Friday, October 24, 2008


This post is specially dedicated to my Uncle Xavier, who just turned 75 on 22 October. "I'm 3/4 century old today, and life is great!" reads his email announcement on his birthday.

My uncle, a retired electrical engineer with Telekom, certainly knows how to live life. He never allowed a by-pass operation years ago to put a damper on his lifestyle. If anything, he is even more determined to enjoy each day, and make the rest of his years the best years in his life.

An avid photographer and intrepid globetrotter, he has devoted more time and energy to his twin passions in his retirement years. Almost every month, Uncle Xavier is away in one country or another, capturing the sights with his trusty camera and chronicling his travel experiences to share with members of the extensive Goh clan.

Taking in the mountainous terrain and the people of northern India.

Not one to opt for the ease and convenience of package tours, Uncle Xavier prefers to rough it out on roads less travelled. He has checked out the ancient ruins in Machu Picchu, Peru, travelled along the old Silk Route, gone off the beaten track in China more times than even he can recall, covered extensively Cambodia, Vietnam, India and Indonesia, paid a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Israel, and most recently, visited North Korea for a first-hand look at life under a communist regime. And all this is a mere fraction of the places he has visited and the people he has met.

Apparently in North Korea, when taking photos of the statue of the former President, it must be of full length and one must not pose with the right arm raised in a similar manner.

Such billboards are common in the country.

Uncle Xavier is the livewire of the family. Blessed with a great sense of humour, he has the rare ability to look at the lighter side of things, and punctuates every sentence with a hearty laugh. If laughter is the best medicine, then uncle Xavier is the perfect example of what a daily dose of laughter can do for one's health.

But there is also a serious side to Uncle Xavier. As a responsible world citizen, he often sends out emails alerting his friends and family members to man's abuse of the environment and the violation of human rights. One recent email drew my attention to the little known horror of the brutal slaughter of whales in the Faroe Islands, Denmark.

As a teenager growing up in the small town of Batu Pahat, I used to listen enviously to my uncle share his travel tales. I vowed that one day when I could afford to, I would traverse the world just like him. My first opportunity came in 1975 when I spent almost a month backpacking alone across India and Nepal. My mother thought I was nuts. But that is another story.

Here's a toast to you, Uncle Xavier. May there be many more happy returns of the day!

(My Aunt Sylvia, who accompanied Uncle Xavier on the North Korea trip, has written an excellent first-hand account of the visit. The Star has published it under "The World's Most Exclusive Recluse")

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