Friends are many but a friend whom one can really trust, connect with effortlessly and grow together is hard to come by. I have the privilege of having one- Ryan Sai.
We first met at Ngee Ann Polytechnic in 2001 and just clicked. Together with a group of close friends we call "The League", we slept in lectures, played pool, watched movies, smuggled a tin of biscuits into the library, played table tennis, ran LSCT Freshmen Orientation Camps and simply hung out. It was the start of a friendship that was priceless.
Ryan is generally quite quiet./reserved but can be wacky, animated and funny when he is with people he's comfortable with. Being rather good academically, he was quick to lend classmates
During poly days, Ryan, Hushie, Jenny and moo went on a trip to Hong Kong. It was a memoorable one for us it being the first time that we had gone on a "proper" overseas holiday just with friends. Being bitten by the shutter bug, Ryan took some pretty cool shots at Victoria Peak. Unfortunately, those photos are probably now lost along with a big bunch in Friendster. :( Nonetheless, looking back at that trip brings fond recollection of 4 of us sharing one suckling pig (moohehe), me using my very cannot-make-it Cantonese to no avail at Marche (cue "pak cheok"), and practically eating our guts out.
We started out university days together too being in the same course and even successfully applying to be room mates in Hall 16. Come to think of it, I cannot believe we had actually set aside time for breakfast before morning lectures. We would wake up 20 minutes earlier and sit in the old canteen A for breakie. 20 minutes soon dwindled down to 10 minutes and before long, it was me telling him, "Go back to sleep lah. Eat what breakfast?!" when he tried to wake me up one morning. LOL.
Even after he was posted to other hostels from year 2, we still met often on campus for classes, dinners and late night jogs of which our first run was quite funny that we cursed and swore at the SBS slope that almoost never seemed to end. Exam periods were spent together mugging till the wee hours before collapsing in deep afternoon coma after the paper. Non-gaming us even played DOTA and Restaurant City on a number of occasions to relieve exam stress. :p
In 2007, we completed our first Standard Chartered marathon and walked like ah peks a few days after the gruelling event. It was to be another 2 marathons before we "retired".
Ryan and I could talk and discuss about almoost anything- crushes, cravings, worries, family, life philosophies etc. In fact, it was him who first sent me Chu Mei-feng's photos when her sex scandal emerged. Sorry I can't show them here on this family-friendly blog. Moohaha. But moore seriously, we could sort of read each other's minds and often a single look or eye contact was enough to communicate thoughts.
Life after graduation came to a sudden pause when Ryan and I were training for IPPT and realised that he could not complete his 2.4km run. During the actual IPPT test, he again failed to complete his 2.4km after complaining of breathlessness Concerned about that, he went for a body check up. The results shocked everyone- acute leukaemia.
When such a disease hits a young person, especially one who is rather fit, it can be quite hard to accept. But Ryan bravely confronted it. He consulted the doctors about his condition and started to watch his diet. It didn't take long for my optimistic buddy to bounce back. He felt confident of beating cancer as he was able to take on stronger medication/treatment due to his young age. He faced sessions after sessions of chemotherapy to fight those bloody blast cells which were determined to fight just as hard.
Having both his siblings' bone marrows matching his, he went for a bone marrow transplant using his brother's cells. A few months after, those blast cells made a return. The relapse disheartened him. Again, he bounced back and focused on nursing back his health. Instead of wallowing away in his misfortune, Ryan helped out with housework, started gardening and making his own compost, spent time with his now deceased father, and his two little nieces, picked up the ukulele and simply lived.
This enterprising guy even raised mooney for Hair for Hope last year. Aiming for $10,000, he eventually raised over $12,000 with 97 donors some of whom are strangers or friends of friends. It was my pleasure to join him in this quest with hair, money and support. A big thank you to all who supported in making his wish a reality. It made him very, very happy.
A second bone marrow transplant was performed using his sister's cells. Unfortunately in an even shorter amount of time, the second relapse happened. He didn't tell me but I sensed he knew his battle chances were diminishing. The fighter realigned his focus on simply being happy and being so in the now. What will happen in the future is in the future. Choose to be happy in the present.
I popped by his home once just before CNY and that turned out to be my last meet up with him in better health. Though having lost some weight and looking pale, his spirit was as if this disease had never occurred. I was planning to visit him during CNY but he developed a fever and so told me not to come.
Soon, he was back in SGH to treat the fever. While in the hospital, he caught a lung infection. He called me one weekday evening asking for a favour. He wanted to eat vegetarian food but the Indian vegetarian option in the hospital was packed with spices which he believed was not good. I was tasked with helping to coordinate between his mum, my mum, myself and Ewan so that he could have homecooked vegetarian food daily. A few days later, he whatsapp-ed me saying to put the meal plan on hold as he was getting weaker and was on liquid food.
I visited him at SGH a few days later on a Friday evening. He was visibly weak and had difficulty breathing. He put his left hand to his temple and saluted me as I entered his room. Too breathless to speak, he was writing instead. I was stunned to see his condition and later left equally heartbroken.
Over the next two days of the weekend, I visited him at night when it was less crowded with visitors. He was now sleeping most of the time due to drug that was helping him to breathe and relieve pain. On Sunday night, as I massaged his feet, tears rolled down behind that medical mask and under the cover of darkness. Those feet ran marathons and walked through life's journey with me. I held his right hand for a good few minutes, praying with him. Before I left, I whispered in his ears in Mandarin, "Don't worry, friend. Jesus is coming to save you."
The next day, I got an update that Ryan passed away peacefully surrounded by his family and friends. And this news was right before I had to host a work dinner. Sucks but knowing him, he would have preferred for me to proceed with dinner than rush down to SGH.
I met Ewan and Neil that evening after my work dinner. 3 guys put on a brave front. After sharing happy memoories over a few pints, our eyes were wet and faces red towards the end. Beer felt especially needed though it wasn't enough to contain our sadness.
Looking at my buddy in the coffin at his wake, I feel utterly sad to lose my best friend yet somehow strangely at peace that he is in a better place and no longer suffering.
Time will heal this wound and though in grief, I take comfort in the privilege of having spent many happy memories over 12 years with this awesome guy who lived life to the fullest and in contentment. Joy is being discharged by the doctor so he could enjoy reunion dinner with the family. Happiness is being able to brush teeth.
This post will end by celebrating Ryan's life. :)
Our last full marathon together in 2009. No sweat hor? Wait till you see us walk after that. LOL.
Ryan and I catching up with the Powerpuff Girls. I shaved for Hair for Hope in support of my bestie... whose hair then was even longer than mine!
Horsing around with some guys from The League.
Chilling out at Wala Wala. He sure enjoyed the music and vibes there.
When we were young(er) and free. Didn't have much mooney as poly students, but certainly had loads of fun.
At Oktoberfest in NUS. Yes, we NTU people crashed into NUS. :p
Lo Hei-ing with the Deli Aprecio Club (DAC) committee members.
I've never seen anyone so happy with a bent spoon. Moohehe. This was at Catch & Cook, a collaboration between DAC and the Anglers' Club. The very T-shirts we were wearing were designed by Ryan. He's quite creative and good with his hands.
We ponteng-ed classes to work at events over a number of years and met this wonderful bunch of people at Globewerks. We were a pretty awesome team I dare say- can piah together, can siao together. :D
The League celebrating a birthday at TCC. We used to get "traditions" for the birthday gal/boy.
Our druggie team for a project in SBS (School of Biological Sciences, not the bus company lah). Clearly four of them were in denial. The honest ones were just sniffing yo!
Preparing for the many takes of the classic "SMU jump" at Hushie's and Ivy's poster presentation day.
At one of the many year end parties at Ewan's, now aka MBS (Marina Bay Simei). LOL.
Ok, I don't know what was going on in this pic with our resident mei nu at NP's Alumni dinner. Moohahaha.
Ta-dah! Our own Final Year Project poster day. See the pink tie? His brother picked out a similar colour tone shirt for Ryan's final journey. It suits him perfectly.
Ryan made it to Hushie's and Jon's wedding reception! But always someone missing. #@$!%
Our graduation photo after four long years at Pulau Boon Lay. I hold this bunch in high regard. Very zai, dependable people with integrity. Ryan, cow, JL & Mic.
The League at one of my then-yearly cook outs. Plus ah dog which tried to hump Ryan eons ago. Moohahaha.
It is probably a little known fact that Ryan enjoyed cooking. His mama said he got influenced by me and even started eating a bit healthier. :p Here he is chopping stuff at my place and giving his signature grin.
This was the last League gathering that Ryan attended. 31 December 2012 @ Ewan's place. Enjoy mooments like this for you never know when it might be the last.
My dear Ryanosarous, thank you for your friendship and for everything. See you on the other side.
Best friends forever.
*Images obtained from Ryan's Facebook.