23rd June

The phone rings at 10, twenty-third of June.
“His blood pressure’s dropping. Come see him soon.”
I take a deep breath and try not to cry.
I look up to the sky and ask God, “Why?”
I shut the door and head to the hospice.

My thoughts run wild, unfiltered in my mind:
“No therapy worked, drug of any kind…
They were all useless; he is still dying.
What was the point of trying anything?
How does it feel to watch your father die?”

I close my eyes and start praying to God.
I know it’s too late but it’s all I’ve got.
It’s no use praying for you to stay.
It’s not what you wanted anyway.
So I ask God to take you to heaven.

I open my eyes to look at your face,
And think about how we got to this place.
You start to moan and we turn to listen.
Every sound, beyond our comprehension.
Is it pain or something you want to say?

“It’s ok, Dad. We know. We love you too.
Though you can’t say it, we know it is true.
God’s waiting for you, where angels will bow!
You can go peacefully to heaven now!
Though we’ll miss you, we’ll see you again soon!”

Thinking of you on this Father’s Day!

I woke up this morning and these three words, ‘Happy Father’s Day!’ came into my head. Then I thought, there’s nothing happy about spending a Father’s Day without your father present. Did anyone ever think about how insensitive this greeting is to people who have lost their fathers? What should you say instead? Well, it is unlikely anyone would come up to me to wish me a Happy Father’s Day, so this, I quickly realised, was a really stupid question. But to those people who have lost fathers, hearing those words said to someone else feels like a thorn has pierced through your heart.

On my way to church, a thoughtful friend had actually sent me a message saying, “Thinking of you on this Father’s Day.” I had no strong emotions when I read those words but I did feel acknowledged by it, that someone remembered that I had lost my father and that it would be a tough day for me. I immediately felt more peaceful and less irritated by the happy families around me. These kinds of friends, who genuinely care, remember these occasions and take the time to reach out, are rare – she was the only one the whole day.

For those who have lost their fathers, sometimes it will be tough to get through a day like this because you think people have forgotten or are insensitive about your feelings. It may seem like those words ‘Thinking of you…’ have little meaning but it could make a huge difference. If you know someone who has lost their father, let them know you remember. It just takes one to turn that day around.

To all the fathers out there: Happy Father’s Day! 
To those who have lost their fathers: Thinking of you on this Father’s Day!

Sweden (Part 3 – Vasa Museet, Skansen, Metro)

Day 2 started a little later because the museums don’t open until 10am. We had a relaxing breakfast and headed out to pick up another local guide and arrived at the Vasa Museum.

Vasa Museet

The Vasa Museum provides a comprehensive history about the Vasa warship from the 17th Century. The ship was launched in 1627. It is 69 metres long and stands over 50 metres tall, weighing over 1200 tonnes. In 1628, the Admiral ordered the ship to sail ahead, despite warnings from the captain supervising the construction. Little did he know that it would be its first and last voyage. It was also the shortest voyage in history – sailing no more than 1300 metres – it sank to the seabed within minutes, 32 metres below. Years later, divers found the wreck in astonishing condition, with decks intact and the foremast still standing.

On 24 April 1961, the Vasa is salvaged and lifted after 333 years in the deep. Teams of conservators, carpenters and other technicians work together to preserve the ship. It is a tremendous challenge to reconstruct and preserve the ship. When the waterlogged wood dries out, and the moisture in it evaporates, it shrinks and cracks. Polyethylene glycol, PEG is needed to be used to replace the water. It would still take many years for the wood to dry in this way to avoid cracking and for the ship to stablise completely. The Vasa Museum was finally built in 1990 by Swedish architects. Astonishingly, over 98% of the original structure had survived and does not look like a wreck at all now. Since it was salvaged in 1961, the Vasa Museum has received well over 40 million visitors, making it one the top 10 world’s best museums to visit on TripAdvisor.

The museum that houses the ship and artifacts is dimly lit because the ship cannot be exposed to sunlight, making it an extremely popular spot for pickpockets to make their rounds. They would pay entrance fees to go inside to find unsuspecting tourists as targets. One member from our group got his wallet stolen while he was taking photos. It is best to keep all bags in the front at all times and to keep a hand on it. Several announcements were made to remind visitors to keep their valuables safe and be alert of pickpockets floating around.

The museum is very big too and has six floors. There is so much to see so you need a few hours to explore and look at everything. It is worthwhile to watch the short film that explains the history and process of salvaging and preserving the Vasa ship in the auditorium. They play it in both Swedish and English with subtitles. I wanted to spend it little more time in the gift shop but I didn’t really plan my time around very well. We only had 1.5 hours to walk around there.

Skansen

After lunch, we arrived in Skansen – the world’s oldest and only open-air museum with wild animals. At Skansen, you can learn all about Sweden’s history and understand how the Swedes used to live, their customs and traditions, how they worked, various celebrations and everyday life. There are many fun and exciting activities held at Skansen, such as singing and dancing and concerts in the summer, and Christmas markets and concerts in the winter. There is a Children’s Zoo featuring domestic animals, farm animals, as well as wild and exotic animals.

We saw an early 20th Century school, Väla School (Väla skola). It is an example of how schools were built in the Swedish countryside. The building contains a schoolroom as well as housing for the teacher’s family. In 1842, the parliament passed a law requiring school attendance of all children in all parts of Sweden. No homeschooling is allowed either. However, teachers’ salaries were quite low. Teachers often housed beehives in their gardens and sold honey as an additional source of income. They would easily be earning more money from selling honey than from teaching. The garden provided the family with vegetables and it was also used as a educational tool for children to learn how to grow vegetables. Children were taught scripture, reading, spelling, writing and arithmetic. Bible knowledge was considered to be especially important.

I was very surprised to hear that teachers’ salaries were so low. Teaching is not a very popular profession in Sweden and there is very big shortage of teachers right now. Almost 50% of existing teachers are not professionally qualified as teachers either. But it is quite amazing that education – from kindergarten to university level – is completely free, though it comes at a cost of extremely high taxes.

Our group of 27 stopped outside the Väla School for quite a long time and even took a large group photos together when a ‘teacher’ walked by. A family with two kids came up as well and one of the principals in our group picked up the little boy and played with him. The parents were so sweet and friendly as well. The kids wanted to take photos with us as well and we gathered outside the school for a shot. It was so lovely to see parents spending time with their kids too. We also the cutest little baby girl holding her dad’s hand, chasing geese. She was pointing at the geese and laughing so innocently and joyfully. It was so sweet and cute!

We also saw a man and a woman chipping away at a long log, which would become a new blade for one of the windmills. We stopped and chatted with the pair for a little bit. They were extremely friendly and didn’t mind us taking their axe and having a go on the log!

We walked a bit farther in and arrived just in time to see a big peacock fanning out its feathers! It was so beautiful! It kept turning round and round, proudly showing everyone around how beautiful it was. It was the first time I had ever seen a peacock fan out its feathers all the way out like that! We also saw chickens, sheep, cows, reindeer and goats. Many families laid on the green grass for a picnic and it reminded me a little of Australia. I don’t think I have ever sat on the grass in Hong Kong.

Skansen also hosts one of Stockholm’s largest Midsummer celebrations. When we came across the maypole, we learned about the Midsummer Festival, the tradition of wreath-making and dancing around the maypole. An important tradition among the younger folks, especially for the single ones, is to pick seven different species of flowers and lay them under their pillows on 23 June, Midsummer Eve, so that the love of their life would appear to them in a dream, according to the legend.

There are so many buildings, cottages, farmsteads all around Skansen, and we only saw a few of them. I would love to visit this place again and spend more time exploring on my own. You could spend a whole day there! It really makes you feel like you have travelled back in time as you walk around Skansen, seeing people in period clothing! I was extremely sad to leave this place.

(See my Instagram for videos and more photos. Link in the navigation bar.)

Metro Experience

Next on our itinerary was the Metro Experience. We got on at Gamla Stan station and only rode one stop to T-Centralen to Stockholm City. We admired the impressive artworks inside the stations. The Stockholm Metro is described as one gigantic art gallery, with more than 90 of the 110 stations featuring artworks created by 150 artists. Artworks range from sculptures, mosaics, paintings, installations to inscriptions and reliefs from the 1950s to 2000s. Each station has different designs and art pieces. For the price of a metro ticket, you can see a wide range of impressive artworks by talented artists in Sweden! I would love to just spend one day riding the metro and making a stop at every station just to look at the art!

 

End of Part 3

Back to Sweden (Part 2)

Continue to Swedent (Part 4)

Letters to My Father (2)

After my father passed away in June, I’ve been writing letters to him to tell him how I am doing. I thought I’d share some of them. Here is the one on the day of his memorial service in July.

Dearest Daddy,

Today was your memorial service. For the last two weeks, we had been rushing to compile the memorial booklet for you. We also set up a Facebook page for you and everyone who knew you had wonderful things to say about you. I realised there was a lot that I didn’t know about you. Reading through all their posts and messages made me feel so incredibly grateful. I wish I had known more about you or listened to you more when you were here. I regret not spending more time with you. I knew you were always busy with work and meetings but when you were home you’d always want to spend time with us. I wish I had known that through all your work and meetings, you were changing the world and helping people in need. You had a great vision made an incredible impact on the community. You were also incredibly humble and never boasted or bragged about your accomplishments, which was one of the reasons why I knew so little about the work you had done! You even told Mum not to talk about what you had done, only to share our experiences with you as a family during your illness. You wanted people to know how we had come and grown closer together as a family and the struggles we went through during this time.

We celebrated your life today. Your friends, colleagues, and family shared stories about you. I learned about all the amazing work that you had done and the people’s lives you had changed. I got to meet Jessica, a girl you had mentored for many years. A girl I knew nothing about but whose life you had completely transformed and turned around. She spoke of how you continued to help and support her through her struggles and gave her many opportunities. She calls you Uncle Charles as if you were really related. You treated her like a daughter. I was so surprised to hear her story yet I was incredibly proud of you because at that moment I realised that Jessica was just one example of the many lives you had changed for the better; including my own. I didn’t get the chance to speak at the service but I think you knew everything I wanted to say anyway. I had shared with you on Father’s Day.

I miss you so much and don’t quite know how to describe that feeling I get every morning when I wake up. It is still so surreal. Am I still dreaming? I know you had lived a full life, and in those last moments, you had no regrets and went peacefully to Heaven. I can still see your face from that night. The calmness, the peacefulness, the final smile gave us all peace. I don’t think I ever fully understood what peace felt like until that moment when I saw it on your face. I cannot describe it yet I can feel it and I can see it in your eyes. In that moment, I knew that God had given you that peace. He took away all of your suffering and pain and gave you rest and carried you into Heaven with Him.

I had lost my way and my faith in God for many years. I started calling myself agnostic and stopped attending church. But somehow, that day, I wanted to believe again. Many people wonder why someone would believe in a God who would let this happen to our loved ones. I wonder that too and although I may never know the answer or understand the reason, I believe that God had given you this amazing life, which you treasured and lived to serve in His name, that even in the face of death, you were able to have so much peace and calm. You were not at all afraid because you knew He would be with you. I also feel calm and peace knowing that I will see you again one day in Heaven. I want to learn from you and live a life of purpose with humility and compassion.

Your loving daughter

Letters to My Father (1)

After my father passed away in June, I’ve been writing letters to him to tell him how I am doing. I thought I’d share some of them. To start with, this is the first letter which I was fortunate enough to be able to read to him on Father’s Day, a week before he was taken to Heaven.

Dearest Daddy,

There is so much I want to tell you, but sometimes I don’t know how. I know now that there will never be the best way or the best time to tell you. So here is my letter to you. Ten things I want you to know:

  1. I love you so much – even though I don’t always say it, I truly do. I promise I will say it more often from now on – to everyone that I love. Everyone needs to hear it and everyone deserves to be loved. I love you, I love you, I love you with all my heart! Even when you are not with me, I will still love you, always and forever.

 

  1. I am so proud of you and everything that you have done. You have helped so many people in need and inspired so many others to do what you do. You have inspired me to follow my dreams and listen to my heart. You have taught me to be humble but I am so proud, Daddy. I am proud to call you my father and proud to be your daughter. I know you are proud of me too! I hope I will always make you proud, wherever you are.

 

  1. I am sorry, Daddy. I’m sorry for every stupid thing I’ve ever done. I’m sorry for every time I made you angry or upset. I’m sorry for getting angry with you too. I’m sorry for saying the wrong things at the wrong times. I’m sorry for not understanding you and not listening to you. I’m sorry that you had to suffer this unbearable pain, I’m sorry that I couldn’t take it away. I’m sorry for not knowing what to do. I’m sorry for not spending more time with you, taking walks with you, or going swimming with you when you asked me to. I’m really sorry, Daddy.

 

  1. I know you are sorry too. And I forgive you. We have all done things we regret and wish we hadn’t. But the past is the past and I will not hold on to these memories. They are already forgotten! I understand now that you were going through many challenges and frustrations. I forgive you, Daddy. Please don’t worry about it anymore!

 

  1. Thank you for all your support and being such a good listener. You have always supported me and helped me through all my hurdles. You guided me to the right path whenever I felt uncertain or lost. You simply listened and helped me to find my own way. Your unwavering support gave me the strength to make my own decisions and to realize that there will never be a ‘perfect’ choice, decision or path. You never made me feel unworthy or ashamed. You loved me for who I am and for being myself. I have never thanked you for everything you have done for me. I have never realized how much you were there for me all these years. When I had lost all my hair, you still made me feel beautiful. When I was rushing to finish my thesis and stressing about my conclusion, you calmed me down and helped me to find the right words. When I told you my hopes and dreams for the future, you told me, ‘Go for it!’ without any hesitation. When I struggled to make sense of everything that was happening to you the last few years, you reassured me and helped me to understand and appreciate what we have. Thank you for being the understanding one, and never losing your patience. Thank you!

 

  1. Thank you for loving me so much and caring about me every day. Thank you for worrying about me too. But Daddy, you don’t need to worry about me anymore. I’m all grown up now. You don’t need to worry about Mum or Daniel. We will always be there for each other, no matter what. We will look after each other. We will take good care of Mum for you, I promise!

 

  1. I am thankful for every day together. I’m thankful for all our wonderful trips together and getting to see the amazing wonders of the world. I’m thankful we got to have an unforgettable family vacation in Ensenada while seeking alternative treatment, all four of us together. We all took a break from our busy lives to be together, relax, and enjoy some quality and much-needed family time. I’m grateful for the most memorable birthday at La Bufadora. You made me feel so loved and special! I’m grateful we got to meet some amazing people and even made some new friends along the way. I’m grateful for all the little miracles that we experienced and witnessed every day that we were there. Through all our ups and downs, we never lost hope. This experience has taught me to never give up, no matter how tough it is. I will never give up on anything!

 

  1. I want you to know that I will follow my heart, my dreams, and all my hopes for the future. I hope I can achieve as much as you have. I hope I can have your courage and your strength to overcome every challenge. I hope to follow in your footsteps and make a difference in the community. I hope to find someone special that will love me as much as you do. I hope to travel to new places, discover new things about myself, and find new passions. I still hope to write that book someday!

 

  1. I will smile every day. I will take good care of myself. I will remember to rest, eat, drink and play! I will support all my family and my friends, just like you. I will teach my students the lessons you have taught me – to be kind, humble, grateful, caring, loving, and compassionate. I will enjoy life and be happy. I will smile and laugh whenever I think of you.

 

  1. You will always be with me in my heart wherever I am and wherever I go, and I will never stop loving you. You will be with me forever through every moment, happy or sad. I will think of you every day and never forget you.

 

Daddy, you are not just my father; you are my role model, my mentor, my cheerleader, my teacher, my best friend, and my hero. You are one of a kind and one in a million.

 

With all my heart, loving you always,

Your loving daughter

The best and worst year of my life

I don’t even know how to describe this past year. It felt like it was the longest and also the shortest year. It was one of the worst and also one of the best years of my life. For the first six months, I felt a deep uncertainty, pain, and hopelessness in my heart; not knowing how long my dad would be here. And for the last six months, emptiness and sadness were added to the list, and every emotion in between, after he was taken to heaven. There isn’t a word that can even describe how I have been feeling and how I feel now. Since he’s been gone, I would wake up every morning missing him and holding back the tears. Some days, I just wanted to lie in bed and stay there all day. But I know that he would not want me to waste the precious time I have crying about something that cannot be changed. After a while, I started to see him smiling at me and I could hear him say ‘I’m so proud of you!’ He had never once told me my hopes and dreams were silly or impossible before. He had never doubted me or told me I couldn’t do whatever I wanted. I think back to the day I made the crazy, life-changing decision to take a year-long break, three weeks after he was gone. I felt that he was telling me, ‘Do it! Don’t be scared! I support you!’ And I did it! And I wasn’t scared! And he supported me – 100%, just as he had promised! And it was the best decision I’ve ever made! I felt a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I don’t regret a single moment since that day.

Even though I do stay in bed a little longer than before, I get up eventually and do the things that make me happy. I write. I read. I draw. I think. I pray. I travel. I take pictures. I wonder. I try new things. I laugh. I care about myself. And I don’t care about what people think. I still don’t really know what my future will be like but I like where I am now, in the present. I still have so much I want to do and see and experience. I am not going to make any more excuses for myself. The things I’ve experienced so far have been incredible and I can’t wait to have more adventures and try new things. You’ve brought me to life, Daddy! I know you’d be so proud of me right now!