THE saying goes that you can choose your friends, but with relatives you’re born to be linked by bloodline and namesake for the rest of your life.
The luckier ones in life are born into families which are tightknit and bond effortlessly despite all the ups and downs, good and bad times. Besides the blood bond, there is genuine friendship among parents and children, siblings and cousins, and other more distantly related members of the same family clan.
Usually for these fortunate ones, their first friends in life would be their own siblings and cousins. This bond to each other usually starts around the time when they are at play and through the early years till around the teens, they’d most likely socialise during family festivals, gatherings, and occasions – both happy and sad. The ones who feel some sort of affinity towards each other would continue this relationship well into their teens and adulthood. Most would go their separate ways otherwise, although trying to keep in touch due to geographical dislocations can abruptly interrupt many of these cases.
In the days before the internet, before the time of the cellphone, and then the smartphone, communication between relatives and friends was difficult to maintain. Letters took weeks and months to be delivered and respond to; telephone calls were expensive; and visits to each other usually prohibitive.
I was one of the lucky ones.
Being the eldest in the family, I made friends with all my siblings, two brothers and two sisters. We were a very tight knit family unit; Mum was an English language school teacher and Dad a civil servant. We all went to the same schools; it wasn’t until after Form 6 HSC that we went our separate ways and each pursued his or her own life. But we remained friends as well as being siblings.
It’s pretty safe to say that there’s nothing that we would not do for one another, short of committing any unlawful act or similar.
There’s another group of friends that we form long lasting relationships with – from our school days. I have a small group of these friends who started out in Primary 1 with me since 1956 and we left Upper 6 exactly 50 years ago this year in 1969. They went on to pursue their own further studies, or to start brand new lives overseas, or to go into businesses.
Many of us are still in touch with each other, and the ones residing in Kuching meet once in a while for drinks, chitchats, and socials. Others are roped in for the bigger events like anniversaries or we would meet at weddings, funerals, and birthdays. These friendships endure because there is history; there is common background and shared experiences from the wild days of our youth, and the many episodes and misadventures that we went through together.
When we start our working lives and each of us went into our own professional fields of endeavour, we started making friends from within our workplaces. Our interests, hobbies, and pastimes often are responsible for the friends we tend to socialise more often with – be it in golfing, motoring, hiking, and adventure, drinking, gambling, or the more sedate pursuits of reading, movies, and music.
Common interests in politics, social discourse, religion, and charitable work play important roles in the bonding of very strong relationships.
Speaking personally, I have friends whom I had gone to school with, not all within the same year or age group, whom I have known since school days – which in my case is more than 60 years ago! Such friends have endured and even if we do not see each other for weeks at a time, months even, we easily reignite that rare and precious friendship once again whenever we meet up.
There will be a few of them hopefully coming to attend our 50th year anniversary come January 2020 in Kuching!
Next up are the friendships cultivated due to proximity. My nearest neighbours are the Wrights – Erwin, Alice, Melanie, Aaron, and Christine. They have been my neighbours for more than 40 years! Their children and mine are almost similar in age; mum Alice’s interests are almost similar to my wife’s, and Erwin and I share common interests and love for many things – music, singing, cooking, and local culture and history.
More often than not, many friendships start without any hint that it would develop into a longer lasting and enduring relationship!
For a period of about 10 years in the 1990s, I rented my house to one expatriate after another; the first was an Englishman, then a Dane, then another Englishman, a New Zealander, an Australian, and finally a Norwegian.
The Englishman, David Topping, was to become a friend till today; he and I shared many similar interests – in fact some 25 years ago he was the first person to introduce me to my very first taste of single-malt whisky – 10-year-old Laphroaig! It is still our favourite dram today. In the years since then, I also became godfather to his first-born child Rebecca, and despite his many career moves elsewhere (Australia, Oman, Johor, etc), we have remained good friends.
The Danish and Australian tenants too have both remained lifelong friends. The other Englishman, the late David Thomas, came to work for ABB during the early part of the Bakun Dam project. After he returned to England, he befriended Glenn and Caroline Basford, who were told stories of his time in the house and with his landlord (that is me). Upon David’s untimely passing many years ago, Caroline took the opportunity to contact me on Facebook, and we became friends. Glenn, Caroline, and Kathryn, their daughter, were here in Kuching this week visiting Caroline’s elderly mother in Saratok. We met up for dinner and drinks. Our friendship, although conducted via social media (Facebook) and the occasional meet-ups I am sure will endure.
We all have our own stories of how we met people whom at the time we had no inkling would gradually and eventually become good, close, and enduring friends. The world is such that we live each day ready to be amazed and surprised with what comes our way.
Praise be to God!
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