Sunday, October 24

Of personal heroes, mentors and ‘sifus’ – a tribute to them all


Edgar Ong

WE all go through life having come into the presence of, having met or been instructed and taught by, been touched or helped by our fellow journeymen along the way.

Each and every one of these personal hero, mentor or ‘sifu’ could have either lent us a helping hand, taken us by the shoulder and showed us the way, gave us a little push along life’s rough road or had opened the doors of perception and opportunities for us to go through.

These are our personal guardian angels – and we owe what we are today to them for that nudge, that nod, that helpful introduction and indeed, that timely word of wisdom or colossal push that has made our life’s journey a much smoother and more successful one. For without any of them, we might have gone down a different path, pursued another unknown career or have had an opportunity forever lost.

Today, I write about some of those whom I consider had been instrumental in my personal journey since the day I had entered school in the mid-1950s. Many of those named are still with us today; some have gone to the Lord.

Obviously, our parents were our first heroes: Mum and Dad for the early years before I had gone to school, together with some elders in the family. I had more than my share, Grandpa and Grandma, uncles, aunties and cousins too many sometimes to recall who were the significant ones and who we had less interaction with.

But they had all contributed in one way or another to my growing up experience; good fortune had ensured that I had a memorable childhood.

Datuk Song Thian Eng (right) receiving his ‘Datukship’ in 1993.

In school, our class teachers, headmasters and eventually principals and other senior classmates; mine was blessed with names like Chong En Nyuk, Beatrice Fu, Teo Soon Tze to Ong Kee Pheng; and in secondary school, the famous and fierce Datuk Song Thian Eng (forever immortalised as ‘Tiger Song’) with teachers like Arthur Cotterell, Ian Gamble, Fred Black, V. Kumaran and Jamal Mohideen.

The in-between years when I had taken a more serious interest in writing had brought forth a mentor, Desmond Leong, then of ‘The Vanguard’ English daily newspaper; for whom I had written about books, movies, music and personal philosophy for more than five years – he was my guru in the world of journalism.

As I began my working career in marketing in the Inchcape Group, it was both John Lee (now retired and residing in Spain) and Geoff Shepherd (R.I.P.) who had taken me into the Borneo Company. While there, both my grand-uncle Ong Tiaw Sian and Brian Crane were instrumental in showing me the ropes and teaching me all about the ins and outs of the trade.

Desmond Leong, formerly of The Vanguard.

I also owed my career in both Borneo and later Sebor Sarawak to my colleagues Shookry Gani, Benjamin Chen, Kho Boon Kuang and Lim Swee Jin.

My years in the motor trade were primarily guided by the late great Alan Tan Tatt Huat of Borneo Motors/ NBT Toyota and working for the Japanese my mentor was Hiroyuki Yamada of Toyoda Tsusho Kaisha of Nagoya. They had all given of their own experience and had treated me like a brother or a son – the times were exhilarating and the years were full of glorious successes as well as spectacular failures.

I had spent 14 years of my working career within Inchcape, Toyota and Sime Darby/Auto Bavaria, during which time I was totally immersed into the social life and the work culture respectively of the British, the Japanese and the Germans.

Ong Tiaw Sian talking to Brian Crane – BCL, 1970.

Today, I feel like I have lived a most interesting life among the world’s most ‘conflicted’ powers; it’s only the Americans, French and Australians whom I’ve not directly worked with, although in my later life in film production I had worked alongside all these three nationalities!

I was fortunate too to have travelled widely in my job functions; during the time with Inchcape and Toyota I had transferred and had worked for a few years throughout Sarawak, Sabah and Brunei. My years in Sibu, Sarikei, Miri, Bintulu, Kuala Belait and Kota Kinabalu were formative years and I had made many friends within the industry and also increased my own personal self-awareness of the many varied lifestyles, cultures and societal differences among the people whom I have met and worked alongside with.

Due to work, incentive trips or on my own personal time, I have travelled the length and breadth of most parts of Asia, Australia/New Zealand, the Pacific, Europe, the UK, USA, China and Japan. There are two continents left I’ve yet to visit, Africa and South America.

John Lee of BCL—retired, in Spain.

Travel widens the mind and it also increases and aids in one’s personal perception and understanding of other’s beliefs, cultures and lifestyles. As a lifelong foodie, and a compulsive photographer, travel also exposes one to new culinary delights and adventures and hitherto unseen panoramas and photo opportunities abound wherever you go!

Later on in life in my own personal career and business, I was fortunate to have met and being mentored in the film business by the great film producer and director Chandran Rutnam of Sri Lanka, with whom I have been in partnership since 1987 – a lengthy 34 years! We have together produced more than five feature films and countless documentaries.

A shout-out too to my other film associates in ScubaZoo Images based in Sabah – to Simon Christopher, Simon Enderby and Jason Isley.

My recently departed friend and partner in film locations, Eric Thein, had been with me since 2000. In Kuching, my closest associate has always been Adrian Cornelius. My daughter Dyan has been in the same trade with me since Year 2000.

In 1986, some 35 years ago, I was ‘born again’ and had found the Lord after being born in a Buddhist/Taoist family since birth: the Anglican Church of St Faith’s at Kenyalang with Canon Michael Lim and Deaconess Eleanor Goh (the late) were my bible-bearers.

Alan Tan Tatt Huat – Borneo Motors/NBT in 1980.

Since 2016, I have worshipped at Tabuan Jaya Anglican Church (TJAC) with my spiritual guides and mentors Rev George Tay and his wife Eunice, from Singapore. They have both been in Kuching for eight years and come the end of this year, will be returning to Singapore to start a Caleb Generation Church Mission there.

Without them, I would have personally backslided and still be in the wilderness today. I thank and bless them both and pray for their continued success in bringing the light into the darkness wherever they go. Their good work here will be continued by others.

Photo from 2017 shows (from left) Bishop Danald, Madam Eunice and Rev Tay.

I am forever grateful to the Right Reverend Bishop Datuk Danald Jute, the Anglican Bishop for Sarawak and Brunei, for continuing the good work of the Lord in our midst and for his brave stand and public pronouncements against all matters racial, political, religious and social injustice and imbalances — he is a hero of mine!

To all those whom I have specifically named, for their personal efforts, and their saving grace and the time that they have taken to spend with those around them, and especially to me, I would record my loving and sincere thanks and may God continue to bless you all in everything that you do.