The Passing of Eileen, the “Emperor”

ANOTHER year on, another sad news of the death of a friend, EC. She left on 31 August 2016 (I didn’t know about it till two weeks later today). She was only 49.

EC left 45 days after she first discovered her illness. She recorded her wish not to have a funeral, and was cremated. Her daughter posted a video of EC’s last days. Watching it was heart-wrenching and tearful; EC put up a brave front till the end.

EC was my sister’s classmate; while her sister was my classmate. To me, EC will forever be remembered fondly as the Emperor, when I was the Nightingale, back in 1979.

RIP, EC.

The cast of "The Emperor and the Nightingale", 1979. Both our sisters are in this photo too.

The cast of “The Emperor and the Nightingale”, 1979. Both our sisters are in this photo too.

Tribute To Death

NOT TOO LONG ago, I came across the news of the demise of a journalist from my former workplace, The Star. I don’t know RG personally but have seen her bylines before. RG died of a heart attack in August. She was only 48 and left behind two teenage children.

This brought me back to April 2011 when I stumbled upon an obituary of an acquaintance I made in 2009 in Macau. Though we only met once, Dr. Faustina – a dentist by profession – left a lasting sweet impression. Sadly, two years later, she’s dead at 48 and left behind two young children then.

And also recently, I read that a cameraman from another former workplace (a TV station), died in a freak accident. He was 48 too.

I am not too far from 48. I have two kids too. Silly to be saying this, but “Will my time be up soon?”

Star2 paid tribute to RG in a news article in September, overflowing with beautiful and kind words about her. Sadly, she will never get to read them.

I turned to my girls and shared with them this piece of news. And I told them, “If you have anything nice to say about Mommy, please tell me when I am still alive, not when I am dead!” To which, Little Em immediately responded, “I always do”… which is true.

That evening, Big M – a teenager with few words and normally hibernates in her room – remained next to me. She even took the other half of my ear plug while I was listening to Seo In Guk’s “I Can’t Live Because of You”. Together we listened to it, over and over and OVER again (it was on replay mode), as we read some online news. She even agreed that it was a catchy song; while Little Em hugged me tight as always.

(PS. At this stage in life when a teenager and a mom rarely see eye to eye, an agreement on a song choice – a Mom’s choice at that – is akin to striking lottery!)

Often, when the time comes to pay tribute to a dead friend, one finds it hard to express one’s thoughts on the spot. But over the years, tributes have come in the most unexpected form and even at times during common conversations. I have saved letters, emails and phone messages friends have sent me through the years, and thought they would make nice tributes when I am gone. It also saves them the trouble of thinking what “nice” things to say about me when I am really dead!

Here’s one I treasure…

“I was reading a copy of Calvin & Hobbes today. When I came to the last page, I realised then that it was a birthday gift from you. You wrote a lovely note: “Unlike Hobbes who is an imaginary friend, we are real friends. Thank you!” Its pages are yellowing a bit but it is most precious to me, esp now that the years have gone by. It’s such a wonderful, wonderful keepsake now.” … A wonderful “keepsake” phone message from FYP, 18 Nov 2013.

Others that I treasure are keepsake cards from my schoolmates of four decades, whom I paid tribute to in The Best of PESS.

September in Accra, 2015

A YEAR ON, I am very much still in Accra.

It’s been ONE YEAR already? Next, I’m expected to say, “Time flies”… but NOooo, time does NOT fly; in fact, time here seems to stall; and so are the persisting problems.

In that past year, we’ve had:

  1. Endless electricity issues (there was a spell of a few months where lightsout – we call these “blackouts” back home – stretched 24 hours, every other 12 hours);
  2. Constant generator and water pump problems;
  3. Water woes, dry taps and recently discovered a leakage too;
  4. Unstable internet connection;
  5. Home defects that are left unattended for a WHOLE year;
  6. An unresponsive landlord… “land” WHO?
  7. “Sleeping” security guards (and an equally excellent one too who went on to university);
  8. The unfortunate flooding of the office!
  9. A lost battle with dusty harmattan;
  10. Saw the Ghana cedis decline drastically and inflation rises;
  11. … bracing for more!

It’s been a year; it felt like five; I’ve aged ten years. I wished time flew and blew away all those problems along too.

Harmattan headache… this layer of dust appeared barely after 30 minutes after wiping the table. Throughout Dec to Jan, we were overpowered by the northeasterly dusty wind that blows annually from the Sahara Desert towards West Africa.

Harmattan headache… this layer of dust appeared barely 30 minutes after wiping the table. Throughout Dec to Jan, we were overpowered by the northeasterly dusty wind that blows annually from the Sahara Desert towards West Africa.

2. flood

The office flooded after continuous rain overnight!

Murphy’s Law has never been so evident in the past year – “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”; and HAS gone wrong! One is left with no choice but to embrace Murphy’s Philosophy to “Smile… tomorrow will be worse!

But to think I almost didn’t live to tell my tales, considering most recently this month I was almost electrocuted by a faulty wiring at home in the latest series of misfortunes.

3. plug

22 Sept 2015 could have marked my end! The oven wiring was repaired the next day, which is commendably quick response, considering a handful of defects are still waiting to be attended to after a whole year; while one defect took six months to rectify and it still didn’t function!

On a more positive note, in that past year too, we’ve taken a little time to explore what we could, including Cape Coast Castle and Kakum National Park in the Central Region.

4. coast

At the Cape Coast Castle, we walked on the same path as the African slaves did more than three centuries ago (and President Obama and the first family in 2009), except unlike them, we had a point of return.

5. door

It is tragic to think that slaves walked out of that door and never got to return home; many even died in the sea.

6. kakum

The girls on the canopy walkway. We have a number of similar canopy walks back home including at the Forest research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM), Selangor and most recent the KL Forest Eco Park Canopy Walk.

We also saw for ourselves the receding water level at the Akosombo Hydroelectric Dam in the Eastern Region, which had caused the shutdown of its turbines, which in turn affected the generation of electricity, causing a shortage and resulting in longer lightsout.

7. akosombo

Akosombo Dam is one of the three hydroelectric dams generating electricity for the nation.

We travelled to Keta district in the Volta Region and got a little insight into its history of Danish settlement; eager locals also gave us impromptu briefings on Keta’s economic activities of farming and fishing.

8. fort

Fort Prinzinstein, built by the Danes in 1874, was a slave post.

9. keta

Little Em looking at Keta’s economic activities of farming and fishing.

I was also able to get re-acquainted with my first Ghanaian friend (and his family) whom I met in university in the United Kingdom 19 years ago, when he was home for a visit from London where he is based now. Unfortunately during that dinner at our home, “dumsor” struck and the generator failed us too. The genset was restored on time to enable us to take some memorable photos.

10. edem

From Leeds, UK to Accra, Ghana… two friends met again after 19 years.

On an even brighter side, we managed a relief break to Cape Town, South Africa. After numerous flight delays from Accra, we arrived in South Africa’s third most populous city. Driving on its well-lit highway from the airport to our hotel – with no bumpy road and no potholes to avoid – and into the city where high-rise sprout from both sides of the road, reminded me of home. Little wonder by daylight the very next morning, it didn’t take much for Little Em to ask, “Can we stay here FOREVER?” Our Cape Town trip will be fondly remembered as “reaching the top of the world and the end of a continent”!

11. mountain

Watching the sunset from Table Mountain was a high point of our trip…

12. penguins

… as was seeing penguins at Boulders…

13. capetown

… and reaching Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope, the most south-western point of the African Continent.

We’d also gone home – our first trip home since coming to Accra in April 2014 – during the summer break which turned out heartbreaking as we unexpectedly ended up attending Dad’s funeral.

The girls grew a year older here (while I aged five years) and both completed their respective grades. While academically-inclined M was awarded a certificate for her academic achievements, the more outgoing Em made it into the Swim Team, a great achievement nonetheless, considering she couldn’t even swim when we first arrived in Ghana.

14. girls

Big M with her certificate; while Little Em rejoiced in making the swim team.

In the past year, I’ve personally made some good friends and enjoyed the diverse and international company of acquaintances; spent lovely mornings, noons and nights in the homes of colleagues from Australia, Canada, Colombia, Germany, India, Japan, Korea, Lebanon, Nigeria, Norway, Sudan, Turkey and the USA; that temporarily took me away from my own home headaches and other problems.

15. cookbook

Collectively we published a cookbook, and together we participated in the inaugural Embassy Showcase 2015 Ghana, where we launched the cookbook.

As for the official functions, there is a striking difference between our last posting in HK and in Accra. In densely populated and space-lacking HK, official events are primarily held indoors, in air-conditioned hotels (except for the annual flag-raising ceremonies). In Accra where land is generous, and compounds of office and residence are vast and spacious, most of the receptions are held outdoors on the lawns. So Accra receptions will be remembered for the trickling sweat, as well as the sinking heels into the soil!

But the kids had enjoyed being outdoors, whether on the beach or in the gardens.

16. beach_capecoast

Looking out towards the Gulf of Guinea and the larger Atlantic Ocean.

17. beach_keta

On the beach in Keta, a friendship is forged.

18. beach_ada

These unclothed kids were “little businessmen” offering us boat rides on the Volta River.

Another Sunday spent on the beach in Kokrobite.

20. aburi

A day out in Aburi Botanical Gardens.

Not one who enjoys the outdoors, I have to admit I am happiest at home. In the midst of all the troubles and stress, my upright Kawai has been a constant companion, while my old Singer keeps me sane through my hobby of sewing.

21. piano

Romancing my Kawai… and Korean drama songs in particular, with current favourite “Love Rain” and still attempting to pick up Dear Cloud’s “Remember”.

22. singer

Sewing away the blues…

And finally, after one-and-a-half years here, I was finally able to fulfil another passion – painting.

23. painting

My first piece of completed work, naturally an African landscape.

I’ve just gone for the first lesson this week, and enjoyed it tremendously. It reminds me of my many wonderful “Tuesdays with Alexei” in Moscow.

24. back

I now know I will look back (later) very fondly, especially the memorable “Mondays with Issac” in Accra”!

September in Accra, 2014

MEMORIES OF SEPTEMBER in Accra included a visit to the museum and art centre, three birthdays, several clinic/lab trips, a farewell, lots of reunions and a long-lost friend found; and countless hours on WA chats; a broken water pump and alarm (no thanks to the rain and constant electricity cuts/surge).

Medication madness from our clinic visits… Little Em was down with fever early in the month and skipped school three days while Big M battled with severe eczema this month, a second dermatologist was consulted, and several visits followed. (Sept 2014)

Medication madness from our clinic visits… Little Em was down with fever early in the month and skipped school three days while Big M battled with severe eczema this month, a second dermatologist was consulted, and several visits followed. (Sept 2014)

2_playdate

As soon as she recovered, Little Em hosted her first playdate. (6 Sept 2014)

3_pony

Little Em with her favourite My Little Pony’s Rarity (6 Sept 2014)

4_koko

The spouses’ group bade a tearful goodbye to member Koko (who was cross-posted to Chile) on an afternoon that saw all of us sporting Nigerian headgear gele. (9 Sept 2014)

5_article

On Malaysia Day, we were in the news. (16 Sept 2014)

6_food

Food blessings… a friend gave me these huge bitter gourds which her husband grew in their garden (17 Sept); fresh oyster mushrooms from a local friend who also grew them on her farm (18 Sept 2014)

7_museum

Made a trip to the National Museum with two ladies (entrance was GHC20 each for foreigners; GHC5 for locals); Gloria the guide took us through the history of Ghana. (25 Sept 2014)

8_art

Prior to that we checked out the Arts Centre, Accra for local souvenirs and handicrafts. (Sept 2014)

9_cake

Little Em celebrated her birthday in school with Frozen cupcakes (Sept 2014)

10_cake

Back home, September birthday gals included AhYee who turned 50 (15 Sept 2014), photo of her birthday cupcakes with luxury items were from last year; while Kim Kim had a fiesta with the kids on her birthday (26 Sept 2014).

11_contest

Back home, September was a winning  month for Mel and Ian who participated in two contests and won prizes. Well done!… reminds me of my contest-craze days too.

12_contest

Mel and Ian with their certificates and voucher prize.

13_pess

Back home, a school turned 100 in September 2014.

September was a walk down memory lane as my alma mater celebrated its 100th birthday in the SMKPP Centennial Gala Dinner on 20 September 2014. The reunion of old friends back home led me to find a long-lost Standard One friend, our last contact being 33 years ago.

More Reunion Rounds

THE SMKPP Centennial Gala Dinner may have been over last Saturday, but the reunion mood is obviously still in the air.

Last night, there was another round of reunion amongst my friends over dinner, this time with three former teachers – one from Standard One (38 years ago), and two others from secondary school (29 years ago).

The teachers have obviously managed to keep well and young too, while the students have matured gracefully.

In the Grand Imperial Restaurant, 1Utama, a grand reunion took place. Who are the teachers, who are the students? (27 Sept 2014)

In the Grand Imperial Restaurant, 1Utama, a grand reunion took place. Who are the teachers, who are the students? (27 Sept 2014)

Earlier in the day, my four older siblings made a trip back to their primary school in Jalan Ipoh. A school that was opened in 1963, it is now in dire need of funds to upkeep it.

My older brother naturally have a special bond with the school as he was the Head Boy in Std 6 (over four decades ago) before going to Victoria Institution. My eldest sister completed her primary education there while the other two did mid-way before transferring to PEPS and eventually PESS.

This is the WHOLE school population, including the ex-students who paid a visit to the school. The student population stands at 69 only! (27 Sept 2014)

This is the WHOLE school population, including the ex-students who paid a visit to the school. The student population stands at 69 only! (27 Sept 2014)

sri_2

Former students meet current students… they also did their bit giving back to the school and handed out goody bags to the students.

Meanwhile, in two continents, three locations and eight hours apart… Accra – Petaling Jaya – Port Dickson… another little reunion took place among three Standard One friends (one was the long lost friend from 33 years ago) via WA chats. And just like a fairy tale, they chatted happily ever after. 🙂