Tuesday, August 11

Fifty years ago

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The class reunion photo on Jan 11. Fifty years ago we said our goodbyes to St Thomas’ School.

AT our last school assembly during that final school year of 1969 sometime in November, we had sung that perennial hymn ‘Lord dismiss us with your blessing’, as we all said our last goodbyes to our classmates, teachers, and the school where many of us had spent more than 13 years of our lives together, being educated in the learned books of science, mathematics, theory, ideology, literature, and philosophy, and trained in ways we were barely conscious of or knew anything about – human interaction with each other, learning how to live, love, work, and navigate our various individual pasts, the present, and the future – as during our years of study, toil, and play we had along the way made lasting friendships,  forged lifelong alliances, and shared memories good and bad.

For many of us, we were not to see each other ever again; some of us who had stayed behind kept in regular contact, others drifted into their own lives; many had gone overseas to further their education, quite a few had stayed behind. Of those who left, some returned; many did not. A few have passed on due to illness, accidents, or have simply disappeared into oblivion, untraceable.

Last Saturday, on Jan 11, we had a golden jubilee reunion of sorts – 50 years after 1969, at one of our more prominent classmate’s residence – Philip Yong, the well known travel ambassador and entrepreneur extraordinaire. It was well attended by 50 of us, of which 32 were actual classmates from the same year, since Primary 1 for some, Form 5 for others. The other 18 were spouses and children; as well as a handful of those from a year or two our junior or who had attended class with us at some time or another. Some had travelled back from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Miri.

Shall we begin our roll call and update our lives 50 long years later?

Of the 32, a full third had entered and joined the civil service and have worked their way up the ladder in public service or quasi-government organisations. Prominent among them are Tan Sri Datuk Amar Wilson Baya Dandot, who was State Secretary and CEO of Recoda, and is now chairman of the Sarawak Biodiversity Council. Datuk Abang Abdul Wahab Abang Julai, was a former senior deputy commissioner of police, and recently Datuk Bandar of Kuching North. He has retired and is now writing his memoirs. Datuk James Chan Khay Syn had worked for Harwood Timber for many years; was appointed Mayor of Kuching South, and had just retired after 11 years service. Abang Affandi Anuar was the deputy mayor of Kuching South for many years and had also just retired recently. He was previously with the Housing Commission Board in a senior position.

Datuk Winsel Ahtos, an engineer was a director of the Department of Irrigation and Drainage for many years, now has his own private practice and is active with Anglican church work. Yusup Sobeng worked as the director of Mardi’s Industrial Crops Research Centre; then became CEO of a GLC of Sarawak Crop Research Sdn Bhd (Craun), and is now retired running his own business. Philip Mejin was formerly a district officer with the Sarawak government and now retired and pursuing his agricultural interests. Mohamad Tuah Jais was the head of the Sarawak Tourism Board until his retirement. He was instrumental in supporting and promoting the world-famous Rainforest World Music Festival during its infancy.

Joshua Voon Boon Hoe had worked in the research section of the state Agriculture Department for many years and is now a successful agricultural exponent and tends to his own farm where many species of fruits can be found.  John Wayne Najod had joined the state police force and worked in Simanggang for many years. He now works in the private security industry.

Datuk Goh Leng Chua, a lawyer by profession, has also been a senior advisor to the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), has a large portfolio of business and entrepreneur interests and was recently appointed a board member of Segi Group of universities. Another lawyer is Arthur Goh Nyak Hong, who had worked for the local council’s housing commission and is now a private practitioner. Richard Poh Tse Eng is a lawyer who has his own practice in Kuching as well.

The two residents of Singapore now are the civil engineer Vashdev Khialani, whose parents had owned the famous Singapore Store at the old Electra House.  Vashi now has his own practice and he has secured projects worth more than S$100 million and was interviewed on TV as an expert after the collapse of the Twin Towers in New York in 2001. Andrew Wee Ho Pheng’s father was the first owner of Borneo Hotel, Wee Chong Hong; he had spent his working years in three different multinationals in Singapore; he now owns two restaurants and trades in wines and beers. His bistro pub is called MOA for Ministry of Alcohol.

Coming to the girls, we had five of them in attendance of whom Datin Ang Bee Lian is from the famous Ang Cheng Hoe family; siblings are Dato Sri Ang Lai Soon, Lai Huat, and Lai Hock, who are all in Kuching. Her four other sisters are in Perth. Bee Lian a pharmacist was co-founder of Duopharma Biotech Berhad and is now in industrial factory development projects in Kuala Lumpur. Diana Wong is the eldest daughter of the late Datuk Amar James Wong Kim Min, former deputy chief minister of Sarawak. She was musically trained and a certified world class pianist.

Chang Yah San was the human resource manager in Inchcape and Sebor Sarawak before the company was taken over by IDS a Hong Kong JV with Sebor. She is now happily retired. Kho Ngan Ngoi was a secondary school teacher at St Joseph’s School until her recent retirement. Sim Lui Kheng had taught in government schools and spent over 10 years teaching English at Lodge School before she retired at the end of 2018. She has continued her teaching besides continuing with her passion in cooking!

Dr Akbar Ibrahim has a PhD from Newcastle upon Tyne and a BSc from New Zealand; he lectured and was deputy principal at Batu Lintang Training College and was a member of the early child development council as well as a consultant to the agency under Majlis Islam Sarawak. Douglas Telajan too was in the education department and is now deputy president of the Sarawak Lawn Tennis Association, as well as being active in Anglican church work. Ahmad Shamsuddin who hailed from Simanggang now works in Kuala Lumpur in the facilities management and property management profession; he was our class artist extraordinaire and would have given both Lat and Zunar a run for their money if he had chosen that field of work!

Kho Boon Kuang had joined the Inchcape Group’s Borneo Company in the 1970s and then continued working for conglomerate Unilever and eventually Boh Tea Plantations in very senior management positions. He has retired but still does consulting work. Ruping Ratep had spent 28 years with Petronas in the upstream sector and last worked in Dubai as a contracts specialist with an Austrian based energy company. He’s since retired to Miri and now experiments with kelulut (stingless bee) breeding at home! Vincent Tsan Hian Yong worked for many years at UMW in senior management and now reverts to his family business of baked goods (he’s part of the famous Chin Hian Hsia mooncake business chain) and house alarm systems.

George Pang Kia Hee was with JKR on the technical side and now runs his own successful contracting business doing road construction among other projects. His wife Annie Tan is a culinary expert having produced cookbooks and many successful original recipes of her own. Sim Poh Beng is a professional engineer and works for a consulting engineering firm. Jackson Chan Tien Ann spent 34 years in education and had ventured into tourism thereafter; for eight years he pioneered the kayaking tours bringing tourists down the Sungai Sarawak Kiri.  Bujang Dahlan Abon had worked in senior positions in the shipping and insurance business and has earned the record of having the most grandchildren, together with Abang Affandi!

Philip Chang is an architect of renown and has successfully completed many major projects throughout Sarawak, in Kuching and Miri specifically. He is active in politics being a senior advisor of SUPP and has lectured at local universities. James Alexander Ritchie is a famous writer of many books (more than 40 at last count), he had started at the Straits Times way back in the 1980s. Sandy (his nickname) is a veteran sportsman, brilliant singer and performer, and a journalist who knows all the ins and outs of the social and political history of Sarawak.

Philip Yong Khi Liang, our generous host for the 50th reunion is son of former deputy chief minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Stephen Yong Kuet Tze, a founder member of Sarawak’s oldest political party SUPP. In 1987, after returning from overseas (UK, Canada, China), Philip started Borneo Adventure and is today an illustrious and very successful pioneer travel ambassador of Sarawak to the international market having brought in thousands of tourists in the past 33 years!

In our own special way, in the many contributions both big and small, we have, our entire class of 1969, made a difference to our beloved motherland, our home state of Sarawak – and as the motto of the state says, Dum Spiro Spero – for as long as there is life, there is hope. We pray that we will be able to continue to contribute for the rest our lives doing so by Aiming Higher, our school motto!

We thank God for everything that He has done for each and every single one of us here today … 50 years on.  Amen.