In this installation of Our Stories, Craig Chung shares how he navigates life’s unpredictability. For many people, Jamaica is pictured as an island paradise- white sandy beaches, a beautiful and vivacious culture, rich and wholesome food, and attractive people. And while that image is not far from the truth, if the lens is focused on the inspirational stories of ordinary Jamaicans, you’d find a sharper, richer and truer image of the Jamaican experience… this is Our Stories!
Change can be terrifying. Many of us try to run from life’s twists and turns, despite knowing that they’re inevitable. No matter what type of change we encounter, it’s in how we respond to these changes that our character is shaped.
Meet Craig Chung
He is a young man who has learned to accept life’s unpredictability. His life was deeply affected by the loss of his girlfriend during high school. However, even in the midst of her passing, he was determined to continue living. Years later, during university, he encountered change, yet again, when he switched from a highly sought-after degree in medicine to one in the lesser-known field of Anthropology. During this time, Craig’s life took yet another surprising turn when he discovered he was going to have a child. Let’s see how he has managed to navigate life’s unexpected, and often challenging, twists and turns, with dignity, resilience, and support.
How would you describe yourself?
I’m a very simple person. I’m an introvert really. I’m very jovial. ‘Cause I like to look at the positive. I always try to find the positive in everything. That would sum me up in a nutshell.
Years ago, you met your former girlfriend, Sam, who became very important in your life. How did that relationship begin?
We were friends at first because … I really liked her, honestly. So, I got to know her. Like, physically I was attracted to her, ‘cause she was beautiful. But I got to know her, and the attraction grew stronger. I never imagined at all that it was mutual […] But, fortunately, she was the brave one and she actually approached me like a year after. And that’s when we started dating.
What was she like?
First and foremost, I identified her brilliance in terms of academics. She was really, really smart and … I don’t know. I always gravitate towards those characteristics in a female. But […] although she was smart, she wasn’t stuck up. She tried to help other person[s] to get on that [same] level as she [was]. And she could have a conversation with anybody. Like anybody. I really liked that about her. And she liked stuff that I liked. Stuff that “girls wouldn’t like,” like playing chess … Or watching Pokemon or Dragon Ball Z. That stupid stuff that I was always into, still am, but … I never imagined her to be into all of that. Yeah, she was cool.
Years into your relationship, Sam sadly passed away … Do you mind sharing how that happened?
It was a World Cup year. And it was the day of the finals […] I remember after Spain won, I called her, and I was basically rubbing it in her face that Spain won because I think she was supporting [the other team]. So, I was rubbing it in her face […] And that same day … I didn’t get the call that same day. It was the day after, but it happened on that day.
Her and her big sister and her baby sister … All three of them were walking to get ice cream. And apparently the driver … There was this drunk driver who hit all three of them simultaneously off the sidewalk. And her clothes got stuck when it hit her. So, it hit her sisters but they were out of the way. It just [pushed] them out of the way. He was stuck to [Sam] and she was being dragged by the vehicle. And then, I think they said it flung her out into a wall or a fence or something … I can’t remember because I wasn’t there. But it was early the next day, I got the phone call from [a] classmate that called and she was like […], ‘You heard what happened to Sam?’
I was like, ‘What?’
[She was] like, ‘She died.’ And that was that.
Oh my gosh… She just said it like that?
Yeah, and I never believed. ‘Cause immediately I said, ‘Not my Sam.’
And she was like, ‘No, your Sammy.’
I [said], ‘Quit playing.’
And she was like, “I’m serious!”
‘Quit playing.’ And then I hung up. And then I started getting more phone calls. But when it hit me was when her mom called and her sister. I completely broke down. Couldn’t even move. I was just crying, crying, crying.
Oh my gosh…
And then I went with them to identify her. And she never looked like herself, because she was like …
What kind of effect did that have on your life?
That was the most devastating thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life…we were both so young and had our lives all planned out and … I would’ve never thought about death at all … When it happened, I felt like I died too, honestly. I cried ‘till I felt like I had no more tears. And I kept to myself a lot […] What got me through it was football, to be honest. I started investing more time in footy. And when I’m on the field, it takes me completely away from all the stresses of life. I literally [felt] like I was in another dimension, where death or anything negative didn’t exist. [Like] none of that ever happened.
I just never wanted to be reminded of her. I was running from it ‘cause I couldn’t deal with it. It was too painful. I was literally just running, running, running as far as I [could] away from it. And, I don’t know what ultimately gave me the strength to come around and face it. ‘Cause even at the funeral, I never went to the burial. I just couldn’t face it. And then like, after that I started visiting her grave. Just to sit and talk to her and face it. And then after that I got the courage to […] talk about it to anybody about it.
Why do you feel it was important for you to ultimately speak about your loss with others?
For me … And it’s not just for if you go through a loss or anything … Like, anything that’s bothering me at all, I’ve found that the longer I keep it bottled up, it only gets worse honestly. So, you have to vent or release it some way. And it helps when you have persons who make themselves available so you can talk to them, and they actually talk back and just give you something positive. Anything. Anything at all. So, you can just breathe in for a moment. So, I think it’s important that you have people in a support system around you to help you with all of that. ‘Cause at the end of the day, we’re all humans and we’re emotional beings whether we like it or not. And these things are inevitable in life.
After some time had passed, you started going to medical school. But then, a year after that you decided to study anthropology instead. Why did you make that switch?
[It] was [an] easy change in my life ‘cause I was already aware [of], gravitated [to] and sort loved the whole approach of an anthropologist … I personally believed that I was born for it and was already living my life as an anthropologist … I didn’t start out doing Anthro at UWI simply because I never knew they offered it … As soon as I did though, I made the switch […]
And how would you compare your experience doing medicine versus doing Anthropology?
If I had stayed in med, I’d probably be more of a … I consider myself a loner, but I think it would’ve been to the extreme if I had stayed there. Because I told you, I’m not that outgoing. I’m really a shy person basically. And the people that I encountered in med … They don’t really … They’re not fun like [my Anthro classmates]. They’re not warm, they’re not welcoming like that
Has Anthropology helped to shape how you view life or other people in any way?
Yeah, most definitely … Because I grew up in a Hindu home. And they, my parents and the generation before that, they were really strict in terms of religion. And they never took the time out to … They wouldn’t have a regular conversation with somebody outside of their religion really. And for me, personally, I was never like that. [Even] before being introduced to anthropology, or anything of the sort […] That’s why I said, I was actually born to be an anthropologist. Because I think I had all the [traits] instilled in me before, so I just never [knew] what they were. Never knew it was an actual thing … So, fast forward now [to] after I’d been introduced to anthropology and completed everything … That definitely helped me to understand people from other cultures, from other backgrounds, and, not just understand it, but just be open. Like, completely open. Like, coming from a culturally relativist approach, judging people based on their merit and their standards.
Wow, that’s great! Going forward a bit, while you were still at university, you discovered that you were unexpectedly going to become a father. How did you feel initially, when you just found out?
[I felt] like I was trapped […] I felt like a baby would mean no time for anything else.
But after [some time] … It was all good. My parents were more excited than I was … I was sacred, but excited at the same time, ‘cause I don’t know anything about parenting! I’m still pretty much learning, but  I look at this … At her … As a huge blessing … There was always a void after Sam passed and this little girl … She not only fill[ed] that void, but my heart man … She’s amazing.
She basically introduced me to things I never usually think about. It’s like there’s a bigger meaning to love since she came. And everything I do, I think about how it would affect her.
It sounds like it’s been an incredible experience. But, what would you say is the biggest challenge you face as a parent?
When she gets up in the middle of the night and she’s crying, and I have no clue what’s wrong with her.
[But] my mom help[s] me out a lot. [Without her support], it would be rough, but I would have to work it out though. It wouldn’t be overwhelming … Just really rough. (Laughs)
What does your future look like now, as a father?
Before, I was more concerned about all the things that I want. All the things that would make me happy. I still [am], but what makes her happy and what makes her comfortable and what makes her grin is really my priority now. Not saying that I’ve tossed all of my wants and needs outside the window, I still [have them]. But, I’ve never had someone who completely looks to me to be responsible for them, or anything like that […] I mean, her whole upbringing is my priority.
What advice would you give to young fathers out there who may be struggling with being a parent?
I don’t know where to start... I would say to them that being a parent is one of the hardest jobs ever … Especially being a father in our society, and a young one at that. Most young guys think that you get a youth, and that’s it. They brag about being a dad without actually playing the role … And it is one of the best feelings ever to know that you have a life to guide … Someone who looks up to you for everything. No matter how many obstacles you may face … You gotta get over them, not just for you, but for your child. I grew up with a lot of females in my family and I saw how it affected them growing up without a father figure. And I just wouldn’t want [my daughter] to go through any of that ever. So, I can never give up and [neither] should [any] other father out there.
Looking back at all these unexpected experiences you’ve had so far … What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
Wow. The biggest lesson that I’ve learned […] That lesson is to basically live everyday like it’s your last. It sounds cliché but that’s my biggest lesson from all these experiences. You know, it’s really hard to do . It’s really hard for somebody to live everyday like it’s their last. Because, today you can think about it, and tomorrow it’s completely off your mind and you just like live everyday like you regularly do. It’s hard but, it’s something that has stuck with me. And I think it will be stuck with me for the rest of my life. So, it’s just a reminder. Like, I might slip up one or two days, but it keeps on popping up in my head. So, it helps me to push myself to be a better person and be better. Not just for myself, but be better to everybody that I possibly can. Everybody that’s around me.
It’s been incredible to hear how you’ve learned to navigate and accept life’s surprises Craig. Thanks so much for opening up to us about all the changes you’ve been through over the last few years.