While roaming around my neighbourhood (and playing Pokémon GO) this evening, I passed a brightly-lit bungalow.
I took a cursory peek in and saw a large family gathered in the living room, talking and laughing.
My mind flashed back to many years ago where we (me and my extended family*) would gather in an aunt’s house and a similar scene will unfold. In fact, this happened pretty often back then.
(*Extended family – my mum has 8 siblings, so the full extended family is huge. But our particular close “group” comprised my mum and her two sisters plus their spouses, grandma and my closest cousin D.)
I still recall distinctly a particular year when D and I roamed his neighbourhood at the stroke of midnight, yelling “Happy New Year!” at every single house we passed, after an evening of extended-family festivities at his house.
I saw us at my aunt’s former house at Jalan Novea Selatan, where my aunt would prepare baked chicken and mushroom soup for dinner, followed by an evening of conversations over mahjong (for the older generation), or television/Playstation/badminton for D and I.
Another evening at the same aunt’s house flashed through my mind, when her family rescued a bunch of 4 kittens stuck under her bathtub (until today, it’s a mystery how they got there). And D and I spent the entire evening bottle-feeding and playing with these little furries.
I even blogged about all these back then. I still see them in my archives, although they are only private to me now.
Time has passed and we hardly gather anymore as we have new priorities. Although I still remain close to the same people, mentally but not physically.
I let my mind continue wandering to the past while I strolled around, Pokémon GO still running on my phone. Then, I snapped back to reality and continued catching Shuppets, Duskulls and Pikachus with Halloween hats.
Almost a month ago, almost the entire extended family stood in vigil as my grandmother breathed her last, in bed 3003 in Mount Elizabeth Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. We watched as her heart rate fell from the 50s, to the 40s, the thirties and the sudden, prolonged 0.
Two months ago, nobody saw this coming. She was still happily playing mahjong at home.
And six months ago, I definitely did not see this coming, because I posted the following status on my status page.
I recall that weekend, I was preparing to conduct my first ever workshop at a gamification event. It was a stressful period – rushing slides, preparing material and all. On hindsight, I guess I got too caught up.
My grandmother was still perfectly healthy at that time, and I completely took that for granted, thinking that “I could always attend her birthday next year”.
Someone commented on that status update which made me think a little bit. Initially, I berated myself for ‘thinking too much’. At the very last moment, I flung all my stuff aside and raced all the way down to her birthday dinner venue to catch the last 30 minutes of the festivities.
I’m glad I did, because that birthday turned out to be her very last.
In December, my grandmother landed up in hospital briefly. Everyone came down to visit one by one. No one thought much of it though, and the usual family drama occurred (one extremely loud aunt apparently spoke so loudly in the ward that the patient in the next bed complained – resulting in everyone being thrown out). My grandmother got discharged, everyone was relieved.
Then, it turned out she had stage 4 cancer.
A secret so well-kept that only a grand total of 6 people knew. I only learned about this a week before my grandmother left. Likewise for a handful of my cousins. As for the remainder of the family, they only discovered hours before her death.
As for my grandmother, she was completely clueless that she had cancer.
The people heavily involved with my grandmother’s treatment had a rationale for keeping it from everyone (and even my grandmother herself), which I understand. They didn’t want the rest of us to worry. She had been undergoing a special kind of chemo which didn’t cause her hair to fall out so everyone was none the wiser. Plus, she seemed to be doing well.
As of March, her tumour markers was almost down to normal. Things looked promising.
Then in April, she decided to skip her medication (the one supposedly to support her immune system which was damaged by the chemo), thinking that it would be okay.
It took only 2 weeks for it to go completely downhill.
During her wake, my cousins and I transformed it into a celebration of her life, getting our hands dirty on Day 1 creating three large posterboards featuring my grandmother during her happier times – travelling to Hong Kong, China, Vietnam and even as far as Canada and the US of A. They were put up around the wake for all visitors to look at.
We want people to remember her as the jet-setting grandmother who went everywhere, always surrounded by her loved ones. And not the frail version of her former self which we all last saw of her.
Her death was a huge wake-up call that I’ve been neglecting the people who matter to me most – my family and extended family (whom I used to see almost weekly or at least monthly, but only every 4-6 months in the past 4 years).
Although it’s too late to start getting back the lost time I could have spent with my grandmother, it’s not too late to start earning back moments with the other important people in my life.
I’m still in shock at how things turned topsy turvy so quickly in less than 6 months.
Treasure those you have with you now, because they are not going to be there forever.
Rest in peace, grandma. And I hope there are snow mountains for you to look at, and the grizzly bear which you wanted to take a photo with when we were in Toronto.
I almost didn’t make it for my alma mater’s Family Day Carnival as I was too busy lazing around in bed. (It’s a weekend after all. (;) Managed to get myself down in the end and boy, I’m glad I did.
The school is slated to be torn down in January 2014, so this is possibly one of my last few available chances to visit the school as it is right now.
Obviously, I wasn’t really there for the carnival. (Proceeds from the carnival are going to the school’s rebuilding fund … and I certainly wasn’t going to support that since I’m all for keeping the school the way it is now.) I was really there to revisit all my favourite nook and crannies of the school.
The garden outside the science labs.
Walking around the campus was refreshing, probably because I was looking at it from a fresh perspective. Back then, my head was constantly clouded with Chemistry/Physics/Mathematics/Biology assignments, exams and typical teenage girl problems so the school looked much more drab and mundane than it really was.
The campus is actually beautiful. A word which I NEVER used to describe my school back then.
More greenery in between Blocks A and B.
Plenty of gardens, with sculptures, a hut and waterfalls (which alas, I’ve forgotten to capture). There were many chill-out zones, although unappreciated and underutilized by teenaged girls.
Then again, I can’t quite blame them – my schedule was extremely rigid in my days of yore, with fixed timetables and only a 20-minute long recess break. Rules were strict as well – no girl was allowed to leave the classroom in between lessons and you even needed an ‘exit pass’ to visit the toilets. -.-
The large school field.
The school had a large field – the scene of many a PE lesson or footdrill training back then when I was a Girl Guide. I really loathed that field then, because it was always overgrown and muddy – and I’d never fail to spot mysterious long, slimy things wriggling in and out of the field. The field’s much more well maintained now and it was a flurry of activity … from willing parties. (Back then, everyone avoided the field like the plague unless they were forced to use it.)
It was exam periods for their students right now, so several areas of the school was blocked out. With those typical red and white plastic ribbon tapes no less … which made the out-of-bounds zone look dangerous and intimidating like a war zone.
The zone where my former classroom is was also blocked out, so I had to resort to sneaking around. Unfortunately, I was spotted and unceremoniously chased back to the ground floor. (Hey, that’s not the way to treat an old girl, okay?!)
I was chased away by a current student, who apologetically told me that “a teacher saw you and asked me to get you to leave”. As usual, we have teachers exerting their authority through young, innocent fifteen year olds. Damn, there goes my pride. :(
That also meant that I also didn’t manage to visit 75% of my favourite hideouts in the school either … since everything else beyond the ground floor was out-of-bounds.
Oh hello! That’s my classroom!
Just picture a much younger version of my current self seated at the far left corner of that classroom, who always screamed her head off when a bee flew through the door beside her (which was actually, pretty often – the school had a bee/wasp infestation problem back in the early 2000s). That’s pretty much my impression of my former sixteen year old self.
I bet everyone felt like this about school back then.
Being stuck in a world full of assignments and exams … with rigid rules dictating your every move – from your attire (collars cannot be unbuttoned, belts must be right, skirts must be knee-length, only black or dark blue hair accessories allowed, yadda yadda) to where you can go (no student is allowed to leave the classroom without permission). Not to mention how big brother is always watching from some corner … in the form of the Discipline Mistress (who had a knack of springing up on you in your most unsuspecting moment).
I certainly wouldn’t return to Secondary School again even when given the choice, despite the memories there – I value my freedom too much now. Back in those days, I was a kid who always complied to rules because I didn’t want to get into trouble. Now, I question every. Single. Damn. Thing.
Just swinging along.
Forward, Katong Convent.
An autonomous school since 2003.
There was a big hoo-ha about the school gaining autonomous status back in 2002. We’ve had representatives from the MOE visiting the school every now and then and conducting interviews with the students. I recall I was selected for one of these interviews, but I had to bail because I wasn’t feeling well that day and had to leave.
No effort was spared at sprucing up the school either. Within that year alone, we’ve had a hut pavilion and a new waterfall spring up within the campus, along with a fresh coat of paint. The school also had its mission and vision rewritten, all for the sake of impressing those big boys up there so they’d give us this “autonomous status”.
I didn’t quite get what the big deal was about having “autonomous status”. It was just another vanity label to me. Just like how students are labelled as “gifted” and “special”, or Secondary Schools having an “express” or “normal” section for their students.
Ah well, Singapore’s Education System has always been described as a crazy rat race, so this labelling thing is totally in line with that I guess.
But the most encouraging thing I heard today was that many teachers still insist on returning to CHIJ Katong Convent to teach because of the culture here – the girls are much more laid back and compassionate, with everyone treating one another as “family”. (As quoted from my former PE teacher whom I ran into today.) He also spoke about how he had taught a sister school and found the culture too stressful (with the students having a ridiculous obsession with being Number 1).
I guess with the “autonomous status” and all, some things don’t change – and that’s great. (;