IT would be hard to better the feat of an octogenarian who organised the launching of a book he started writing six years ago and the celebration of his 81st birthday party all in one – and in the garden of his home at that with more than 100 guests in attendance.
Former lawman Leo Ha Thiam Luke has done just that – and more.
At an age when most people would put their feet up and enjoy their golden years, he took up the challenge when he was 75 years old to recollect his work and life experiences and put them down in a book.
He launched the book and held his birthday bash simultaneously at his Miri home this year.
That, however, is not all as he holds another record of sorts – for working 34 years and five months in uniform service, and another 22 years in the private sector after his mandatory retirement from government service.
In all, he had been actively employed for 56 years.
Ha is now promoting and marketing the book himself.
“I have a stack in my car and whenever I can, I will sell to friends who want to buy. I’m happy I was able to make an appointment with the Mayor of Miri and sold him 10 copies. He’s a real gentleman,” he said.
Before, during, and after WWII
Ha was born in Kuching on Dec 2, 1937, but now lives in Miri.
After completing his secondary education at St Thomas’ School, Kuching, in December of 1956, he joined the Sarawak Constabulary as a probationary inspector on Jan 1, 1957, when Sarawak was still a British colony.
He attended a 10-month officer’s basic training at the Singapore Police Academy and on his return, served in the Sarawak Constabulary under the then colonial government.
When the Sarawak Constabulary became part of the Royal Malaysia Police after Malaysia was formed on Sept 16, 1963, he continued to serve in various capacities such as general duty, prosecution (Special Branch), and traffic crime branch.
He also served with the Police Field Force and Border Scouts to keep law and order and battle the communist insurgents during the Emergency after the end of Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation.
Ha and his men were later deployed in an operation code-named Ops Tayang to keep the pirates from the southern Philippines at bay following a spate of robberies and kidnappings on the isolated islands facing the eastern seaboard of Sabah.
He took part in three operational tours, each lasting six months, between the 1980s and early 1990s.
For his meritorious services, he was bestowed the Ahli Mangku Negara (AMN) by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the Pingat Jasa Pahlawan Negara (PJPN) by the federal government, and the Pingat Terpuji Jubli Emas (PTE) from Sarawak.
His book was originally titled ‘34 Years and Five Months of the Good, the Bad, and the Dirt’ but was changed at the last minute.
The book shares his memories from work – first as a public servant and then as an officer in the Royal Malaysia Police Force.
It’s also about the officers and men, especially those who lost their lives maintaining law and order, and protecting the country during the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation, and the communist insurgency in Sarawak.
“I have to write about the truth or else it isn’t worth writing,” he said.
A well-read man, Ha quoted Han Suyin about telling the truth, “I write as an Asian, with the pent-up emotions of my people. What I say will annoy people who prefer the more conventional myths brought back by writers on the Orient. All I can say is that I try to tell the truth. Truth, like surgery, may hurt but it cures.”
The launch of the book took place on a lovely warm evening and was attended by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Miri, the Right Reverend Richard Ng; VIP guests; Ha’s siblings; relatives; and friends from all over Sarawak.
Ha’s special guests, Tan Sri Datuk Amar Leo Moggie Irok and his wife Puan Sri Datin Amar Elizabeth Moggie, specially flew in from Kuala Lumpur for the event.
Also present were Tenaga Nasional Berhad Chairman’s Office general manager Datuk Chong Huck Joo and Ha’s former colleagues from the police.
The emcee, Robin, Ha’s nephew, drove all the way from Brunei to celebrate the occasion with his uncle despite a heavy work schedule.
A beaming Ha told the gathering, “I took more than five years to write – sometimes, I would key in slowly at night. I was then already 75. Even the computer was much younger!
“Everything was from memory. If I had not written this book, I could honestly say I would have let my men down. Their stories and mine must be told honestly and sincerely. Now that my handwritten and typed copy is in printed form, I couldn’t be happier.
“I have been waiting for some years to see my dream come true. I’m 81 today. It feels really good.”
Ha organised the event with the help of a few relatives to make it a friendly family-based occasion. His garden was transformed into a special venue as Robin called everyone to attention for the start of the beautiful and simple ceremony, organised by the author himself.
Even the finger food was catered by a relative and an old friend.
Ha said the launching was like a family affair – simple, yet moving for him. He was overcome by emotions in his welcoming speech and could not continue for a few seconds, after mentioning his long career and why he decided to write the book.
His gratitude towards family and his men came to the fore and was felt by all.
Ha was happy that the relatives of his wife, Imelda John, were present to give him moral support.
Peter Lai, a very special uncle, drew the portrait for the book cover. Lai is a popular figure and well known portrait artist in Miri.
Never betray trust
Ha admitted that as a police officer, he was also a public servant and a servant of the people whose trust, he pointed out, must never be betrayed.
“I’ll always be loyal and stand by a superior who is honest and transparent. I always tried to perform my duties beyond expectations.
“Sometimes, it was very difficult to be nice, good or pleasing to people. There were bias, envy, politics, trials, tribulations and obstacles – blue-eyed boys and yes men too. I went through all of them to survive. It was not a bed of roses.”
In his book, Ha wrote that the foundation of his career was laid during his seven years’ service with the Sarawak Constabulary before Sarawak was part of the formation of Malaysia. He was always reminded by his seniors, especially the expats, to serve with honesty and integrity.
Over the years, he continued to believe that public servants should not put themselves before the people and the community.
“They should make decisions with equanimity, empathise with the people they serve and use their authority ethically to provide better service.
“It takes a lot of patience, strength and a sense of belonging and responsibility to be a public servant. The way you act may determine the level of impact your action has on the people you serve. Your conscience should always be clear.”
Life after the police
For 22 years, Ha worked in the private sector as a security manager, an executive and a consultant in a hospital, the timber, palm oil, oil and gas, and ship-building industries, as well as the Bakun hydro project.
Working in the private sector after his retirement kept him fit and healthy. His last job was with Marriot Hotel, Miri, as a loss and preventive manager. He called it quits in April 2013.
Today, Ha remains firm friends with former members of the force who served with him. His heart has always been with the police and he updates himself by reading and watching “everything about the force” in the media and on TV.
He is often saddened by news of police personnel getting involved not only in corruption and crimes, but also drugs.
He salutes those who put their lives on the line while performing their duties on land, sea, and air for the well-being of the country.
“Today, the life of a policeman is different from my time. Now, he is exposed to more risks in keeping the streets safe and going after hardcore criminals. So we should always appreciate them as they are people too.”
A good read
Chan Kuan Lau, a retired Agriculture Department staff member and Ha’s long-time friend, said he really enjoyed reading the book.
“It’s a very lively history book with many different episodes of life in the Sarawak Constabulary and the Malaysian Police Force based in Sarawak from 1957 to 1991.
“I too lived through those critical periods in Malaysia’s political history. Ha’s memory is so sharp that it seems I was present to witness all the events he wrote about with my own eyes as they unfolded.
“He’s very humorous too. Had he not written about his encounters and experiences in such detail, no one would have known about them. I hope friends and supporters will buy this valuable book,” he added.
Ha said he would try his best to promote the book in Miri, hoping his friends would help to market it.
Indeed, it’s a book worth reading, all based on first-hand accounts with no holds barred.