编者按：本文章转载自《逃出狮爪》（ESCAPE FROM THE LION’S PAW）
他的家人和朋友在新加坡殷切地等待着他回去。他们安排在善牧主教座堂 (Cathedral of the Good Shepherd) 给他举行追悼会。教堂对面的房子，就是他和兄弟姐妹出生的地方。他和哥哥甲立有时睡迟了，相互追逐着匆忙赶来做弥撒的，就是这所教堂。教堂隔壁是圣约瑟书院；他们家十一个孩子，男孩都在这儿上学。转角处过去是圣婴女校，那是他们家女孩上的学校。
AN EXILE RETURNS TO SINGAPORE
Dr Ang Swee Chai (Mrs Francis Khoo)
In November 2011, Francis wrote about his exile while he was recovering from his kidney transplant. It was a lively and inspiring piece. There was no bitterness or anger about his personal circumstances or his failing health. He grasped the years of exile firmly and turned them into productive and fruitful years in living and working out his ideals.
Francis loved people and welcomed everyone to our home, and was at home with everyone. Those who read this piece will marvel at his sense of humour and love of life. As his wife, living the exile years with him was full of excitement and adventure — a strange situation considering how we were supposed to have lost everything when we left home. He had built a rich heritage of solidarity and friendship from Vietnam to Nicaragua, Palestine to the Yorkshire mines, South Africa to Norway and the people of USA to Cuba.
Uprooted from his beloved Singapore he quickly found roots everywhere — not only in the country which gave him political asylum but also worldwide. He involved himself with struggles for justice both “here and there” as befit his true internationalist spirit.
His was an extremely active exile. Thirty five years seemed too short. But it was a life in exile always with special reference to his beloved Singapore. When he became passionate about the Arab Spring, he would immediately think about a Singapore Spring. When he wrote his poem “Passport” for the Palestinians, it was from the heart of a man who had lost his own Singapore passport. When he stood in solidarity with his South African friends demanding the release of their comrades detained in Robin Island, he was also seeking the freedom of the Singapore political detainees.
He wrote a song about the Bungaraya, the red Hibiscus. I think he loved the Bungaraya because it is hardy, and never beaten by drought, darkness, loneliness or poor soil. It just struggles on and makes its way to cover the parched land — to fill it with crimson flowers. Francis probably did not realise he was writing about himself.
He completed his account of his exile two days before he died. It was his last writing. For some unknown reason he told his publishers that he was in undue haste to complete it, well ahead of schedule. We may never know the reason for this, but he left us this account so that none of us should ever fear exile anymore.
His unexpected and sudden death on 20 November 2011, in our home in East London, left a huge void in all who knew him. As his widow I wrote his obituary and published it as a classified advertisement in the Singapore Straits Times on 25 November, the day I buried him. There was a huge outpouring of grief from family and friends from all over the world. The tiny little church in central London where his funeral took place was packed. It was a dignified and loving send-off for him.
After the initial shock and disbelief, I proceeded to undertake what I knew would be his last wish. He would want to be taken back to his country, Singapore. He always compared himself to the Chinaman whose dying wish was to be buried in his village.
His 35 years of exile from the land and people he loved so much in his lifetime had made him passionate about his homecoming. Denied his right of return in life, his remains should be finally laid to rest in his homeland. So he had to be cremated so that his ashes could be brought back, to be with his ancestors.
There was already precedence for spouses to carry ashes on planes to countries of their choice. So it should have been straightforward for me to book a flight and leave with his ashes. All that was needed was his death certificate and his cremation certificate. He would have liked to be home on the 15 February 2012. That was the day, thirty five years ago, the Singapore Internal Security Department officers came at 2am to arrest him, forcing him to escape into exile, and to die in exile.
But unfortunately I am no ordinary widow. As the wife of Francis Khoo, I am also an exile. I could not presume that I would be granted the right of return with my husband’s ashes. On at least two previous occasions I was refused my request to visit my ageing parents when they were near death in Singapore. Both died without seeing me.
Other exiles had lost their citizenship. So for two months after his death, I was concerned I might not make the trip. I even made tentative arrangements for members of Francis’ family to fly over to London to collect his ashes. There was no reason why the Singapore Government should be magnanimous enough to retain my citizenship after 35 years, not to mention give me a travel document to come back to Singapore with Francis.
But they did.
Against all odds, a single visit Singapore Travel Document came — like a miracle from an answered prayer. The Government had allowed me that one trip to come into Singapore with his ashes. This was the visit of a lifetime — after 35 years of exile. I was overwhelmed and knelt down to thank God for this opportunity.
His family and friends waited in eager anticipation in Singapore. A memorial was arranged for him in the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd — the church opposite the house where he and his brothers and sisters were born. This was the church to which he and his elder brother Michael would race to make it in time for Mass when they overslept. It was also next to St Joseph’s Institution where the boys of the 11-strong siblings went to school. The girls of course went to Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus just round the corner.
The Cathedral, now a historic monument, is still very beautiful, but is in desperate need for restoration. Large cracks mar the walls, and the foundations were damaged by the recent construction of the Singapore MRT. The people who attend the church, with the exception of a handful, are mostly pensioners, migrant workers and white-collar working people. In other words the church is not blessed with a well-to-do middle class suburban parish. The restoration will be expensive. Being unable to raise the funds, the Cathedral stays propped up by poles and cranes to prevent it from collapsing to the ground.
Friends and family had put together a DVD with snippets of Francis’ life. They named it the Generosity DVD after the characteristic of Francis they loved best. It contains poems, songs, drawings, photographs by and of Francis and also hundreds of tributes to him. There are pictures of him and his family throughout the years. It is the portrait of a man full of love, joy, laughter and kindness, a man with a strong commitment to social justice, and a man who grew up in a large and loving Catholic family. He never sought fame and fortune, yet is dearly loved and missed by people from all echelons of society and all walks of life.
As the plane touched down at Changi Airport, tears overwhelmed me. This airport was built after Francis and I left. I held Francis’ ashes and whispered to him, “Darling you are home.” But a cynical voice from somewhere mocked, “Big deal! It is just his ashes! He is dead, dead, dead….” That horrified me. It broke my heart.
And then — “Why do you weep?” a still small voice said. It was a sweet voice and seemed to have come out of my heart. “Do not weep. Why are you seeking the living in the land of the dead?” Where did that come from? Yes, it was from the Gospel. Two thousand years ago, a woman disciple of Jesus went to his tomb the first morning of the week after his crucifixion to anoint His body. When she could not find His body she wept thinking that the body was taken away. She was asked the same question, and told that she must not seek the living in the land of the dead. Christ had resurrected. The tomb was empty. That was the first Easter Sunday.
As a Christian, I know death is not the end. Death is the door to eternal life with God. For those left behind, it is time to come out of mourning, and to remove our sack cloths. I swallowed my tears, clung on to Francis’ ashes and ran out of the airport into the arms of Francis’ loving family and my youngest sister waiting eagerly at the barriers.
The next twelve days were hectic but precious days with family and friends. Apart from Francis’ moving memorial, there were visits to the grave of his great grandfather Chew Boon Lay the well known Singapore pioneer, the columbarium of Francis’ parents and the niches of my parents. We finally put Francis’ ashes in the church near where his parents’ ashes were laid. There were several gatherings with friends and family, and I was invited to give two talks to the medical fraternity.
Singapore has changed beyond recognition. The trees have grown tall, and the buildings even taller. Singapore is beautiful, clean and green. But for me, it is the people who count most. They are the most beautiful of all. Friends and family, like me, have grown older, but with age our friendship and love have deepened. Our families have grown, so have the families of friends — with many young additions — many of them born after we went into exile. The young ones give us hope for the future. They are vibrant, enthusiastic, innocent, full of energy, intelligent, talented and lovely. Very soon, I began to realise that it is a privilege to be able to spend time with them. I know they will make Singapore a wonderful and compassionate place.
The days of my visit were packed with events. Time flew. All too soon, I found myself back in London. I am unsure as to whether I will be able to come back to Singapore again. But it does not matter since I have touched base with those I love, hugged and embraced them. If this was to be my first and last trip to Singapore after 35 years I have nothing but gratitude that I was granted this visit. If I am to die in exile I will have no bitterness. I will continue to work on those ideals my husband and I share, wherever I may be. On those nights, alone in our home in London, I will remember the precious 12 days back home in Singapore with thanksgiving, and think of our wonderful family and friends. I know that without the pain of exile there would not be the overwhelming joy of homecoming and re-union. I will also quietly pray that God will continue to bless and protect Singapore and her people.
14 March 2012