“I wonder what is for dinner today?” mused disciple Ah Lek, a wistful look crossing his face, “I hope it is those giant wantons that our cook uncle Tong makes so well.” “What giant wanton?” sniggered disciple Ah Kow giving disciple Ah Lek a hard punch on his shoulder. “It’s shui jiao dumpling! So stupid-la! Giant wanton! Ha ha ha.”
“It does look like giant wanton. And they are so tasty,” Ah Lek retorted, rubbing his shoulder. “Yes,” added disciple Ah Lian, “our cook is so clever and his food so good that I always go for seconds.” “And thirds and fourths,” muttered disciple Ah Kow under his breath.
“My body is the temple of the God so I must take good care of it,” declares Ah Lian staring daggers at disciple Ah Kow. “Not just a temple but a megatemple,” observed disciple Ah Kow while eyeing disciple Ah Lian’s wide waist. “Ouch!” groaned disciple Ah Kow when disciple Ah Lian’s sandal bounced off his forehead.
“Did you know that our cook uncle Tong is a very famous cook?” chipped in senior disciple Ah Moo who had just returned from the Middle East monastery in the disciple exchange program. The Middle East monastery loath to let senior disciple Ah Moo leave because they were more reluctant to take back their disciple Iskandar. Ah Moo was munching on char siew pau which he missed very much during his time in the Middle East. The cook made a fresh batch just for him as a welcome back present. “Our cook is Iron Wok Tong!”
“No!” exclaimed all the disciples in unison. “Not the world famous Iron Wok Tong!” gasped disciple Ah Lian who loves watching the food channel on their satellite television as much as she loves eating. “Iron Wok Tong started a large chain of restaurants. His Tai Pai Tong restaurants are found in every major city and people have to wait in long queues just to get a seat. It was rumoured that he cooked a great banquet for the Emperor and the Emperor actually asked for seconds.” Disciple Ah Lian looked around and saw that all the other disciples were listening intently.
Basking in the limelight, disciple Ah Lian continued, “Iron Wok Tong was very famous. The Emperor gave him the title ‘The Greatest Cook in China’. Iron Wok Tong was so rich that he was rated one of the top ten richest men in all of China! He had a large mansion and a concubine in every city. Some people say that his carriage is made of gold!”
“One day a few years ago, he had an accident and was seriously injured. Then he just disappeared. Nobody knows where he is now,” finished disciple Ah Lian.
“Numoo…,” began senior disciple Ah Moo with his mouth full and promptly choked. Disciple Ah Lian walked calmly up to her senior disciple and punched him in the midriff. A piece of char siew flew out of his mouth and hit disciple Ah Lek in the eye. “When someone is choking you are supposed to hit him in the back, not the front,” complained disciple Ah Lek as he wiped the char siew sauce from his face. “Oh!” blushed disciple Ah Lian.
“I know where he is!” gasped senior disciple Ah Moo from the floor while gripping his tummy. “I know where Iron Wok Tong is! There.” He pointed to the cook who was listening to their conversation while tending to his beloved bonsai trees. Everyone turn to stare at the middle-aged man with a large paunch. “Uncle Tong!”
“Uncle Tong, why didn’t you tell us that you are the famous Iron Wok Tong,” the excited disciples shouted as they gathered around their beloved cook.
Cook Ah Tong smiled as he sat on a small stool and fanned himself. He looked at the excited young faces around him. The cook had this peaceful and serene atmosphere about him. He moved slowly and calmly as if he had all the time in the world which sometimes led to burnt rice. “Yes, I was Iron Wok Tong,” admitted the cook, “then I decided to retreat from the world.” “Wow,” disciple Ah Lek thought to himself, “like these kungfu movies where the master sword man always decided to retreat from the world.”
“But why, Uncle Tong?” asked disciple Ah Lian. “You had everything!” “Yes, I had everything and yes, my carriage is made of pure gold,” began cook Ah Tong shifting to make himself comfortable.
“Yes, I had everything everyone could dream of. Then one day, it was a Sunday, I remember. I was very drunk but decided to take my carriage for a drive. I must have pushed the horses very hard because the carriage was moving very fast. While rounding a corner at the steep slopes of the Three Gorges, I lost control and the horses and carriage plunged into the yellow river below. I was thrown out and crashed into a tree on the side of the gorge. I blacked out. The tree must have stopped my fall or else I would have drowned in the river like my horses.
“When I woke up, it was evening for it was getting dark and cold. I was caught in the tree head down, hanging perilously one hundred feet above the deep river. My first thought was how lucky I was until I realise that I cannot feel my body below my neck. I was paralysed from my neck downwards! Then I knew I was going to die. I knew that the fragile branches will break under my weight and I will fall into the river and drown. I hung there for three days and three nights before the villagers found and rescued me.”
Iron Wok Tong paused and his eyes turned misty. “During those three days and three nights when I was waiting to die, did you know what I was thinking of? No, not my reputation as the greatest cook in China, not my chain of restaurants, not my mansion or great wealth. No, all I wanted is to hold my wife’s hand and look into her eyes and see her smile. All I wanted is to hold and hug my children once more. All I wanted is to see my friends one more time, maybe have a game of mahjong together.
“Alone during the hot days and cold nights I had a lot of time to think. I reviewed my life and wondered if my life was worth anything. Waiting to die, my thoughts were often about what I would say to the Lord at judgment day. ‘Would you like me to make you a char siew pau?’
“It took almost a year for me to recover. Abba Thomas is a great doctor though he always said that it was the prayers of the villagers that healed me. During the twelve months of recovery I often thought about my longings and regrets I had when I thought I was going to die. So I decided to retreat from the world and live for what really matters.
“I wanted to spend more time with my wife and family. I wanted to spend more time building relationships with other people. I wanted to make sure that the rest of my life means something, so that I when I die, I will not be ashamed to stand before the One. But the only thing I know how to do is cook.
“So I came to Abba Ah Beng and begged for a job as a cook. I wanted to cook for you young people so that you will be physically healthy when you leave this monastery to carry out God’s purposes. That’s all I wanted to do. Iron Wok Tong is no more. It is just me, Ah Tong.”
There was a hush when cook Ah Tong finished. “Uncle Tong,” whispered disciple Ah Lek, “can you make me a char siew pau?”
1. In the busyness of everyday life, our loved ones often receive low priorities. How do we love and value our loved one in the remaining days we have on this earth?
2. How do we build friendship with other people that are enduring, encouraging and deifying?
3. We often think that we must do great things for the Lord. What are some of the significant ways we can serve the Lord while living our present life?