because I want to be the first to wish him. Well, you don't know William. He does not want praises. He hides behind doing good but appears like a bad guy in front of others. He stood up for me when others misjudged me. He took the blame for my wrong. He serves when everyone is asleep. Driving me and my family countless times to the airport in the wee hours of the morning. He gave sacrificially, not wanting recognition. He stayed in wake with me when my eldest brother Steven pass away. He visited my parents on my behalf when I am too far way. He visited my dad in the hospital when I am still on the plane rushing home to visit my dad. He gave me advice when I am down. He puts across the truth in the most simple way. He has no air about himself. He may hate my for writing this blog to honor him. But again, William is so forgiving. I sit here at my apartment in Vietnam thinking. Wow, what a blessing it is for me to have a friend like him. Happy Birthday, my dear friend.
I become a para-counselor at Tea Talk CoRE Community as I joined the Let’s Talk program by chance. At first, I simply wanted to experience something interesting and new compared to other activities I took part in. The idea that I could be able to learn about counseling and to practice made me feel excited. But soon enough, I realized that the work is not that easy like it might seem. Being a para-counselor requires many skills and knowledge, which I think that there’s still a long way for me to go if I wish to become one.
When I finished the course, it was time for me to start putting into practice. I felt quite nervous and stressful as the thought that I was not ready and qualified to be a para-counselor stucked in my mind. But the mentors of ‘Let’s talk’ project, namely Mr. Michael, Ms Trang and Mrs Rhiana, did help me a lot, and then I overcame my worries as I started with my very first case.
My first so-called client is a girl who is a student in my university. She read my suggestion on my facebook account that I was trying to be a para-counselor and if there was anyone who want to try having a talk, they could contact me. So eventually she sent me a message via facebook, asked if whether we could arrange a meeting or not. Subsequently we met up a few days later at Tea Talk café.
Her problem is that there is no one who is actually willing to listen to her story or can understand what she has to face. For 3 hours, we talked and discussed about her story. In the end of the chat chat time, I asked how she felt after our talk. She smiled while saying that it was a big help. And at that moment, I finally understood how meaningful my work was. I don’t know if I really did anything, but I know that she felt comfortable and relaxed because finally there was someone willing to listen to her story and try to help. So I started thinking that maybe sometimes the main point is about not about solving the problem, but about sharing the story, empathizing with your client’s feelings, and more than that, being there when they need you most. With that thought, although that was just my first step but I feel I can do this, to reach out for people in need. The Lets Talk program has gave me the chance simple to do that.
Not everyone can have a car, nor everyone an iphone. But each of us has a MUM. No matter how you turn those 3 letters around, mum will always be mum. These are the 3 most powerful letters besides GOD.
My mum is 76 this year and she is still as strong as ever. At least in my mind, she never aged a bit. Yap Soh Tin, my mum, was born in Singapore in the year 1938. But her identification card says she was born in China. My mum never knew her actual date of birth, just her year of birth. She remembered, however, based on the Chinese lunar calendar, that she was born on the 4th day of the Chinese New Year.
Mum never really went to school. The year 1950, at a tender age of 12, mum had to work to put bread on the table. Or in the Asian context, I should say “to put rice on the table” as bread wasn’t the stable food in those days. My mum did the dishes, cleaned houses, and cooked for her siblings. My mum made pennies doing household chores for others. But little by little, my grandmother was able to use the money my mum made to buy a television. To afford a television in the 50s, one would be considered rich.
That is how hard my mum worked, yet she had no share of every cent she earned. My mum only envied her younger siblings enjoying the novelty of a new television. But my mum had to clean again. Clothes to wash and iron. Iron that used hot coal to heat up the plates. That was my mum’s childhood. A parentified child at the age of 12. My grandfather used opium and was practically not able to provide for the family.
Growing up, I remembered my mum trying to make extra income by cleaning factories and people’s houses. I also remembered how my sister Mary and I had to help with the delivery of clothes that my mum helped to iron. My mum worked hard. Very hard.
I recall vividly how my mum will ask the children to collect disposed detergent bottles. We, the children will collect the disposed bottles home, washed it and fill it half with water and half with bleach. Little did we the children realized that we were helping my mum to cheat. Selling diluted detergent as concentrated detergent. But that was how my mum knew to put food on the table. With her hands, my mum successfully raised 7 children. Today, she has 17 grandchildren and 1 great granddaughter.
Mum, you are the greatest. Thanks for showing us what it means to love; love sacrificially.
Definitely that ONE is not the number representing how many times I have been asked about Tea Talk. “What is Tea Talk?”, “Is there any special thing helping me differentiate between Tea Talk and other cafes in Hanoi?”… And if I’m not a deadline runner that time, I will be a talkative person for sure. And even if I have no time to lose, don’t worry, I’m not very bad at working and talking at the same time
But if you ask me that: “Could you tell me your best memorable story with Tea Talk, please?”, here is my answer: “Hmm… That’s a difficult question, could I have a moment to think about it?” “How long does “a moment” take?” It may be your 2nd question after staying too patient with me
I don’t know how long “a moment” takes, but I think my final answer, of course, is not the former. It exactly is…: “I’m sorry, we may often mark a book’s unfinished page for the next reading, but I can’t apply it to the special pages of my notebook about Tea Talk. It is special in all.” Opening it randomly, here are some of things that I will keep in mind forever…
A HOME AWAY FROM HOME
A drink, a book, and a corner of Faith room can make my day. A guitar with the very peaceful colour of sunset can dispel my sorrow, and even every “Tea Talk xin chao” greeting whenever opening the door seems to open my new own door also…
FROM NOTHING TO… NOTHING
Coming to Tea Talk with nothing special in my CV, but after one year working here as a volunteer, I will always bear in mind that: “The important thing is not how successful the result is, your attempt to do it deserves more than that”.
So, “nothing” may be the word at the beginning, but if you meet it again at the end, I believe you throughly understand this word in another way
LOVE NEVER FAILS
Though who you are, whatever you do, be successful or failed, love is always around and beside you. And “love will protect, love always hopes, love still believes when you don’t…” you. Don’t stop believing ;)
Despite not working here for almost a year, I still visit Tea Talk every time I feel homesick. And “homesick” because Tea Talk is my second family
Here are some details of my story with Tea Talk. How about you?
“Almost Lost!” a poem by Grace Ong, 15 year old, was inspired by Michael’s birth story. The poem takes the perspective from Michael’s eldest brother Kek Kong, who at a tender age of 12, faced the consequences of poverty but gave a courageous fight for survival.
May 7, 1969 My mother looks tired
She is pregnant
With the seventh child.
We already have enough
Three boys and three girls
We don’t need another
My mother says.
We don’t have much money
So we don’t know if the baby is a boy or girl
My mother doesn’t know what to do.
July 26, 1969
She drinks and swallows weird things
Red pills, and black coloured water-
It will make me feel better, she says.
She doesn’t seem better
My mother looks unwell
She’s aborting the baby
The medicine is going to kill it.
No, you can’t do that
I say in my heart
I don’t dare tell her though.
August 14, 1969
My mother is terribly ill
Overdose of medicine
She has a bad stomachache
Even though we have not much money
We still send her to the hospital.
This is dangerous
The doctor says shaking his head
You not only can kill your baby, but yourself too
He scolds my mother.
My mother’s energy is drawn
She must carry the baby to full term
I almost lost my mother
and also a new sister or brother.
January 16, 1970
My mother is in great pain.
The baby is to be born at home
We have no money for a doctor.
My grandmother is the midwife
My mother is struggling
The baby isn’t coming out
I wonder if it will be okay.
My mother screams in pain
Almost like a miracle
The baby finally comes out
It’s a boy
He’s not crying
Aren’t all newborns supposed to cry?
The clock is ticking
And we wait.
We finally hear his first breath
He’s finally crying
The baby is okay
We almost lost him.
We don’t need another one
My mother says again and again
We have no money
No food for him.
January 17, 1970
My parents have a plan
My baby brother is to be given away
A wealthy buddhist family
He will have a better life
My parents say.
I can’t take it any longer
How could my parents do this?
This baby is my brother
Not just an object.
I will jump off this building
If you give my brother away
I threaten my parents
I cannot lose him.
I will quit school
Work hard and buy milk for him
If you let him stay
I will not lose him.
My brother is kept
He will be okay
I almost lost him —
But he doesn’t know
One day he will lose me.
Steven Kek Kong Ong
26/12/ 1957 - /11/1999, Age 42
Grace Ong, enjoys creative works like writing poems, song and music. She is a student at Concordia International School. She loves a good game of soccer and basketball, and being silly with her friends.