Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Last Letters


One man is helping others say that final farewell

Loh Chee Kong,

DRIVEN to desperation by the Asian financial crisis, Mr H Y Teo faced the prospect of losing his home right after his IT business went bust — had his parents and siblings not helped him repay his mounting bank loans.

He recalled: "I wanted to tell them how much I appreciate and love them but I didn't know how to say it."

So, he wrote them heartfelt letters, and it struck him then that there must be many others like him, "who had something to tell their families but they didn't have the opportunity, or the time was not right, they were not ready, or they were too embarrassed".

Eleven years on — and facing another recession — Mr Teo, a part-time IT consultant, has turned that realisation into a business: The idea is to get people to pen their last words in advance, leave them in the hands of a total stranger who would deliver the letter to the intended recipients — wherever they are — for a modest sum of $39.90 (until June, when Mr Teo will review the pricing strategy). has, since its launch in January, attracted an average of 60 to 100 visitors a day from around the world (mainly from Americans and Australians, with Asians making up less than 10 per cent).

According to the website, the company would contact the client once a year for the first two years upon receipt of the letter — and once every six months thereafter.

Should such attempts fail to contact the client, the letter would be delivered to the recipients.

Unconvinced? Apparently, some 400 or so people out there beg to differ. They have been interested enough to contact Mr Teo to ask for more details — on top of pouring their sorrows over marital problems or complaining about the neighbours.

"There was this Australian who said he wanted me to pass a letter to his neighbour when he dies. He wanted to tell his neighbour to be nicer to the next guy who moves in, and make sure his dog doesn't bark so loudly," Mr Teo recalled.

A common refrain among the enquiries was while they liked the idea of penning so-called "last letters", they were unsure how to do it. Apart from letters — which have to weigh less than 100 grammes — Mr Teo also offers to safekeep and subsequently deliver personal artefacts to intended recipients. A 75-year-old Briton has already asked Mr Teo if he could help him pass a grandfather clock to his son after he dies.

Mr Teo has yet to close any deals but he is optimistic — so much so that he is planning to retire in two years and concentrate on building up what his friends have disapprovingly described as a "black business".

Some friends have argued that people contemplating suicide can now count on Mr Teo to deliver their last words.

But Mr Teo is adamant he is doing more good than harm.

Said Mr Teo: "If people want to take their own lives, nobody can stop them." What his business intends to do is to give people the peace of mind to "go anywhere they want, and take on any jobs they want".

And he was convinced he would be making the world a "better place"— even if people do not buy his idea, which was exactly what some have told him via email.

Said Mr Teo: "They said they were not going to be my customers. They said something like, 'I'm going to spend more time with my loved ones because I realised that I neglected them a lot. I'm now going to speak to them a lot more.'"

Mr Teo continued: "My tears rolled down after I read these — not because I'm sad that I'm not getting business. I think I have done some good to educate people out there."


There was this Australian who said he wanted me to pass a letter to his neighbour when he dies. He wanted to tell his neighbour to be nicer to the next guy who moves in, and make sure his dog doesn't bark so loudly.

Mr H Y Teo,


Never mind the moral lessons, the business concept certainly has moneymaking potential. Mr Teo has already received a handful of propositions from major technology corporations, which were sounding him out for a joint venture. One even said it might consider acquiring his business.

"I won't sell my business for whatever amount they can offer... at least not in the near future. I want to see it grow," Mr Teo insisted.

And yes, those letters he had written in 1998 are still with him — lovingly preserved in air-tight plastic bags and locked away in a safe. "My wife and children know what to do with them should anything happen to me," he added.


From TODAY, World – Weekend, 25/56-April-2009


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