The Chua Lam calligraphy exhibition has come to a perfect close, marking a significant moment registering his sentimental attachment to Malaysia and Singapore.
Although I was unable to attend the exhibition at Sin Chew Daily’s hall and meet an old buddy, I feel honoured to have taken part in its preparation.
Despite the long distance and his illness, Lam flew in all the way personally
to officiate the exhibition and deliver a welcome speech. Notably, over a hundred pieces of his calligraphy works were booked almost instantaneously. While those who managed to grab his works were invariably elated, others had to be disappointed.
Those visiting the exhibition on the second and third days—from all over Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia—had to be disappointed, as all his works had been taken up by then. Indeed, we felt really apologetic for that.
The happiest were none other than the media friends because to their pleasant surprise, former actress and beauty queen Cherie Chung showed up unexpectedly at the opening ceremony, and had a family picture with all the media friends present.
Lam is not only a friend but also a family member and mentor of Chung, who had made the special effort to accompany him to fly to KL. People say Lam’s fans are all wonderful people. Very much so! So are you, our die-hard fans and loyal readers. We all love Chua Lam tremendously, and hope he will be healthy and well always.
Holding his first ever calligraphy exhibition overseas after the pandemic, Chua Lam appeared remarkably frail and weak, prompting many to worry about his health. Nevertheless, he revealed that after eating durian and all the nice food in KL these four days, he felt like the illness had left him!
The second week after the exhibition in KL, I flew to Hong Kong from Tibet via Chengdu to pay Chua Lam a visit, and he made a special arrangement for a meeting over lunch, not just to meet an old friend but also to thank me for the successful staging of the exhibition.
At the iconic Kamcentre Roast Goose Restaurant, I could feel how respectable he was as a legendary food connoisseur, as many diners came forward to greet him. On the wall was hung one of his calligraphy works that reads: Learn well, and drink seriously!
Chua Lam later ordered almost all the shop’s signature dishes. Sure enough, the roast goose was the topmost dish at the restaurant, but after trying the char siew made with Spanish pork, I have since changed my perception for what I’m looking for in barbecued pork.
As if that’s not enough, the old-fashioned rolled pork, money chicken, watercress soup, red bean soup… all were so divinely good! Lam even ordered two pipa roast geese for me to take back to Malaysia!
We had an utterly satisfying lunch. Lam would give me a brief description of each of the dishes served on the table, much to my admiration. As a result, I had to savour every dish, which had taken hours to prepare, attentively.
Compared to when he made the public appearance in KL barely a week earlier, Lam looked apparently more energetic and chatty. He told me in private that he was not actually feeling very well while he was in Malaysia.
He said he felt uncomfortable taking his first 4-hour long-haul flight after a major operation in March, and had to attend a dinner gathering right after touchdown.
We all know that Chua Lam is a determined and strong man, someone who will never tell people how painful or sad he feels. After visiting him on April 30 this year at Hong Kong Sanitarium and Hospital, we met again on September 23.
Five months apart, Chua Lam was finally willing to tell me a little more about what’s inside his heart. Among others, he said he had moved to a serviced apartment in Tsim Sha Tsui, with a huge floor-to-ceiling glass window offering an unobstructed invigorating view of the boats and seagulls gliding above the sea.
Once again he jubilantly mentioned about his favourite Malaysian fruit. He said Cherie Chung, who used to develop a phobia for durian, was cajoled into eating durian one after another. Chung admitted she never knew durian could be this tasty.
That reminds me of what Li Keqiang said about durian during his 2015 visit to Malaysia: The first time I tried it, it was unbearable, the second time memorable, and the third time completely unforgettable!
By now I’m quite sure that Cherie Chung has reached the third stage! How I hope she will come back to KL more often to enjoy our fabulous king of fruits!
Travelling out of Hong Kong for the first time in three and a half years, it appeared to me that Chua Lam made a truly enjoyable trip to KL and Singapore.
But something you might not know is that his wife fell accidentally inside the house early this year, and he rushed forward to give a hand without thinking about the consequences, and fell himself, fracturing this left pelvic bone.
As a result, he had to undergo a major operation and recuperate at hospital for almost three to four months. Unfortunately, his wife passed away during that time. We all felt sad for him hearing such bad news.
Despite the double blow, Chua Lam remained as strong as ever, just like when his old friend Ni Kuang passed away. To him, the most important thing right now is to recover and stay strong. This is why he had won our sincerest respect.
As a matter of fact, Chua Lam’s calligraphy exhibition was initially planned for April 2020, but had to be deferred because of the pandemic.
Early this August, I received a phone call from him, saying: Lee San, please re-initiate my calligraphy exhibition, and if possible, the earlier the better!
So, we arranged for the exhibition to be held on September 22, but then he called again: Try to make it a charity event. The earlier the better!
Sure enough I had to rush to get it done for him!
During that lunch in Hong Kong, I gave him a report on the accounts and profits of the exhibition. He simply said: Agree! Please channel the RM750,000 donations to the designated organisations. Lee San, you are fully authorised to handle this matter for me!
Of course, Chua Lam also thanked the Malaysian friends for their kind support and concern.
While durian holds a special sentimental value to Chua Lam, to me Kamcentre Roast Goose is simply irresistible! It is hoped that we can meet each other again very soon so that we can relaunch our “Travel with Lee San and Chua Lam” thematic tours once again.
(Lee San is Founder and Group Executive Chairman of Apple Vacations. He has travelled to 132 countries, six continents, and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.)