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Time’s Significance
26 December 2018

For Mr Ong, clocks are a reminder to utilise what little time he has left to live meaningfully.

By Toh Wei Shi, HCA Community Relations

“Tick tock, tick tock.”

The rhythmic ticking of the clock is a constant reminder of the passage of time. For 57-year-old Mr Ong Chin Guan, clocks embody a deeper significance. Diagnosed with end-stage nasopharynx cancer, Mr Ong knows his days are numbered. “The clocks are a reminder to myself that time is precious and we should seize the moment,” he explains, while showing us the myriad of clocks he has at home.

His living space, which he shares with his long-time partner, Ms Janet Leong, is small but tastefully decorated with the random trinkets and items he used to pick up in the neighbourhood when he was in better health. It is hard to imagine that the eclectic mix of items – including timepieces, musical boxes and vintage sewing machines – were collected from the rubbish dump. 

Eclectic trinkets are tastefully refurbished and given a new life.

“I think it’s such a waste because these things are often in good condition. So I refurbish and clean them after I take them home,” Mr Ong shares.

An Artistic Touch

There is an obvious element of conscious thought in Mr Ong’s carefully curated collection, which also features personal touches. The face of a plain clock becomes a canvas for his drawings, the inspiration for which he gleans from other items he collects. Inspired by the motif of a bat on a bottle cap, he replicated the design on a clock face with pencil shading and colouring.

Previously a contractor by profession, he has also put his electrical knowledge and skills to good use in his works of art, illuminating display cases with light bulbs and infusing sound with audio parts he salvages from old music boxes.

Mr Ong combines his electrical knowledge and artistic flair to create these beautiful masterpieces.

For Mr Ong, devoting time and effort to refurbish these discarded items are a way for him to pass time and keep his mind occupied, ever since he had to stop working due to his illness. “I used to be a workaholic,” he shares.

Love and Strength

Mr Ong’s creativity and artistic flair are also evident in the gifts he gives to Ms Leong, whom he lovingly calls his soulmate and fiancée. One of these gifts is a vintage cabinet, decorated with quirky little trinkets, which Ms Leong uses to store her personal belongings.

The bond between the couple is palpable. From meticulously administering and keeping track of his medications to preparing milk for his meals, Ms Leong dutifully attends to his needs round the clock, always with reassuring words and gentle touches.

The couple shared a bond so deep, no words were needed.

Her dedication and love don’t go unnoticed by Mr Ong, who often tries his best to put on a cheery smile despite the excruciating pain. In healthier days, he would channel his personal style by playing dress up, often taking on the persona of a rock star – complete with a hat and sunglasses – to elicit a laugh from Ms Leong. “I was inspired by celebrity Andy Lau’s style,” Mr Ong shares. “I would often put on my punk rock gear to make her laugh and she loved taking photos!”

Determination and Acceptance

The diagnosis of a terminal illness always hits hard. “There are days when I would think, ‘Why him? He’s such a good man’,” Ms Leong says wistfully. “But we should focus on making the most out of the remaining time we have.”

Mr Ong and partner Janet.

Mr Ong has taken his diagnosis in his stride as well, demonstrating a strong will to live. “Patients should face up to reality if they have been diagnosed,” he says. “Don’t give up on life.”

“Let bygones be bygones, and just do the best you can.”

*Mr Ong has since passed on.