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  • Writer's pictureVicky Zhuang Yi-Yin

Lessons from Papa Cheeni

In 1982, one man reached the Lahore airport and then traveled to Faisalabad to go help his sister and her husband to build the first Chinese Restaurant in the city. That man, was my dad. I don't think he planned to stay for long, but eventually he did. He later settled in 1986 in Lahore working for one of the second oldest Chinese Restaurant in Lahore. Then in February 1988, in the same restaurant, he got married to Mama Cheeni. And so began his life as a family man in a country he was not born in.

I think my dad was a storyteller, and that's where I got the knack for storytelling too. I fondly remember him talking about his adventures in Hainan Dao (Mandarin) or Hoilaam Dou (Cantonese). Some of the stories are hilarious, as we laugh on the breakfast table when my dad would narrate them. Some were spooky, or at least that's what I remembered. But since I was a child, I don't think I can rely on my memory. But I think that's where I get my knack for storytelling.

Papa Cheeni was known by many of his friends as a hard working man. I can vouch for that. All I remember is my dad working. Day in and day out. I don't think we've ever had a family vacation as a whole family. I don't think we ever did a trip together either, unless you count the one where we went to get our visas to China. (Yes, I need to get a visa to go to China). My brother and I rarely saw him rest too.

His routine was get up early in the morning. If he had to make tofu that day, he'd get up early like 4am. If it was a school day, he'd make sure he was ready by the time we were to be dropped off at school. If he had to go get vegetables for his restaurant, he'd go as soon as he dropped us. Meat and stuff at 8am. To his restaurant around 10am. And then work till he picks us up at around 1.30pm, makes our lunch at the restaurant, and then back to work until 3pm. Goes for a round to the market for some other things. Back in the restaurant by 5.30pm. And work all the way till 11pm, sometimes longer, and then come home. Sleep, really late.

As my mom says, he did all that for us.

That's us. Me and my little brother. (Yeah, I chose the babiest picture of my brother to embarrass him). To me, this picture looks like it is my dad saying, "This is my whole world." This is him holding us close to him and proudly creating a family away from his home country. This is him holding us close to tell us he was going to take care of us.

And take care he did.

But his hard work did take a toll. Let's be honest. I have never seen this man do anything for himself. Everything he did was about his children and his wife. He earned money only to make sure that we had a roof over our heads, food on the table and a good education.

I can still remember how heartbroken he was when he couldn't afford to send me abroad to study. And we both didn't speak to each other about it at all. I still remember how he proud he was, as if it was retribution for him when I received the Gold Medal and got on the Dean's Honor List at Lahore School of Economics.

I can proudly say that my brother and I are the people we are for one part because of our father. And saying goodbye to him was probably the hardest thing we've ever done together. He passed away in October, 2016. But I think he knew that both of us would do fine. For us, he truly is the embodiment of what kind of a selfless human being we should aim to be. It's an understatement to say he was our role model. Because he was way more that that for us.

Today is Father's Day and I believe he is not absent, and he is looking down at us from the heavens and sending signs to us that things will be alright as long as we worked hard and stayed honest. That's the simplest lesson we learnt from him and it's the simplest things that matter the most.

Happy Father's Day to all the fathers and father figures in the world today. Keep fighting the good fight. Keep being the pillars of support that you are. Keep being the strong castles for the children that need you. Happy Father's Day to Papa Cheeni, who is always here no matter what.

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