Wednesday, July 03, 2013

When Will I See You Again? (By Peter Chan)

Usually this kind of subject would be frowned upon by many because it’s considered taboo or too sensitive. We can’t fault people for their opinions because we grew up in a very conservative era.  Some were and are still very ‘churchy’.  Yet it’s like those saucy Chinese B-grade movies where we know Chinese people are supposed to be very conservative but at the same time appreciate eroticism.

I did promise Chun See not to dwell on those itchy and erotic stuff, which some people like to hear.  And so, I shall handle this with care and objectivity (hopefully).  Remember we are two very “clean-type” adults in our Silver Tsunami Years. So here’s our story.

Our paths crossed when we were both busy with our careers; she was in banking, whilst I was in IT. I was Singaporean, and she was an Indonesian Chinese residing in Singapore at that time. Looking back now …. how time flies.  We had lost contact with each for over 30 years. Meantime, we had separately raised children who are already working adults (but from different spouses).  By “jodoh” we were re-united by the founder of Google Search who developed this wonderful software that enables one to find almost anything under the sun.  She has actually been following Lam Chun See’s GMY blog and thought my writing style and my childhood memories reminded her of someone she knew from the past.  Furthermore she recognized me with that unmistakable deep voice on Foodage.

So the re-connection was agreed and both were eagerly looking forward to meeting again, not knowing how the other person looks like today.  I didn’t have much of her on photograph but was very surprised to hear that she still kept a card from me.  What card?  My business card?  It was in pristine condition (when I saw it) because it meant so much to her; and the only memory of me.  Gee I must have left a great impression on her.  The card was kept in a safe place at a bank vault until KeppelBank was acquired by OCBC Bank.  That night she showed me the card.  With a bit of teary eyes, I took a long hard look to read what was written.  The card was given through the courtesy of NOEL the Hamper and Flower People and accompanied the bouquet of flowers for her birthday.  Hmmm, this was the first and only time I ever dedicated flowers to a girl. 

To be honest we were not worried about meeting again.  Certainly, we would not “die of shock” upon looking at our new body contours; unlike the case of a friend of mine. He told me he almost fell off his chair when his turn came. And that 'meeting' only involved an exchange of photographs over the Internet.  Some women friends I hear simply refused to meet their x-bfs for fear of rejection.  Some would never want to meet because of a bad fall-out. 

Photo 1:  [Top] The Kasbah at the Mandarin Hotel Orchard – now the Meritus Mandarin (c 1983).  [Bottom] The “Kasbah” today opposite the Mandarin Court Restaurant.

At that time, I must have fallen for her.  In Malay they called this lemah-lembut.  Where did we go for dates?  Since we loved dancing, names rolled out easily but the Kasbah was where we liked best - it was our first date here.  There were also meals at Jack’s Place over in Yen San Building below the Citibank Orchard.  She didn’t forget the car-rides to some quiet far-off corners of Singapore.  Funny thing; we didn’t do the movie circuit.  Now these are historical places gone forever.  We realized the cost of living has gone up; the food prices looked so atrociously expensive.  Back then credit cards were not so widely used, NETS Payment had not arrived; cash payment was the order of the day and that’s where I realized my folly, I forgot to top up my wallet and sheepishly had to “borrow” money from her to pay for the date.  “Ah you didn’t repay me after you borrowed”, she said.  This was the most embarrassing moment for me that evening.  “OK I now repay, how much was it?”

Photo 2:  This really made me looked so gundduh.  First look who I ordered the flowers from?  I wonder whether this firm still in business.  Next, did I send the card during CNY period – the image reminded me of the festive season?  She called it Sweet Innocence.

My question for the evening: What (lasting) impressions could I have left on you?  Gentle person, caring and soft-spoken - traits which should have helped us make it through the years.  So how come we never got married?  “You were always a busy man, jet here, jet there.  You never said those magic words nor showed commitment.” 
It was true I didn’t say those 3 magic words (ILU) to her though we dated very frequently.  It was certainly not the case of commitment to a HDB flat which we get to read these days in the Straits Times.  I equated the fact since I saw her often, it was sufficient evidence that there was no need to do anything more.  Little did I realize that a woman wants to know what is at the end of the road in a relationship. 

We met one final time in Hong Kong after I got the much-coveted regional job.  We had lunch at a place near the Bank of America Tower before I flew out of Kai Tak International Airport for San Francisco the next morning.  It was here I found out the hard truth and the Kailan dish didn’t taste yummy.  Yes she was my old flame and I would have proposed to her if not for the miscommunications; I don't mean we had fights of that sort.  We missed each other because I was then busy with my career and embroiled in office politics.  I wanted to get out of the Singapore market and go regional in my career.  I already knew something about her; she had the good qualities of a life partner, very typical of strict Indonesian Chinese families who spoke Dutch and Bahasa Indonesia.  Indonesian Chinese girls are something.  In the old days they are taught to be well-mannered, discreet and are usually very polite by nature.  She was in that mould.  By the time I arrived in HK, I was married, there was little choice and she found someone else.

Photo 3: Strange thing though, we were both in Hong Kong at one time, we didn’t meet again after that final meeting.  She was working in the Bank of America Tower and I was staying at the Furama Hotel Inter-Con, both near Statute Square area.  Ten years ago, we were living in the same neighborhood in SG but didn’t know that either.  Photo of HK waterfront (c 1988).

Now listen to this verbatim during an exchange of messages to determine our ultimate meeting venue.  Even Silver Tsunami babies got problems finding their way around in the New Singapore.
P: Wanna test me?
S: Test you on wat?
P: whether I’m still romantic?
S: Yes.....
P: Can try
S: What would you consider a romantic date?
P: U like mosquitos?
S: Unfortunately, no.
P: Next question, in SG or outside SG?
S: S’pore
P: SG very dry leh
S: Romantic dinner, then?
P: Huh? Always eating. Heheheh. 
S: What else to do in Spore?
P:  Ah, u have to use a bit of imagination.  Most people think of candle-light diner and the commercials advocate it.
S: And you?
P: ask yourself how can one ever enjoy romantic @dinners? Most time looking @food and praising the food or the chef.  Dats dull.
S: So what is romantic evening?

Indeed Singapore today is considered expensive for entertainment.  Meeting somebody revolves around food and the same familiar settings.  Soft relaxing music not punishing on the ears is lacking and replaced by noisy pubs and clubs.  We ruled out Ku De Ta and Dempsey Hill because they were not conducive places for a quiet evening. 

When we got up to dance at the Kasbah, Rahimah Rahim sang, “When Will I See You Again”. Tonight a different band played the same song just when we were about to take leave.  We still joked about who would make it to the other’s funeral wake first.  “Better to have more friends to send you off than be the last person”, she commented.  “Makes sense”, I replied. 

Thanks for the beautiful memories Syl, her pet name I still carry with me. Through this, I came to bury much of the disappointments of the past.  I said sorry to her - it should not have happened that way.  On a more positive note, I promise not to show our faces (Then & Now) but only this card which you have preciously kept all these 30 years.

This time no more flowers but this song is dedicated to you Syl. 


Andy Lim* said...

Ikal mayang, terbayang bayang,
Jatuh cinta hati berkembang.

Chrish said...

Hi! I've been following your blog for quite some time :) well written and it is good to be able to see olden days' pictures of singapore. The 'Noel' company you mentioned here in your this post, is still around, it is now pretty big with their own building. In Kallang, 'Noel Gifts international' now fyi :) Have a nice day!