My heart leapt when I saw this status update on Vui Fung’s Facebook page a couple of weeks ago:
“I try my best to face all of this… I never wanna try to hide it again…”
It was a huge step for her – this shy, awkward girl who hates being in the limelight, hates talking to strangers, hates making a fuss of anything. I messaged her. She told me she had decided to be brave. She would stand up, speak out, do everything necessary to help save her brother, Vui Kong.
This past week, she showed me she meant what she said.
Thursday, she attended the launch of the “Save Yong Vui Kong” campaign in her hometown, Sandakan. Sat up front with her brother’s lawyers and some other Very Important People, handed out petition forms, and didn’t once try to shy away when the press asked her questions.
Friday, she hit the streets with activists, politicians, friends and some relatives. At first, she hung back, approaching only the people she knew, urging them to sign a petition in support of her brother’s plea for a second chance. Twice, she nearly chickened out. We could tell it was incredibly stressful for her. She’d never ever been an activist. And this was her brother she was fighting for. So much was at stake. There was a look of panic on her face each time she walked up to a new person.
But she pressed on. And as the day progressed, she got bolder and started approaching everyone and anyone she came across – aunties at the market, kopitiam ah peks, old makciks drinking tea, teachers, shopkeepers, random strangers… they all signed the petition. She even managed to smile when people pointed at her and exclaimed, “You’re the sister!”
She collected more than 30 signatures that day. We congratulated her. “Not enough,” she said.
On our last evening in Sandakan, she came to our hotel with a laptop and a stack of photographs. There were dark circles under her eyes. We told her to go home and get some rest. But she said there was one last thing she had to do.
She wanted to write to President Nathan. And she wanted to combine her letter with photographs of Vui Kong, her family and other supporters. It was 11pm when she started work. She was cranky and nervous and jittery – terrified the President would be put off by her bad grammar, her inability to properly express herself. We told her to calm down and write from her heart. She shooed us away.
She drafted and redrafted the text. Didn’t sleep all night. And when we woke up, the letter was nearly done. Nearly. She fussed over punctuation marks, and sentence structure. Wrote and cancelled paragraphs. Glued, and unstuck photographs.
She only stopped to accompany us to the airport. There, she found a quiet spot, ordered us to go sit somewhere else, and continued working. She finished just before the final call. As we said goodbye, she asked if we thought the President would even bother reading what she had written.