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From Varsity May 2010

Reporter: Margaret Ng Yee-man, Photos: Nicole Pun

Democratic stalwart, dedicated educator, proud patriot – these are all terms that can be used to describe Szeto Wah, known affectionately as Wah Suk or Uncle Wah.

At 79, and with late stage lung cancer,  Szeto has had to slow down in recent  months. But he is attacking the disease with the same determination he has shown to the causes he has championed in public life.

At the time of Varsity’s visit, Szeto had started his fourth chemotherapy course. He still keeps up a daily exercise regime but the once daily swimmer has been told to quit public pools to avoid infection. Instead, he walks everyday for 45 minutes at a nearby park and does simple qigong exercises.

The home Szeto shares with his younger sister, who like him is unmarried, is compact and tidy.  The walls are lined with books and hangings of thought-provoking Chinese calligraphy. As he slowly flips through leaflets produced by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement in China, he shares memorable experiences and talks about his lifelong beliefs.

Szeto’s values were shaped by his experience of the Sino-Japanese War.  When Hong Kong fell to the Japanese on Christmas Day in 1941, his mother took her seven children back to her home village in China to escape the occupation.

What should have been a three-day trip turned into a 14-day trek. “We need a strong country to escape from all these tortures.”

“Most cities we walked past had fallen into enemy hands,” he says.  “The Japanese were fierce and cruel, the people were miserable. People who walked past the Japanese troops without immediately bowing were badly beaten and thrown to the ground.”

“Every morning, we brought food with us and hid in a mountain hideout, waiting for the armies to leave. By the time we returned home in the afternoon, we usually found it ransacked.”

From then on, Szeto had a keen sense of the difficulties his country faced and started to cultivate a patriotic heart. “We need a strong country to escape from all these tortures,” Szeto says.

But for him, patriotism does not mean love for any alliance, authority or leader. Instead it should be a love for fellow citizens, traditional culture and the natural environment.