Funeral Volunteer – Mr Tan Sew Sewan

Hainanese chicken chop, Hainanese stir-fried mee, Hainanese bread are served in turn, munching slowly to feel the new scene brought on by a clash of food and beverage cultures, as well as the inconspicuous efforts of the second generation owner in contributing to the local community, all at this well-known shop of ninety odd years in Kuala Kubu Bharu – Kedai Makanan Hailam Sun Sun Nam Cheong. 

Substituting grilling chicken chop with deep frying, replacing salad with peas and onion, the idea of starch sauce stemming from mushroom gravy, drenching the chicken chop, adding in a clump of familiar french fries, and ta-da! An exclusive western-Hainanese dish sure to win over taste buds is ready. This family recipe was improvised by the current owner (the second generation) Mr Tan’s father, who in the past had migrated overseas to Malaya with his fellow Hainanese friends. He used to be a chef for the British, and utilised his culinary talents to concoct the dish to suit the palate of locals, thus creating this Asian fusion chicken chop.

During that era, the veteran Chinese immigrants led a hard life in Malaya, struggling in every stage. The senior Mr Tan, who was from Wenchang Province in Hainan Island, never neglect to show brotherly affection and care towards his fellow hometowners, by receiving them in Kedai Makanan Hailam Nam Cheong (the predecessor of Sun Sun Nam Cheong), his shop in Kuala Kubu Lama. He even taught them the skills of making coffee and cooking, so that they have sufficient skills to make a living. After almost a century, Mr Tan still lives up to his father’s benevolent spirit, as he has close rapport with the local jurisdiction, he employs ex-convicts from time to time, shredding their stereotypical impressions, thus allowing them an opportunity to rehabilitate and integrate into society.

The walls of Sun Sun Nam Cheong are full with both commendation and appreciation certificates, issued by units of authority such as the police, the fire and rescue department, old folks home, and shelter homes etc. These are a token of gratefulness towards Mr Tan Sew Sewan on his good Samaritan acts, including volunteering to bury the dead. During thirty odd years, Mr Tan and a few other volunteers buried hundreds of the deceased, mostly lonely old folk, disabled persons, and the mentally ill from shelter homes.

Within the period Mr Tan worked as a volunteer, he noticed some difficulties in handling the corpses from shelter homes and old folks homes, as they were neglected by the society. They had no family or relatives to claim their remains, and it is inadvisable to store them long-term in the mortuary. In the end, these dead bodies were not properly dealt with, causing mass burial incidents and soil erosion in the graveyard after raining, which attracted wild animals, an extremely shocking situation to behold.

From the initial dread upon entering the autopsy ward, to striving for land to construct a burial ground, within the past thirty years, Mr Tan discreetly persisted to lay the departed to rest, amidst the vicissitudes as well as sentiments of life. In his possession are numerous logbooks bearing explicit records of funerals held for dead bodies, such as name, death date, location of the grave, and some photos. Sometimes he also receives enquiries from families trying to trace their long-lost relatives. Between heaven and earth, perhaps there were invisible dots subconsciously connecting yearning minds.

Text: Daniel Lim & Pua Hui Wen

有你 UNI Production
Producer : Mok Yii Chek
Coordinator : Daniel Lim
Cinematographer : Amelia Lim / Evon Pang
Video Editor : Amelia Lim
Production Assistant : Michael Lerk
Music : Arms of Heaven


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