The Kolej Tun Datu Tuanku Haji Bujang Year 1975-1976 Reunion is now history but it has been etched into the memory of those who made it to the function. I am one of the committee members and I take pride in the post-reunion accolades from the participants. Mr Ong Siang Phiaw, for instance, personally texted me, saying that the reunion was the best he has ever attended and that great is an understatement. He was overwhelmed by the honour accorded to them teachers and he said that this was definitely a highlight of his life.
The organizing committee outdid themselves, creating great memories for all those who attended the function. You may say I am bragging but I honestly believe the organizing committee pulled off the best reunion ever. Period.
The large turnout was beyond expectations and speaks volume about the efforts of the committee and many ex-students of the college who did their best to track down long lost college mates and encourage them to join the reunion. The tracking process was painstaking but social media like Facebook, Whatsapp and Telegram played a critical role in fast-tracking the process. Our college mates Rosalind Tan and Jessie Goh played a big role in building excitement and momentum towards the climax – the grand reunion..
In the run-up to the reunion, there was a press release in the local newspapers. And I was interviewed by Rosalind Tan on RedFM, my first ever live interview on radio.
Students and teachers came from many countries around the world including USA, Canada, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei and Singapore as well West Malaysia and all parts of Sarawak.
I have a great time at the reunion though I was busy running around attending to things that cropped up as well as taking photographs. With so many activities planned for the reunion, time passed so quickly. But to me, my most treasured moments were meeting ex-teachers and fellow schoolmates whom I have not seen for almost 40 years.
But 40 years out of college, everything is beginning to get a little creaky. Even memories of college.
That is why reunions do wonders in bringing back memories. Walking through the college again during the visit to the college alongside people who once had more spring in their step, I tried to picture myself and my college mates on the cusp of young adulthood again, back to days of 1975 to 1976.
There were some who assumed that the only people who would bother to turn up at reunions would be those who had made a success of their lives and they would spend the entire time bragging about it. In fact, the successful and the unsuccessful were mixed up together and if their different career trajectories were a source of tension, it soon disappeared after everyone got caught up in the excitement of seeing each other again after almost 4 decades.
Our experiences since leaving the college 40 years ago seemed to vanish in a puff of smoke and we were transported back in time to the mid-1970s. Looking at all the familiar faces sitting in the college refectory during the visit to the college, I felt like I was in a college version of Back to the Future. Except in this case the Hollywood special effects wizards had failed to make everyone look 40 years younger.
The reunion kicked off on Friday January 22 with the arrivals of most of the students and teachers. We the organizing committee were at the fourth floor lobby of the new wing of Imperial Hotel to extend a warm welcome. I wish to express a big thank you to the daughters of organising chairman Lim Swee Huat for helping out with the handing out of the reunion goodie bags, T-shirts and name tags.
It was heartwarming to see old friends meeting again after almost 40 years, with some embracing each other tightly. There was a lot of “Awak siapa?”, followed by recognition lighting up in many a face once they looked at the name tags bearing the 1975 or 1976 photos of the wearers. Teachers mingled with students, exchanging stories of their lives. It was truly a reunion of old friends!
And some amusing anecdotes have emerged. I am sure Mr Teo Ee Chin and Mr Joseph Nuing must have felt elated and amused when they were asked by a couple of their students which class they belonged to in 1976. On the other hand, a couple of students had been embarrassed when they mistook their college mates as one of the teachers. Another student had many of us in stitches when he told us that the lift did not move up when he pressed the button for the fourth floor many times. For your information, the hotel lobby is on the fourth floor and that student’s room was also on the fourth floor.
The welcome buffet dinner at the Palm Terrace Coffeehouse in the old wing of Imperial Hotel was a sumptuous affair, sponsored by a college mate who had requested anonymity. The dinner was supposed to start at 7pm but everyone was so busy catching up with fellow college mates that it was almost 7.45pm when the dinner actually started. The organizing chairman Lim See Huat gave a short welcome address.
An all-girl band, The Starlets Band, provided live entertainment but everyone was so engrossed in conversations that the band was practically ignored except by a select few. I paused occasionally to enjoy their performance especially when they were performing the Hokkien song “Su su liam liam”. It was a really exceptional performance, taking into consideration the singer is an Iban.
During the course of the evening, cameras and smart phones were clicking away, capturing moments to be stored as memories of the occasion – a reunion after almost 40 years!
Red wine and beer were flowing throughout the night. Teachers and students made toasts to each other. It was remarkable that nobody got drunk!
The function which was supposed to end at 11pm dragged on till almost midnight. Everyone was so reluctant to leave!
Since most of the reunion attendees were staying at Imperial Hotel, it was again time for more catching up during breakfast at the coffeehouse of the new wing of Imperial Hotel on Saturday morning.
After breakfast, those who were going for the visit to the college assembled at the ground floor of the hotel building. The organizing committee had chartered three executive buses to ferry the students and teachers to the college. The buses left the hotel shortly after 9am.
Shortly after the buses arrived at the college, students and teachers wandered around the campus, revisiting old academic and administration blocks and admiring the new admin and academic blocks from a distance. The first item on the itinerary was a group photo in front of the old administration block. Thoughts of paparazzi crossed my mind when I saw so many photographers busy taking photos on their camera and smart phones.
After the group photo session, it was time for a morning assembly in the old assembly hall, reenacting a morning routine of our college days. Reunion organizing chairman, Lim Swee Huat, and George Lim urged their fellow college mates to assemble according to their class when they were in Upper Six in 1976. The teachers were then invited to go on to the stage together with the current principal of the college, Hajah Hashimah Abang Zen.
After short speeches by Lim Swee Huat and Cik Hashimah, Christopher Tan introduced the teachers one by one to applause by the assembled attendees.
It was then time for touring the college campus. Many made their way to the classrooms they were based in during 1976 to rekindle their memories.
I made my way to the cliffs overlooking Hick’s Bay with a group of fellow college mates and some of their spouses. The sight of Hick’s Bay stirred up a lot of fond memories and I was transported back in time to the good times that I had experienced on Hick’s Bay during my college days.
From the cliffs, we then visited the lighthouse and the Japanese war memorial. I was not aware that there was a lighthouse and war memorial on the college campus during my college days.
At around 11am, we all headed to the new refectory for lunch that was catered by Sulaiman Safiee, one of our college mates. We gorged on kelupis, fried bee hoon, fried kueh teow, satay, curry chicken, beef rendang, cakes, dabai, durian ukak and rambutans.
The lady hawker aka Amu had been invited by Lim See Huat to provide ais kacang and many queued up to savour her ais kacang after a lapse of about 40 years. It is truly amazing that this lady is still operating the hawker stall just outside the college gate. During our college days, she was already middle age so she must in her 80s now. At 80 plus, she is a picture of health!
After the lunch, it was time to board the buses for a quick tour of the Luak Bay area. The Luak Bay area is now lined with the imposing mansions of local tycoons, Miri’s version of Beverly Hills.
The buses stopped at Luak Esplanade for a quick sightseeing of the beach and photo-taking. From there, the buses turned back to city, passing by Taman Selera (Brighton Beach) and Marina Parkcity before stopping at the new wing of Imperial Hotel for those who did not want to continue on the city tour to disembark.
More than 100 had initially indicated that they wished to join the city tour but only about 40 or so actually joined the city tour. I guess many were tired after the visit to the college and chose to return to their hotel rooms for a rest. Due to poor response, only one bus was used for the city tour. The city tour route encompassed Lutong, Senadin, Curtin University and Permy Jaya before the bus returned to the hotel slightly after 3pm.
A group of college golfers took time off for a game of golf at Miri Golf Club, reconnecting with each other as they played golf.
The reunion grand dinner at the ballroom of the old wing of Imperial Hotel was slated to begin at 7pm but people started arriving shortly after 6pm. The photo booth was a big hit with many having fun taking photos with the placards.
The evening kicked off with the group photo session. It was not an easy job photographing a group of almost 200 people in the confined space near the stage area of the ballroom but our official photographer William Ting did a good job.. During the course of the evening, the family members of William Ting were busy printing the group photos to be distributed to the attendees free of charge, paid for by the organising committee from the reunion fund.
The one-man band from Miri, Stephen Goh, started singing his repertoire of mostly oldies. His performance lasted for almost an hour but most of the attendees were too busy catching up and did not pay much attention to his performance. It was a pity because I found him to be quite a good entertainer.
Students from SM St Columba performed a cultural dance, followed by a ballet dance and ending with an Indian dance. The Indian dance garnered the most attention as it was performed with so much energy and gusto.
The MC for the night, Thomas Toh, welcomed everyone to the reunion dinner before dinner was served. Thank you Thomas for doing a wonderful job!
Chairman of the organising committee, Lim Swee Huat, then took to the stage to deliver his welcome speech.
A minute’s silence was observed in tribute to those fellow college mates and teachers who had passed on, or in Mr Yong Vui Ying’s words, migrated to heaven.
Dinner was then served. It was a truly sumptuous dinner, befitting the grandeur of the occasion. A very big thank you to the college mate who sponsored this dinner as well as the welcome dinner on Friday night!
The head boy and head girl of the college in 1976, Robert Foong and Ramy Bulan, were then invited on stage to conduct the teachers’ appreciation. After a short speech, Robert presented each male teacher with an exquisite ajat, a colourful bead basket. Ramy Bulan then gave an impressive address before presenting each female teacher with a beautiful bead necklace.
Mr Christopher Tan delivered a thank you speech on behalf of the teachers for the recognition bestowed on them. Mr Joseph Nuing then delivered his speech touching on a couple of his students from his college days. The teachers finished off by singing the song “Those Were The Days” as a tribute to their students.
It was then time for some games. Robert Foong was judged the most transformed male student while the prize for the most transformed female student went to Mary Ting Mee Lay. Jackson Chan won the prize for the most transformed teacher.
Robert Foong again won the prize for tipping the scales at about 92 kgs, beating George Lim who registered 88kgs on the weighing scale. The prize Robert won was the weighing scale plus a tin of Quaker Oats, a Diet Cola and a packet of low-fat milk.
Luqman, formerly known as Edgar Sum, won the prize for bringing the most number of college memorabilia while George Lim emerged the winner for bringing the most number of original photos from our college days.
During the course of the evening, college mates mingled around catching up with long lost friends. Almost everyone wore a smile. Many were busy capturing these precious moments on their cameras and smart phones.
At about 10pm, Sebastian Elbongo Bong took to the stage to perform a medley of Elvis Presley hits to the delight of many. He is Miri’s most famous Elvis impersonator who has performed all over Sarawak as well as overseas.
Even though we were supposed to finish by 11pm, we stayed till past midnight despite the slightly stuffy condition in the ballroom as the hotel had turned off the air-conditioning at about 11.30pm. Many were just too reluctant to call it a night!
Breakfast on Sunday morning gave everyone the opportunity for a final get-together before the reunion attendees started to check out from the hotel to commence their homeward bound journey. We could see people bidding each other reluctant farewell, with a lot of emotional hugging and embracing. The reunion has reconnected us once again and friendship has been rekindled. It has truly lived up to its theme: Old friends, new connections!
The tremendous success of the reunion can be attributed to several factors. I wish to put on record my sincere thanks to the college students who contributed so generously to the reunion fund as well as sponsoring of the two dinners. Without their generosity, the reunion would not have been so lavish. All students who helped to track down other college mates also deserve a mention. Several college mates, both in Miri and outside of Miri, contributed a lot of efforts to ensure the success of the reunion. Last but not least, a big thank you to all college mates and teachers who made it to the reunion. Your presence made all the difference!