Lamma ferry crash

Grieving mother of Lamma victim tells of happy days on island

Irene Cheng can't bear to return to Lamma home where son grew up

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 May, 2013, 5:47am

Lamma Island should be a place full of family memories for Irene Cheng, the place where her beloved son started a prosperous career.

Instead, it was where Thomas Koo Man-cheung met his death at the age of 24. A strong swimmer, he and his girlfriend were among the 39 people who perished after the Lamma IV collided with Sea Smooth off the island on October 1.

Six months on from Hong Kong's worst sea tragedy in 40 years, the mother of two is still struggling to get over the loss of her son and lead a normal life.

"Earlier, my mood had become better. But when I attended the inquiry hearings and read the newspaper reports, it was inevitable that I would grieve deep inside. That's why I want the whole thing to come to an end," she says.

Cheng tells of how the family used to enjoy visiting Lamma for barbecues and swimming. "My husband enjoyed the natural landscape there," she says.

They bought a second home on the island when Koo was in primary school and spent countless days together as a family there for holidays. Later, when Koo was working at Hongkong Electric's power station on the island, he would stay at the house when he worked late at the plant.

She remembers an incident not long before the tragedy when she saw some ants in the house. Koo asked her not to kill them.

"He refused to kill, but then it turned out that so many people on the boat lost their lives," she says. "It is really ironic. He loved beaches and the sea too."

Cheng says she had not wanted to return to the house after her son's death. But she says she will go back one day.

Koo boarded the Lamma IV with girlfriend Chan Man-ying and co-workers at HK Electric for a company trip to see the National Day fireworks in Victoria Harbour. Cheng says the whole family had enjoyed watching fireworks before. "For me, I feel different when I see fireworks now. I feel sad," she says.

Cheng describes her son as an honest, hard-working boy with a love of music, sports and magic.

She remembers how he picked up a HK$500 note he found near a stationery store when he was 12. Resisting any temptation to keep the money, he passed it to the boss of the store. When no one claimed it and the boss returned the money to Koo, the boy gave it to charity.

The shopkeeper later wrote about the good behaviour of Koo and other students in a booklet. While Cheng has been throwing out Koo's childhood toys recently, she kept the booklet to remind her of her pride in her son.

Since the tragedy, Cheng says she has spent more time with her older son, Edmond Koo Man-pong, and the family has become closer. Edmond dreamt of his brother wearing white, shining and smiling at him some days after the crash, she says. Later, about a month after her son's death, a moth settled on her hand for a few minutes.

With her Catholic faith, she took both events as signs that her son was now at peace in heaven.

Meanwhile, Ryan Tsui Chi-shing, the younger brother of Tsui Chi-wai and uncle of Tsui Hoi-ying, 10, who both died in the crash, still cannot come to terms with their deaths.

"I think every [victim's] family would say the same. It is really hard to accept ... why did it happen? It seems that Hong Kong is really unsafe," he says.

Since the tragedy, his feelings have become very complicated.

"The earth is still rotating. But I know, my own world had been different," he says. "I know what I saw was real. All the trees, flowers, skyscrapers and people are real, but what I feel is so unreal."