KOTA KINABALU: When N Poolohgasingan’s scuba diving business tanked in 1992, he lost more than all the money he invested in it – he lost his way in life.
Taking to drink to ease the pain of his financial troubles, he even ended-up on the streets when his landlord kicked him out of his rented home.
“I was without direction for about a year. I was doing nothing and turned to drinking. The bottle was my friend,” he said.
Losing his home however was a turning point for the man who had been a high-achiever in school and right up to his university days.
“When I was kicked out of my house, I only had a briefcase, my dog, two cans of stout and a poem. The poem was about not giving up,” he said, adding that he took the poem to heart and decided to change his life for the better.
He focused on gardening and dabbled in multilevel marketing, but what he really wanted to do was learn Mandarin, and subsequently, Chinese calligraphy.
So he did just that. The Kulai-born bachelor, who came to work in Sabah’s capital in 1980, began to study Mandarin and calligraphy by himself, practicing for 15 hours a day.
In just six months, Poolohgasingan was reborn as Huang Poh Lo – commemorating his transition from broken businessman to budding artist.
Buoyed by support from the media, Huang Poh Lo or Uncle Poh Lo as he is known in Kota Kinabalu, continued to work on his skill and gained more support from companies, hotels and members of the public, both local and foreign, who sought his art.
When he was struggling, Poh Lo “adopted” a gardener’s son by supporting the boy financially. However when the boy was older, Poh Lo realised his adopted son was falling behind in his Arabic lessons.
“My son is a Muslim and I was worried when I saw him struggling with his Arabic studies, so I decided to learn Arabic and Khat (Arabic calligraphy) so I could help my son,” Poh Lo told FMT.
With the help of the Internet, Poh Lo began dabbling in Khat and even developed a style of giving romanised alphabets an Arabic rendition.
“Learning is a never ending process. It is important for us to keep learning. Don’t quit,” he said, adding that at the ripe old age of 67, he was learning Korean calligraphy as well.
He is also a photographer, and sells his work.
Obviously a man of many talents, Poh Lo is also a composer, lyricist and singer, with a Hari Raya, Harvest Festival and two pop songs to his name.
Poh Lo, who is always decked in a traditional Changshan, is seen at the Gaya Street Sunday Market regularly where he offers his calligraphy services to interested buyers.
Those interested in his work can also check out Poh Lo’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/huangpohlo