Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Memories of my friend Dr Gan Chong Wan

The Pork Luck Club has lost one of our fellowship. Dr Gan Chong Wan was our very dear friend whose friendship and company we will miss tremendously.

I just want to share some of my memories of him to try and get some of this pain and sadness I am feeling out of my system. We all knew he was on borrowed time, but his death has hit me harder than I thought it would. Editing this is still choking me up.

He was a Leukemia survivor. Diagnosed twelve years ago, he beat the thing and had just recently celebrated ten years in remission. It resurfaced late August this year and he had undergone two sessions of chemotherapy. The results were promising. He and I shared Pol Roger Champagne and Oysters and Pork Belly at the Ribs on November 6th. Then he felt well enough to join us at the Ginza Sushimasa with Toru-san and PLC friends on November 15th. Seems that sometime soon after this he contracted some viral fever and was laid out for three days. He was getting back to normal and recovering, but on Friday November 28th I received a text from his sister saying he was in ICU at UH and that he was in very bad shape. It was thought he would not survive for long, but apparently he swore that he would. Seems UH were pumping him with stabiliser meds and sedatives for severe pain and seeking to stop the organs from dying. However, at 3am Sunday November 30th his family received a phone call from UH and they were with him when he passed at 6.30am. He was 62.

A wake was held at Gui Yuan Funeral Parlour in PJ on December 1st from 3pm and it had been decided that a Roast Pig would be served. Friends were also invited to bring food and wine and whiskey to celebrate Dr Gan's life. We arrived at 5.30pm and brought some white wine. Luckily it was screwtop as no one had a corkscrew - mine had been transferred out of its usual place in the backpack for some air travel reason. There was red wine and brandy, though few seemed in the mood to drink. I was. I cracked the white and got stuck in. We sat with friends David Law and Philip Chai (friends from his short time with Musical Theatre in the early 1980s) and Jimmy Tang and sister Yoong, friends since primary school days. We were all pretty desolate.

Mr Tan from Checkers Restaurant showed up with some croissants and prunes wrapped in bacon. Mr Tan is also is a cancer survivor and I know that Dr Gan helped him through some of his not so good times with the treatment. Gan's old schoolfriends were also in attendance. Many had also been friends since primary and secondary school days. The mood was somber but not too sad. His sisters were playing some of his favourite classical and opera tunes and showing a slideshow of photos from his life that his brother had quickly put together. That he could do this with only one hour sleep on a thirty hour trip from Wisconsin was little short of remarkable. 

At the Noble House in Jalan Delima, Kuala Lumpur
A golden flower shrine around a photo of Gan had been put together with fruit and candles and sweet cake offerings and placed before the coffin. The coffin was open and I felt I had to go see him one more time. I barely recognised him. His face was all puffy, apparently from the steroids he had been pumped with in the efforts to keep him alive. If I had my time again, I would prefer not to have seen him like that. But there you go. We take our friends in both good and bad shape and these become the totality of our experience with them. 

Old friends May Ph'ng and Siang came to pay respects. May shared that she had lit 64 candles to help speed Dr Gan's transmigration - in Buddhism, as I understand it, the spirit/soul/essence leaves the body and either goes onward toward enlightenment or returns to a newborn being to learn whatever was not learned in this present lifetime. And whether this newborn is a higher or lower lifeform depends on our karma and merit earned in this lifetime. We shared some Roast Pig and wine. 

The wine helped shift the low mood. Felt like I had been whacked by a big stick all day. Dr Gan's sisters shared stories of him and his life and friends. Seems he and present PM Najib were schoolmates and sat next to each other in the classroom. The story went that whenever Najib was naughty, Dr Gan always got the blame. They stayed in touch through the years and it seems Najib was a regular visitor to the Gan household when travel and work permitted. Seems also that PM Najib visited the Gui Yuan to pay his respects the following morning prior to the funeral, replete with outriders and bigass car. I saw them haring along the Federal Highway back to KL as I was on my way to the funeral.

Arriving, I parked in the same space as the night before. The mood was more subdued today. David, Jimmy and Yoong had come, and it was David who shared that Najib had come. Fellow PLC friend May Peng also came to pay respects. Everyone still felt shock that Dr Gan was no longer with us. The brother was bearing up well, the sisters not so.

At the IWFS KL Presidents' Dinner December 2013
Again, the funeral was not a grand affair. No chanting or ritual, unlike the ruckus that was going on at the funeral next door, Someone was playing big drums and something sounding like a World Cup vuvuzela horn and they were belting out "Roll Out The Barrel" and "She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain" military style as the deceased in the adjoining part of the compound was being taken for the last drive to the incinerator. Felt a bit bizarre but I'm sure it would have made the Doc smile. Didn't seem to make anyone else smile, though. It also drowned out the speech of Gan's brother thanking everyone for coming to pay their respects. We all made one last round of the coffin where our friend was laying. He looked less puffy today. That was when I noticed the shirt he was wearing - I have an exact same one hanging in the closet at home. He was open collar, no tie as is often imposed by the funeral directors. The sisters know their brother well - he hated restrictions of all kinds. Then the minions moved in, hammered the lid into place and made ready for the last ride.

As the flower shrine was being dismantled in preparation for moving the coffin to the car, I saw that everyone was turning to face away. Never seen this before, and found it a shade disconcerting - in the West, to show one's back at this juncture would be seen as a mark of disrespect... but then we are not in the West. Clearly there was some meaning in this that eluded me. Once the coffin was in the car and closed, everyone moved into place and we all followed the hearse around the compound as it made its way to the burner. The family placed their hands on the car and it slowly made one round of the complex. There was a slight delay as the forerunning deceased had the barrel rolled out one last time. But no one was in any mood to rush anything.

New Year's Eve Dec 2013 at Soleil
And again, as the coffin was taken from the hearse, everyone turned their backs to it! Someone later suggested that possibly this was to avert any bad luck that might arise as a result of seeing the last walk of a friend. Could be. The coffin was placed onto the burner rail, the cinder block door lifted, the rollers moved the coffin into place, the door lowered, and that was it. Goodbye Doc.

Sadder than sad. My good friend got took away and I will miss his laugh, his wit, his intelligent humour and his sardonic view of life and its madness and occasional seeming futility. Prior to his initial diagnosis, he had a tendency to rail against people's shortcomings. After successfully completing his treatment he saw more of the comedy in it all and chose to laugh at it more than anything. In this sense, I witnessed a life change in him and we enjoyed ten years of his company in this changed attitude of mind. 

There was Buddhism in him, for he would visit the temple on the auspicious days of the year. Though he was not a lover of ritual ceremony and pomp. For him, the simple joys of food on the street with a breeze heralding rain, or with his dogs out for a run would be enough to remind him that all was well in the universe. His breadth of knowledge on many things was staggering, especially for things Chinese. He loved his Chinese history and porcelain and he amassed an amazing collection which he would delight in taking out to handle - he always said that porcelain was a tactile medium rather than being merely visual. 

Chinese New Year 2014
He had a great passion for good food cooked well, and would always insist on ordering (and more often pre-ordering) the food for our get togethers. He introduced us to so many excellent eating places in the city and beyond. Dengkil Seafood, You Mi Chi, Lao Mah Zhi, and found one of our lost favourites the Hoi Kee. He would rail against the upmarket Chinese cuisine outlets like the Noble House chain, saying the over sweet sauces catered more to the gwailo market and rendered the food not as authentically Chinese as he would have demanded. But he would occasionally tolerate them and indulge us when the company and the wine were good. I have great memories of times with him at Sage, Cilantro, Soleil, the Overseas on Imbi, the Marco Polo on Raja Chulan, and Checkers in Damansara. These were among those to which we would return on many occasions. I also have great memories of him coming to gatherings at our home with friends and food and wine. He would cook, serve, eat, wash dishes, and then we would share our good whiskey, brandy and armagnac with him when everyone had gone home. We would go with him to concerts at the MPO, eating at Chinoz or Ben's and having Gin and Tonics in the intermission. He truly loved his music. He also loved good food, good wines and good company and he valued his friends hugely. That so many stayed with him through the years is testament to his character and how much we all treasured his friendship and company. 

He taught me that our time together is too short and precious to fritter. If you're going to have a time together, make sure it is a darn good one and spare no reasonable expense. Break out the good wine and food, always. And for him, we always would. 

His late mother and favourite pet dogs are in the grounds of the Gan home and we hear that the Doc will similarly be staying there. Someone asked what would happen if they ever sell the house, to which friend and wit David Law responded by saying that it would not be entirely "vacant possession".

One of the last things he said to me as we were leaving the Ribs from the Pol Roger dinner was "Dying is easy." I guess he had lived with his own mortality for a long time and had come to terms with it. And he was a doctor - he would know that not every life can get saved. Not to say that he was submitting to anything - he had absolute conviction that he would beat the thing again and he was very aggressive in his treatment regime. He wasn't supposed to die. We once joked about moving to Songkhla when we retired to open a bordello where we all would live and look out for each other. Maybe next time around. I hope there is one.

January 17th 2015 will mark the seventh day of the seventh week that he passed, which stands as the time when the soul will completely pass. Prayers will be said for him at 10am at the Buddhist temple on Jalan Gasing where a tablet to his memory is located. I would call on his friends to raise a glass and toast his memory and our time together. Let us each honour him as we know best and how he would want - in pork, wine and friendship. 

He would definitely not want us to be sad. Normally he would scold people for feeling sad, saying "life too short lorrr." He's right, as he always usually was. But then the dead don't have to live with death. For those who are still alive, it is a sad, sad time. I mourn the loss of my dear, dear friend. 

At the Soleil August 2014
And I hope he would spare me on this occasion. Not all sadness is a bad thing. It keeps us human. Like Dr Gan himself. There's a line from the second Star Trek movie where Captain Kirk is giving a eulogy for Spock who had been apparently killed by nuclear radiation. Kirk says of Spock "Of all the souls I have known, his was the most.... human." Of my friend, I would say the same. Goodbye Doc.


  1. Thanks very much for writing this. This is just too sad . We exchanged a text on 18 November and that was the last. I will miss him . He was my friend and physician .

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