Monday, February 24, 2014

Meeting Hup Boon

Finally meeting up with Hup Boon on the 19th Feb. He has moved back to Balam Road (previously at Blk 57 Circuit Road when he was in MPS). Previously our FBI team had gone there to look for him but he was not at home.

We were at Balam Rd for Ee Ming mom's wake. RIP, Mdm Diong Choo Suan. I can see you have done a great job with yr son Ee Ming. He's an outstanding fella.:-)

Oh, btw, Hup Boon has had a very colorful life. But one must salute him for his courage and great sense of filial piety. Today he is in office design and plays an active role in Chinese 7th Month activities (head of Circuit Road branch).

Friday, January 3, 2014

In Memoriam: John Low Lee Huat

It is with a heavy heart that I announce the death of one of our Mattar Primary School classmates, Mr John Low Lee Huat.

He succumbed to lung infection and passed away quite suddenly on the 2nd of Jan 2014. He was 50.

He is the first in our batch to go to the spiritual beyond and so, naturally, we are all rather shocked. It seemed not so long ago that we chatted and enjoyed a meal together with him.

Like some of us, he was reunited with the class cohort in June 2013. In that short six months, the old Lee Huat I knew so many years ago reemerged - the nice, smiley, quiet boy who liked to cycle and runabout. He was my playmate in school (part of the Secret Seven Club) and the person I would call upon whenever I visited Circuit Road to look for my many school pals living there. 

Lee Huat and I had a common interest in cycling and I liked him for his kindness, hands-on and outgoing nature. So it was without surprise that I learnt that he had become a long-service regular in the SAF after NS, as part of the Infantry Guardsmen, that better breed of soldiers what the Marines were to the normal foot soldiers in the US. He was indeed a better soldier than the rest for he and his kakis were soon recruited to join an intelligence unit that performed covert operations. In layman terms, "spy-spy" kind of work. It takes a certain person to play that role.

The Lee Huat I got reacquainted with last year was certainly different from the one in his boyhood. He was mature, intelligent and utterly selfless. He would drive us around at all hours to look for long-lost classmates. By then, he had left the army after a certain age and was running his own business in general insurance and also dabbling in house renovations.

He could always be seen driving around in his van... equipment ready at the back for any job-call to his men. Those of us who bought travel insurance from him know him to be very prompt and service-oriented. We will miss his good nature and ready smile. He laughed easily and had a sense of humor like mine bothering on the wry.

My last meal with him was some months back when I took him to eat some special noodles in Yishun (as a thank-you gesture, plus he was also quite the foodie!) As we sat and talked, I couldn't help but realise what a steady man this childhood buddy of mine had become. He was no more the pale "kwai kwai" boy but a confident, mature and able man. I will miss his confident, deep voice that rang with command, yet tinged with a certain curious and humorous nature. When recounting stories, he would often interject with a "sibeh ho chio" (Hokkien, meaning 'It's very funny') or a "ng zhai ani kuan" ('why like that?') - and then follow up with a hearty laugh. His eyes would genuinely light up.

During one of our drives out to look for a classmate, I noticed his persistent coughing and asked him what the matter was. He said it was just something that refused to go away. He would pop Fisherman's lozenges like crazy to soothe his throat. I told him I was concerned and recommended him better Chinese lozenges and also a cough remedy that once worked for me - something I offered to buy for him. (The meds are still sitting in my home waiting for him to collect. The last text from him was that he was tied up and would drop by after - but he never made it.)

It was in August that Lee Huat learnt what was ailing him after a medical check-up for an unrelated ailment.

Last month, he opted to postpone telling his friends about his illness. He didn't want to spoil their festive celebrations. When I heard that from his wife, I told her that that was the Lee Huat I knew and came to know anew. A very considerate fella who would give the shirt off his back to help a fellow man. He did his country's army proud and he is doing the same for his cohort of primary school mates.

Rest well, Lee Huat. It is truly a loss that you have to leave us so early. And thank you for all those years of boyhood fun (e.g. goli, catching spiders) and also those wonderful nostalgic moments in recent months past. You will truly be missed.

Lee Huat leaves behind his wife Wendy, son (18) and daughter (14).

On behalf of Class Pri 1B-6B (1970-75), Mattar Primary School, I convey our condolences to his family and loved ones.

(Thank you to classmate Pow Choo, for the timely inform, and to your Buddhist mates for their intervention prayers.)

Wake: Blk 543 Bedok North Street 3. Cremated at Mandai on Monday (time to be confirmed)

The MacPherson Gang: Our Childhood Story

Bikes, Lee Huat and Me: A Chopper Legacy

John Low Lee Huat (aged 9)
(Missing from this pix Mui Chow, Siew Gek and Siew Hong (Lim))

2nd Day Wake: Missing in picture: Tan Wee Hock;
Not in frame: Sally Tan and myself. [The family was so nice.
There was a good buffet but not halal. They actually
went out and bought Macs for us!)

Foreground: LH's mom (in white), sister in black behind her
and LH's bro (in H-stripes). Sorry, not too polite to take their
frontal pics.

Service started at 1.30pm. 6th Jan 2014. And ended around 2pm.

Service in Hall 4 (Buddhist/Taoist rites)

Cortege slides out, pple file to viewing gallery next door.

Waiting for the cortege arrival to Phoenix Chamber (my term).

According to common practice, the spouse doesn't attend
(which in my youth, was not the case. Perhaps to spare the
spouse from distress?)

Cortege being pushed along by an auto-butler. 

A close-up view of the auto-butler.

Coffin enters the Phoenix Chamber finally for incineration.

Bedok North Ave 4. Monastry on left. For directions,
scroll to bottom of blog-post.

Temple next to the Hock Chuan Monastery

Hock Chuan Monastery (along Bedok North Ave 4,
opp Blk 3011 industrial block. And just before Bedok North St 5.
Nearby bus stop: Service 17, 48)

Lovely surrounds of the monastery. 

The tablet hall on the left.

Paying final respects.

Mostly relatives paying their respects. Brothers, sisters,
cousins, in-laws, nephews, etc. 

The kids paying their last respects.

Lee Huat's son Chin Juan, daughter Hui Ern. CJ is studying
at NAFA. They were each given a short twig of leaves
(pomegranate?) to wear home. If dropped, cannot pick up again.

Chin Juan being handed the prayer cake and the empty ashes
urn (red plastic bag) to bring home. The ashes will be collected
another day from the crematorium.
HC Monastery location map. Nearby bus stop: Service 17, 48

Friday, December 27, 2013

The First Gathering

L-R: Norien, Nancy, Hayati, PK 

Sarbjit, TC, Syed Omar, Ramli

Our first MPS gathering took place on Saturday, 10th of April 2013 at Simpang Bedok. We met at the Mahmood's prata restaurant (the one next to the Shell station) early in the morning and later adjourned to the Social Enterprise Hawker Center across the road!

By then, 10 of us had been found. They were Norien, Rambli, Subari, Syed Omar, Pritam Kaur, Noor Hayati, Nancy Maung, Sarbjit, Miang Joo and myself. Only eight turned up as Miang Joo was residing in the US and Subari could not make it.

The day before, I had just managed to contact Sarbjit, who sportingly turned up. He would prove to be a good sport over the next few gatherings.

Finding Sarbjit was not easy. Someone said he and his brother (nicknamed Happy and Lucky respectively) ran a textile shop in Tekka Market, so off I went to look for him. But their shop was no longer there. But the tenants there remembered Sarbjit and his brother fondly and even knew they were called Happy and Lucky, so optimistic and jokey those two brothers were. In their company, they said, you would always be in good cheer.

After all these years, they have, apparently, not lost their trademark humour.

(Sarbjit once told me this story between he and his brother: They used to share school shoes like in that movie, Home Run. I then remembered that he used to turn up in school wearing flip-flops. That was when it was his brother's turn to wear the shoes. At the time, I thought how brave and rebellious this fella was. Turned out his family's business in textiles had taken a bad hit, no doubt caused by the worldwide oil crisis at the time.)

One of the tenants said they might have opened a shop nearby, so off I went to search. But despite wandering a few rounds in the area, there was no one remotely resembling Sarbjit. I could only try to imagine how he had changed in all these years. He was a skinny "bayi" back then with a "toncek" (hair bun on top).

But Norien and I knew the Silk community was small and tight-knit, so we surmised that maybe someone knew somebody who knew him. Turned out to be true. We found his sister through a an office colleague who was Sikh.

Still, finding the sister was one thing. Getting to Sarbjit was another. He was travelling and I could only get to the brother. After that it was 'radio silence' until the eve of the gathering and Sarbjit said he would turn up the next day which he did.

With Norien and Ramli, we were able to get in touch with Hayati and the rest of the Malay boys. Syed Omar was a chance meeting in an ambulance through Ramli's brother. He was working in the emergency services then.

Ramli was quite easily found as his younger brother was rather active in a junior MPS
FB group. And Ramli turned out to be a fervent 'hunter' as well. We first met at a kopitiam near my place and I showed him my MPS memorabilia.

Another classmate, Pritam, was located on FB as her brother Baldev was also active in that same MPS group. Seems quite a few people also loved their time at MPS. It was indeed a unique school fronted by a large field and surrounded by two other schools. The communities around it were diverse also!

I found Nancy Maung on FB after realising she had a unique surname. Dang, it was so obvious after the fact. But FB was to prove rather useless in locating missing people later. It is a good tool to stay in touch AFTER the people have been found. FB has too many people with the same (often shortened) name.

Miang Joo found me through my Flickr photo account in which I had posted pictures of my MPS memorabilia, including an old address list of almost all our classmates. It was compiled after I left MPS and in sec school.

It was kind of cute that she thanked me for remembering her. (I'd never forgotten my primary school mates and could still recall their names and faces.) MJ said she had also been reading my blogs (of which I have a few). And that's how we started our email exchange.

I have a few blogs. A popular one is Growing Up in Geylang in which I would write about my growing up years and also MPS/Circuit Rd experiences. You can find a story here:

Up till now, only Norien, Ramli and myself were actively looking out for our missing classmates. Ramli recalled Mazlan having a foodstall in Bedok South near an army camp and went looking for him. He also said he met him once on a bus.

I decided to dig into my treasure chest of MPS memorabilia (like my autograph book) to see if any more unique names would turn up. After all, some of our classmates could be using their Christian names!

As mentioned, many people think Facebook is such a great tool for uniting friends. Not so, especially when there are hundreds of Lucy Teos or Francis Tans. Not all accounts have profile pics nor could one assume them to be active as well.

I find LinkedIn to be the better lead, and I was not wrong. It led to finding a few key people who really then provided the additional brains and resources to locating more missing classmates. 

My box of MPS treasures. Click here to see.

First meeting w Ramli

The class photo that started it all. The only pix we all have taken when in P3B and
when we were taught by the lovely Ms Lim Siang Ngoh. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Found: The Last Sheep!

It is with great joy to announce the finding of our last known sheep in our cohort of 44.

Welcome back to the Mattar PS fold, Mui Ngoh, pictured here with her daughter.

Thanks to Nancy's contact.

Apparently Mui Ngoh left school at P3 to stay home to look after a baby brother whilst her parents were busy eking out a living. She wasn't doing well in school then and had no interest.

This could be the reason why none of us seemed close to her nor remember much about her. As class monitor, I remember her being absent from school often. But I do remember her curly - somewhat red - hair and freckled face. She had a rather raspy voice too. And she was mostly cheerful in school and liked to play Catching, etc.

Well, we hope to catch up with her soon.

Back then, quite a few of our classmates did not come from well-to-do families. One had no money for exercise books, another had to share shoes with his brother, yet another took part in Pesta Sukan just so to win prize money to buy shoes for her siblings. A few did not always have pocket money and depended on the kindness of one classmate whose father sold mee rebus at the nearby hawker centre. He would often give the boys (friends of his son, Subari) 10/20 cents as tidbit money!

Before locating Mui Ngoh, one place we looked at was a flat in Bendemeer. But no luck that night as the house occupants were out.

Siew Hong knocking.

Checking with a neighbour.

No one can complain we didn't do the leg work to try and find all our classmates! :-D

Monday, September 2, 2013

Our First BBQ Gathering

Photos of last night's BBQ at Chuan Yeow's place. :-)

What a success! According to Siew Hong (Jen), 22 people turned up! This is 4 more then the last gathering at TCC Boat Quay! And what a lively party it turned out to be! Well done, folks!

This time the new faces (to most of us) were Lay Khim, Kim Choon and Yong Meng. Of course, Chuan Yeow was not at the Cafe Cartel/TCC reunions previously so he had yet to meet with folks like Lucy, Thin Leong, Ee Ming, etc. And so wonderful of Lin Hiong (Shirley) and Siew Hwa (Sally) to turn up even after working late. It showed a great affinity with old friends!

And kudos to our Muslim friends Norien, Hayati and Ramli (the latter two with families). They turned up even with Hari Raya visits and commitments on-going!

A few were noticeably absent: Siew Gek had a family BBQ; Siam Peng's dad was still in hospital (but condition stable); Bee Har was on her second honeymoon at MBS (no competition, that one). Woon Leng sent her regrets due to a family dinner. Mazlan was still in JB. Hup Boon had 7 visits to make across the island due to commitments to the 7th Month Hungry Ghost festival. We joked that he was a popular getai singer, haha! Pritam was supposed to bring vegetarian food but did not turn up. A few did not even reply to SMS. Haiz...headcount folks, headcount!

We invited Mrs Pang but she had to travel with her son at short notice up Malaysia (his father-in-law suffered a stroke). Ms Lim had a play to attend. Ms Leng... well, we tried but no response.


I was the first to arrive at CY's place. As it was still early (about 5.30pm) my daughter Carrie and I went up to CY's place to sit and chat. It ended up with Carrie talking more than I did, haha. CY and I both agreed that she would make a good salesperson some day. (She was telling CY the merits of a DSi game machine!)

At 6.15pm, we returned to the BBQ pit to find Ee Ming, Thin Leong (or Tian Leong), Lucy and Mui Chow already there. Mui Chow's teenage daughter, Jamie, sat to one side looking demure and playing with her phone. I could see Ee Ming already very business-like wth the pit laying out the ta-mak (firestarters) and coals. He was really proficient at the task and soon had a nice, even fire going.

The family at the only other BBQ pit could only stare in awe.

Their own attempts were rather feeble: trying to start a BBQ fire with charcoal chips rather than small logs; and with just one or two ta-maks. They were like kids trying to build a sandcastle with sewing thimbles. It was ridiculous as it was comical!

What's even more alarming were their attitudes: The two Indians guys who came over to check out our roaring fire pit were still stubborn even after I had advised them on the technique. They insisted we were using some special charcoals. They even checked our charcoal packaging. What nuts! These overseas-born Indians reminded me of the egocentric chaps I used to meet working in Delhi. Whatever happened, it was never their fault! And they can be rather unappreciative.

They returned my nearly full can of lighter fluid with just a fraction left without so much as a thank you. Assholes? Much.

In the meantime, Jen (as usual, with mom in tow), Irene (Puay Hoon), Nancy, Swee Wah and May Yoke arrived with Goh Kim Choon and Chong Lay Khim. The girls had waited for the latter two at the nearby Tanah Merah MRT station. So sweet of them to do that. Jen and the FBI girls are always looking out for our classmates. They deserve some kind of 'ho peng yu' award for being so considerate and kind!


I was glad to see Kim Choon as she's usually tied up with parental commitments on the weekends. She said our many invites spurred her to at least attend once! I mean one purpose of these gatherings is to meet new finds so I was glad she made the difficult decision to come. The next surprise new-face was Yong Meng. My, he still looked the same except perhaps a little on the prosperous side! But I could still recognise him; the same with Kim Choon as well. Kim Choon looked closer to her young self as she got older. Her secondary school pix was rather different.

At the pit, the fire was roaring. Ee Ming put on some chicken wings and started cooking them. It is hard to imagine him the naughty and non-studious boy he was back at Mattar Pri Sch. Here, he was all serious and purposeful. Seeing my help was no longer needed with the fire, I assisted Jen in setting up her portable Numark vinyl record player. It's a neat little machine that's getting very popular, even with folks in their 20s who had not grown up with one. Apparently they liked the raw, noisy playback sound. We played some 50s to 70s-era records by Russ Hamilton, Karen Young, Skeeter Davis and Bobby Bare. Their evergreen songs gave the place a wonderful nostalgic resonance. The sun was still up but fading fast. But everybody's mood was one of waiting and anticipation. Who else is going to turn up? was what I believe everyone was wondering.

While waiting, some of us munched on muffins bought by Mui Chow (courtesy of Swee Wah from that well-known Sin Min area shop). I found them too filling and deferred eating them till later.


The next to arrive was Adelene and Pow Choo looking much refreshed from her recent retreat. Adelene came with her laptop as she might have had to troubleshoot if work at the office beckoned. Month end is never good for anyone involved in a company's website, not if the company is a giant like IBM! It's really wonderful of her to attend the BBQ in spite of that. And how can we do without the company of someone who has blossomed into a pretty Taiwanese actress? Her infectious laughter is still the same as from childhood! It is wonderful to rediscover that "rire de joie" as well as the familiar voices behind each and every childhood friend.


8pm+ and we started to wonder about our Muslim friends. How come they still haven't arrived? Then right on cue, Hayati popped in with her husband Ishak and son Zul, who was really cool and could mix around. Next came Ramli along with his pretty wife Roslaini and daughters Madinah and Baina Syura. They were indeed as sweet as their names!

Then Lin Hiong and Siew Hwa arrived, followed by Kok Kiam and Norien. Kok Kiam had a prior family dinner but still came (well, no excuse as he lives nearby, haha). He also took the trouble to fetch Norien who cooked mee siam for everybody. Already delicious on its own, with sambal cuttlefish, it was a class above the usual. Fortunately I was late starting on the BBQ food having to chat and take photos and so had room still to stomach the very "sedap" fare. I seldom hesitate with food cooked by friends. After their sterling effort, one can only show appreciation by eating. And how heavenly it was! I would have taken seconds if not for some sausages swallowed just minutes earlier. The BBQ sausages - both brown and white - were also very good. It was a pity that there weren't any yellow mustard around to slather them on the dogs!

My own appetite had diminished after losing weight in June and cultivating a 'No-dinner-after 6pm' rule. It is hard to justify dinner when my metabolic rate has slowed to a snail's pace; and activity level becoming more sedentary than the ardent sportsman I used to be.

The fruits brought by Kok Kiam and Kim Choon were very sweet and welcomed. It helped to wash down the meats consumed earlier and allowed us snack healthily between conversations without feeling guilty. (I had brought a pack of excellent prawn crackers from Batam earlier. Pink and thick and best eaten with sweet chilli sauce - the kind you find in an Indonesian restaurant. I alone can't finish the whole big pack. Might as well let friends enjoy!)


As usual, there was much gaiety and laughter that evening. It always is when old school mates gather to recount "the good o'l days". As the evening wore on people retreated into their private chats with closer friends, especially for those who have now known each other for much longer since the very first reunion. No doubt the red wine helped to loosen tongues and inhibitions. But there were no wild antics like table-top dancing nor twerking ala Miley Cyrus at the recent MTV awards. The only thing out of the ordinary was Jen and Irene doing tandem line dancing. If Mui Chow, looking spiffy in her red-hot short pants and black boots, joined in, the temperature of the place would have gone up even higher!

Speaking of temperature, the night started a little warm and not at all windy. Fortunately, I had the foresight to bring some fans from a recent Japanese cultural event, else many would have withered under the conditions. But as the evening progressed so did the weather cool down a bit, which was a relief!


At one point I noticed that the other BBQ party had wound down. The Indians were packing up to leave. Did the evening go by so quick?

Our own party was still noisy and boisterous! However, fearing complaints from the residents living nearby (CY has a tip: Don't buy a condo unit near the BBQ pits), we decided to move the party upstairs to his place.

Our party might have switched locations, but the gaiety remained as more school-day antics were recounted, especially of a song that involved the washing of undies until a hole was scrubbed through! I had to look to see if the balcony windows were shut as the resultant laughter got very loud. Irene was the chief culprit in singing that risque song. CY could only feign forgetfulness to having sung that song all those years ago and Sally (Siew Hwa) could only blush knowing the undie was referring to hers.

I remember that silly ditty well. Boys used to sing it to 'disturb' the girls. I think I first heard it sung by a Mattar East Pri Sch boy in my school bus - a stuffy VW Type II van actually. I never got along with that boy as he was rather gangster-like.

The party eventually ended around 11pm; and I could sense that most were reluctant to go. But we had to be polite and not bother CY's family too much even if CY himself was most hospitable and gracious.

It was indeed a wonderful function that night. I wished more could have turned up to take advantage of the casual setup and halal food. But with this group of people, the mood is always gay, friendship intimate, conversation never dull.

Same bottle but blue with white strap?
As often happens, the meeting of old friends always bring to the surface unexpected memories. Kim Choon recalled that I often brought luncheon meat sandwiches to school and ate them in class. It was something I had forgotten much about. The smell of the luncheon meat would drive her and the other classmates hungry and envious. I do recall the sandwiches now and how I liked my luncheon meat slices fried to a crisp. She also recalled me always carrying my water bottle cross-strapped across my chest and how smart my starched shirts were. Yes, the shirts were smart but they were also highly uncomfortable in Singapore's hot, humid weather. I always wondered why I had to wear these and not the light Tetron fabric shirts that Sarbjit, Thin Leong, CY and most of the other schoolkids wore. What a buggeration! And I also had to wear those stiff kaki-like shorts from P1 to P2 (where one could feel wind draft flowing from one pant leg to the next). Hup Boon could relate as he was in similar boat (same attire). I always remember him and Yong Meng having very neat hairdos.

Wearing those uncomfortable starched shirts in hot weather trained me to do something that came in useful later: Mind tricks. I had to deploy them in the army during National Service. I mean we had to wear starched uniforms the first six months of NS life. They were only later abandoned for comfortable cotton No.4s and tailored Tetron No.3s. It is nice to be the first generation of soldiers to wear these as well as the new camouflaged Field No.4s. We first wore them on National Day in 1982.

Photos: (All taken by me except four from Jen) Many thanks to Chuan Yeow for the venue as well as BBQ food! (Scroll to the end for video links.)

The location...sun still up but fading. (Jen's pix)

Sausage, fish, satay. Ooh-la-la....And a great fire set up by Ee Ming. (Jen's pix)

That's Ee Ming at the back, our excellent firestarter!

Genial mood all round.

Wonderful Swee Wah telling her story. 

Lovely May Yoke and sweet Kim Choon

Good friends reunited and both staying in Ang Mo Kio.

Pow Choo, Mui Chow, Lucy (background), Swee Wah, Adelene, Thin Leong 

One-time best pals from Circuit Road and Sims Avenue.

Sweet Lucy and pretty mom Nancy with 'our' child.

Cheers to old and long-lasting friendships. 

Yes, Lucy, that's real red wine. :-)

Alamak, cameraman stood too far!

A happy, happy bunch! (Jen's pix)

Another group photo (Jen's pix)

Hayati and son Zul and hubby Ishak.

Lay Khim and Ramli meeting for the very first time after 38 yrs!

Kim Choon, Yong Meng, Kok Kiam - first time meeting also. 

The BBQ food was delicious. Thank you CY for making it happen!

Close friends too when in Mattar. "Eh, don't play play." Hayati seems to say!

Something made Thin (Tian) Leong laugh very hard.

Thin Leong again tearing up.

More jokes going around.

A hug and photo opp for Kim Choon.

'Ms Leng' in the background, haha.

Mui Chow, Lucy and Adelene in serious discussion.

Well, maybe not!

Another private conversation. What's the topic, ladies?

Ramli family with wife Roslaini, daughters Madinah, Baina Syura

Adjourned to CY's home.

A more candid shot.