- Meeting After 30 Years: A Déjà Vu Experience
Over the past six months, I had reconnected with many long-lost friends. The epitome was certainly the high school class reunion held on last Thursday. The last time we met was thirty years ago! It was a déjà vu experience of reliving the life of a teen, albeit in a much older body.
A classmate, Tai Teong who returned from Shanghai with his wife and kid remarked, “Our physical appearances might have changed somewhat, but the gaze and disposition have remained the same. I can easily identify each and everyone.” I felt the same about Tai Teong. He had the same determined expression and analytical tone in his voice. But he looked leaner and taller than before. We were about the same height at sixteen, but now he is the tallest.
Brenda and Gwendolyn, the only two ladies that evening, had a similar observation. They said,“Both of us were taller than any of the boys at that time. But now all the guys had grown taller than us.” Then Brenda turned to me and made a dig,“Whee Kiem, only you remained the same!” Everyone laughed as my eyes rolled. That’s not entirely true. Look at this picture! But I did not protest, I liked Brenda’s sense of humour. She sounded sincere even when she was teasing me.
(From left to right: Whee Kiem aka William, Zee Hong, Gwendolyn, Brenda, Yew Cheong, Ling Soon, Tai Teong with his wife and son in front, Boon Cheng and Sek Yeo.)
Gwendolyn, a corporate lawyer, is kind with her words. Almost every blogpost I wrote, she gave me encouraging feedback. I said, “I shared my blog with all of you, but only the gals responded, especially Gwendolyn. I was wondering if the guys have become illiterate?” They laughed. Then, Yew Cheong, one of the brightest and most competitive students in class, immediately pointed out an obvious fact: Brenda and Gwen were the best in English in class.
Here is one simple reason you should attend a class reunion: Enjoy Nostalgic Moments And Have Good Laughs.
- Bask In The Joy Of Nostalgia
I was overcome with nostalgia for the days in New Town Secondary School as everyone quickly reminisced about the past.
I recalled many guys, including me, quietly had our long pants pleated by tailors outside, which were not exactly permissible by the school’s standards. Even Boon Cheng, the role model class monitor, admitted that he pleated his pants against the school rule. That was evidence of youth vanity that we all had but forgotten. Look at how smart-looking we were in our specially-tailored pants! I wonder if Boon Cheng, who is now a Vice Principal of a secondary school, turns a blind eye to such matters in his school. After all, we know how it was like to be young.
(Can you tell where I was in this picture taken at secondary four?)
Ling Soon, the good-looking and easygoing swimmer who later became the deputy head prefect in school, remembered being “punished” for speaking Chinese dialect with two other friends in school. The punishment meted out required them to sing a Hokkien song outside the teachers’ Common room. It was supposedly a public humiliation for using dialect in school. The boys sang loudly in pride, winning applause and laughter from on-looking students. An unintended message was delivered: no dialect in school unless you could sing with pride in public (laughs).
Nostalgia fills us with happiness as it reminds us of the wonder of youth. If you have no other reason to join a high school class reunion, then do it for the sake of the smile it’ll bring to your face.
- Be Fascinated By How Much/ Little You and Your Friends Have Changed
Sek Yeo, my high school best friend and NPCC (National Police Cadet Corps) comrade whom I have met for a third time since we reconnected 3 months ago, told me,
“You are definitely beefier-looking than before. One thing about you never changes. You are still so honest. If we were to be cast for roles in a drama, I always knew that you’d be chosen to play the upright one while I have to settle with the role as the crafty one.” He laughed.
Sek Yeo is still the same old person I know. He has an ability to laugh at himself to make others feel good.
( I missed those days of camaraderie at NPCC.)
Another good friend, Zee Hong who engineered the reunion by tracking down one-third of the class single-handledly demonstrated a side of him that I never knew: mindfulness and resourcefulness. Zee Hong, was nicknamed “Fat-Cute” for being the life wire who brought much laughter to the class. Now it becomes apparent that he has more endearing qualities that were overlooked in the past. No wonder he is doing well as a “towkay”, a boss in his family-run business.
It is interesting to find out how the classmates perceived you at that time. Most classmates remember me as a studious and serious student who was always in the teachers’ good books. Yew Cheong was candid about how he felt about me,
“Whee Kiem was “Tao” ( a dialect colloquial to describe an arrogant person) lor. He was like in his own league, didn’t even talk to me. I remember he was good in his studies, especially in Chinese.”
I had to explain. It was because I was predominantly conversant in Mandarin and struggled to make friends with those who spoke mostly English during secondary school days.
Yew Cheong left me with a deep and positive impression at that dinner when he spoke about how he was driven to study really hard to secure bursary and scholarship in order to lessen his parents’ financial burden. I came from a poor family too, but I did not have the same maturity as he did at that age.
- Do You Have Someone You Wish To See Again?
The reunion was an invaluable experience not to be missed. Yet, if it was held six months earlier, I might not have gone. Caught in a blind of work and family commitments, I couldn’t even make time for a simple after-work dinner with friends for more than a decade (See 006: Lessons on Friendship).
Personal setbacks in later life such as health, career and relationships also made it harder to attend class reunion. A year ago, I wouldn’t know what to say if certain sensitive questions about my career setbacks were asked. I had early big success in my career but little did I expect that it would later resemble a snake and ladder game, which took me years to reconcile myself with laughs. I can emphatise with those who may not be comfortable to attend class reunion at certain stage of their lives.
But one question may suffice to make you rethink,“Do you have someone in the class whom you genuinely wish to meet again before the opportunity slips away totally?”
Are you missing your long-lost best friend, or was there a special someone you once had a secret crush on, a rival in studies or sports, or someone you wanted to apologise? How about friends who had made you laughed a lot during those younger days?
And you might be surprised that someone in the class whom you least expected, genuinely wanted to see you as much.
Life is short. Before it becomes too late, make time to see these people who mattered in your life before. Our lives may have diverged into different paths over these years, but it would converge once again if you are open to receive and learn from your old friends.
William W. K. Tan
11 Feb 2018, Sunday