Every morning, Tan Mie Kong gets up early to prepare breakfast for his fellow residents at the Positive Living Community (PLC). The shelter for people living with HIV in Batu Arang, Selangor is home to Tan and some 30 other residents.
As Tan has been very a helpful resident at PLC, volunteer Jon Navaratnam wanted to know if there is anything he could do for him. Tan, 54, expressed his hopes to see his mother and siblings again.
It has been 12 years since Tan last heard from his family.
“If I could see them again, I want to say I’m sorry,” he said during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur.
Tan’s story is the subject of At Rainbow’s End, a poignant documentary by commercial director Mark Lee. It was shot over a month-long period in 2016 and it follows the journey of Jon as he tries to find a way for Tan to be reunited with his family.
“I saw a photograph of Tan taken by Singaporean photographer Grace Baey and I wanted to know what’s his story. From there, I did my research and decided we should make this documentary. Basically, we didn’t know where Jon’s search is going to take us. But it felt like the right thing to do,” director Lee said.
All Jon had was a phone number of an estranged sibling who wouldn’t pick up the phone, despite having been contacted numerous times. Jon had to prepare Tan to brace himself for a heartbreak.
“I could see it in his eyes that he was filled with hope. All he wanted was to say sorry and let them know that he is OK,” Jon shared.
He added: “There was a time where he talked about what he’d do if he gets to see his family again and I had to tell him, ‘Tan, your family may not want to see you again. I want you to be ready for that.’ He said OK. I guess he was prepared for heartbreak. Or least, I hope he was.”
Tan was overcome by emotion when he saw his story on the big screen: “I watched until I cried. I just feel thankful to see Jon go through so much trouble just for me. I’m also grateful for how PLC made me feel like a human being again.”
Jon also sees At Rainbow’s End as an important piece of work that could help break the stigma that is cruelly associated with HIV and AIDS patients.
“We hope viewers will recognise that people like Tan need our help,” he said.
Alex Arokiam, the founder of PLC who is also featured in the documentary hopes this will encourage viewers to spend time with people living with HIV and AIDS.
For years, he said, patients had to hide behind numbers and statistics. A heartfelt documentary like At Rainbow’s End, might help viewers to connect to this often unheard voices.
“We always welcome visitors to our community. Come and see our residents. Talk to them and listen to what they have to share. We never stop people from taking photos at our shelter because there is nothing to hide. They are all victims of different circumstances in life,” Alex said.
As for Tan, his only hope is for everyone out there to learn an important lesson through his story.
“I got HIV through sharing needles. I want to tell people, don’t do drugs because it ruined my life.”