Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Of reunions, a planet under strain and legacies of harmony

A bunch of 50 or nearly 50-year old girls can truly turn a café upside down. An afternoon tea that started at 12 started to wind down only at 4pm as time came and left and no one took any notice. After leaving school in 1979, we parted ways as teenagers filled with our personal trepidations as we take a new passage to life after 5th form.

Needless to say time has left its indelible mark on us. Our youthful bodies are fast showing the stress of modern life. Grey hair poke out like bean sprouts on our heads although some of us with better genes have survived the cruel hand of our biological limitations a lot better than the rest. A little tint can make a lot of difference we found. Here and there, the post middle age spread begins to take over. Some of us, again, refuse to age, seemingly able to battle childbearing and age marks better than others.

We laughed at our own foibles. We try to pry as much information as we dare – about our peers; on how they were doing in life; on who was doing what and where they were. It wasn’t too long ago that we of the same class would ask, “Eh, what did you get for Sejarah (History).” “Not telling,” the ultra private and kiasu (afraid to lose) teenage would say. “Ah, you only got 70%, I have 80%),” the more bashful would proclaim.

In school, we were ranked by our academic abilities. You were either placed in Science or Arts stream, based on what you achieved in your LCE (Lower Certificate Examination). I couldn’t understand why some of us were so upset for not making it to Science Stream. I was jubilant in the Arts stream. I was not natural with numbers and Science seemed like a journey to an alien planet back then.

Therein lies the problem with the school teachers then – we were never told we could be anything we wanted! We were never even told that just because you can’t understand trigonometry means you were going to completely fail in life.

We were never told that everyone comes with a certain gift, a different set of inherent intelligence. You could be mathematical, artistic, atheletic, analytical; or you could be a visual genius, a deft communicator – all based on which level of intelligence becoming the dominant force. If we were told all of these, we might feel better about our prospects in life and feel better equipped to seek a corner to nurture our dreams.

We were never told to dream big. We never had school guidance counsellors who helped us navigate our way through the horrific passage to the education jungle or the unknown world coming to greet us.

Our system of education taught us to obey, to repeat, to adhere to rules and tradition. Thinking outside the box, pushing the envelope, those phrases were not common ones during our time. There were model answers, model students, model behaviours. There was an order to the universe and the explicit message was, never rock the boat. The girls who dared to challenge or raise questions were deemed rebel rousers who needed to be snuffed out like forest fires.

How the world has changed. In 1969, we watched man take on the moon but only one person on our street was kind enough to let the neighbourhood kids watch his black and white television. It was one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. Today, man is starting to explore space for leisure. Martians still elude us but Arthur C Clarke’s A Space Odyssey has left the realm of science fiction. A cool US$30 million might take you to the International Space Station.

Letters are really redundant these days. We hook up via the internet on social media sites. We play “Angry Birds” and “Temple Run” on Apple devices. We build virtual gardens because our real gardens seem like such hard work. We explore “Farmville” because modern life throws us to the other extreme of wanting to dig our hands into some dirt while not really wanting to get dirty.

The Luddites among us, rather than battle with Wii games on the Xboxes or Playstations, we try real exercise. We fear falling into the overweight category to bring on high cholesterol, heart attacks or strokes. Cancer which was never really a part of our pyche in the 1970s, has become a common noxious weed that haunts all our landscape. We have lost friends to cancer yet we are only turning 50 this year.

Our world is truly suffering from excesses as we lap up resources and the planet show signs of cracking. We would like to think the planet regenerates at its own pace. We hope global warming scientists have messed up their data somewhat – their message have indeed become an inconvenient truth in all aspects.

Yet in place of modest houses, people prefer to build concrete monoliths paved to the maximum with tiles that wipe out the need for weeding or gardening. In place of car pooling, we drive big vehicles that guzzle too much gasoline. In place of washing party plates, we take on styrofoam cups and plates; plastic forks and spoons. In place of homemade food, we take on caterers, fast-food and takeaways. We used to have flour bags for shopping, today we have enormous piles of plastic.

Putting aside the mundane drone of our daily lives, on April 15,2012, we hot mamas binged, teased, laughed and squealed. We returned to our carefree days when we pinched each other for fun; knocked friends at the back of their legs to throw them on the floor; dropped earthworms into our friend’s blouse in the science lab; squirted ink on each other; and drooled on Donny Osmond because he was singularly the best dude who manage to steal all our hearts as he sang “Puppy Love”.

It is 2012 yet, we the Class of ’79 feel so much joy at the having the chance to catch up. We put aside religious and racial differences; we put aside the vile Malaysian politicians who are bent on destroying a beautiful country with their twisted minds. We knew long before the politicians knew that harmony can only be reached when we have a genuine concern for shared prosperity which involves cherishing all Malaysians without pride or prejudice. We learned long ago to love our friends unconditionally, rich or poor, without fear or favour. We hope our children carry on this message of tolerance.

PS: Thanks Kay for creating this network and Nellie for organising the recent reunion!

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