Vesak Day

From Singapore to Sabah: Vesak Day

The following is part 3 of a series written from Sandakan, Yong Vui Kong’s hometown in Sabah, East Malaysia, by Second Chances co-founder Kirsten Han:

The temple’s crowded. So crowded that we have to go to another (smaller) one, situated three floors up in a row of old shophouses. It’s Vesak Day today. Datuk Chua and Vui Kong’s family want to go to a temple to say a prayer for him, as well as take part in the ritual of bathing the Buddha on his behalf. They know it would mean a lot to him.

Vui Kong's aunt Mary and younger sister Vui Fung
Mary with Tawau MP Datuk Chua Soon Bui

Later in the day, Vui Fung takes us to meet Vui Kong’s godfather, who everyone calls Wah Suk. After Vui Kong left the plantation, he’d gone to stay in this man’s house. He moved about – either in Sandakan itself, or in Kota Kinabalu or even Kuala Lumpur –  in search of work, but often went back over a period of 7 or 8 years.

Wah Suk got to know Vui Kong as a small boy. When Vui Kong went with his mother to the market (where she worked at the time), he would play with Wah Suk’s sons. After Vui Kong left the plantation at about the age of 10, he stayed with Wah Suk whenever he was in Sandakan.

“Vui Kong’s a good kid. He was very filial. He said he wanted to earn money so his mother could live more comfortably,” Wah Suk tells us. “He said when he was grown up he would earn money to take care of us.”

After dropping out of primary school, Vui Kong worked various jobs – such as washing cars and working in kitchens – to earn money for himself and his family. He even went as far as Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur for work. “He was always trying to find work. He needed money, but he never stole. He always worked to earn money.”

It was the second time he went to Kuala Lumpur for work when things went wrong. He fell in with the wrong crowd, impressed and seduced by “very good friends” who took him out to restaurants and bought him presents.

“He valued brotherhood and his friends. He said they were very good to him, that’s why he trusted them so much,” Vui Fung says.

“He made the wrong friends and went down the wrong path,” Wah Suk keeps saying, over and over. “He doesn’t have a bad heart. He was very good to me. It makes my heart ache to think that he made this big mistake.”

“When I went to see him in Singapore 2, 3 years ago, he told me that I would have to take care of myself now, because he can’t take care of me anymore.”

Wah Suk looks at us, his brows knitted together. “Do you think Vui Kong has a chance?”

It’s a question we’ve been asked many times since we’ve got here. We never really know what to say, because it’s a question we often ask ourselves. All we can say is that we will keep on hoping, keep on telling his story, and never give up. And they should never give up on Vui Kong, either.

Wah Suk nods. “Vui Kong is a good kid. If there is anything I can do to help him, I’ll be there.”

He continues, “I hope the people of Singapore can help him. I hope they will help plead for a second chance for Vui Kong with the President. I hope the President of Singapore will look at Vui Kong’s circumstances, and at Vui Kong.”

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