I first met Hui Ping-moon in a hospital ward. The man, just shy of 60 years old then, told me he had only recently survived a heart attack. From the way he spoke, he sounded like a seasoned warrior. An episode in 2003 was his biggest battle by far, he says. “It was 7pm on January 16, 2003, when I suddenly went into cardiac arrest due to an irregular heartbeat. I was rushed to the hospital’s accident and emergency unit, where I was resuscitated twice with a defibrillator,” Ping-moon says.
“Since then, every time my heart starts to race again, I try to calm myself down, pressing on my chest to slow down my heartbeat. I think about all the things I have yet to accomplish in life and tell myself that I can’t just die like that, I have to live on. I’ve lived my life like this for the past nine years. I’ve had my pacemaker changed twice. Having survived that, I didn’t think I would have to battle tongue cancer and lymphoma as well.”
In case he could not express himself clearly, Ping-moon wrote me a letter detailing his ordeal after the diagnosis of cancer. “In February 2008, the doctor told me I had to have an operation immediately or I would die in a matter of months,” he wrote. In the operation theatre, the doctor removed almost all his teeth as well as his tongue, replacing it with a piece of flesh from his thigh, he says. From that moment, Ping-moon would never be able to fully express himself, as other people do. Over the next few years, he would have to relearn how to walk, how to talk, and become accustomed to a new diet that would not require any chewing.
The cancer cells that invaded his mouth were out to kill. And, indeed, for a time Ping-moon entertained thoughts of ending his life. But a meeting with an “angel” – a social worker who made the rounds in hospital wards and subdivided flats to help those in need – saved him from himself. In his letter, Ping-moon wrote several times: “I want to live on, to perform”.
Whenever the topic of conversation touches on his past, he would steer it away, saying he doesn’t want to look back. I found out by chance that he used to be wealthy back in the 1970s. Whatever happened between then and now would have been a major turning point. In his middle years, he had had to take on a range of casual jobs to get by. As Ping-moon talks, I detect no bitterness at how life has treated him.
Ping-moon loves studying the trees, flowers, and even people around him. “Whether flowers or people, they’re interesting to look at. If you study them carefully, you can tell there are many types of people, they are all very different. I never used to observe people like I do now, but it’s fun,” he says. “Some people, just one look at them and you know they’re doing well and they’re happy. Others, you can tell that they’re not.” Ping-moon also likes to take long strolls. He says he has one wish: to have set foot on all of Hong Kong.
Ping-moon used to drive expensive cars and when he walked, he seldom studied the people and the trees around him. But now that he has to stop to catch his breath after every few steps, he has the chance to observe his surroundings. As the interview draws to a close and I prepare to leave, I ask him whether he is happy or unhappy at the moment. “Of course I’m happy,” he replies without hesitation.
It’s been a year since our meeting. Whenever I think of that time, what I remember most are the words he would repeat over and over again: “I must live on.”(Excerpts from the book Life and Times)