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The bad news came as I was writing the piece on Michelle Yeoh and her mammoth dinner.

Uncle Koh’s son called this morning to say he had lost his beloved father. I feel so sad to lose a very dear friend but I was not surprise.

I first got to know Uncle Koh Leng Seah in 2005 when I used to take Alexandra to the kindergarten near Peel Road each morning. Before class start, we used to visit the playground just near where he stayed. Alexandra love to play on the swings and see-saw there. Whenever he sees her playing, he would tease or smile at my little girl. And from a simple yet affectionate gesture from this senior citizen, our beautiful friendship was born. He was to become my oldest friend.

For nearly nine years, we used to go back to Peel Road as often as we could, just to visit him because he was such a pleasant being. Uncle Koh is so different from other old people. Far from being grumpy or reserved, he was very humble, warm, friendly and cheerful and that was why we enjoy his company so much despite the big generation gap.

Due to his very advance age, he had some hearing problem and you need to talk very loudly to him. Sometimes he could not hear properly and our conversation is more like “chicken and duck talk.” “Cow head does not fit horse mouth” as the Cantonese people would like to say. You asked him whether he has eaten his meal and he would reply that the weather is hot and he need a hair-cut soon. A better way to converse with him is by using hand-signs or just write down what you want to say in a piece of paper and show it to him as he still has pretty good eye-sight.

Uncle Koh came from China in 1945 after the war has ended, leaving behind a wife and son. He came on a steamer that took almost ten days to reach Malaya and landed in Port Klang. He then found a job as a coolie, carrying goods on his back, first for a rice dealer and later a grocery shop, earning RM30 dollars a month plus accommodation, food and hair-cutting allowances.

According to him, it cost only 80 cents to have a hair cut in those days. Life was very tough for Uncle Koh and his new family. To supplement his income, he even dabbled in “ji far.” As luck would have it, a patron did not turn up to collect his winnings and it goes to Uncle Koh who used it to buy a flat as an investment. Life began to get better for him from that day onwards.

After having retired as a coolie, Uncle Koh went on to rear ducks and chickens and also plant vegetables on a small plot of land near Chan Sow Lin Road for sale at the Pudu Market before being evicted in 2005. He then moved to stay in a flat on Peel Road.

A true-blue Teochew, Uncle Koh’s diet is very simple. Throughout his whole life, everyday, for lunch and dinner, he ate nothing but steamed fish and plain porridge and sometimes bitter gourd and chicken which he cooked himself. But he could not do without his wine called “Ng Kah Pei” which he must have a small cup before going to bed. He believed these are his secret to longevity.

At the age of 95, Uncle Koh did not have any serious medical problem. No heart ailment, no diabetes, no hypertension, nothing; he don’t have to visit any doctor and he could walk faster than any man half his age. He could climb up staircases before you could say Jack Robinson. But what really made him stood out was his amazing memory. Despite his age, he could still remember the name, age, year of birth, zodiac sign and occupation of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in detail. There were almost 60 of them. He could remember time, days, months and years very well too. You could not find a better time-keeper than Uncle Koh who has a watch on his wrist 24 hours a day. According to his daughter, he was still wearing his watch when he drew his last breath and of course he was buried still wearing it.

“You have not come to see me for two months already!” he pointed out when I visited him one day several months ago.

That was before he had a fall on Chinese New Year’s Eve as he went downstairs to collect his morning papers and letters. His knees were injured and so too, his chest. Uncle Koh did not recover from that fall. He became ill and had to be hospitalized for some time. He died at Tung Shin Hospital this morning, surrounded by his family who loved him very much.

This coming Sunday morning, he will join his wife and mother at Nirvana Memorial Park in Semenyih.

Goodbye, Uncle Koh. Rest in peace. The playground at Peel Road will be a lonely place without you.

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