British Columbia

Hong Kong born Buddhist embraces Sikhism

Pat Singh Cheung is one of likely very few people of Chinese descent in the world who consider themselves Sikhs.

Pat Singh Cheung is one of very few Sikhs of Chinese descent in the world

Pat Singh Cheung has adopted several tenets of Sikhism such as wearing a turban and not cutting his hair. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC )

Strolling through Vancouver's Chinatown on a sunny spring day, Pat Singh Cheung chuckles as he talks about how local merchants react to his beard and turban. 

"They talk to me in English and when I respond in Cantonese, they are all big surprised," said Cheung. 

Cheung is fluent in both Cantonese and Mandarin because he was born and raised in Hong Kong, but his religion comes from India. 

The Vancouver resident is among a small group of people of Chinese-descent globally who are Sikhs.

It was on another walk in Chinatown, five years ago, that the retired registered nurse made a discovery that would change his life.

The first step

At the corner of Main and Hastings streets, outside the Carnegie Community Centre, Cheung saw a large crowd of people lined up for meals. 

"I thought, what's going on? It's not even welfare weekend," said Cheung. 

When he walked over to inquire he was quickly handed a pair of gloves — and a scarf to cover his head — and, recruited to help Guru Nanak's Free Kitchen

The Sikh-faith led volunteer organization has been serving free meals on the Downtown Eastside (DTES) since 2007. 

"I found this very admirable," said Cheung. 

The avid photographer and marathon runner began to research the Sikh religion.

He has been with the Guru Nanak Free Kitchen team serving meals on the DTES every Sunday since. 

Pat Singh Cheung serves free meals with Guru Nanak's Free Kitchen every Sunday on Vancouver's DTES. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Being a Sikh 

Sikhism is a religion that originated in the Punjab region of northern India and was founded by Guru Nanak in the 15th century. 

"Everyone can be a Sikh and believe in one God," said Cheung. "Live an honest life, help the less fortunate and do seva which is selfless service." 

Cheung has adopted several tenets of Sikhism. 

As a sign of faith, Cheung now has uncut hair, wears a turban and a steel bracelet called a kara.

He starts every day at 3:30 a.m. which is called amrit vela or the time for daily mediation and prayer, then he goes for a run along the Yaletown seawall. 

Several days a week, Pat Singh Cheung attends evening prayers at various Metro Vancouver gurdwaras or Sikh temples. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

Cheung says his ultimate goal is to become a baptized Sikh.

"I would also like to learn Punjabi a little bit better so that I can understand the scriptures," said Cheung. 

Cheung would like others to learn about Sikhism as well. 

He has written and published a pamphlet called "3 Facts about Sikhi" in Cantonese to help the many people of Chinese-descent understand the religion when they come to Guru Nanak's Free Kitchen on Sundays. 

"I feel good inside because I know I'm doing the right thing," said Cheung.   

  

About the Author

Belle Puri

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Belle Puri is a veteran journalist who has won awards for her reporting in a variety of fields.

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