KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – This week's deadly bombing in Bangkok has left a Malaysian family struggling to come to grips with an attack that claimed at least four clan members who had been enjoying a Thai vacation.
Among the hardest-hit has been Tan Kim Kee, 71, who was devastated when told her family had been caught in the middle of Monday's blast at a shrine popular with tourists as well as Thais.
"She cannot accept the truth," close family friend Visen Lim Gin Seong said Wednesday. "She has been crying nonstop since yesterday and asking why heaven is so cruel to the family when they have been so good to people."
Seven members of the family had traveled by train Saturday from Butterworth on northern Malaysia's Penang island to the Thai beach resort city of Hua Hin, and arrived in Bangkok on Monday, Lim said.
Neo Ee Ling, 33, who is five months pregnant, was not injured in the bombing, and her father, Neo Hock Guan, 55, reportedly suffered minor injuries. But four other family members, including Ee Ling's 4-year-old daughter, are confirmed dead, and a fifth is presumed to have died.
"All the family members are distraught," Lim, a businessman, said in a phone interview from Penang. "It is also heartbreaking for friends and neighbors. They are good, friendly and generous people. Nobody expects this to happen."
"Seven of them went on holiday, but only two came back," Lim said.
The family had waited for Hock Guan's youngest son, Neo Jai Jun, 20, who studies in Taiwan, to return to Malaysia before heading to Thailand for a vacation, while his sister-in-law, Lim So See, 52, who lived in Singapore, joined the trip as well, Lim said.
Jai Jun was killed in the blast, and So See is presumed dead. The other members of the family who died were Hock Guan's 49-year-old wife, Lim Saw Gek; son-in-law Lee Tze Siang, 35; and granddaughter Lee Jin Xuan, 4.
The Monday evening explosion at the open-air Erawan Shrine, located at one of Bangkok's busiest intersections, left 20 people dead and more than 120 injured.
Hock Guan was quoted by the Malay Mail as saying he was about to pray at the shrine on Monday evening when he dropped the candle he wanted to light.
"When I bent to pick it up, I heard the explosion," he said. "The next thing I knew, none of my family members were in sight."
"I can't believe our holiday would end like this ... this incident is a black mark in our lives," he said.
Lim said Hock Guan — who runs a cake business and is known as "Kuih Guan" in his neighborhood — and his family are well known for their charity work, cooking food for a nearby old folks' home and making frequent visits and donations to orphanages. Kuih is the Malay word for cake.
But now the surviving family members are struggling to deal with the aftermath of the attack.
Ee Ling's 6-year-old son, Lee Jian Hen, who stayed back with his grandmother in Penang, sensed something was amiss when he saw crying family members and photos of his father in the newspapers.
The boy's grandfather, Lee Ting Hiang, 61, told local media that Jian Hen has become reserved and moody since the tragedy.
"He keeps on asking why his father's photographs are all over the newspapers, but we have yet to tell him . I don't know how to," Ting Hiang said. "This is the hardest thing I have to do in my life — breaking the news of my son's death to his son."