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.