Tuesday, May 11

The best days of our lives


PAUL Anka’s song ‘Times of Your Life’ played over the radio when I was on the road recently and it went like this:

“Good morning, yesterday. You wake up and time has slipped away. And suddenly it’s hard to find. The memories you left behind. Remember, do you remember?”

What most people didn’t know was that the song had started as a commercial jingle recorded for Kodak in 1975; and Anka had included it later in his album and started singing it in his concerts – and the rest is history. It has always been a most evocative anthem of the era and every time I hear it it reminds me of the best days of my life.

It strikes a melancholic chord right now, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, with 231,483 infected in Malaysia and 826 deaths as of Thursday. The vaccines are now available but won’t be rolled out to 26.5 million Malaysians till the end of this month.

It will be a while yet, maybe even years, before life as we had known it prior to March 2020 will be back to normal. Will it ever?

It’s a good time, I thought, to reflect on the past, and what we’ve been through – a quick trip down memory lane and the good times we’ve had – reminiscing the best days of our lives.

Shall we compare notes and see how closely we may connect in our past memories?

Whenever I recall the past, I would divide it into eras and in my personal case there were four eras – childhood, school days, working life and career, family and friendships. I’ve been blessed to have spent more than my fair share of good times and happy memories in all these four eras. Like the majority of us, I too have had my moments of sadness, failures, distress, and dark times. Fortunately, these I managed to overcome or to look back upon as lessons that I learned in life.

During the early part of the 1950s, there weren’t any such facilities as playschools, kindergartens, or preschool. We were only supposed to enroll into Primary 1 when we were seven years old. I started school a year earlier when I was six.

My school was St Thomas’s Primary, which at the time was the premier school, and it still is, together with St Mary’s our sister school, and our perennial rivals St Joseph’s and their sister school St Teresa’s just down the road. English was the medium of education and being a Mission school, we were heavily grounded in the teachings of Christianity and the Bible, and attendance at the Anglican St Thomas’s Cathedral was compulsory during holy days.

Celebrating Easter and Christmas was a real big deal – the holiest of days, and although my family was at that time traditional Buddhist in upbringing, we celebrated Dec 25 with much merry-making, decorating Christmas trees, gifting each other presents, and holding parties with family and friends.

Although born a Buddhist into a strong Buddhist/Taoist/Confucian family with grandpa Ong Kwan Hin being the appointed guardian of all Chinese temples in the country; we were not really practising the faith. My own family became born again Christians sometime in 1988, the year I was 38, so you could say I was a late bloomer in my current faith.

Secondary school and the teachers who taught us made a world of difference and they emboldened and empowered us by teaching us to look at the world with greater insight, and have a better understanding of and instilled into us a futuristic vision that a utopian world although impossible, is within reach within ourselves and that each and every one of us can make a difference.

We spent a well-balanced part of our school days equally engrossed in our books, homework, projects and extracurricular activities, and in the great outdoors – some of us had taken up sports or became Boy Scouts, others had gone into debating clubs, journalistic pursuits, and hobbies like photography and various others.

After graduating, I had gone into a career in marketing management, joined a large company, and worked for them for many years. Later on I found myself working for a couple of international conglomerates in the motor trade and found my groove as it were.

Certainly during this period, the best part of one’s life would always be the time you spent during courtship and settling down with your partner. Falling in love, getting married, and starting a family – that came about in the early 1970s and at a rather young age for both of us. The great advantage of this was that you get to see your children grow with you and that for the lucky ones, you can become very young grandparents at around 50 or so. I am always in awe of my late beloved cousin Bobby, who became a grandfather at around 40 years of age! I thought that was really cool. Nowadays, some don’t even get married at 40!

The best days of one’s life would always include the new experiences that they were exposed to – especially the new places that travel had taken them – for me that’s such a large and important part of my life. I have been most fortunate and in my working life and at my own leisure being to all the various places which in my youth I had dreamt of. I can only list here my favourite places and these are in no order – London, Zurich, Tokyo, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Auckland, Perth, Singapore, Kota Kinabalu, Penang, and Honolulu.

I’ve also been happiest when in my later career, working for myself, and in the film industry, been to every little nook and corner in Sarawak and Sabah, usually scouting for film locations; and working with some of the best professionals one can ever find in any industry.

I have left the best for last. Family and friendships – for without them both what is a life?

If you are lucky, you are born into a family that you can bond with; the saying goes that with friends you can choose, but with family you are born into. There is a great saying by an unknown writer, “Families are like branches on a tree. We grow in different directions yet our roots remain as one.”

I always believe everyone should stick with family members through thick and thin and be supportive of each other and always be loving and caring; it is not always possible for all family members to be harmonious or united at all times, but I have been luckier than most.

Friendships that we cultivate from very young, from our school days, and during our growing up years through working careers and later on in our lives – most are fleeting but some stay with us for the rest of our lives. Such friendships are to be nurtured, treasured, and I believe we should always try our best to keep in touch even though distances and differences may sometimes get in the way.

As Barbara Bush so succinctly put it in one of my favourite quotes, “When all the dust is settled and all the crowds are gone, the things that matter are faith, family, and friends.” I say Amen to that!


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