Thursday, March 19, 2009


There is a Chinese idiom, 有缘千里能相会, 无缘对面不相识. Roughly translated, it says; “Fate brings together people who are far (1,000 miles) apart”. On the other hand, if not fated, you would not even know the person who lives across the street.

Well I don’t know whether or not it is fate that brought first John Harper and now Brian Mitchell and his lovely wife Tessa thousands of miles from wintry Cambridge to our sunny shores. (Actually not all sunny because we had quite a few rainy days this past week). Still I am thankful to be able to finally meet up with somebody I seem to have known for decades this week. And they also got to meet a few of our regular friends of GMY (Good Morning Yesterday), Victor, YG, Peter and Chuck. I think our visitors were happy to be able to see most of the places that they wanted to see, such as:

Brian’s houses in Toh Drive and Opera Estate, Brian’s school in Changi, Pulau Ubin, Cliff House in Bt Chermin and Johore Causeway. Unfortunately, Brian’s school is now part of the RSAF’s Changi Air Base and thus out of bounds.

I will leave it to Brian and Tessa to tell you about their trip to Singapore in their blog. I will just show a few photos here and keep my fingers crossed that another friend from UK, Tom Brown will make it to our shores soon.

Brian and Tessa with Cliff House in the background. Notice how dark the skies were. It was raining heavily and we almost decided to turn back. Miraculously the rain ceased long enough for us to take a few shots. On the way back, it started to pour again. At Benjamin Sheares Bridge, you couldn’t even see the sky scrapers of Shenton Way.

Brian and I at the Siglap Road entrance to Opera Estate. Brian recalls that the bus taking him home from school would speed down this slope. The surrounding was mostly empty land.

Brian and Peter taking a shot of the houses at Aida Road in Opera Estate.

Brian and Tessa sampling our local hawker fare at Sunset Way Food Court

I stopped my car at Woodlands Street 13 to let our English visitors see a flowering durian tree close-up. Unfortunately, in this trip they did not get a chance to try the durian. I guess they can do that in Malaysia. After all our durians are mostly imported from Malaysia where they’re much cheaper.

That Chinese idiom may not be 100% appropriate in describing my meetings with Brian Mitchell and John Harper. But it certainly applies to a chance meeting between Lynn Copping’s brother and their amah. Lynn, you may recall has written about her stay in Pulau Brani here. Recently, she emailed me to describe the amazing coincidence which enabled her and her brother to be reunited with their amah from more that 40 years ago. Here is their story in her own words.

“By the way, I was in Singapore in July 2007, to meet up with my old amah. My brother found her completely by chance.

He has been in Singapore about 18 times in the last three years, and in April 2007 he mentioned to the porter in the hotel that he had been brought up in Singapore, on Pulau Brani. 'So was I' said the porter. My brother asked him to look at some photos of old Pulau Brani that he had on his laptop, and when the porter saw one of my elder brother with our amah, he said 'that's my mother'. (He had first seen one of me, and thought to himself that he had seen a photo of that girl before, but didn't like to say anything - it was a copy of one that his mother had in her album). My brother went to see her the next day, and I flew out on my brother's next trip (in the July) to see him and to meet up with her. It was so exciting.”

PS - to read Brian and Tessa's posts click on the label Brian Mitchell on right side of this page


pehsk 白成杰 said...

It should be "来相会" instead of "能相会".

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks for pointing out my mistake Peh.

But I saw this version in many websites including this zaobao website.

This type of idioms we usually remember from our childhood days when we hear my mother say them in Cantonese.

That's why I disagree with MM Lee's theory that when our children learn speak dialects; their Mandarin will suffer. I don't think the brain is so simple; X number of gigabytes; you use up some for dialects, there will be less for Mandarin. My own theory is that learning dialects when young will actually help and not hinder the learning of Mandarin.

But then who is LCS.

Anonymous said...

Quite a moving report Chun See.I had a chill when I read about Opera Estate as I have relatives living there.And Oh that slope leading to down to the estate was indeed steep and scary to do on a bike.Although I lived in Katong the family haunts were Siglap,OP,Bedok and Changi.Just seeing these words in your article make me nostalgic and melancholic.
It was nice of you and Peter to have taken the time out to accompany your friends around their old haunts.

Anonymous said...

From my observations, there are 2 parts of Opera Estate; one indigenous and the other European.

The indigenous part centers around Jalan Terang Bulan and Jalan Bangsawan. The other part has operatic street names like Tosca, Swan Lake and Figaro.

I only knew about the local part when the estate was opened in late 50s and 3 big impressions that stood through the test of time were a) the steep slope down from Siglap Road, b) the frequent floods (My aunty's house was perpetually flooded and with each flood, pots and pans from the kitchen come sailing into the living room) and c) the view of the east coast sea from the top of Siglap Hill.

Brian and Tess said...

Thanks for your thoughts and the additional photos of our visit Chun See, I have tried to express our thanks to you all for making our visit so memorable in our blog - and should any of you find yourselves in the UK and wanting to visit Cambridge then we will be delighted to see you and further strengthen our ties of friendship.

Brian and Tess

yg said...

chun see, one of the more enriching rewards of blogging is to come to know interesting people who share some of your interests. just as mr philip chew had pen-pals in the past, these days we have blogger pals.
the internet has helped to bring people from all over the globe closer together.

Tom said...

Tom said...
glad to hear that Tess and Brian, had Arived safely to Singapore, and I hope they enjoyed meeting new friends,and looking at the places they use to know,I will be hopeing to see alot areas were I use to go to when I come back to Singapore, Iam trying to picture the old and the new Singapore, I hope its not long before I come out to seeyou all.

Victor said...

It was nice meeting Brian and Tess in Singapore. I hope they have enjoyed their stay here.

Chun See, I thought the 2nd part of the saying 无缘对面不相识 means "if not fated, you would not even know the person if you come face to face"?

Zen said...

The buddhist concept of 'yuen' means karmic relationship that is bound to happen - whether one likes it or not. In this case a friendship which is separated by two continents apart, but has it origin in Singapore, is worth cherishing.

Brian and Tess said...

Tom, everyone warned us just how much Singapore had changed and I am not sure I was ready for the total transformation of the island that I found - so much has been achieved over 40 years that to UK eyes it is incredible. Also the totally planned element of creating a continuous Garden City across the whole island.

But the most special thing for you like us will be to meet present day Singaporeans who share you interest in the island and its past and will do all they can to make sure your trip is a good one!

Brian and Tess

Lam Chun See said...

I forgot to mention that although our friends from UK did not try the king of fruits (durian), they did manage to experience the taste of the buah su su or passion fruit; and right off the tree too, when they visited my home.