It’s been a long time since I’ve had any contact with the rock climbing community. Sure I still keep in touch with a few climber friends now and then (although I have to say that most of them have either hung up their shoes for good, or climb so infrequently that they could hardly still be called climbers), but mostly, my circle now revolves around Mums with young children and other related people. So it was with a bit of a shock that I received news about a climber I had climbed with had passed away.
As is often the case whenever youth is robbed of life, our thoughts will inevitably wander towards the cause of death. But today, I’d like to write not about how he died but what little I knew about how he lived. However, before I do that, I think I should state first that Liong’s death had nothing to do with climbing, so please don’t leave thinking that climbing is a dangerous sport.
Liong was a climber. I first saw him when the Thin Man and I were still relative newbies in the climbing arena. We arrived early at Damai on a Sunday morning and sat in the car watching two climbers anchored at the top of the first pitch of Monsoon – whom I later discovered were Liong and Supermei. Admitedly, I was more in awe of Supermei than I had been of Liong because the idea of a girl being a great climber seem to strike well in my mind. Suffice to say that Mei was not called “Super” Mei without reason.
Supermei began to lead the second pitch and we continued watching with bated breaths, marveling at these two awesome climbers. It was to be the first of many more times that we were to see Liong and Supermei at the crag, however, we never really climbed with them because we considered them way out of our league. It didn’t seem right to be pestering two great climbers to babysit a bunch of newbies.
It was hard to imagine that I eventually became good enough at climbing to hold a decent climbing conversation with Liong, as I did when I was projecting “Pear”, my first 7A route, at Nyamuk. Yep, I was finally “good enough” to climb in the company of Supermei and Liong – not by their standards but by mine. It was Liong’s pep talk on falling that helped me conquer my fear to lead Pear and red-point it. If I’m not mistaken, I think that was also the day Liong had to leave early because he had some things to do for his wedding.
I think it came as a surprise to me that Liong was getting married. In all the time that I knew him, I had always seen him with Supermei. Though I knew that they were not a couple, it still came as a surprise that he had a non-climbing partner. At a time when I was still single, the idea that a climber who spent as much time climbing as Liong did could have a healthy relationship with a non-climber seemed at odds with my belief that I must one day evitably end up with a rock climber for a partner. Perhaps learning about Liong’s marriage to a non-climber was the opening of the doors in my mind towards the idea of a non-climbing partner.
I didn’t see too much of Liong after that, presumably, I guess, because with married life came different priorities. And though at the time I could never see what else life might have to offer beyond climbing, being in that situation now has made me realise that the answer is “a lot”.
A close friend of Liong’s had said that Liong felt he had done 75% of the things he had wanted to do in his life before getting married and that the remaining 25% of the things he wanted to do, he could do with his wife. Well, I hope he managed to do the 25% of the things he had wanted to do before he was cruelly snatched away by death. And to his pregnant wife and child, I wish to send my very deepest condolences.
They say that life is short, live it to the fullest. I don’t think I can really express how important that is.