Welcome to Episode 114!
STIMY Episode 114 features Alvin Chiong.
Alvin Chiong is a former opium addict & secret society member, which makes him a very unique in the STIMY lineup.
But! He also has an important story to tell.
It is of one redemption, faith and how that rescued him, and how he continues to give back to his community.
His former brothers still come to him to seek help and invite him to events! And he helps other drug addicts break out of their cycle while also giving pastoral care in prison and hosting walking tours in Singapore via Triad Trails: a unique walking tour experience where every tour guide is an ex-convict.
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Who is Alvin Chiong?
Alvin Chiong had a tough upbringing.
- Age 7: Alvin’s mother abandoned the family
- Age 9: Started sniffing glue & joined the secret society to avoid being bullied
- Age 14: Left school to follow his leader
- Age 18: Became hooked on heroin & couldn’t hold down a job.
- 2:53 Dysfunctional family
- 4:54 Joining the secret society
- 10:34 Fighting
Turning His Life Around
Things came to a head in Thailand, where Alvin realised he needed to change his life around.
But opium addiction, while a choice, is not so easy to kick.
And it took many, many halfway houses & attempts before Alvin came clean, turned his life around (after prison!!) and became the person he is today: giving back to society, helping his former brothers find their feet & holding down jobs as a chef as tour guide at Triad Trails.
Alvin’s story, like Notle Chew’s story in STIMY Episode 102, is an unusual STIMY story, but one that I really want to have shared.
Because there is a lesson to be learned from everyone’s life journey.
And the biggest takeaway is this: It’s all about mindset & attitude.
If we insist on blaming the world & everyone else in it for our troubles, no matter how ‘justified’, then you will continue to be held back.
Now Alvin tells his story best, so are you ready?
- 12:57 Thailand
- 14:56 The “price” for leaving the secret society gang
- 19:04 Being friends with brothers
- 20:35 Being in prison
- 23:51 Safeguards to avoid temptation
- 26:17 Going back to prison to help
- 30:24 God
- 31:56 Common misconceptions about drug addicts
- 32:49 The secret to change
- 35:13 Knowing when a convict is telling you the truth
- 38:55 Are Singaporean laws too harsh?
- 41:41 Common struggles for members of the secret society
- 43:02 Spiritual journey & finding God
- 46:43 What Alvin is grateful for this year
If you’re looking for more inspirational stories, check out:
- Notle Chew: From being a Crazy Rich Asian to a Secret Society Member & Owner of Singapore’s largest social escort business (before he was raised & sent to jail!)
- Eric Sim: From being the son of a prawn noodle hawker stall owner to the former Managing Director of UBS with 2.9 million LinkedIn followers
- Adrian Tan: President of Singapore’s Law Society & the King of Singapore
- Nicole Levinson: Rebranding Playboy New York after the #metoo movement
If you enjoyed this episode, you can:
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If you’d like to support STIMY as a patron, you can visit STIMY’s Patreon page here.
Some of the things we talked about in this STIMY Episode can be found below:
- Alvin Chiong: Instagram, Facebook
- Triad Trails: Website, Instagram, Facebook
- Loving Hand Fellowship
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- Leave a review on what you thought of this episode HERE or the comment section of this post below
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STIMY Ep 114: Alvin Chiong [Confessions of an ex-opium addict & secret society member]
Alvin Chiong: Addiction is a choice. Don't blame others. All our families and friends, they wanted us to be good to live a life, a decent life.
So when we choose to be an addict it's very unfair to them because our family suffers when we get caught. When we are in the addition, our family are the one who suffers, not just us. So it's a choice.
Ling Yah: Hi everyone!
Welcome to episode 114 of the So This Is My Why podcast. I'm your host and producer, Ling Yah, and firstly, hello to the many, many thousands of people who have just joined this steamy journey. I realized that one post of mine on LinkedIn recently went viral. Almost a million of you saw it. My goodness, I can't even imagine what that number is like in my head.
But if you are here for the first time, welcome. I'm very pleased to have you. I'm still carrying out the final weeks of being a full-time lawyer and I'm very excited to see where it's gonna go after that. So, if you'd like to find out what other episodes have been on STIMY, just go all the way back to episode one.
You've got 113 episodes to go through, which I think will occupy you for a while and the format's not gonna change. Every single Sunday will be meeting someone really interesting, really inspiring. Or at least with some kind of interesting takeaway that I think we can all learn to apply to our own lives.
And today's guest is truly unique cuz he is Alvin Chiong. And he's not a US congressman, an Olympian, or even a Forbes billionaire.
In fact, Alvin couldn't be further from that because he had an opium addict for a father.
Because of such exposure, Alvin became an opium addict at a very young age, and you can kind of imagine where the story goes. He went from sniffing glue to joining the Secret Society at the age of nine, and by 18 he was hooked on heroin and couldn't even hold onto a job.
While he was in Thailand, he had a wake up call. It took multiple stints at different halfway homes to break out of that terrible cycle.
Alvin's story is one of redemption. Faith and how faith rescued him, and how he continues to give back to his community. His former brothers still come to him for help and even invite him to their wedding to get togethers, and he also helps other drug addicts and former brothers break out of their own cycle while giving pastoral care in prison.
And hosting working tours in Singapore via trial trails, a unique walking tour where you can have every tour told through the eyes of an ex-convict.
But honestly, you are far better hearing Alvin story from Alvin himself.
So are you ready?
Alvin Chiong: My name is Alvin. I was brought up in a dysfunctional family.
Ling Yah: What does that mean?
Alvin Chiong: That means the family is not whole. A lot problems. My dad was a opium addict and he gamble. He's a alcoholic too. As you know, I think sometime we have withdrawal symptoms and then especially when we are facing withdrawal symptoms and then they lose in the gambling table.
There's a lot of violence at home. I remember when I was seven, my mom finally, she decided, okay, enough is enough. So she left the family. She just left alone. And then me, myself and elder brother who slept with my father. So we have a hard time at home because as you know drug addiction is a very high maintenance.
You need a money to maintain the addition, the habit. So I remember when I was nine years old, I have to start to support myself. So this is my childhood and this is what I call dysfunction family. It's not functioning.
Ling Yah: I imagine without your mom and then your dad also gambling, doing opium as well, you probably had to find other friends?
How did you find them? Who were they?
Alvin Chiong: Okay. As you know, as kids we long for love, family love, and then caring with the parents. But I did not find love at home. So in order to find love, I have to outsource this. Why I go to the neighborhood and search for my identity in the neighborhood, search for my belong.
This is a place I went to find.
Ling Yah: And who do you find?
Alvin Chiong: I don't like to study much. That's why I start mixing with boys in the neighborhood who don't study too. Who left school all day. And then we start to do all sorts of things in a very young age.
I started popping pills, sniffing glue, taking weeds, marijuana, drinking, smoking at the age of nine.
Ling Yah: Wasn't this also the time you joined the gang as well? How did that happen?
Alvin Chiong: Because when I was mixing with these boys because of my age and my background, I always got bullied. That's when I started to look for support. And eventually at the age of around I think 15, then someone look out for me and say I want to take you in as my little brother.
You join me. So there was a time when I actually started to join and then do all sorts of vices.
Ling Yah: And was there an initiation process?
Alvin Chiong: For my case there isn't any. It's just a verbal one. But there are certain secret society we call SS. They have to go through initiation Ceremony. Normally it wouldn't happen in Singapore. It will happen in other countries. If you are from Singapore, then one of the day, your leader will call you, Hey Ling, take your passport. Follow me.
Going where? Don 't ask. So you'll just have to hop in the car and they will drive you all through the way through the custom. And once you pass through the custom, you'll be blindfolded and then someone else will pick you up.
So all the way you'll be blindfold. And then you go to somewhere which you don't even know where you're going.
And then where the car stop and you come out from the car. Then you will realize actually you are not the only one. It's like a blind man leading a blind man. Okay. So you will have to tap on the shoulder one by one and then you walk. It was signal you, you just walk and then the blindfold is off and then you realize that yeah, actually you in a plantation. That's where they have the ceremony.
In my time, my era, it was a serious case in Singapore. Once you're caught they were sent you to prison without trial. Okay. So during the ceremony, you will be appointed position depend on what you are capable of. So some will be fighter, some will be advisor or whatever, so on. So you see secret society is like a corporate. It's like a management.
Ling Yah: But isn't it strange that you didn't have an initiation. So did you also get a particular role?
Alvin Chiong: So there are two different types of secret society who are running in Singapore.
There is one who is under the, translated is like home, home and home, which is still very active in certain countries. Just like Hong Kong, Myammar, Taiwan, Cambodia, Thailand, and all these country. Even Amster They are still very active there. You can go and Google. You can see they celebrate like nobody's business.
Okay. Especially in Taiwan. In Taiwan they celebrate.
You can see the heads, all those representative of different parts of the province when they meet. They will exchange all those gesture or hand signals. They are very open, especially in Taiwan.
Ling Yah: They're not afraid of being caught?
Alvin Chiong: I don't think so because to be very honest a lot of all those ruling parties are involved. Especially all those temples. They are involved in all these triad thing because all this thing brings in a lot of revenue and the tax, the money is untraceable.
Can you imagine how you going to trace a donation of a temple? So you see a lot of people, they are still trying to run these places because the money profit is too big and it's untraceable.
Only the committee knows how much is there.
Ling Yah: What about for you, what was your experience like being in the secret society or SS?
Alvin Chiong: My experience, we have to find ways to make money and to bring in revenues for our leaders.
Ling Yah: Weren't you part of an illegal passport syndicate?
Alvin Chiong: Mm, I have friends doing that, but I'm not involved in that.
That's why I mentioned we have different type of vices. So for me, mostly I'm in drugs and gambling, loan sharks, money, all that.
Ling Yah: What is that because normally we would hear from the other side of police busting people who are doing these things? What is it like to have been one of those people who were running these illegal activities?
Alvin Chiong: Okay. So a lot of people always say once you are in this trade or you are running these vices, you have to stand by yourself. We are one feet outside and then the other feet in the prison.
Really? Wow. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And you're OK with it. You have to be prepared because your life is so glamorous, and then you have to prepare for the worst to happen unless you are in the top management.
That's why I mentioned beforehand that SS is like management. You see from top to bottom you got the dragonhead , which is our chairman, and then you've got directors, which is those hitmen or fighters or those people who go and negotiate business or even those who try and mediate problems. Just like lawyers all these. These are the top management.
So for the lower one will be those who always doing the dirty jobs.
Ling Yah: What was it like? Did you rise through the ranks? What did you have to do?
Alvin Chiong: Normally you rise, you have to be very smart in, bring revenue to your group. So this is the only way you can rise. Or you are a very fabulous fighter.
Ling Yah: Were you into fights as well? and people,
Alvin Chiong: Actually, we fight lot and then we fight and then we also do vices to bring money, but I'm not to the extent that it's very popular and get my name registered in the police station and get caught. So I'm not to that extent.
Ling Yah: And you weren't afraid of fighting then. Why would fights happen?
Alvin Chiong: We always fight for no reason. Maybe just because of ego. just of pride and then just because of no reason we just fight.
Especially in Singapore, you will just fight because of staring cases. Why you look at me, why you're not happier. And then we start fight. This is Singapore.
Ling Yah: Why would you do that? Was it because you were bored or was it because your bros expected you to create problems all the time?
Alvin Chiong: I believe during my younger days, or many of us, we are looking for our own identity. Actually, we don't know what we are doing. We don't understand what we're We thought that this is fun. We thought that this might make ourselves stand out or let people afraid of us, scared of us, and then we just find comfort in doing so.
I think at the end of the day, I must say that it's like we are actually trying to protect ourself. That's why we launch an attack in order to be a ttacked. And once we do that people will try not to get involved with us. So it's very sad that actually we are just a group that we are trying to protect ourself. But we choose the wrong path and we choose the wrong doing.
Ling Yah: Did you ever think of 10 years from now, 20 years from now, where will I be? What does that look like?
Alvin Chiong: I wasted many years. I start to think when I was 40, do I want to live my life like this? Do I want to go on like this again? So I started to make a change when I was 40, and it took me a lot of years and a of effort , to let me become what I am today.
So my advice to those who are still out there, don't waste too much of your time because this is not a path we want really. And I don't think you has a peaceful life for doing that kind of living. So I started to make a change when I was 40. I was blessed that I had people, I decided to join support groups and I decided to open up myself.
Then I was mentored by pastors. And then to today what I am today. People disciple me, they train, and then I have a chance to be where I am now. That's why I giving back, and I'm training people now.
Ling Yah: So what about before you were 40? Just so that people can better understand the kind of life that you live. Because normally we hear from a very judgmental point of view. All these people, why did they do it? It doesn't make any sense, but you actually lived it. You understand what that life was like. I understand that you actually went to Thailand as well when you were 18.
Was that an important milestone in your life? What was that like?
Alvin Chiong: When I was 18, I went to Thailand for one year. It was during my national service when I was serving NS. Serving my army. And I was transferred there for one year. That one year there has gimme a lot of opportunities. I learned to be independence and I'm open to a lot of things, especially drugs in Thailand because you can actually get hold of drugs very easily in Thailand if you speak Thai.
So I can just go to any of the sinseh shop. Sinseh shop is like all those Chinese medical hall. You can just walk in and you speak Thai to them. You can buy one box of sleeping pills easily.
So that's my life. I used to pop pills during my stay there and I even look for heroin when I was there.
So that's my stay. That's how I, I get myself involved in all these drugs all these years because from my young age, I was exposed to drugs because of my father. I thought it's normal and I started to take drugs.
Ling Yah: Why was it that after Thailand you decided to leave the gang? What was it that gave you that push?
Alvin Chiong: Okay. I decided to leave the gang cause my leader is a very fierce man. He don't joke and can just start a fight with his sibling for very little things.
During that time, I told myself, I don't think I'm comfortable with this type of people because this type of people got no feeling. All they are after is about money. That's why I decided to okay, call it an end after my NS. I'm not going to join you anymore.
Ling Yah: When I spoke to Notle, whom you also know, and I asked him, oh, what was it like to leave the gang? And he said, if it was back then you have lost a limb. He was beaten black and blue. What was your experience like leaving the gang?
Alvin Chiong: For me, actually I leave the gang in a very peaceful way.
You see for some reason that some people cannot leave the gang, maybe cause of some Hong Kong movies, and then they saw too much and then they thought it was real.
But there are certain reason for certain people why they cannot leave the gang. Is because these people are bringing a very huge revenue for the gang. They bring a lot of money back. Maybe they are in some illegal business, that they are the people who go and negotiate the sales or the business.
So actually, these are the people who bring back a lot of money for the secret society or the triad, or the company they call. So when you want to leave, of course your boss, your chairman will think if you leave the gang and you join another gang, then my money will lost, right?
You're helping someone to make the money because of your contact. Then I have lost a big amount of revenue, which you bring in every year. That's why they will not let you go.
They will rather you vanish. So these are the only people that it's hard to leave the gang. For others , when you don't actually contribute much, they don't care. To be very honest, why they care. If I go and beat you up, if you report police, I might even end up in prison. So why do I bother? You never bring in money for me. You are not anything to me. So you want to go just go.
So for my case, when I decided to leave him then I be on my, that was the time I was on drugs. I was on drugs for many, many years. After NS until 40 years old. For 20 years, I was on drugs, I was doing drugs, I was selling drugs, everything. So they don't even bother because when they get close to me, it's very dangerous for them instead. Because, you know, Singapore drug addict, it's very obvious. People look at you will come and spot check you. So who will want to be near you, right?
Because of our body sign, because of our appearance, you know, junkies don't eat. All very slim. It looks like a zombie. Who want to get near to you? So maybe, this is the reason why they also don't care about me.
So after my life started to turn around, I start to help out in prison, I even go back to visit my dragon head . Not my leader.
Ling Yah: What does that mean?
Alvin Chiong: One of the hit men, which is the very, very senior one.
Sometimes I go and visit him. We have coffee together. Even we eat breakfast or lunch together.
After some years when he observed what I'm doing, because I was volunteering in prison, I help people to quit drugs. And then he tell everyone, okay, you all don't disturb Alvin anymore. He's doing very good now. So he's got any problem he comes here and look for you. You are having to solve the problem.
So things change. Actually, not all bad guys are bad. Sometimes when they know that they're doing good, you're helping others people, they support. So I have different approach now. When people look for me, they don't talk about what the past. And then they just, who I expect to trust again. I can help him to quit or not. You see the conversation totally different now.
Ling Yah: So they just trust you completely.
Alvin Chiong: Yeah. I can say that. It's also God's grace. Without God, I won't be making so fast.
I won't be doing what I'm doing now.
Ling Yah: Was it surprising for you that you got such support because you're actually not one of the brothers anymore?
Alvin Chiong: It's quite a big surprise. Not just my own previous gang. Other gangs also, which I have known for a long time. So when they talk to me, it's also different now. They know that I'm helping people. The respect is different now.
Ling Yah: How do you form those sort of relationships? It sounds like you just are very good at being friends with everyone, which I think is a gift and not something that most people can do.
Alvin Chiong: Because I'm trying my best to offer help to whoever needs help. I will direct him to other resources that can help them. Maybe this is why they're very good to me and then they actually, they're also seeing what I'm doing now, and then they started to say hey, this fellow can trust, trust.
Ling Yah: When we first started speaking, you talked about your family, how it wasn't close, and you were looking for friendship, love.
You obviously found it with your brothers, but then you left your brothers. So were you scared to just at least lose that brotherhood and be alone again.
Alvin Chiong: Actually when I started to distant myself from all these people, I don't feel afraid but I feel that it's a m ust. Because our life cannot change this cause that all this while, we wanted to live in our comfort zone.
We don't want try something new. We don't want to give up something which is very comfortable, which is what we are always doing. And then the language we always speak, the lingo we always have with our friends. That's why our life, we cannot break that cycle.
We want, don't want to try something new. But when we started to walk out from the cycle, and try something new we realize that it's very important for us in order for us to get back our life again.
Ling Yah: But before you walked out, you actually ended up going around 10 years time. You end up going to prison four times in and out. What was it like in prison for those who dunno?
Alvin Chiong: Actually for prison, I have a discussion with the prison authorities too. We discuss about prison and can present change the person? My answer was never. Incarceration can never change the person because when we were caught, we were put into incarceration.
Actually we are living with a lot of the same case or even other cases in the prison. To change, I think it's a fantasy because we only let our network become bigger. Because we are inside the prison with all the convicts. And if you are a drug addict, worse cause you'll be put in a cell where all the drug addict are kept.
This is the place we call DRC, which is a drug rehabilitation centre. So just imagine that you are being kept in a place where all the drug addicts are there.
Every morning you wake up, the conversation is the same. They talk about the same thing. They talk about the drugs, they talk about new drugs.
When there's a new newcomer, they would start discussing what's hot outside now. Every day, your topics is surrounded by this. So can you change? It's impossible. Even after you are released, you have to go to your UT, which is urine test, and you meet with those who are released. So every day your life is surrounded by all these things. Do you think you can change?
I don't think so. When we have a discussion with the prison department, this is what I told them. It's impossible for them to change. That's why we started another support group outside to help all these people when they are released from DRC or even prison that it can come to us and we can journey together.
And because of our background, because of our past and because of what we did, we actually overcome all those struggles and become what we are today. It's not just me, but we have a lot. More than 70% of us are excon.
So it's easier for us to communicate with them. We have the same linguo. And the best thing is if you try to be funny or you do any fishy things, by the look of your body language or even your eyes, we can tell, Hey, you are not normal.
So we can step in to provide the help immediately, to tackle the problem immediately. So this is why we started this support group outside. We call After-Care.
Ling Yah: Were you personally never concerned? Because obviously you have recovered since from drugs, but isn't the temptation still there? And some people would say it's easier to go back into it because you've done it.
Alvin Chiong: Good question. Okay. The temptation is always out there. So my advice to people who have our backgrounds or even who don't have our backgrounds, who are fighting temptation, we can never win temptation. We have to run away from temptation. This is my advice and we are here to help you run away from temptation.
We give you advices, how you can avoid temptation. We still feel temptation, although we are drugs free for many, many years. But to be very honest, we are not immune.
Ling Yah: What are the safeguards that you have for yourself? What things do you do to make sure you don't end up falling for the temptation?
Cause you're actively going back to prison where they haven't recovered.
Alvin Chiong: Yeah. We are very conscious about support group. You need a support group and we are creating this support group for others, even for ourself. In our support groups we have check groups. We are like Brothers keeper.
So my advice to those who are outside, put down your ego. When you face problem, when you face trouble, send a help message sos to their support group. This is what I'm still doing and a lot of us are doing. So whenever we feel struggles, we have problems that I don't think I can overcome , I will sure away I will send message to my support group.
And those brothers or sisters who are nearby, they will come down. Come, let's go out for coffee. Then we have a chat. And then I see what's the problem. And then some will come in with suggestions how they overcome this because some people might have faced their problem before and manage to overcome.
They will share their experience with you. So it's very important for us to share, to speak up when we face struggles and problems.
Ling Yah: Isn't speaking up quite hard, especially in Asia? You feel shame or I don't want everyone to know that I'm so low. How do you overcome that?
How do other people face it? How do they overcome it?
Alvin Chiong: This is the thing I want to break. This is a mindset. This is their ego mindset that I have to help them to break through. I say, because we are bondage by the ego that, Hey, don't shame yourself in public, especially people like you got so many tattoos.
This is normally the words that the devil will put into our mind because this fellow want to push you down. So in order not to let you overcome that struggles, and he will tell you a, don't shame yourself in front of people.
Eventually we will help them mindset that I can overcome this problem. I can conquer this problem. I I always share with them that if you can settle that problem, it won't be a problem anymore.
We have to look for resources or help or else this problem will snowball and become worse. If you have a addiction background, it's very fast for you you know, relapse because once you cannot settle the problem, you'll automatically go back to drugs.
This is my experience.
Ling Yah: This whole part about you going back, volunteering prison, this come after. There is this important arc that we kind of missed, which is basically you being in prison and how you got out of what you were doing.
How did that happen? I believe there was one point in 2008, where that was the lowest point, right? Tell us about that period, how you got over it.
Alvin Chiong: Okay. I think the lowest point was in 2008 and 07.
I feel very down. I got a depression or something like that and I thought of committing suicide. I thought, jumping down from my place. I'm staying at level 10. I said, Hey, why now you jump down, settle once and for all. So all the people who suffer along with you, don't have to suffer anymore because of you.
And then this very nice voice came in a very soft one, and this voice tells me, if you have the courage to jump down, why not use this courage to check yourself in to a halfway house and change your life. I was afraid to jump down at that point of time to be very honest.
So I went to halfway house and I started my withdrawal journey.
But I check in with the wrong mindset. I went to halfway house just because I want to quit my drug addiction. After one year, all those withdrawal cold turkey, everything. I start everything, follow the program.
And then after one year, I left the halfway house and in less than two months, I go back to drugs again because my attitude never changed. My character never change. My circle of friends never change. My everyday conversation never change. It's very easy to trigger because every day our conversation is still surrounded in drugs.
So I went back to drugs again very fast, and I backslide. Then I go to another halfway house. So repeat.
The second time even worse. I took drugs in the halfway house. When I was caught by the director, he cold turkeyed me. He confined me in the halfway house. I called my runner to send me drugs
Ling Yah: So even worse.
Alvin Chiong: Yeah, it was, yeah. And after seven months, I left the place and I said, cannot-lah., I was outside for a weekend and I decided to go back to the previous one again. I called the director. I said, can you help me for one more time? I want to change. And that was a time that I prayed to God. I say, God, You help me.
I want to change my life. I'm not here to quit my drugs anymore. I want change my life. I surrender my life to you. Unless you ask me to get out from this place I will stay. So I stay in that place for three years.
Ling Yah: That's a long time.
Alvin Chiong: Yeah. And I eventually become a staff there. During that three years, my life started to change.
I started to read Bible and started to understand Bible. And I quit my smoking heavy.
That was also the time when my wife divorced me. I did question God, God, why? I changed my life and asked my wife to divorce me. No answer-lah, of course.
Ling Yah: You didn't hear an answer, but you still kept at it.
Alvin Chiong: I said, I know you have a purpose, but I just don't understand. So after three years, God open doors, I left the halfway house.
I got my own rented flat, and then jobs just come approaching me. Since then, I never look for job.
I never look for job. And job just pushed me. And the offer is one after another is a better and better one.
So currently I'm working as a chef. I'm helping my boss to run a food store. I'm cooking Thai Fusion food now. So life just goes on.
Ling Yah: Hey everyone, just a gentle reminder that STIMY episodes like this one are now open to sponsorships, and this is one of the spots that you can get. To be honest, STIMY is not gonna accept everyone because we want to make sure that your mission aligns with the interest of the STIMY community.
So yes, dear listeners, I'm putting you first, but if you're interested, please do drop an email at [email protected], and let's start chatting. All right, now let's get back to this episode with Bryan Pham.
You talked about God. I imagine God wasn't your life when you were young.
So at what point did God enter your life?
Alvin Chiong: We have a saying translated from Chinese. The end of man is the starting of God. So when you thought that this is the end of my life and you surrender, God will start.
Many times we are not prepared for that. We don't want to surrender ourself to God. We still want to be the master of our own life.
Ling Yah: So when did you surrender then? What was the incident that happened?
Alvin Chiong: It was the third time I went to halfway house. I just mentioned, I said, God, I surrender my life to you.
Unless you ask me to go, else, I will stay here as long as possible.
Ling Yah: And was there immediate change after that?
Alvin Chiong: It took times. It took times that I slowly get myself adapted in the different lifestyle. I think I practiced social distancing during that time.
I started to distance myself from many people.
You distance yourself away from many people, especially those who are still in the cycle. Every day they're talking about the same thing. So you distant yourself away from them. You are actually avoiding negative things into your life.
They're still in the cycle.
You have to do something and start doing things which makes you feel uncomfortable, which is very new to you. You have to start learning new things,. So this is where I started, and it's not easy. It's a very long process and you will get a lot of negative feedbacks during the process.
But it's okay. It's okay. We learn from there.
Ling Yah: Why do you think are the most common misconceptions people have of drug addicts? Ex- convicts?
Alvin Chiong: Okay. The most common thing you will hear, eh this type of people you don't waste time and they will not change.
But I should say that my message to the world is that we are here to prove them wrong.
So whatever they say, I'm here to prove them wrong. That's why I'm here today and I have already proved them wrong. And I'm encouraging others to prove them wrong also. By the end of the day, I change and I will become better. Actually these are the people who are going around talking about me.
What is, you know, this is cannot save one. But now he's doing very well. He is helping others. So I encourage those who are still struggling, just remind yourself, prove them wrong that we can change.
Ling Yah: What is the secret to change?
I mean, you can want it but it's easier said than done.
Alvin Chiong: You need a support group. You need a group of likeminded people. We call ourselves brothers, keep an eye on one another because we are all from the same background. It's very easy for us to detect when you're doing something funny. We can step in immediately to offer the help.
We are all recovering addicts. We are here to help one another. There's nothing special about us.
Ling Yah: What if the listeners who don't have the same background as you, but also wanna help ex convicts, what's your advice to them? How can they help?
Alvin Chiong: You have to be very wise in helping ex convicts, because, especially addicts, we are very cunning and we are very smart .
We can turn nothing into something in the prison. For example, okay, we got nothing at all. But by using rice and magazines, we can do cloth hangers, we can do hangers, and we smuggle things. And then we can do those survival kits like sparkle as long as we use for smoking or those scouts they use, right?
They use stones and they make spark, and then they create fires. We can do all these. And we make cakes by using bread and our daily morning tea, our lunch bananas. And we have some chocolate waffles and we can just make a chocolate cake.
Ling Yah: A chocolate cake?
Alvin Chiong: Yes, out of nothing. We got no oven or anything, but we can still make chocolate cake. So you see there are many things we do in the prison.
Ling Yah: Obviously they're very smart. So for those who aren't ex-cons, what can we do?
Alvin Chiong: If you really have the burden to help ex-convicts, addicts, please join your support group. Get advices from the professional. You join them and see how they handle cases.
I still remember when I first stepped in as a volunteer, I struggle a lot because there are lots of times I helped an individual, but at the end of the day, he went back to prison.
It give me a very big impact.
As years goes by and I understand we can only offer them assistance.
We can only offer them help, but we can never change their life. They need to make a choice to change. Only God can make that happen. God can change them, but not us. We can only offer help or direct them to some organization.
Ling Yah: What if they tell you, I've changed? How do you know they're telling the truth?
Alvin Chiong: Okay, you prove to me.
Ling Yah: How?
What kind of proof do you ask for?
Alvin Chiong: Very simple. What are you doing in your daily job? That means your occupation. What have you delivered? Are you trustworthy?
Does your employers trust you? Okay. When you go back to family, does your family trust you? So these are the important points.
I need proof. You have to show me because it's the foundation, our life. If our foundation is not right, what we think or do will be totally different and it will lead our life to extreme. That means you will attract negative people, negative vibes .
So when your foundation is right, you will start to attract the correct people, those positive vibes, positive people. Then you would think that, hey, maybe I can actually contribute back to the society.
Actually, we can go back and help people.
It's not that we always want help from others. So this is one of the things we are tackling now, especially in Singapore. The ex convict mindset.
When we go to prison, we thought that we are the victim.
When I finish my incarceration, oh, the government have to help me to look for a job. You have to talk to the employers that they give us a second chance. All employees don't give us second chance. They don't want us, cause our background. All this is victim mindset.
They never thought that. I'm paying for what I've done. It's the consequences I have to face. So we are trying very hard to break this type of mindset.
You have to prove to people that you can trust me. I am responsible for my job. Whatever things you appointed me to do, I will be accountable for that.
My message, your prison sentence is your consequences. You just finish what you have done wrong, and then you settle your consequence. It doesn't prove that you are good now.
You have to prove when you are out prison.
Ling Yah: What if someone comes to me ex convict and says, I need help, but please don't tell anyone my problem.
Alvin Chiong: I will tell that person I will try my best. If your problems is the problem I have encountered before, and I know how to overcome it, I can help you. Or else I will have to send it out to my team and look for us for advisors.
But I will not tell anything about you. I will ask them for advisors, does anyone have went through this problem before? How you overcome this problem? And then I will share with you, this is what I can do. Or you think I'm too troublesome, then I will direct you to the profession as well. You can go and talk to them.
Ling Yah: Alvin, what you do is clearly not easy, especially having that kind of discipline and then also always going out there and helping other people who are struggling as well. And also doing your jobs, driving long hours, also working at a car store. It seems endless. What's driving you?
Alvin Chiong: Okay for us? Very simple.
People like us have to keep ourself very busy in order not to go back to the things that trigger us. Especially when what we are doing now, we are taking the double portion. What I call double portion, is that when we go into prison, we do counseling, we do chapter service, we try to counsel them.
So after that two hours we spend in the prison, when we walk out, actually we are reminding ourself every day, Hey, don't forget what you tell others. So actually when we tell people not to do, actually we are using this opportunity to remind us again and again.
You tell people, Hey, this can be done. Make sure you lead the example . .
I make sure I'm doing this and I'm still doing this.
Ling Yah: Do you think that the laws in Singapore are too harsh? I mean, you suffered under it. You have friends who are going through it. What your thoughts on it?
Alvin Chiong: Oh, that's a good, good question. Okay. A lot of people actually debated about Singapore laws especially about the death penalty and also the cannabis legalizing.
To me, very simple. Singapore is a very small country. People don't think we can survive, but we make it until what we are today. It's all because our strict laws.
If our laws are not strict enough, you are worried to send your kids to school or let them walk to school. Why? Because they can easily obtain drugs from stalls, seven 11, bus stops. Everybody is pushing drugs. When schools, your friends are pushing drugs.
Can you imagine that scenario?
There's so many foreigners from other countries wanted to move into Singapore and bring their children here to study because it's safe. They understand your children can go party until 2, three, four and the parents are so asleep and they know they will come back in one piece.
This is the laws, and the best is that laws only applies to those who break them. Very simple. Singapore is a place where this ban here there. okay? You been smoking, okay? They have to go to specify smoking areas.
My friend complain to me, this place cannot smoke that place cannot smoke. I want to smoke I have to walk all the way out there. If I'm caught, I will be fined two, $300. And they were making complaints about all this. And I tell them why not you quit smoking? It won't bother you anymore.
So you see there are many things that we have to look into different perspective. And for those who say, other country legalized marijuana, all that my advice to all these people, please surrender your citizenship. Don't stay here and complain.
Why you want to stay here and complain about this place because it's safe and you complain about the rules.
Ling Yah: I wonder, because this is such a unique perspective, have you always felt this way about the law? Or was it when you were sentenced under them and you were suffering and put in jail. Did you think it was unfair? And later you had this bigger thought?
Alvin Chiong: When I was still brushing with the law, I thought that, oh, Singapore is so strict. That's why all this law applies to me. So as years goes by I started to change. And when I started to become a volunteer and I started to abide the law I finally realize all these laws suddenly gone.
It doesn't bother me anymore.
You know, vaping in Singapore is illegal? So this law applies to you, not to me.
Ling Yah: Alvin, thank you so much for your time in sharing your story, your thoughts. I actually collected some questions from listeners of this podcast. Yeah, sure, sure. And I'll love to ask you those questions.
So the first came from Pristine and she actually was curious about your time in the Secret Society. She was just wondering what are some of the common threats that you noticed from the Secret Society?
Like, why did they join? Why did they do drugs? What are the common struggles in life? Or post membership, all these things.
Alvin Chiong: Okay, so why we join Secret Society. Sometimes we feel insecure. We want to find a sense of belonging. We want to find the love of a brotherly.
When we join a secret society group we thought that we can find all this inside there because the belief is that, well, when you got problem and you just call out and all this brother will come.
When you realize that it is actually not just this thing involved when they're in this triad because of the management, as I mentioned before. It's like a corporate, it's like a company. You have to be in good, you are a fighter or you are salesman or even a negotiator. You have to bring in revenue to the company. So your leader will try to see what kind of contribution you can offer to the company.
This is Secret Society.
Ling Yah: And I have another question from Gretel. So let me play her question for you. Okay.
Hi, my name is Gretel Tobias. I am a consultant in non-profit management and international development. I recently started following this podcast.
I am thrilled to be hearing about having story today, and I have three questions for you, Alvin.
The first one is, what did finding God look like?
The second is how was that spiritual journey?
And the third is how has this finding God experience impacted your life after exiting this life of drugs and violence?
Alvin Chiong: Okay. Please pardon me. I be sort of like preaching now. No worries. Okay. How it feels finding God?
I'm a believer now, so I read the scripture and I pray to God that you help me to understand scripture, what they're talking about because of my education background. I only studied for six years during my childhood.
There's a lot of grammar obstacle in my life. So when I was reading the scripture, I pray to God, God, you help me. And before I came to know God, I was into many beliefs. I learned many things in the temple, everything even in tithe. I worship a lot of things.
when I surrender my life to Jesus and pray, I say, You help me. I want know you more and was the time when I go into scripture and I believe from Genesis. God get some soil and make into the image of Himself and blow air into it, and then become a living creature.
When Adam sinned, the spirit was gone. So you see deep inside our human nature, everyone of us is looking for the real God. Just like when we worship, we pray to other god. Wah, some people will tell you, let's go Bangkok. Very famous. Everything you ask, you pray will be answered.
Just one simple question. Why must we go to Bangkok? I believe every, every priest have the same thing. Why must we go to Bangkok? this is the only, only one that will answer our prayer. So you see, deep inside our heart, we always are longing for the real one.
Anyone tell us that's real we will go. So once you found the real God, you will forgo everyone. So this is my answer to her for the first question. I found the real God. Christ. So I forgo the rest and my life started to change when I surrender myself to him.
Ling Yah: The second question was, how was that spiritual journey?
Alvin Chiong: Spiritual journey is not easy because we have to face a lot of circumstances, especially for people like us who don't have a very good educational background.
When we want to go to further our knowledge about the scripture, there's a lot of restriction. There was a time when I want to go to bible college.
They need minimum qualification in order for you to enroll into a Bible college. But I managed to enroll into the Bible college because of the principal. I was given grace. The principal say, Alvin, you just go to my Bible college and tell them I ask you to come. And I was enrolled.
See? So many different things that that happens. There was a time I started my journey to know more about the scripture. It's not easy and it's never going be easy because I understand one thing that when you are closer to God, the devil will want you down. If you're far away from God, you don't even worry about you.
This is something we have to be very careful of. That's why we need a very strong fellowship or support groups.
Ling Yah: And I have a final question from Aaron Lim.
What are you grateful for this year?
Alvin Chiong: Oh, I'm always grateful every day I wake up cause it's a blessing to be alive. So not just this year. I'm grateful every day, every day when I wake up, I can see my loved ones. And I know that they're healthy and they're, they're doing well. And this is the most blessing and I'm grateful for all them.
Ling Yah: Alvin, thank you so much for sharing so much. So I normally like to end all of my interviews with the same questions.
The first is this. Do you feel like you have found your why?
Alvin Chiong: My why? There's a lot of why, where, when in my life, not just why, where when. Okay. This all are linked and I understand today why I am here. Why I went through so much.
I thanks God for all those years that I went through of my dysfunction family, my father's things. Okay, just a short mention in 2016, I married my ex-wife again, so, wow. Yeah, we're together again.
So you see all this happens in my life before I know God. But when I know God and when I'm into this volunteer thing , I understand that God has let me go through all this. Today, when I go back to prison, when I share my testimony my life I can bring impact to them.
I can relate my life to them. So they listen to me more and they can trust me because I went through all this. So I thank God for all that had happened in my life. Before that it was a why me? Today, the why still exists. Why not me?
Ling Yah: What about legacy? Do you think of?
What kind of legacy do you wanna leave behind?
Alvin Chiong: I hope that I can bring a message out that what we are doing today, not just me, even my group, we don't want anything back from you. We just hope that you can pass it on when you're doing well in future. Go and help someone in need. You don't have come back and give us a present to give us a treat.
They say thank you. You help someone else in need. This is what our team are so strong. We are so bonded together like your family because we want to pass it on. We want you to bring it forward.
Ling Yah: Why do you think that the most important qualities of a successful person?
Alvin Chiong: I don't think there's any successful individual in this world. We always have our flaws. We always have our struggles. It's only that many of us, we never speak up. That's why successful to some they say, oh, he's doing well.
He was a big business. He's an empire. He got a big house. End of the day we are just six feet under and all this does not belongs to us anymore. Your wife might just marry your chauffeur and all your hard earned money your chauffeur will thank you.
This is legacy. Are you with what you have? If we're content, we're living a legacy. That to me, is successful.
Ling Yah: And where can people go to find you, support you?
Alvin Chiong: Okay. I have my Instagram. I have my Facebook, Alvin Chiong.
We have a volunteer group, Loving Hand Fellowship. I'm also doing tour guide, which is in Singapore Chinatown. We talks about days, trial, gangster, and drug activities.
I'm working with AOF architect of life and also I have a support group.
Ling Yah: And I'll include all the links to that into the website, the show notes when I release this, they you so much.
And that was the end of episode 114.
The show notes and transcript can be found at www.sothisismywhy.com/114.
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