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Going On Before

He taught me how to roll up those home-made cigarettes when I was a child. He and I would sit at the table and rolled up a stash of them which he would keep in a small tin that once held mints. I remember what he said then, about how smoking was bad for me and that I should never develop a habit of it like he did.
He was a large-set man who had a gruff layman-ish voice that rumbled like thunder. It made him sound like he was always angry with something. I guess it was his voice coupled with his native tongue of <a href="http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Hokkien">Hokkien</a>, which was a rougher-sounding dialect of Chinese.
Naturally, as the small runt in the family, I was afraid of him. Not that he'd ever be mad at me. On the contrary, he always spoke to me in a gentler, softer tone. I remember his laughter well.
Like many fathers he was seldom at home. He worked till the early hours of the morning, when he would return with packets of food for everyone. We would all wake up and join in the almost nightly feast. It really sucked to be the one who slept through it all. I made it a point to wake up and participate in the family affair. They were my family, in every sense of the word.
I was odd that I called him "uncle" while I called his wife "mama" and his children "kor kor or jie jie" (brother or sister in Hokkien). I lived as a member of his household the first seven years of my life. He, if anyone, deserved to be called "father".Uncle passed away Thursday. It had been years since I visited my foster family. What had previously seemed like a multitude of reasons for my not visiting melt away. Maybe I was busy, being the army and all. Maybe it was because I was studying overseas and the holidays didn't provide much time. They now all seem so weak compared to the reality of his passing.
He had been struggling with diabetes and kidney failure six years before today. Mama took care of his every need, and the burden grew greater when he lost his sense of sight as well as the use of his legs in the later years.
I now regret not being there. I regret not having the guts to be with him in his time of weakness. It's like I can't even bear to look at myself, the son I was to him.
I had been harbouring a memory of them all this time. Years had passed and things changed, but I wanted to remember them as the foster family I lived with – perfect in their own quirky way. Throughout my life the thought of them growing old and passing wrought nagging worries in my mind, but then I let time pass me by. My procrastination has cost me and there is nothing I can do to change the here and now. It is something I will have to live with.

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