Friday, August 21, 2009

Farewell, Uncle Thomas

Photo courtesy of ZJ Wen

A friend of mine, Thomas Yong, passed away of natural causes.

Thomas was a mainstay of our Pulau Aur trips. Aur was his favorite place and he used to go there to get away. He joked with me once that if he kept a logbook of his dives, it would read "Aur, Aur, Aur, Lang, Lang, Lang, Aur, Aur, Aur..." because he dove there so often. He would say goofy stuff like that all the time and make us laugh. He carried a 6ft long SMB that had "Uncle Thomas" written on it in marker pen that would always elicit lewd jokes.

Thomas loved the outdoors and fresh air. He used to sleep in a sleeping bag on the front porch of the Diver's Lodge cabins. He would sleep through the bright lights, talking, and blaring music. I always wondered how he was able to do that. To Thomas, diving was an opportunity to partake of nature's wonderful treasures. It brought great joy to him (and us) to find and observe beautiful, rare, weird critters on our dives. It made him sad to see pollution, unsafe divers, damaged coral, and unsustainable practices. I remember him telling me how much he enjoyed the marine life in Pulau Hantu, which to me was the ultimate testament to his love of all things aquatic!

Everybody in Aur knew him personally, including the boatmen, the makciks in kitchen, and so on. He was the guy who got along with everyone and made them laugh. When the bumboat would arrive at Aur at 5am, everyone would rush to their rooms to catch another couple of hours' sleep. Thomas would typically stay behind and help load the supplies onto the island, not because anyone asked him to, but because he liked to help. He told me once how he helped the boatmen carry a refrigerator up the ladder. Just because.

Thomas was a wise man. He often shared with me various aspects of his philosophy on life. He talked about living healthy, working hard, being generous, not wasting, keeping a positive attitude, and maintaining perspective. He always saw the brighter side of life. He was always the first one up in Aur, doing jumping jacks on the porch, greeting the day with a smile and laugh. He was a lot older than most of us but his energy and attitude outshone us all.

Thomas spoke of a magical diving destination that was pristine and unspoiled by the human touch. He described it a diving paradise, where the marine life was abundant, diverse, and free to live unthreatened in its natural habitat. It was Thomas' happy place. I'd like to think that he's spending the rest of his days there, in this utopia, keeping a watchful eye over us.

Farewell, Uncle Thomas. Things just won't be the same without you.

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