Brother Lee Teck Hock and Sister Kwek Jing Tai in their early years when they got married. (Photo provided by Lee Teck Hock)
Those were the ignorant days
Lee Teck Hock, born in 1963, comes from a big family and is the youngest brother among his nine siblings. Apart from being adored by his family members, he was a constant worry for his mother. At a young age, he disliked schooling, often play truant and mixed with the wrong company. He smoked, took drugs and even got involved in motorcycle racing. At the age of 19, he was caught by police for robbery and was detained in the Drug Rehabilitation Centre for failing the urine drug screening. His mother, a devoted Buddhist, was heartbroken to see him landed in this state.
After Teck Hock’s release, he joined the Jing Ming Buddhist Association under his mother’s influence and promised her that he would not go astray again. From there, he got to know his wife Kwek Jin Tai, who is three years his junior. In 1982, in their early 20s they got married, started their family and have three sons. It was a happy family to look forward to.
However, when Teck Hock was in his early 40s, he started to gamble. He would gamble all day long, lost all his hard-earned money as a taxi driver and gradually ran into debts. Heavily indebted, he was unable to support his family and began to neglect them. He tried to borrow money from Jin Tai, but whenever his attempts were unsuccessful, he would turn violent to vent his anger. He would beat, kick and punch her on her face. “I once had to call the police for protection as he had beaten me up so seriously,” said Jin Tai as she recollected the harm her husband had inflicted on her.
“My father often gambled and came home drunk with strong cigarette smell. He would fight and quarrel with my mother when he came home. I was often worried that my mother would get beaten up by him at that time that I just couldn’t sleep well,” revealed their third son, Terence Lee, aged 24.
Those were the traumatic days for Teck Hock’s children to witness their father’s abusive acts towards their mother. As a husband and a father, Teck Hock had failed terribly in his role. He continued to gamble and drink and this dragged on for ten years.
Inevitably, Jin Tai had to be the sole bread winner for the family. She became a taxi driver too. To ensure sufficient income to support her family, she would target to earn $300 per day without fail before she returned home. It took her about 16 hours of driving per day to earn that much and that lasted for eight years.
She juggled between her children, work and household matters all by herself and there was a constant worry over housing mortgage, utilities bills, children’s school fees and other miscellaneous expenses lingering at the back of her mind. Life was tough and exhausting but she endured the hardship for the sake of the family.
Teck Hock, however, continued his indulgent lifestyle and turned to his brothers and sisters whenever he was in financial trouble. For the first two times, his siblings obliged and lent him the money, not forgetting to advise him to quit his bad habits. But the youngest son was simply too stubborn to change.
“After my mother’s death in year 2000, we thought he would realize his mistake, repent and be good. Instead, he got worst and his borrowings became more frequent. He was really hopeless,” recounted his younger sister, Angelina.
Willful as he was, Teck Hock did not heed any of his siblings’ advices. They grew annoyed with his antics and finally threatened to cut ties with him. Futile in his effort, Teck Hock’s pride was hurt. He avoided all his siblings to show his anger and remained uncontactable with them for the next ten years.
A compelling call
The turning point for Teck Hock’s life was during his Taiwan tour in December 2011 together with his wife and elder son’s family. There was an instance when he was browsing through the television channel in the hotel and he saw an episode of Da Ai programme. In it were footages of disasters and sufferings happening at different parts of the world as well as Master Cheng Yen’s speech. He was shaken by the Master’s words as every word from her was like directed to him and piercing through his heart.
In another instance, while he was watching a Da Ai drama series entitled ‘等待曙光’ (Waiting for Dawn), the pitiful scene aroused and triggered his emotion. He felt empathetic towards the old mother who had to look after her two young grandsons as his son, who is a gambler and drug addict, was unable to take care of them. What he had done in the past was similar to the scenario and his life memories started flashing back in his mind. He felt a sudden shame of the actions he had committed, especially hurting his mother who has passed on and not fulfilling his filial duty to her. He was extremely remorseful that his willful actions had led to angst, disappointment and heartache to his family.
“One must learn to be fearful,” he quoted a verse from the Master’s speech that had left him with a deep impression.
Throughout his seven-day stay in Taiwan, he would eagerly stay until late night to watch the Da Ai TV programmes. The programmes and Master’s words of wisdom appeared to have drawn out the good side of his soul. He found himself to be more emotive as he would shed tears, especially after watching inspiring or suffering stories reported by the Tzu Chi channel.
As a hard core gambler, smoker and wife abuser, it was unbelievable that Teck Hock would decisively make up his mind to change. And he was determined.
Signs of life transformation
Just when he thought he would lose touch with the teachings of Master Cheng Yen coming back to Singapore, he found out that his eldest sister Geok Ling is actually volunteering with the local Tzu Chi branch. Right in January this year, he started joining his sister in the community recycling activity. Having learnt of his positive comments on Da Ai TV as well as his gratification of listening Master’s speech in Taiwan, Sister Geok Ling encouraged Teck Hock to be involved in more Tzu Chi activities and volunteer sharing sessions, and he followed suit willingly.
Six months into the volunteering, Brother Lee’s lifestyle changed tremendously. He changed his mobile number to cut ties from his past ‘kakis’ and quitted gambling, smoking and drinking habits altogether. He also stopped being aggressive towards his wife and started to appreciate her more. Once in a while, he would “date” her to go for vegetarian meals during their taxi lunch break. It was now his turn to influence his wife, a meat lover, to go for vegetarian meals for the sake of the planet. He was also determined to persuade her to join Tzu Chi despite numerous rejections from her.
“My brother even prayed for Guan Yin’s blessing and wished that one day my sister-in-law will join him in Tzu Chi activities,” shared Sister Geok Ling.
It was to the extent of seeking Bodhisattva’s help for the goodness he saw in Tzu Chi. Eventually Jin Tai agreed and began volunteering along with Teck Hock as she herself was inspired by Master Cheng Yen’s words.
Declaration of commitment
“I sincerely repent of what I had done in the past and pledge to commit my time and life to serve in Tzu Chi.” This was what Teck Hock said as he bravely went on the stage to share his past and declare his commitment at the Auspicious Seventh Lunar Month event held on 18 August 2012.
The now Brother Teck Hock has truly mended his ways. Now, every morning he would diligently chant the Heart Sutra, sing the Tzu Chi ‘Prayer’ song and watch Da Ai TV using the set top box. He also participates regularly in Tzu Chi activities such as monthly recycling activities, distribution events, volunteer sharing sessions and Water Repentance Text study club.
To gear up for his participation in the Auspicious Seventh Lunar Month event, he became fully vegetarian without hesitation. He supports the campaign of saving energy, water and electricity, and donates $10 daily on his cigarette money saved into a coin bank (he had quit smoking). The English ed also diligently learned the Water Repentance sign language with the help of his youngest sister’s Han Yu Pin Ying translation.
“He is now able to log on to the internet to learn the hand signs and within 20 minutes, he can remember all of it,” Sister Jin Tai announced proudly with contentment.
Compared to the past, Brother Teck Hock has found a new meaning and purpose for his life. Many could not believe what they saw.
“I couldn’t believe he could change so fast. In the past, his siblings and many people in the temple have counselled and advised him but their efforts went in vain. Now with Tzu Chi, he has transformed to a new person,” said Sister Jin Tai.
“Initially I was not confident that he will change but the change I have seen in him is amazing given his past indulgence. Even his fifth brother who doted on him the most is surprised and claimed that he has found his ‘most headache’ brother back,” commented Sister Geok Leng.
An inspiration for all
“The fact that he could stand up and disclose all his bad deeds openly is also a form of repentance,” said Sister Aye Lian, Teck Hock’s second sister, gladly.
Teck Hock lamented that he got to know Tzu Chi late. Moving forward, he will cherish the moments he has to share his story with others to inspire them.
Looking back, Teck Hock is indeed lucky to have his supportive siblings and a virtuous wife despite the torture he brought to them. His brothers’ and sisters’ love for him was unconditional. They were understanding and forgave him for the bad deeds he had done. The amount of money he borrowed from them in the past was never in their mind and they are just happy to have him back in the right path.
As his wife, Sister Jin Tai’s attitude towards her husband and family is commendable. She upholds strong family values and did not even have a thought of giving up on her husband to ask for divorce despite the bad treatment she received. Time and again, she still stood by his side without fail. She is a wise woman who saw the importance of a complete family. Endurance and tolerance helped her to overcome her long bearing pain in her marriage, all so for the sake of her family and children. She expressed that her only wish is to have a happy family portrait taken after her second son graduated. Finally, after 30 years of her marriage, she sees the light at the end of the tunnel. The sacrifices she made are all worthwhile.
The couple’s three grown-up sons aged 29, 26 and 24 respectively are also happy with the change they see in their father.
The door of happiness opens up for them after the ending of Brother Teck Hock’s misdeed episode in his ignorance days. Warmth, joy and laughter filled the atmosphere as the Lee families gathered around for their regular vegetarian reunion dinner.
Apart from Brother Teck Hock and Sister Jin Tai, six of the siblings in Lee families (Sister Lee Geok Leng, Sister Lee Aye Lian, Brother Lee Teck Chye, Sister Lee Ai Kuan, Brother Lee Teck Beng and Sister Lee Angelina) are Tzu Chi volunteers too!