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TWO nights ago I paid my last respects to a dear friend, Yap Keng Hock, who died on Tuesday. An entrepreneur and a bonsai expert, Yap was an active promoter of basketball. His death at 65 was a shock to all of us who knew him as a friendly and caring person.
I've known Yap since the 1980s. We used to have teh tarik together, go for dinners frequently and I listened to his stories about basketball, bonsai and the water business. Yap never gave up promoting basketball, his love.
He was a key member of the Klang Basketball Association. I remember watching many games, including competitions such as three-on-three, where only three players form a team and compete on a smaller court.
Yap would organise competitions, getting teams from all ethnic groups. He was a firm believer that sports would unite a nation, regardless of time and place.
But in the past few years, Yap fought renal failure, and won some tough battles. But eventually, even the tough sportsman that he was couldn't stop the onslaught, and he succumbed to his illness at a hospital in Subang.
Sports had lost an ambassador. Rest in peace, Yap. You will always be fondly remembered.
Actually, sports lost another ambassador, too -- Datuk Punch Gunalan, who died on Wednesday. Gunalan was part of Malaysia's golden years in world badminton, something that has eluded us for a long time (Datuk Lee Chong Wei's rise in the sport has given us some hope, but the real glory remains out of reach).
The demise of Yap and Gunalan came at a time when there's plenty to reminisce about.
Hari Raya Aidilfitri offers many bittersweet memories and recollections. There are always stories that tug at our heartstrings, besides those that warm our hearts and give us reason to live.
Each of us has our own tragedies to remember; our own conflict which we have had to come to terms with. On the brighter side, each of us has tales that bring tears of joy and happiness, that make our hearts glow, filled with gladness.
Early last week, I joined a group of volunteers who distributed Raya goodies to the urban homeless in the Chow Kit area.
Led by the husband-and-wife team of Raja and Fidah, they were joined by friends of Sinar Salam who brought sarongs, cash and other goodies to share with the homeless.
The homeless included drug dependents and sex workers on the mend. These people need to be brought back into society and they are looking for physical assistance and moral encouragement.
The good thing about this country (one of many) is its people's generosity and ever-willingness to lend a hand. Truly, this country is blessed in more ways than one. Nurtured over the years with careful planning and patience, we have grown in maturity.
There are hiccups, of course, but none that cannot be put right with a dash of tolerance, understanding and goodwill.
In this country, Hari Raya never fails to bring out the best in us. Rivals and enemies have been known to shake hands and hug each other, casting aside their differences for a day to enjoy the ketupat and rendang.
If we look around, we see strife everywhere.
The Rohingya are being massacred; the Somalians are killing each other wantonly; the Palestinians have yet to enjoy enduring peace; post-war Iraq fears suicide bombers every day; and, Afgha-nistan is still a battlefield.
A quick scan of the world's hot spots is enough to make us realise that we should not gamble on our future and that of our children.
Let this Raya, once again, bring us together and narrow our differences for common good.
Yes, we have senseless killings, too (but these are crimes and certainly not in our national DNA); there are people who live below the poverty line (but we have no widespread hunger and absolute poverty); we may not have absolute democracy but we do speak our mind and engage in a variety of dialogues.
Selamat Hari Raya, Maaf Zahir Batin.