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.

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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, 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)

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

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

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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)

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

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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)

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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)

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

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

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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).

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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.

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Mel and Ian with their certificates and voucher prize.

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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)

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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. 🙂

It All Began in PEPS…

SINCE LAST WEEK – in the build-up to the SMKPP Gala Dinner on 20 September 2014 – I have been re-living the past, digging into the memories of my old school days in PESS and PEPS (Pudu English Primary School).

For my “regular” kakis, our friendships were forged way back in 1976 – from both PEPS (1) and PEPS (2). Back then, we referred to ourselves as School One girls or School Two girls.

Amongst us, we have WK with a memory of an elephant and an equally mammoth collection of old photos. Back in 2012, the gang was caught up in a chain of emails for some months where we each shared pieces of recollections of our school days.

In one of the emails, WK – our “memory banker” – recalled her first meeting with me…“I could still recall my first day in Std 1, I was arranged to line up with a tanned little girl. I was scared I didn’t know how to speak Malay as I thought she was a Malay! But the next day she came to me and asked, “I lined up with you yesterday, rite?” 

WK with whom I queued up on the first day of school in 1976; since then I’ve stood with her and danced with her too; I last stood next to her in this Sept 2013 photo when we visited the school together, and back in school again in Feb 2014.

WK with whom I queued up on the first day of school in 1976; since then I’ve stood with her and danced with her too; I last stood next to her in this Sept 2013 photo when we visited the school together, and back in school again in Feb 2014.

I admit I do not recall that first day in school, so I was thankful for WK’s memory. Indeed I was tanned then. When we were back in Malaysia, even Little Em was mistaken as budak Melayu too. I’d been asked numerous times, “Ini anak awak ke? Macam budak Melayu lah“.

In a 1988 birthday card to me, another good friend WL recalled… “Was it only yesterday that two little girls got to know one another in the midst of a noisy and crowded classroom, and one speaks Hokkien and the other Cantonese. But somehow they managed to carry out a conversation and later became friends, and this special friendship lasted till today”“today” being 1988 at that time, and 26 years later today, still friends in 2014.

That goes for the rest of us… it seemed only yesterday we met as little girls. Such a blessing our friendships have survived 38 years across different continents! Hopefully that represents only half of our lifetime, may we be around to celebrate another 38 years… if Ebola and malaria don’t get me first, TOUCH WOOD!!!

Memories of PEPS (1) performances…

1976 concert

1976 concert

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1976 performance of “Planting Rice” that involved both 1Hijau and 1Merah, with class teachers Mrs. Amy Koh and Mrs. Ranjit Singh.

1979 concert performance of “The Emperor and the Nightingale”. Inset left: The Emperor and I - Eileen Chua was the Emperor and the plain nightingale (Jessica MSM played the beautifully-decorated mechanical bird).

1979 concert performance of “The Emperor and the Nightingale”. Inset left: The Emperor and I – Eileen Chua was the Emperor and I the plain nightingale (Jessica MSM played the beautifully-decorated mechanical bird).

Earlier in the same year 1979, the School One girls performed “The Emperor and the Nightingale” for an RTM children’s programme. This photo of the whole cast was taken after the recording was completed at Taman Tasik Titiwangsa.

Earlier in the same year 1979, the School One girls performed “The Emperor and the Nightingale” for an RTM children’s programme. This photo of the whole cast was taken after the recording was completed at Taman Tasik Titiwangsa.

1980 concert under the supervision of Cik Siti Mariam.

1980 concert under the supervision of Cik Siti Mariam.

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1980 trip to Malacca… (L) Two sets of sisters; (R) Everyone in this photo – except me – were at the recent 2014 SMKPP Centennial Gala Dinner.