LYING in his bed, watching television, veteran media practitioner Neil Giuseppi got an unbelievably horrific message. “I had my phone and a post came up on Facebook that said, ‘Raymond Choo Kong has been murdered in Arima.’
“I nearly passed out, I couldn’t believe it. My wife was sitting outside so I went to her. She knew Raymond very well – they were in school together. She was also in a state of shock, she couldn’t believe. We kept hoping it was fake news.”
Giuseppi’s childhood friend, actor/playwright/producer Raymond Choo Kong, had been stabbed to death at his Green Street, Arima, home on Monday. Autopsy reports showed he had been stabbed eight times and had fought for his life. Giuseppi grew up with Choo Kong and his siblings on Green Street with just a galvanise fence between the houses. “I probably knew Raymond before 99 per cent of the people in TT, in that we grew up next to one another. His parents ran a laundry at the corner of Green and Queen Streets in Arima. He had a sister, Mealan. Her other name is Marilyn, and a younger brother, Ulan, who was Gerald. His father was a Chinese from China and his mother was mixed. He said theirs was an arranged marriage. They were very nice people and were kind to everyone around.
SULAN, LET’S PLAY
“I only knew Raymond as Sulan – the ‘Raymond Choo Kong’ thing came years after. We grew up playing together in the courthouse, which was next door. He went to Arima Boys’ RC school, I went to Arima Boys’ Government. We were typical children growing up, playing, fighting...
“As we got into our teen years we sort of parted ways. My career went in the direction of the media, he went in the direction of theatre. We lost contact with one another because we never used to see one another.” It would be long years after, while walking near the Arima market, that Giuseppi would see his old friend again. He waved him over.
“’Aye, Sulan, how are you going?’ We chatted for about an hour and he asked why he never saw me attending any plays. I said there was a reason for that: I said I attended one or two plays in the past and I found the standard was so poor that I said I would not waste my time to go back.
“He said things had changed and he was very involved in the theatre and the standards had changed.” Choo Kong invited Giuseppi to a play he was producing the following month.
Giuseppi said he went and was totally blown away. “It was a play about Patrick Manning and the prophetess (Conversations with a Seer Woman). It was hilarious. The script was fantastic, the acting was superb. I was really impressed.
“He would call me every time he was doing a production and I would attend. Subsequently, when he started to direct productions for JCS Productions, I attended most of them: The King and I, Sound of Music, Jesus Christ Superstar, Encore. They were amazing productions. I had attended several productions on Broadway, and as far as I am concerned, The King and I was comparable to anything I had seen on Broadway. It was superb.” Although Giuseppi went to most of Choo Kong’s plays, they rarely saw each other socially.
HE WAS A PERFECTIONIST
He said the last time they met was just under a year ago. He said what impressed him the most about Choo Kong was his need for perfection.
“He was a true professional. I think he, more than anybody else, was responsible for the level of theatre in TT today. I think one of the nice things about him was unlike other professionals,, when they get big, they forget everybody else and deal with themselves alone.
“Raymond wasn’t like that. Raymond set out to train the youth. He spent a lot of time trying to develop people under him, develop theatre, and I think TT owes him a tremendous debt of gratitude for what he has done in terms of theatre, the level of professionalism in the arts in TT as a whole. “Although we weren’t in contact on a day-to-day basis, we always maintained a very close friendship. You know, you don’t have to see a good friend for years, but when you meet it is as if you had seen them yesterday. That is the kind of relationship we had.
“It was tragic the way he died. It is such a sad situation what is happening in TT, that he had to be part of that. We have to mourn every loss, not only Raymond’s.”
HE IS GONE
Giuseppi paid tribute to Choo Kong on social media with a poem by David Harkins, He is Gone:
You can shed tears that he is gone
Or you can smile because he has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that
he will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all
that he has left.
Your heart can be empty because you
can’t see him
Or it can be full of the love that you
You can turn your back on tomorrow
and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow be
cause of yesterday.
You can remember him and only that
he has gone
Or you can cherish his memory and let
it live on.
You can cry and close your mind
Be empty and turn your back.
Or you can do what he would want
Smile, open your eyes, love and go on.