The Times of My Father-in-law

Mark Looi
87 min readJul 2, 2022

“His dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.

Having reached 90, my father-in-law died. Looking back, he glimpsed how the twentieth century’s big events had shaped his life. He knew he had faced challenges, risks, and privations — followed by many rewards. He had raised a family of four, practiced medicine for nearly five decades, and won the financial security that had eluded his own father’s family. He did all of this through war, revolution, and a bitter peace — only to find himself in a world he didn’t recognize. His, like so many others, is a tale of luck, perseverance and sacrifice, when added together with everyone else’s, built the resurgent Asia of today. His story is incomplete without a recent history of Taiwan and the ageless story of the immigrant in a foreign land.

Death Came in on Cat Feet

Dr Cheng Sau Tang found his wife lying on the 12th floor of their Kaohsiung apartment in April 2018. Though she was still breathing, he couldn’t revive her. He instinctively reacted like the doctor he was, checking for pulse, signs of life, and so on, but could not suppress a terrifying dread. After a blur of activity, a phone call, the doorman, the ambulance, the paramedics, the nurses, she was in intensive care. But, the outlook was grim. His companion for 60 years, the love of his life, was dying. Soon, he would have to make the most difficult decision of his life: to end her life support.

It was not supposed to be this way. She was not supposed to go first. They were meant to have more time together. And they needed more time: after a lifetime of doing things for others, there was much to do for themselves; there were still more places to travel to; there was personal business to complete; there were grandchildren to see enter university, graduate, even get married. They had high, high hopes for the generation that they’d sacrificed so much for and hoped so much for. Now, she would not see the future that had sustained them all these years, Cheng Sau Tang thought. He felt hollow, cheated even. To labor all your life, only to be tricked by fate at the end.

There was so much more he wanted to say to her — things that he had been certain…

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Mark Looi

Entrepreneur, technologist, business strategist, history buff, photographer, with a diverse range of interests.