Saturday, 14th July 1984
At around 8 am in the morning, my mother came into my room. She said that she had some bad news. Before she could continue, my heart dropped and I knew something had happened to my father.
I do not remember very much after that.
I do remember that by around noon, my mother, after keeping herself composed for nearly 12 hours, was lying in bed - emotionally drained and not able to move - being comforted by relatives and friends. The house was swarming with people and The Star newspaper arrived with the following article on the front page: "Asian Games medalist dies in accident". Above it, a photo of my father: "Dr Chan... played a major role in promoting rugby in Malaysia".
Literally hundreds of people came in and out of the house, the telephone kept ringing and the telegrams kept coming. It was such a buzz of activity, and I, in the midst of it all, felt as though I were in a dream.
In that dream, I was a puppet. My movements did not seem like my own; it was as if they were orchestrated by some unknown force. I felt a deafening numbness. Following the motions, I just did what I was told to do. Quite unexpectedly, everything arranged itself according to some kind of plan. Someone notified relatives and friends around the world of what happened, got the windows and mirrors covered with white mah-jong paper, arranged for the body to be brought home, had a coffin selected, vigils and prayers organised, and so on. The entire wake just seemed to come together on its own.
What in fact happened, I realised, was that everyone was volunteering to do whatever they could to ensure everything that had to be done was done right. To an observer who did not know Chan Onn Leng, it would have seemed odd that the death of one person could bring so many apparently disparate elements to work so closely together, that hundreds of people from around the country - and many from abroad - would drop everything they were doing to come and pay their last respects and help organise the wake.
But for those who knew my father, it seemed that there was just not enough that they could do: to justify their love for him; to justify his life.
Such was the love and respect my father commanded, even after his death...
Saturday, 5th January 1935
It was a new moon, and a partial solar eclipse occured somewhere.
The youngest child of Chan Sze Onn and Chan Bin Neo was born.
Chan Sze Onn was the youngest son of Chan Fook Ngan, a first generation immigrant from China who arrived at Kuala Lumpur in his youth. My grandafther had 3 other brothers, Sze Pong, Sze Jin and Sze Kiong. All of them were prodigious scholars. Sze Pong was Victoria Institution's first Queen's Scholar in 1900 (only 2 Queen's Scholarships were awarded for each state per year). Then in 1903, Sze Jin won the Queen's Scholarship as well. Both went to Cambrindge; the former to take up medicine; the latter, law. Sze Onn, one of VI's top students at the time, did not get to go abroad as his mother would not have all 3 of them away at the same time. Instead, he became part of VI's first batch of local teachers recruited by VI's first Headmaster, Mr. Bennett Eyre Shaw. This was in 1904 and Sze Onn was only 15 years old!
That Sze Onn was as academically prodigious as his brothers is without question. My aunt recounts a story of Sze Onn as a student: "He was notably the best scholar at VIKL of his day. I remember him telling me of the occasion when the Euclid (geometry) teacher gave them a problem. The teacher himself could not solve it and Sze Onn too spent the night working on it without solution. Then he found the answer in his own hand when he woke the next morning. In class, the teacher asked if anyone had solved it: none. Then he looked at Sze Onn's expression and knew he had it."
Sze Onn then went on to start an accounting firm in Singapore, Chan Sze Onn & Co with a few others, including Kwa Siew Tee (who was the future father-in-law of former Singapore Prime Minister, Lee Kwan Yew.) The accounting firm still exists today.
Sze Onn passed away when he was only 49, only a few years after my father was born. Thus the task of bringing my father up was left to my grandmother, and my aunt, who played a significant role in his early education.