Teoh Beng Hock (all pics courtesy of Teo Nie Ching)
THERE are some people whom we have known for a long time yet it feels like we only met them yesterday. And then there are some people that we only just met, yet it feels like we have known them for a long time. My friendship with Teoh Beng Hock fell into the second category.
I got to know Beng Hock during the March 2008 general election. To be honest, the first impression he gave me was that he was rather cool and unfriendly. But that impression was soon overtaken by his support and convictions.
I was still a newbie in politics then despite being a DAP candidate for the Serdang parliamentary seat. At that time, I was unfamiliar with the problems Kajang and Serdang residents faced. Beng Hock, who was an experienced reporter, immediately recognised my problem. He pulled me aside during one ceramah and gave me a run down on every problem in my constituency, as quickly as he could during the time we had. It was then that I realised that the tall and thin reporter may have looked unfriendly, but the flame for justice burned bright and deep in him.
Hard work, low salary
When I met Beng Hock again after the general election, he had already become political secretary to Ean Yong Hian Wah, the Seri Kembangan assemblyperson from the DAP. We would meet up often after that.
We always discussed political and constituency-related issues. Sometimes, we could quickly think up of solutions for these issues but at other times, we were unable to because of various limitations. Then Beng Hock would tell me, “Nie Ching, Pakatan Rakyat (PR) must take over the federal government. State government’s power is too limited. Only with the federal government power in hand can we come up with radical changes.”
A political assistant’s work is normally tiring. These assistants usually have long working hours, including during the weekends. When we were organising an event or activity, Beng Hock regularly had to work overtime until 3am or 4am at the service centre.
But despite these long hours, an assistant’s salary is not high. We used to ask him all the time when he would marry his girlfriend. His joking rejoinder would always be: “First, you tell my boss to raise my salary. The salary working for the state government is so low, how to get married?”
Beng Hock (right) witnessed many injustices as a journalist. Nie Ching is on the far left.
Despite the low salary, and his family’s protest and their advice to him to change profession, he remained steadfast and chose to stay on with the DAP. Part of this, I know, was because as a journalist, he witnessed many injustices and unreasonable incidents which caused him much anger.
In fact, he chose to join the DAP and to become Hian Wah’s assistant because of the frustrations he faced as a journalist such as the limitations on the freedom of information. He used to tell me that his biggest ambition as a political aide was to cleanse Serdang of the Barisan Nasional’s influence and make it a safe seat for the DAP, placed under the PR’s governance. It was that vision that made him willing to endure the long hours to continue serving the people.
This was who Beng Hock was — a responsible young man full of ambitions.
To Beng Hock
On 30 Aug 2009, a day before Independence Day, a group of members from Pusat Perkhidmatan DAP Serdang, together with Serdang’s DAP Socialist Youth and I, went to Malacca just to pay our last respects to you on the sixth day of the seven-day prayers for you.
Your family was still in deep sorrow, especially your mother. You had just left us for a month and a half, and yet she seemed ten years older than her age. Your brother told us she lived in tears every single day, no matter what she was doing; whether eating, washing or ironing. And that was what I saw as well, a mother with nothing left but devastation.
I hugged her tightly to comfort her but it did not help. She did not want anything but her son. She kept murmuring to herself, “Why did he walk in healthy but could not walk out from there?” “How could they do this to him?” “You promised to come home by Friday, how could you leave like that on Thursday?”
I know that deep down inside her heart, she is still hoping that her son will come home one day to dine with her. But that day will not ever come.
During our 52nd Independence Day this year, instead of distributing the national flags on the streets like I did last year, I wrote about you instead, to commemorate you, your spirit and soul, everything that you did to contribute to your country.
DAP comrades, Beng Hock and Nie Ching
I can imagine the kind of conversation we would be having now, if only you were still here. I can even predict your reactions and expressions. However, you are but a memory now.
There are some people whom we only know for a short time, yet he or she becomes part of our lives. Beng Hock died for a better Malaysia for all Malaysians. It is time for us to carry on the work he left behind.
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