Do you know where your classmates from more than two decades ago are right now? The guys and gals from TAR College’s Upper Arts Class 3B can actually answer with a resounding ‘yes!’ HOOI YOU CHING of THE SUNDAY STAR speaks to a class that managed to get almost everyone together after 24 years.
DON’T you just hate class reunions? It’s more likely to be a walk down agony lane rather than memory lane as we despair over expanded waistlines and receding hairlines while convincing ourselves that we’re not as successful as we should be at this stage in our lives?.
Janet Tai, however, doesn’t feel like that at all. The forty something former student of TAR College was diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago, and that gave her a different perspective on reunions: “It’s wonderful meeting old friends again. It reminds you that life is beautiful.”
Tai’s classmates from Upper Arts Class 3B (UA3B) are like her. Rather unusually, they thought that the idea of getting together after 24 years was a great one. In fact, they were ecstatic during the reunion dinner that was held on Nov 20 in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
Not for them the pangs of insecurity. As Sally Ong put it that night, they should all “look at what’s inside” and be proud of who they’ve become – and that she had not agonised over her wardrobe or signed up with Marie France just to prepare for the night!
The way these people interacted that night, it was obvious that they had been a particularly close bunch back in college. So it wasn’t surprising that those classmates in Kuala Lumpur that had remained in touch had long had the idea of organising a reunion. When they realised that most of them were more or less settled with family and work now, they thought this year would be THE year to do it.
They were going to track down 40 people who had scattered, for all they knew, to the four quarters of the earth?. And, impressively, they accounted for every one in the end!
It began with appointing Roger Tan as their point man – he used to be the student representative at TAR College, so everyone agreed he was the right man for the job. Of course, Tan didn’t work alone. He mobilised old comrades like Tai, Andy Chee, Michael Goh, Chin Seow Ping, Cheam Toon Tong, Fong Poh Leng, Chow Novah and Christina Ang to track down the rest of the gang.
Tan, a lawyer, set up a website, ua3b.com, to keep everyone updated on the search results. And search engines like Google and Yahoo! helped re-establish lost contacts scattered all over Malaysia and the world.
Where technological means failed, conventional legwork was used. From cyberspace, the “troops” took their mission into the field as they scoured states like Penang, Perak, Johor, Pahang, Malacca and Selangor. The first leads came from their school year book, which contained home addresses. Of course, these were mostly old addresses, but, sometimes, there were forwarding addresses that led them further down the trail.
According to Tai, the guys were located early on and the manhunt became more of a “woman” hunt. There were only 11 boys in the class, so this is not surprising. Also, perhaps the fact that some women adopt their husbands’ names when they get married made it more difficult to trace them. Angela Low, for instance, used to be Angela Chan while Christina Philippose became Christian Ang after she married.
Undaunted, the “search party” combed the length and breadth of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. “One lead which started in Rawang, Selangor, ended up in Australia,” says Tai.
For this college “Freshie Queen”, the virtual conversations exchanged over the Internet not only rekindled long-forgotten friendships but lifted her spirits too: “Every time someone was found, it was like hitting the jackpot! It was extremely therapeutic reading the e-mails that kept pouring in on a daily basis. Their e-mails helped me cope after I’d undergone a mastectomy.”
Sheer determination drove the group to reach out in various directions. They exhausted their social networks and contacts in community services and several private companies. For example, they solicited the help of embassies, a publishing house, an airline company, a Catholic church and other organisations, using all sorts of methods that Tan refuses to divulge – though he assures us they were all legal!
Even a neighbourhood garbage collector was roped in to assist with the search! One of Tan’s clients was a garbage collection company operating in Seremban. When asked about a classmate whose last known address was in Seremban, the company’s boss obligingly sent out his staff to make inquiries – which were successful in tracing the lost classmate to KL.
On many occasions, the search was made more difficult by people suspicious about the group’s intentions. A friend’s relative was so cautious that he returned Tan’s call from a public phone booth!
“We had a good laugh when my friend (Suguneswary) told me her father-in-law was pretty curious about a mysterious Chinese guy looking for her,” he chuckles.
The group braved massive traffic jams in KL, followed on foot a cyclist who claimed she knew a classmate’s whereabouts, and searched within squatter settlements in Lorong Sentul Pasar. They only abandoned their search when they felt the situation had become too dangerous. There was, for instance, that rather hostile youth who was strangely insistent Andy Chee and Tan, who were searching the area, believe his claim that the shop house a friend used to live in had now been converted into a warehouse.
There were creepy encounters as well, as related by Agnes Yee in the online forum. The search for a house on Jalan Morib off Old Klang Road in KL led Yee up a steep, winding road. When she reached the top, all she saw were demolished houses and land that was overgrown with shrubs and lallang.
“Later, I found out from a neighbour who lived at the bottom of the hill that the area has been deserted for 10 years. That hardly anyone goes up there,” she writes. In the end, and very impressively, all 40 classmates were accounted for. One had died, and two others have not been contacted although their whereabouts – one is in Japan, the other, Hong Kong – are known. Of the 37 located, 22 made it to the dinner.
Not bad at all after 24 years of separation. Tan and his cohorts could have second careers as detectives!
A night to cherish
SO, after 24 years, and an arduous search, they were together again. And that search for TAR College’s Upper Arts Class 3B 1980 yielded a fine crop of classmates. Let’s see, there were lawyers, bankers, teachers, entrepreneurs, homemakers, a senior federal counsel in the prosecution division of the Attorney General’s Chambers, marketing manager, school administrator and a chef, to name just a few occupations. Not only physical appearances had changed, even personalities had done a 180° turn. Introverts had become extroverts. The serious youngster was now a funny adult.
Members of UA3b share their recollections and feelings on the night of the great reunion on Nov 20:
Cheam Toon Tong, general manager: “I can recognise everyone here! Even their voices have stayed the same. Chin Yuen Kong is still a jolly person after 24 years!”
Janet Tai, school administrator: “My friends say I’m still the same. Michael (Goh) has changed in terms of personality. He was such a shy boy then, now he’s so full of humour!”
Michael Goh, senior manager: “Christina Ang used to walk around in college wearing magnifying glasses until contacts transformed her into a petite and pretty lady. She has since blossomed into a preacher with a PhD. She’s like our chilli padi behind the pulpit.”
Roger Tan, lawyer: “Everyone expected me to be a lawyer, and that’s what I did. They also thought that I was going to be a politician because I used to a student rep. But when I got married, my wife asked me to promise that I would never enter politics.”
Sally Ong, freelance writer: “Andy (Chee) used to be such a gentlemen and still is. He is the ladies’ vote for The Most Dependable Classmate of UA3B, then and now.”
Shanti Purushothman, teacher:“When Roger told me about the reunion, I immediately confirmed my attendance. I’m really impressed by how he managed to track down so many of us within such a short time. He’s a super-sleuth!”
Thangavelu Suppiah, senior federal counsel: “Two weeks before I received the call from Roger about the reunion, I was actually looking through our old class photos. Imagine my surprise when I heard from him.”