The solitary chap was walking in the cool depths of the rain forest. He wasn’t stringy but neither was he pursy. He looked fit and strong, his gait sure like a mountain goat’s. He was well attired like a commando in his khaki green long-sleeved military-like garment and black long boots. His black bag strapped from his left shoulder over to his right back could have contained anything. Emergency food supplies, daggers, nunchucks, maybe even a pistol? He had the looks and more importantly, the height and physique to be skilled at hand-to-hand combat. His footsteps could be heard crunching on the hard sunbaked gravel path, which meant he wasn’t worried about being heard. He walked slowly, occasionally looking leftwards out to the mass of green foliage that keeps the old secrets of the hills. Seemingly distracted, the chap was perhaps searching for something or some spiritual sign the hillside may shed. Distant insects screeched incessantly whilst from the thick jungle undergrowth just left of the path, crickets chirped busily. They were not at all disturbed by his presence; they sensed the chap wasn’t boorish, harmless in fact. The jungle was not stirred by his noisy boots, even the cool hillside breeze that normally made the leaves wave an enthusiastic welcome had not appeared. The sun had not lost any of its effulgence, indicating the moon was still may hours from making its entrance in the sky. He was well-liked and well-respected by his peers, a stolid chap whose kindness and generosity shone like a beacon in the dark. Last September, he said he needed a bit more time to pen down his story for inclusion in The Urghhling Marsh book. “Kindly allow me to settle down a bit,” he said, showing his politeness and courtesy. He didn’t need to be blandished or bribed with a payment. He wanted to share his stories with those in the brotherhood. His mother had just passed away and not surprisingly, the pain from the loss would need time to abate. There were lots of stories he wanted to share, so vivid the memory of his dear mother was. The need to communicate his strong love for his family and friends was made more urgent by his recent outpouring of grief. But, in the end, the chap’s final chapter did not include any of his own words. He didn’t get to write them down. So, this chapter is written for him to honour his wish to be included. We called him The Admiral.
In the Water Margin, there are one hundred and eight heroes in the Liangshan Marsh. It would be easy to measure up one of them to The Admiral. Great fighters like Lu Da, Lin Chong, Zhu Tong and Lei Heng are all well-revered leaders of the brigands. Brigands they were, but the Marsh brothers’ much valued virtues of loyalty and justice were beyond doubt. That was what they fought for. The authorities were corrupt, and the magistrates blind to the injustices against the weak. The brigands took the law into their own hands and fought for the common people for the common good. They rid the villages and towns of corrupt officials and in upholding the ways of Confucian teachings, they rebelled against tyranny. Likewise, The Admiral was a highly respected leader in the brotherhood. “A humble, helpful and kind-hearted brother,” Park Moon said. “Judging from his good deeds, he was an exemplary follower of Christ through his magnanimity and humility in reaching out to the poor by distributing food during the pandemic using his own personal funds without expecting anything in return. He is a very fine example of the beatitude “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” – Mt 5:7,” Aloysius added. Like many in the Urghhling Marsh brotherhood, The Admiral cherished the virtues of justice, benevolence and respect for the righteous. But, unlike The Liangshan Marsh brothers, the Urghhling Marsh brothers did not become outlaws. Wu Yong and Typhoon, fellow brothers of the Marsh, said that although they did not know The Admiral very well, they agreed that The Admiral was a reflective pulse of their community, who exuded warmth, friendliness and kindness. Chip, The Blue Chip, said, “The Admiral’s generosity and friendship was an encouragement to those around him; a fine soul who left too early.” The Cook philosophised when he said “Good people are irreplaceable, and good people tend to leave too soon.”
The Admiral owned a friendly face. His wavy hair was still mostly black and neatly cropped to accentuate its thickness. When he smiled – and it was often – his creased forehead displayed deep lines of a thinker or philosopher. The crow’s feet around his eyes provided proof of his constant smiles and pleasing facial expressions. The rather fleshy, generously-proportioned alae of his nose flared out of a bulbous tip, suggestive of wealth and success according to some sooth-sayers. He had a towering personality and a towering physical presence. A photograph of him and Lord Guan showed both to be of similar build and similar height. We know Lord Guan from an earlier chapter to possess a towering frame and an imposing physical presence, so clearly, The Admiral was an indefatigable champion too. Who amongst the one hundred and eight heroes of the Water Margin was The Admiral comparable to? The penultimate chapter in the book revealed that character to be General Zhang Qing.
General Zhang Qing was a magnificent military man. Known as the ‘Featherless Arrow’ for killing or stupefying his adversaries by throwing stones at them, Zhang Qing was an unbeatable foe. After the brigand’s leader, Chao Gai, was shot by Shi Wengong, his dying command was that whoever avenged his death would succeed him. It was Lu Junyi who eventually captured Shi Wengong, but Lu Junyi, a new recruit to the brotherhood, declined the post in deference to the senior leadership team. So, the brotherhood decided the contest for the leadership would be between Song Jiang who was the acting leader and Lu Junyi. Whoever was first to conquer the prefecture assigned to him would be chosen as their chief leader. Song Jiang won the contest and became the rightful leader; Lu accepted the position of Second-in-Command as he could not defeat the defender of Dongchang Prefecture, General Zhang Qing. The ‘Featherless Arrow’ would go on to defeat fifteen of the brigand’s leadership team in an hour, reminiscent of the legendary fighter Wang Yanzhang who defeated thirty-six generals in approximately one hour, during the Five Dynasties (A.D. 907). In the final chapter, the book revealed that General Zhang Qing, upon witnessing Song Jiang’s generosity towards him, by then a defenceless defeated foe, who not only prevented his fellow brothers from exacting revenge for their injuries sustained by the stones hurled at them, but also apologised and saluted him for his bravery in defending the Prefecture he was assigned to so ferociously. The final chapter in the book described the ceremonial induction of all one hundred and eight heroes into the Loyalty and Justice Hall. Song Jiang proposed that they held a big ceremony to pray for those who had died in their battles for justice and secondly, to seek forgiveness from the Song Emperor by offering their services to him. So was achieved this assembly of brigands who turned themselves into heroes to serve their country faithfully and fearlessly in the name of justice. A perfect ending to a great story, but unfortunately, the final chapter of this legendary tale was very different from the ending in the book that was translated by JH Jackson. The final chapter as written by Shi Naian had a terrible ending. The Song Emperor, after granting the Marsh outlaws amnesty, cleverly used them to suppress rebellions, knowing this was a rewarding way to get rid of these rebels whom he did not trust or appreciate. Many of the Liangshan heroes, fifty-nine in total, died suppressing the Fang La rebellion, including General Zhang Qing. Song Jiang and Lu Junyi were both poisoned by officials of the State but to prevent his men from retaliating and rebelling once more, Song Jiang ordered Li Kui to poison his most loyal follower, Black Whirlwind. When Wu Yong discovered Song Jiang had died, he hanged himself and was buried beside Song Jiang’s tomb. Death was the price of loyalty.
The final chapter of The Urghhling Marsh unfortunately sees the deaths of two brothers this week. Rest in peace, brothers Albert Poh and The Admiral, Ch’ng Cheng Hoe. Albert Poh was also well-loved and well-respected in the brotherhood. The band leader of Rhythm Beats, his musicianship was known and cherished throughout the community. His story will remain unwritten, as it was his expressed wish to keep a low profile in life, and therefore out of respect for him, his death shall also be kept private. Death is part of life, as is falling leaves in autumn. Some say we are only truly dead when we are totally forgotten. In the Urghhling Marsh brotherhood, no one will be forgotten for their stories and therefore their memories will live on. The Liangshan Marsh brothers pledged their eternal loyalty and fraternity to each other. Their oaths were made by drinking wine mixed with their blood. In the Three Kingdoms, Liu Bei, Lord Guan and Zhang Fei made a similar oath in a peach garden.
We may not be born on the same day, in the same month and in the same year. But, let us die on the same day, in the same month and in the same year.The Peach Garden Oath