TO the Chans, Valentine’s Day is a daily affair over 365 days and this tale must be repeated to remind that six decades and three children later, they’re an inspiringly lovable couple.
They say ‘I love you’ sometimes 10 times a day as a spirited symbol of their eternal love which is a rarest entity today.
He was simply smitten from the moment he laid eyes on her 58 years ago. And Chan Sing Tiek, 79, declares that he is still as besotted with his wife, Grace Tan Kee Yook.
“We have been married for 52 years and our love has only grown stronger over the years. I still open the car door for her, tell her how beautiful she is every day and say ‘I love you’, sometimes 10 times a day,” says Chan in an interview with the Penang-based The Star newspaper.
“Sometimes I think he says it too much,” Tan adds, rolling her eyes in mock-exasperation. “But he is sincere. He doesn’t just say the words. He is very romantic. He has always been the romantic one. When we were courting, he would write me beautiful love letters. On my 75th birthday, he bought me a bouquet of 75 roses.”
Their secret to a lasting marriage?
BOND TO MARRIAGE: PRICELESS TRUST
“You have to trust each other. For us, what’s mine is hers and what’s hers is mine – there is no difference. After all, if you don’t trust each other, you have no business being married,” says Chan.
Adds Tan: “Love is a commitment. It’s not just a feeling. Sure, there will be arguments. But it’s how you handle them that’s important. Nobody is perfect, after all.”
Even urbanised Singaporeans will appreciate that this Made-in-Malaysia love story is made of kampong movie-stuff. It began in 1962. Chan was 21 at the time, a small town boy from Air Tawar, Perak trying to make a living in Kuala Lumpur. Taiping-born Tan was just 19, a nursing student living in a hostel.
“We were introduced by his sister-in-law who was my course-mate,” explains Tan. “The first time he came to see me at my hostel, he brought a friend along and it was his friend who asked me out first. This fellow didn’t dare ask me out.”
Chan admits that he hesitated because Tan seemed way out of his league.
“I was from a village. I was just a Chinaman-type boy who was Chinese-educated and poor, and she was this beautiful, sophisticated, big town girl who went to an English school,” he says candidly.
It took three or four meetings before Chan plucked up the courage to ask Tan out on a date.
THE FIRST DATE
“I remember our first date clearly. We went to see a movie at the Federal theatre, which was just walking distance from her hostel. It was raining heavily and I was holding an umbrella. My arm brushed against her arm and I was so thrilled I didn’t know how to behave,” Chan remembers, his eyes lighting up as he recalls the magical date.
Romance never evaporates from Chan’s heart and he still buys his wife of 52 years flowers and he tells her he loves her several times a day. For Tan, the differences in their background didn’t matter. She was attracted to Chan’s honesty and sincerity; and his persistence in courting her.
“He amazed me, you know. He’d come to look for me at my hostel and if I wasn’t there, he’d come and find me again. He’d wait outside the cinema for me and even though there would be so many people coming out of the cinema, he could always spot me. So, I gave up. I knew there was no escaping this guy,” says Tan, with a laugh.
“He was a simple, straight-forward guy and thank goodness, I had the wisdom to recognise that even though I was so young.”
Chan recalls how he used to scrimp and save his measly salary to take his beau out on dates.
“I was earning just RM140 a month. So I would skip lunch just so that I could have some money to take her out for dates,” he shares.
“Poor fella,” says Tan, laughing. “But yes, we would meet each other whenever we could find the time.”
MARRIAGE: MOST WONDERFUL ADVENTURE
The two got engaged after about three years of being “boyfriend and girlfriend” and soon after, they got married. And marriage has been a most wonderful adventure for the two. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing.
“We argued a lot when we were young. A lot. And at times I did wonder what I’d gotten myself into,” she says. “He was old-fashioned and reserved and I was outgoing and we had quite a few arguments. Honestly, we were like east and west.
“But in hindsight, all that arguing in our early years was good. It was necessary because it helped us see ourselves better and realise what was important to us.
“In any marriage, you have to change or adapt. As we grew older, we ironed out all our differences and we didn’t have anything to argue about anymore,” says Tan.
The tale of the Chans simply means that true love truly conquers all. And during this romantic month of Valentine’s, it’s awesome to hear Chan say: “The greatest gift you can give your children is to love your wife.”