Saturday, June 13, 2009

Scarlet Sheets

Dear Friends,

Sacred as it may sound, there is no eluding when death comes a knocking. As a noun, it means the time at which life ends. My colleague, Luan Luan Joey during the recent first year memorial service of her mother in law, mull over how she wanted her wake to be, if she were to pass on before her time. To quote her composition on Facebook - "Not trying to curse myself here either; life and death are unquantifiable abstracts and part and parcel of nature’s course, which we often don’t have control over. This may sound eerie and 'pantang' to some but death shouldn't be a taboo topic because only when we start acknowledging it can we embrace life wholeheartedly - which I’m trying to, besides being grumpy, naggy and full of complaints on certain occasions. Ignorance is definitely not blissful in this matter." - unquote.

The past month has been 'traumatising' for me. Sam, a gym friend I have acquainted recently, in my 'Spinning' cycling class at California Fitness collapsed without regaining consciousness, just 15 minutes into the session. We cycle at least three times a week in a group under the watchful eyes of an instructor. And yet it happened. The night before his death, he was just boasting with me on how he managed to push his heart rate up to 90% of it's maximum. The post mortem revealed that it was heart failure and he was just 47.
As I am blogging this, I see a hype of activities happening at my neighbour's. Later to find out, this 'irritating' neighbour that constantly parks his car at the fringe of the road, has just passed away.

In the news, David Carradine, who became a TV icon in the early 1970s starring as an enigmatic Buddhist monk with a flair for martial arts in "Kung Fu" and more recently played the head of a group of assassins in the "Kill Bill" movies, has been found dead in Bangkok, Thailand. He was 72. Carradine was found hanged in his luxury hotel suite, Thai newspaper - the Nation reported on its website, citing unidentified police sources. They claimed it was suicide.

What constitutes death? It is clear enough that people die when their lives end, but less clear what represents the ending of a person's life. One of the saddest way to initiate that is suicide. Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with hurt. Suicide victims are not bad people, or crazy, or weak, or flawed; just because they feel suicidal. It does not even mean that they really want to die - it only means that they have more pain than they can contend with. It was just two weeks ago that I was told of the suicide of a 29 year old Thai lady in a renowned hotel in my vicinity. Married to a Swedish expatriate with a son, she swallowed ninety painkillers with beers, gripping a picture of her son and sliding into the deepest sleep she had ever knew.

I remember a suicide case that I had to deal with in 1996. I was in Jakarta, Indonesia as a hotel expatriate. We were in the midst of an early morning meeting when a panic-stricken front office staff burst into the conference room. “A guest slashed her wrist!” she exclaimed in Bahasa Indonesia.

Blood drained from the faces of those in the room. With a sickening fear creeping up my spine, I hurriedly dialed for Security. Together with the General Manager who was present at the meeting, we made our way to the guest’s room. The 65-year-old General Manager of Dutch descent, Rudy Schouten, was an experienced hotelier and must have seen much in his time, but even he was visibly quaking. The walk down the corridor towards Room 839 was the longest I have ever experienced.
The Security Manager, had arrived there with 2 of his men just moments before us. One of them was trying to calm the hysterical maid sobbing at the doorway. She must have been the one who discovered the guest. We had been forewarned of the sight that awaited us, but the limp body tangled in scarlet-soaked sheets and the smell of blood that permeated the room brought me to the brink of nausea.

We approached the bed cautiously to see a Chinese girl in her late-20s. Her lifeless demeanor led us to presume that we were too late. But suddenly, a twitch of her eye! Pandemonium broke loose. “She’s alive! Call an ambulance!” “Her wrist is still bleeding! We need to stop it!”

Someone grabbed a towel from the toilet and pressed it against her slashed wrist. The blood adamantly soaked through the towel. In desperation, I pulled off my tie and tied it around her wrist. Slowly, the blood ceased to flow.

Calm soon resumed after that. We suddenly realized that she was only clad scantily in a T-shirt and panty. The security personnel spotted a pair of shorts and gently pulled it on her, an attempt to return some measure of dignity. No one spoke much, but the unspoken question that ran through our minds were ‘what could possibly drive a young, pretty woman to such desperation that the only way out was death?’

We decided it was faster for a hotel van to send her to the hospital than an ambulance, so we arranged for one to wait at the back of the hotel. We bundled her up in a clean blanket, and gently led her, semi-conscious, through the service corridors to the van. The official statement would be that she was suffering from acute food poisoning.

Once she was safely en route to the nearest hospital, I began checking our hotel records for her reservation. She had been living in the hotel for six months but the room was booked under a gentleman’s name – Aming. We called him and he rushed over in a panic, claiming she was his friend. We directed him to the hospital to which she had been taken. Before he left the hotel, he paid the bill in full and requested that we throw away all her belongings.

The bloodied room underwent a major cleanup. For many months after, I could not look at our clean white sheets without imagining it decked with dirty scarlet stains.

It was very much later that I found out who Aming really was – a human trafficker who brings in women from China illegally. But Aming fell in love with one of his ‘goods’ and set her up at the hotel, promising her that a better life laid ahead for them. Somehow, she found out that he was already married and she decided to end her life.

Did she do it because she honestly loved him? Because she was in a foreign land, dependent on a man who would eventually sell her on the streets?

No matter what the reason, I pray she is living the better life that she hoped for.