Tuesday, March 28

Why certain friendships last longer than others


With friends from St Thomas’ School in 1967, my class that year — we are still friends.

SOMEONE once said that without friends, ‘we are all just lonely souls floating around in an abyss of emptiness surrounded by solitude without any feeling of love or sense of companionship – totally alone in a world full of people, animals and places’.

Some philosophers say that all that you need is a God and someone greater than yourself to believe in.

It has also been said that everlasting friends go long periods of time without speaking and yet, never question the friendship. These friends pick up wherever they had left off like they had just spoken yesterday, regardless of how long it has been, or how far away they live. Most of all, they do not hold grudges, nor need constant contacts. They understand that life is busy and that the love is always there.

All of us have friends from various stages in our lives. A few of us have the same friend(s) in all stages of our life. True friendship is not about whom you have known the longest – it is more about who had come and clicked, and had never left your side.

A strong friendship does not need daily conversation or being together to survive; as long as the relationship lives in the heart, true friends never feel that they are apart.

A long-lasting friendship comes with a lot of forgiveness and a ton of understanding. There should be no trivial rifts or petty jealousies or other feelings of spite, slight or envy – these are really tough issues facing true and loyal friends.

Many a time, long-lasting and strong friendships would break asunder under some minor petty misunderstanding. Humans are all fallible and usually light of ear, are quick to temper or be sensitive to small slights and unfortunate mistakes.

My earliest, truest and longest friends are my own siblings – I am the eldest of five; two sisters and two brothers. It is not always a given that you are fortunate and blessed enough to be able to make friends with your own siblings. I have known many who do not even speak to each other, and a few who are even at odds due to some family dispute, squabbles or misunderstanding. Unfortunately, many a time it would concern the shares or distribution of their parents’ inheritance or some other more personal reasons.

My parents had taught us well – that us siblings should always be united, stick together through life’s ups and downs, and be there for each other. Despite the distances that had separated us over the years – a sister and a brother had migrated and relocated to Switzerland and England, respectively, and a sister to Singapore. Only another brother and I reside here.

We have taken a vow that all family decisions be made with equal say by each and every one and luckily for us that five, being an odd number, we have successfully ensured that majority rules in our family decisions. In unity we found strength; the love, trust and understanding have always been there.

It is one of those oddities in life that despite similar upbringing and sharing the same genes, all five of us have very widely differing interests and passions in our lives.

We go our separate ways, but do share certain common ground in our love for reading, music, the movies; and amazingly, in some of our friends too!

From an early age after starting school, I had slowly made friends – many of whom I still consider very close and good friends up to this day. Some have migrated, a few have passed on, and more than a few are still in touch, through our WhatsApp groups, by social media on Facebook and sometimes, via emails.

Obviously the ones who still reside in Kuching, I have been in more constant touch with. I can name a few of my former classmates whom I still socialise with on a regular basis to this very day – 66 years on! Many of them were at our 50th year reunion on Dec 16 last year.

Among my many classmates from St Thomas’ School through the years were Arthur Goh Nyak Hong, Bujang Dahlan Abon, Datuk Wahap Julahi, David Ting, Andrew Wong Chee Kong, Yusup Sobeng, Edward Chai, Philip Chang, Philip Yong, Datu Winsel Ahtos, Douglas Telajan, Datuk James Chan, Vashdev Khialani, Carrot Repid, Philip Mejin, Patrick Voon Ewe Leng, Steve Lau, Tan Sri Datuk Amar Wilson Baya Dandot, Jabu Entinggie, George Pang, John Najod, Ruping Ratep, Dato Goh Leng Chua , Victor Kong, Abang Affandi Anuar, Tuan Haji Mohd Tuah Jais, James Ritchie, Geoffrey Wong, John Ko, Richard Poh, Peter Salang, Shamsuddin Ahmad, Tommy Entry, Woon Tai Tan, Yeo Kee Liang, Kho Kwang Chee and Kwang Lee.

A recent meeting with old classmates of 66 years: (from left) Philip Chang, Philip Yong, the writer, and David Ting.

Despite the fact that after we left school in 1969 and had gone our separate ways since, many of us had kept in touch – but only since the advent of the Internet from around the 1990s and more recently with social media, have we started to be on constant and regular communications via WhatsApp group chats, Zoom meetings and so on.

The years have been kind to the majority of us all, although those in the public service have retired, some in private businesses and professions are still actively involved in the running of their enterprises.

Our friendship as a group in its entirety have remained strong and we have had three big reunions over the last 10 years, and are committed to having them repeated for as long as there is interest.

Besides these big events, we have also ensured that whenever an old classmate is back from overseas on a holiday, we would quickly round up whoever’s interested for a quick meal or a round of ‘Happy Hours’ drinks.

It is no great mystery why our friendship since school days have not dissipated or grown weaker over the years. I believe it was the camaraderie that was inculcated from the time we were in the classrooms – those hazy, lazy, hot days under the late morning and afternoon sun and the drenching tropical rains – when we had shared our common goals of passing our yearly exams, being cheesed off by certain ‘well-loathed’ teachers, pampered by those that we admired, and having challenged each other in the sports fields, at extracurricular activities (Boy Scouts, Science Club, Library, Debating, School Magazine) and on school excursions and year-end dance parties, etc., which had slowly but surely seen friendships begin, bloom and flourish.

No doubt there were many cliques and many various interest-groups who were into their own thing – athletics, hockey, photography, choir singing and hiking, etc., but those little ‘gangs’ had bonded well into adulthood.

My next stage of friendships was made during my working years when my career with the Inchcape Group of Companies had begun at The Borneo Company in March 1970, as an executive cadet and ending as general manager of the NBT Toyota Group in 1984.

I was extremely lucky to have made many great friends all along the way, from Kuching to Sibu to Sarikei to Bintulu and Miri and Brunei, and then Sabah, as well as in Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore.

My years in Toyota had also made me many friends throughout the Japanese world and the motor trade both there and elsewhere. Similarly too, my five years at Auto Bavaria with BMW.

Those friends are still with me today, some closer than ever, many although separated by distance and infrequency of contacts, still as much ‘in touch’ as ever.

I’ve made many BFFs during my working days with Inchcape; great friends like Shookry Gani, Lim Swee Jin, Kho Boon Kuang, Ting Chang Siong, Herbert Lai, Julian Harry, Benjamin Chen and Anthony Ong – the list is very long. I have had mostly fantastic bosses from John ‘Rajah’ Lee, Brian Crane, to the late great Alan Tan Tatt Huat and Geoff Shepherd.

BFFs at the Sarawak Club in 2020: (from left) Peter Ting, the writer, Datuk Ngieng Ping Wei, and Glen MacNair.

After I had gone into my own business in film production services in 1987, I was mentored by Chandran Rutnam and Ralph Marshall, and was extremely lucky to have formed firm and long lasting partnerships with both Eric Thein (RIP) and Adrian Cornelius.

In recent years, I have also been fortunate to have met more new friends. There are some in a ‘Happy Hours Group’ led by good friends John Robson and Gracie, Steve Hardin and Jenny, and a few others.

A recent session with long-time friends, including Shookry Gani (fourth right) back from Melbourne.

Over the years, I was fortunate to have my house tenants who became good friends like Ib and Lilian Larson, plus others like Ellen Whyte and Tom, Wendy and Bruce, Mina and Co. I must not forget my regular breakfast ‘kakis’ Rose and Bonnie, Morgan and June, and Kow Tse and Swee Choo.

Since the advent of social media too, the many good folks I have had the good fortune to meet on Facebook have really astounded and amazed me – I am most grateful to know them all for their friendship.

An old photo shows the writer with Chandran Rutnam, Hollywood director and film mentor since 1987.

Along the way, long-time friends have stood by my side through thick and thin, through a life-threatening triple bypass CABG and a couple of ‘near-deaths’ episodes these past couple of decades. May I say a big thank you, taking my cap off to you all – my spiritual guiding lights George and Eunice Tay; BFFs David Topping, Glen Macnair, Peter Ting, and Datuk Ngieng Ping Wei.

Most of all, I was blessed with the greatest friendships in my own family – my wife of 50 years Doreen and my children Dylan, Dyan, and Debra, and two lovely grandsons Shane and Charles.

By extension too, my brother in law Denis Then and family, especially May and others in Sabah.

Your family and your friends are your support system: they tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.

They are there for you in the good and the bad times.

Live your life with love as your guiding principle – keep your family and close friends close. They will always be there for you.

Viva le family and friends!