I first befriended her when we had just completed our secondary school education respectively in the late 60s. Jong’s demure physique, her smart and pretty, bespectacled young face caught my attention that I yearned to befriend her. Soon we were talking to each other like old chums as we found each other good company and were able to communicate over common interests. We went out few times on bicycle dates (at that time the only viable, decent transport for my generation in my town was the bicycles); saw one or two movies and it seemed that the friendship would go on for a while.
You still can see some ladies in rural Taiwan go cycling about holding an umbrella.
It was a hard time for me as I could not continue my education following my father’s sudden demise right after my ‘O’ level results were released. I did not fare good enough to study ‘A’ Level in a governmental public school. It was strenuous for my teacher mother to make both ends meet then and my family was in dire straits. As she had many other mouths to feed she expected me to find employment quickly. I managed to find some part time jobs and was able to sustain my meagre living to study ‘A’ Level on my own and later in a night school. Still I managed to find time to see Jong in the evening hours; sometimes just talking to her over the fence of her home was equally fulfilling like going on a date. Her stern mother would be keeping watch a short distance away to make sure nothing untoward would happen. The older lady’s silent glare was quite intimidating though.
When a group of my schooling peers organized a trip to an off shore island for an outing, I urged Jong to come along and she gladly accepted the invitation. On that fine day we landed at that tropical island in the Straits of Malacca after 3 to 4 hours choppy ride on an old, large fishing boat, ready to discover the scenic island with its natural surrounding. Jong and I strolled through the undulating shoreline, over rocks and sandy beaches, until large border rocks prevented us from going further. The unforgettable, sweet experience on the island reminded me the ballade ‘Stoney’ sung by Lobo: “………….we walked for hours in the sand………she would always try to hold my hand………’ There and then we saw something unexpected: One young couple was locked in tight embrace, kissing passionately on the rock under the hot sun without any shelter! Their faces turned beet red when they saw us staring at them and they quickly separated. They were members of our entourage. My nonchalant friend Jong just murmured to me coolly: Oh, here they are.
There was another event that I remembered quite vividly; I took her to a neighboring town to visit my maternal grandmother who was then not feeling very well. Despite her frail condition Grandma was washing clothes when we greeted her. The moment she saw a girl standing besides me, she told me to get married quickly so as to help my own mother washing clothes! We were stunned and did not know how to answer her. We were just below 20 years old then.
A group of Sabah Chinese primary school teachers holding large Teachers' Day greeting cards.
The Teacher wrote: Ni Hau (How are you?)
Jong had been a temporary teacher in a Chinese primary school since she completed her secondary education. One day she told me in her excitement that she had been accepted to be a trainee in a teachers’ training college some 100km away. I was happy for her and congratulated her for her attempt to be a confirmed teacher in her prudence. At the same time I felt sad as I was not gainfully employed nor did I have the opportunity to further my studies. It was going to be a long 2 years for her training sojourn whilst I relished on past memories; yet I would not be able to see her as much as I liked to. I made a drastic decision and with my immature mind I wrote her a short parting letter:
Thank you for being so kind to me for the past few months. I am glad that you’ve come along to be a great companion. Your fate and aspiration to be a teacher is already sealed and confirmed with your acceptance into the training college. I think I should not be seeing you anymore; I hereby wish you the best in your future endeavors.
I knew that my letter probably broke her heart a while as there was not reply. She did send me some New Year greeting cards for the next one year or two. There was no contact between us for the next two to three decades as we grew older to enter our post middle age years. I was told by a common friend that she had taken care of her ailing father after her mother’s demise and helped to look after her younger siblings. She was then already married with children of her own and after her father’s passing, she left for Maui, Hawaii, USA with her entire own family to start a new life and to face a new challenge.
The Hawaiian Islands
With the help of that common friend I obtained her e-mail address recently and we were connected again after so many years of silence from each other. We met once when I picked her up at the airport and sent her to her brother’s residence at the suburb of our city when she came back for holidays. She now enjoys a blissful family of three girls and one boy, and her businessman husband. Her children are grown adults and have careers of their own in
and in the US Continent. All of them have excelled in their tertiary education earlier with their internship (in the form of students exchange) done in Hawaii Japan, China and . Meanwhile she helps her husband to run a large scaled souvenir centre in one of the Singapore Hawaiian Islands. Life have been complete and fulfilling by now for Jong after so many tough years since she worked so hard to become an exemplary school teacher. She remains my good friend for life. God Bless Her.
Alan CY Kok