Perry Tan: An Untiring, “Lovable Rascal”
* Told by Barani Krishnan, Founder & Americas Editor @ neverforget.cloud
It was toward the end of the school day, probably an hour to the bell, in the Malaysian capital’s MBSKL. Sunny Chong, who usually adored the bright kids in his Primary Six class, was at his wit’s end with the mischief caused that day by the spiny-haired, 12-year-old who sat at the back. He pulled the kid out to the front and made him hop for misbehaving. The rest of the class continued their lesson, grinning.
Forty-five minutes later, that boy was still hopping. Sunny, absorbed with his own work, had forgotten about the punishment he had ordered until he suddenly looked up to see the lad still going like an Energizer Bunny.
“Goodness gracious! Where in the hell does he get all that energy from?” Sunny wondered aloud, shaking his head with amazement and causing the class to crack up.
BALL OF ENERGY
That, essentially, was Perry Tan Teck Meng: An incessant ball of energy.
To all who knew him – from school through work, and until his last days – Perry was untiring. Never stopping a moment till the deed got done, and done good. And even after that, he’d still be pushing, to see if he could perfect it a little more.
“He had a free-spirit and (a) love for skirting at the edge of conformity,” says Loo Chee Keong, MBSKL’s erstwhile school captain who shared classes with Perry for several years from that Primary Six in 1980 through 1987.
HE WAS INTO EVERY GAME
A lawyer admired for both his bravado and compassionate probono work, Perry would’ve even made a badminton, soccer or basketball star had he set his mind to it, say friends.
“He was a very talented badminton player and left winger in football,” says Mark Tan Hong Kheng, an ex-classmate who vividly remembers Perry outwitting his rival three times in a row in one school soccer match, causing the crowd to gasp in what was then the equivalent of an Ola!
“We played on many occasions together and he could always befuddle (his) opponents,” Hong Kheng adds. “His game was not about speed and power, but trickery and guile.”
HE WAS INTO EVERY GAME PLAN TOO
Steven Baptist, who trusted Perry to be the southpaw of his class soccer team, says the latter was a priceless asset.
“Winning those days was everything and methods employed (were) secondary,” says Baptist. “Perry was always part of the plan.”
Admitting to being somewhat of a “dirty”soccer captain, Baptist was happy to leave Perry to his own game, and says his southpaw “always delivered”.
“On some occasions, I do remember ranting the ‘F’-word when the crosses didn’t come in,” add Baptist. Even so, Perry entertained the crowd with his dribbling, “which he was magnificent (at),” remembers his former soccer captain.
It was a similar story when Perry played basketball. “He could outfox an opponent with a timely drop of the shoulder and had a soft but accurate touch putting in the points,” recalls former school head boy Loo.
BALLS OR SKIRTS — PERRY LOVED TO CHASE BOTH
Beyond shuttles and balls, friends also remember Perry for being good at chasing something else – skirts.
“He was liked by all girls because he was handsome and a sweet talker,” says Steven Leong Wei Seng, arguably Perry’s closest buddy from MBSKL. The two sat together for many of their school years, even ending up at the same office when they started work. They also shared countless happy hours in KL and PJ pubs, including Perry’s final one on the night of April 28.
Perry won the girls because he was a “good listener and gentleman”, recalls Steven with humor.
THE LOVABLE RASCAL
While chivalry may have been one of Perry’s traits as he matured, as a kid he was a lovable rascal more than anything else when it came to baiting the opposite sex.
Danny Ooi Hock Lye – and possibly 40 others in the same class with Perry in 1981, including me – will never forget a particularly hilarious incident where our protagonist was sent under a lady teacher’s desk twice in a week for misbehaving. Why she chose such an odd punishment we never knew.
What we did know was you never make the same mistake twice with Perry. The second time he went under the desk, he was carrying in his pocket one of those rounded pencil sharpeners with a mirror. “The rest was history,” says Danny. It took every ounce of our willpower not to laugh out loud and expose what was going on under the table to the teacher, who remained blissfully ignorant of Perry’s crafty mind.
After she left the classroom, Perry drew on the blackboard what he had seen, including the “color” she wore underneath. To us 13-year-olds, that was the closest we got to a real-life “Porky’s shower-scene”, thanks to MBSKL’s own “Dennis The Menace”.
DROVE CLASSMATES MAD TOO
Azri Ahmad remembers how Perry erased from the blackboard his class head’s finely drawn plan to split students under his watch into two groups. “The head boy turned black-faced, so angry and gave Perry the death stare,” Azri says, recalling the other boy’s reaction. “He was about to explode, I believe on the verge of crying….when mucus blew out of one of his nostrils. The whole class roared with laughter.”
But as playful and naughty he was, Perry’s grades were amazing.
“He didn’t need to study much, yet his results were excellent!” says Yap Yau Fei, who plays keeper now for MBSKL’s Class of ’85 alumni socce team.
“Sometimes, I used to wonder how he did it,” adds Yau Fei. “As for me, I had to study extremely hard but my results were only so so.”
AS QUICK WITH HIS HOOK AS MATH
Even those who had fist fights with Perry in school recount with fondness a guy who was as quick with his hands as his mind.
“He had a good left hook,” bosom buddy Steven says, remembering being punched by Perry during their only fight in the 80s.
Lawrence Lai Tak Weng, who also came to blows with Perry once, says he remembers “a different person” and “man of many talents and qualities” in later years.
THE ADULT PERRY WAS DIFFERENT
Indeed, the “real” Perry emerged in his adult life.
“He became a very filial son,” Steven says. “Long Chinese New Year holidays were only spent with parents and family. He was a very loving husband and father. Always telling me how good it was to have a son who could melt his heart by just calling him ‘Perry’. He was very intelligent. Very street smart. Very helpful. Very kind. Generous with friends. And very hard working. He was always working late. That’s why our drink sessions were often late in the night too, after work.”
For Terence Ng Si Yik, the theme from “Prison On Fire”, starring Hong Kong movie superstar Chow Yuen Fatt, is apt to describe the sort of friend Perry was. The song goes somewhat like this: “In this life of ours, they are not many we can call true friends. We may have our differences but not at the expense of our friendship.”
As open as he was to people, Perry also loved to live in the dark. He was notoriously camera-shy and deliberately stayed under the radar to keep both his professional and personal lives as private as possible.
The picture of him above in “yam-seng” (party) mode, captured at a MBSKL alumni dinner in 2015, is a rare one that got out.
The three others here were captured by bosom buddy Steve during nights out with Perry and their gang (even then, Perry has his face half-covered, MJ-style in one).
The headshot all the way below was lifted from another tribute written by members of Kuala Lumpur’s legal fraternity. You can’t find a shot of him anywhere else — not on Facebook, not on Twitter, not even LinkedIn, which only lists the contact of his Perry & Co legal firm.
Even in the multiple text groups formed by MBSKL alumni, Perry was barely active. When he did participate, it was often with such wit that made everyone laugh.
HUMOR, HUMANITY AND NERVES OF STEEL
On the other side of his wondrous humanity though, was a facade of steel – one that could never be stood down in a dare.
Therein was his inimitable self: While many wished to live like him, few had the gonads for it.
“Perry was the most daring person I knew,” says Simon Yap, a fellow lawyer and also pastor who attended MBSKL with Perry. “He dared to do everything we wanted to do but did not have the guts to. For that, I celebrate his life and my friendship with him.”
Choo Joon Jye, also know as Cj, recalls rumors back in ’85 of Perry having been “marked” for a bash-up, and that nothing happened because the other side didn’t have the courage to show up.
“Perry, to me, was a leader,” adds Hong Kheng. “Not because of academic or sporting achievements but through the sheer force of his personality. He never asked to be a leader but he was gutsy in such a way that one had to admire and respect him.”
That about says it.
Stop hopping, and rest now, good man.
Perry Tan Teck Meng
December 7, 1968 – 29 April, 2017
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