The Chon Kai whom I know


He believes in civil society; he believes every person has the right to pursue freedom and justice, writes Lee Yen Ting.

Chon Kai after his release

I came to know this soft-spoken, sincere and progressive friend during my three years in university. Given his talent, attaining a PhD title was surely something this 31-year-old man was capable of had he chosen to further his studies.

Friends around him know how enthusiastic he was in his studies; he was the favoured student of the chemistry professor.

His righteous ardour, however, prompted him to relinquish the broad road towards personal gains. Firm in his belief, he opted for the bumpy road of social works, striving for the basic human rights of the vulnerable groups and fair treatment for the working class.

Throughout his last 10 years of work, I have not heard him raising to friends the topic of rewards from his job.

Instead, I noticed that he still rode the same old motorbike which he used in campus, wearing the same sorts of jeans as well as human rights- and democracy-themed T-shirts.

His bag remained the old-fashioned type which I think is hardly sold at major shopping malls… but his slippers could easily be found in any of our night markets or pasar malam. There was one time during a chat he said, “My pay for this month has gone missing.”

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When pressed, I learnt that the salary kept in an envelope was left somewhere at the service centre during the hustle and bustle. According to him, at the service centre, people come and go.

Money of little concern

“Didn’t you ask around to see who might have taken it?” I asked. He just shrugged and giggled while shaking his head. So, what is gone is gone. Do this kind of people have any ‘idea’ about money?

He has passion for his job; more accurately, he likes what he is doing, where he can serve the people and raise their awareness, thus propelling social demo-cratisation.

He is dedicated to conducting research on social development and often writes commentaries on current issues.

He likes to share with friends about alternative movies and music; there are a lot of poems, travel experience and comments about movies that we can read on his blog.

Indeed, he was already an active player in organising the literature award competition in his first varsity year; he was fond of reading, and he was more enthusiastic in writing.

While we laughed and frolicked in a group, he was alone, reading Gao Xingjian’s Nobel Prize-winning Ling Shan or Soul Mountain. “What a noble man,” we said humbly in admiration.

This kind of thing happened often – the reading habit has always been with him. We sometimes saw him reading while waiting for people on his motorbike; apparently he was ferrying people for varsity activities, and he enjoyed reading during those idle intervals.

He has been absorbing a lot of real experience all these years through the step-by-step social work, and that has further consolidated his will for the road ahead.

Boundless energy for human rights

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He believes in civil society; he believes every person has the right to pursue freedom and justice.

At public rallies, big or small, he would use his camera to capture the moment – people fighting for good deeds.

Sometimes, his work requires him to fly to different places and take part in non-governmental organisations’ international conferences; and sometimes, he would have to dig into his own pocket to participate in international human rights fora.

There were cases where he issued ‘urgent notes’ on Facebook seeking assistance from friends: “Who can lend money for my air ticket? I will repay in stages after I come back and receive my salary.”

This is how he has managed to leave his footprints in many places around the world, and he would not forget tracing vestiges of what leftists have gone through in the past during his trips.

Even in the freezing winter, the blood flowed in his body with the same righteous ardour.

Now that Chon Kai has been detained under the Emergency Ordinance for more than 20 days, every single day is very lengthy indeed.

He was accused of reviving communism and plotting to overthrow the monarch; such a ridiculous accusation was simply made, but it has robbed him of his freedom and deprived his mother of the company of her son.

What law in today’s 21st century can be so cruel and unreasonable? Why do we still have such callous laws that allow detention without trial? Why does our society tolerate such an unreasonable thing?

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The current durian season reminds me of this friend who likes this fruit and is still incarcerated in a narrow cell in solitary confinement.

I hope he would not be deprived of the opportunity to relish some yellowish flesh at Balik Pulau by the end of this durian season.

Lee Yen Ting is former president of the Chinese Language Society, USM (2001/02), at the same time when Choo Chon Kai was the society’s secretary-general.

This piece first appeared in

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1 Comment on "The Chon Kai whom I know"

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An inspiring article. Thanks to Lee Yen Ting and Aliran, people like me get to know more about Choo Chon Kai and by extension his 5 other comrades who were also detained largely referred to as the EO6. Praise God that the govt finally saw through their own folly and released these guys.