The man who gave me my first break in journalism 11 years ago, passed away yesterday, having struggled with blood cancer for as long as I’ve known him.

My friend Hazel messaged me the news yesterday, and for half an hour, I sat listlessly staring at the computer screen, trying to find the memories of this man and put them into words. This man who’d made my first years as a writer both a living hell and the most formative and rewarding in my career.

What do I remember of you, Mr Ong?

I remember how you’d slaughter my articles (loudly) and make me sit down for your hour-long lectures on how they should’ve gone, and THEN make me rewrite them from scratch.

I remember your chain smoking and that heavy crystal ashtray in your office that was always stuffed to the brim with cigarette butts.

I remember the long talks about Hemingway you loved to have with your editorial team, and how we loathed them because we thought they were a waste of time.

And how you’d scream at us for not making our deadlines after that.

I remember your teaching. Speed and accuracy, Jenn Tai! See? I remember.

I remember my first ‘overseas’ assignment, with you, in Bangkok. It was the first time I’d ever been out of the country (Singapore didn’t count). You showed me Patpong, and told me what the ‘little boys’ were doing outside the pubs. And what the ‘little girls’ were doing in them.

Our second assignment was to Melbourne, Australia. “First time in a gwailo country?” you’d asked me, and then you laughed. I was scared shitless and got sick the second day we were there. You told me to ‘walk it off’.

I remember your long-hand and how you refused to use the computer until we, your grunts, had no time to type up your work anymore.

I remember you shouting for me and at me from across the office, and how that seemed to strike fear in the hearts of new recruits. Haha, fools.

I remember your philandering ways, but how I refused to acknowledge them myself because they made you human.

I remember your lilting grin.

I remember your dedication to the craft although it got really hard to keep up.

I remember the pain that that caused you.

And I remember in the end, how you were the only one who respected me enough to let me go without protest.

You fought the good fight, Mr Ong. Like the marlin in your favourite book, you came alive even with death in you.

And now it’s time to rest, old man.