Recently, I got the privilege to speak to Mr Tan Chee Boon. Mdm Tng Gim Hoong, Mr Tan’s mother and a beloved client of Xin Yuan Community Care, recently passed away. In order to properly commemorate her, I seeked to learn more about Mdm Tng through Mr Tan’s sharings, and understand what she was like as a person before she passed.
“Mdm Tng had always been very enthusiastic about going to Xin Yuan,” shared Mr Tan about his mother. “Before everything was shut down because of Covid, she would walk with the maid to Xin Yuan and would spend many hours at the facilities. She was particularly fond of the exercises that Xin Yuan provided for the elderly, as well as the physiotherapy to assist in the elderly’s mobility.”
After the lockdown commenced, Mdm Tng was no longer able to visit Xin Yuan as often as she used to. As a result, her mobility was impacted; the two years of quarantine made it difficult for her to go out and get the physical activity she required. After restrictions were lifted, she would still go to Xin Yuan for sessions, albeit not as frequently as before, and she was wheelchair bound due to mobility issues.
“Mdm Tng has always been a sociable person,” described Mr Tan. Indeed, he shared how Mdm Tng would go to Xin Yuan to chat with the other seniors and to befriend more people. Her outgoing and friendly personality made her well-loved by the community, and on top of that, Mdm Tng always felt a strong desire to give back to the community who helped her, hence was always looking for ways to assist those around her. Mr Tan said: “She was a giver, and never asked for anything in return, and would never boast about her contributions.”
Mr Tan shared with me about how Mdm Tng was illiterate, and did not have any education after primary school. She had no income apart from that given to her by her children. “Yet, she never once thought of keeping the money to herself,” Mr Tan said. “She would donate one third or even half of the money to the communities she was apart of, such as Xin Yuan. She would also donate under her childrens’ names as well.”
Another community she regularly donated to was Papaya North, a reading community (fact check this) She was even the chairperson of this group which really inspired Mr Tan. “Despite not having any education over primary school, and being illiterate, she still managed to become the chairperson of a reading community. I think that my mum is really super gung ho.”
When looking back at some fond memories Mr Tan shared with his mother, he remembered a cruise experience arranged by Xin Yuan on a Genting cruise in 2019, where himself, his sister, wife, and Mdm Tng were able to spend an extended period of time together. Mr Tan describes how he feels very grateful for the experience as he genuinely enjoyed himself, and had lots of fun with his family.
Upon asking him of a word he would use to describe Mdm Tng, he shared that Mdm Tng was a very selfless person. Never once would she think of keeping anything to herself, and she put others before herself.
“She never wanted to bother anyone, not even her kids,” Mr Tan explained. “We would constantly ask her if she had enough money, if we had given her enough. Sometimes [my siblings and I] would feel like we want to give her more, yet she would always respond with the same thing, ‘I already have everything that I need.’ ”
After Mdm Tng’s passing, Mr Tan spoke with one of the MPs in the region, Mr Chee Hong Tat. From there, Mr Tan found out that Mdm Tng had raised an idea to the MP about building a shelter over the crosswalk nearby Xin Yuan, to assist the less mobile in that area, and the idea was eventually accepted and implemented. She told nobody of this–not even her son. And after learning this information from the MP, Mr Tan was shocked that his mother would do such an uplifting and kind gesture for her community, yet tell no one about it. “It was never about the pride for her,” he said. “As long as she could help, she was happy. It is very surprising as I heard all her contributions from third party sources, but never [Mdm Tng] herself. Even the MP came up to me and told me about what Mdm Tng has done for the elderly folks! Mdm Tng is really special as she has never once asked for anything from anyone, yet will always try to find ways and means to give to the people around her every time.”
I also got to learn about Mr Tan’s family dynamic with Mdm Tng, and he fondly remembers the times spent with his mother. He also shared at one point, “I had no idea how blessed I was to have a very stable home. My mother was a homemaker, something I took for granted at the time. Because of her, I always knew I had a home to go to, that there was always food. My parents didn’t smoke or fight. I had everything a home should be.
“The irony is, I thought my home was normal. But in hindsight, I realise it was actually abnormal. I am so lucky to have such a kind and loving family.”
One particular event of the year was the most memorable for him: Chinese New Year. Every CNY, his mother would bake huge numbers of cookies to sell, working day and night without rest. It was something she prided herself very much on because she knew that the money she made would belong to her. It would be her hard-earned money.
“She really was an excellent cook. Every year, there would be a round robin at my place amongst my relatives on who would get cookies– and they all wanted the cookies,” Mr Tan chuckled.
Mr Tan said that he could always see the pride and accomplishment written on his mother’s face when she baked. The whole house would become a “storm”, as he described it, with his sister and himself also getting roped in to help with the baking. Once, they made charcoal love letters together, but it wasn’t with the conventional oven method; instead, they sat in front of the stove for the whole day, making love letters together.
Said Mr Tan: “These experiences were super memorable for me. My mother impressed me with her baking skills as she learnt them all by herself. Previously, before getting married, she did not have any of the skills yet.”
To close our conversation, I asked Mr Tan how Mdm Tng would like to be remembered.
“Probably as someone who helped make her immediate surroundings a better place,” described Mr Tan. “She left the places she was in better than when she found them. And there are different ways to look at it, but Mdm Tng is not the type of person to ask people to thank her for anything she’d done, all she really wanted was to give back to the places that she felt had helped her too.
“Mdm Tng was selfless, kind, and always put others before herself.
“She was very open to letting go, very generous, and never kept anything to herself, as evident in her cooking.
“I’m glad she’s my mom.”
The conversation I had with Mr Tan was incredibly eye opening. His sharings of Mdm Tng really helped me to feel closer to her, and connect with her humble, selfless character. Despite the fact that Mdm Tng cannot be with us here today, her contributions to her community, as well as the impact she left on those around her, will continue to live on. Rest in Peace Mdm Tng.
Xin Yuan Volunteer Shayna Ong – RGS