An indomitable spirit
I STOOD by teacher Oh Kim Leng’s bedside and had a most interesting conversation with him. He gave me a short but lucid introduction to the term patah lagu ,a melodic ornamentation in singing traditional Malay songs. I was not familiar with Malay music but Oh introduced me to patah lagu with a short vocal demonstration as well.
Although he was hampered by his inability to make optimum use of his lung capacity, the result was still remarkable and enlightening.
For the past 30 years, Oh has been confined to a bed, unable to move. He has only limited use of this hands.
But he is still capable of holding a conversation, and on a topic as interesting as Malay traditional music.
Oh graduated from the Lembah Pantai Teachers Training College, Kuala Lumpur, in 1983.
While in college, he excelled in practically all the areas that is required to make a good teacher.
Academically he was excellent. His command of English and Malay was exceptional. At the same time, he excelled in sports, music and oratory (in Bahasa Malaysia and English). In addition, he possessed a natural flair for interpersonal relations. In short, he was a “born teacher”.
After graduation, Oh was posted to Kuala Lemai, Sarawak, a village with little amenities. But the hardships did not at any time dampen or affect Oh’s dedication and enthusiasm to teach. He really enjoyed and loved teaching the children of this village.
One day, Oh went to join his pupils for their usual bath in the river. He dived into the river but did not surface. The children who were with him quickly told their headmaster who dived into the river and found Oh lying at its bottom. He had broken his neck and therefore could not move.
The tragic event was 30 years ago and Oh has been paralysed and bedridden since then.
Oh’s wife, who was his “steady”, in college sacrificed everything to be with him all through the years. Perhaps it is wrong to use the term “sacrificed” as it was an act of love and she wanted to be with him and be part of his life, no matter what.
When I heard the news, I was devastated. I wept for Oh, a person with such potential. But it is not in Oh’s nature to take things lying down.
Although bedridden, he has been leading an active life. He gives tuition despite his disadvantages. His many hundreds of students, who are on Facebook, always communicate with him and thank him for their success.
He also contributes a lot to the Peranakan community of Melaka.