A lonely swan from the sea flies,
To alight on puddles it does not deign.
Nesting in the poplar of pearls
It spies and questions green birds twain:
"Don't you fear the threat of slings,
Perched on top of branches so high?
Nice clothes invite pointing fingers,
High climbers god's good will defy.
Bird-hunters will crave me in vain,
For I roam the limitless sky."
He was a good man.
He was a very talented linguist, good with words, with a ton of wisdom in between.
He was a teacher, a mentor, a wise man. A truly learned man.
He was a man who straddled two centuries,20th and 21st centuries. I personally think that it is hard to find a simple humble Foochow man and teacher like Hii Wen Hui. He was a true scholar of both languages : English and Chinese at their highest, literary and philosophical,levels. His mind was a library or storehouse of knowledge. There are not many of them left in Sibu. He used to say that a man's name need not be proceeded by the beating of gongs. He was quietly a great man to all of us who knew and loved him.
The Chinese have always admired men and women who could write poems, paint, write good calligraphy and have expertise in the martial arts. But being far away from China, and Sarawak born, my uncle Hii Wen Hui had most of these expertise, and more importantly, had great mastery of the English language. His Chinese articles were admired. His speeches were thunderously applauded. His own personal writings featured his great talents in the letters, but they remained private and were not for the public eye.
Born of a poor family, he not only educated himself by dint of hardwork, but educated all his siblings. There is also a common saying, a man can always father children, but often it is the eldest son who educates the brood. My uncle was one of these great sons.
He struggled as a young student, quelling hunger pangs in order to be in school and scoring the highest marks possible. He tapped rubber in the early hours of the day before he went to school so that he could put rice and salt on the table for his parents and his younger siblings, and at the same time keeping them in school.
He was qualified to enter university during those colonial days, but he himself curtailed his own ambitions so that his ailing father could live on, and his brothers and sisters could go to school. He also made a great decision to marry the love of his life, my aunt. He astounded the community by bringing up six brothers and sisters in all while he was a student himself and then as a young father with his own children. That was the usual plight of young Foochows at that time. He bore all with stoicism and a great sense of humour. He did not make any mistake in his choices in life, he once said during one of his birthdays. He was honourable as a son and brother, honourable as a husband and father.
As a teacher in Chung Cheng, Sg. Maaw, Kwong Hua, and then the Rajang Secondary School, he literally squeezed English out of the Foochow boys and girls who came under him. I still remembered how he used two pieces of glass and mimeograph ink to make copies of English exercises from his stencils. He typed well and marked every word of his students' work in order to get them on their feet and get good jobs which required English. It was hard work. But it all paid off as he had so many "followers" and fans. His English grammar was impeccable.
Words from him were very valuable. And he was always very sharp in his judgement. He was never wrong. He gave good counselling so many simple folks came to see him for advice. Many people's lives changed for the better because they sought counselling from him.
His great sense of responsibility led him to bring up a good brood of educated children who are now serving in their respective adopted countries and in Malaysia. He was very strict with his children and he was frugal in his ways. He was more strict with his children than with his students. There was one time when he punished his young daughter by putting her in the dark in the living room, to teach her a lesson. He made his point and she saw his point.
Never a man to spend a single cent in a worthless manner, he lived simply according to his principles. He never had more shirts than he needed. He never bought an extra pair of shoes he would leave to gather dust. He pitied people who wasted time, money and life.
His only entertainment was the radio and later the tv. But his greatest joy was the brotherhood of ten brothers. Many of his "brothers" had gone before him. And for more than sixty years, this brotherhood of theirs saw the upheavals, the down turns of Sarawak history. They also saw the progress made by those around them and their own families growing into responsible citizens of the world.
The brotherhood was his joy and his utopia. It was his and his "nine brothers' idealism. Nothing could corrupt their beliefs and well being. And like the stories of "All Men are brothers" (Water Margin), my uncle had lived a good life. He was not a bully, he was not a man who turned against his own brother.
After his retirement from teaching, he became a personal assistant to a multi billionaire. Humble as he was, he never made himself rich. He did what he had to do. To help the towkay in as many ways as possible. Perhaps he was too, like a good son to him but he never asked for anything more. Like the ancient scholars, he asked only to be trusted. And he gave his all to his friend. His honour was was reward.
No one could be a better son than my uncle. He looked after both his parents for the whole of their lives, until they passed away at very old age. No one could deny that he was one of the most filial sons in the Rejang basin.
He was also very filial to his mother in law, my grandmother. And not many could be so good and so kind to a mother in law in such an extra ordinary manner. In his humourous ways, he had pampered her in so many ways, especially by calling her "Neh, Neh," all the time. Every sentence he uttered would be punctuated by this endearing term. The Foochows call this, "up sound,neh, down sound, neh". (Siong siang neh, ah siang neh.) Neh is old foochow endearing term for mother.
How did he show that he was a filial son in law? Simple : by being thoroughly faithful to his wife of 53 years. That must be a record by Sibu standard.
We will always remember him for his great sense of humour. In times of hardships, he laughed with us, in times of pain and suffering, he told jokes, and in times of mourning, he alleviated our pains with his wisdom.
His passing will leave a large hole in our hearts. He had lived an honourable life in order to fill our future with honour and strong beliefs that great traditional values must continued to be upheld by real example. His sincerity cannot be merely described by my words.
He was an exemplary ,faultless,honourable Foochow man. A good man. A great man. A man Sibu people can be proud of.
As We Look Back.
As we look back over time
We find ourselves wondering .....
Did we remember to thank you enough
For all you have done for us?
For all the times you were by our sides
To help and support us .....
To celebrate our successes
To understand our problems
And accept our defeats?
Or for teaching us by your example,
The value of hard work, good judgement,
Courage and integrity?
We wonder if we ever thanked you
For the sacrifices you made.
To let us have the very best?
And for the simple things
Like laughter, smiles and times we shared?
If we have forgotten to show our
Gratitude enough for all the things you did,
We're thanking you now.
And we are hoping you knew all along,
How much you meant to us.