The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

Old friends in new places

on September 30, 2014

Just as I’m gearing up to see old friends in the UK, an unexpected encounter with one older than them all occurred right here in Singapore.

By chance I discovered an old school friend, Nori, has been living a few miles down the road since January.

As much as I now have friends I’ve known over 20 years, it’s even more indicative of the passing of time to come across ones you haven’t seen in over 20 years.

With my impending return to the UK tomorrow (have I mentioned that part before?), it seemed timely to catch up beforehand.

I’m quite sure we were around 18 the last time we bumped into each other, just before heading off for Uni. Before the age where you emerge from being socially inept and when opposite genders can start forming friendships without a gaggle of others nudging and giggling away. It was also in the time before every 9 year old was putting a mobile phone on their Christmas list and what do you mean you can send virtual messages across cyberspace? If you didn’t have someone’s home address then that was that.

So that was that.

My family moved away from Chester-le-Street, Co. Durham shortly after I graduated and as I never returned home it meant that I lost touch with the people I hung out with at school. You may have noticed I haven’t talked much of those years, not because they were awful but because there’s not many to reminisce with. How sad does that sound!

If you’re wondering, Chester-le-Street (home of the Emirates Durham International Cricket Ground), is a town and not the name of the actual street I lived on which often caused some confusion and gave the impression of being overly specific on my part when doing the introduction rounds during Fresher’s Week. What is worse is that should I have been overly specific, I’d have gone round telling everyone I lived on Hawes Avenue.

Nearly 10 years of angst this address caused me. Why this particular Lake District reservoir had to be abbreviated from Haweswater as such is beyond me when neighbouring roads were charmingly called Ullswater Road, Rydal Road, Grasmere Road is highly unjust. It must have been one mean spirited friendless town planner to have passed that one through and that’s why you had no friends.

Anyways, if Facebook has been good for anything other than being privy to the innermost thoughts of people you know, it has been the opportunity to reconnect, or not, with people you once knew. Sometimes it doesn’t go beyond the odd message but sometimes, you get presented with the opportunity to see how you connect when no longer socially inept.

So there we found ourselves, 22 years later, in the waiting area of a microbrewery.

What exactly is the correct greeting etiquette for someone you haven’t seen in forever? It’s a ponderous question and as it turns out you greet each other like how you did the last time. Which meant we were practically opposite sides of the room.

No, we weren’t. We were stood like thick planks not exactly knowing what to do for that awkward split second of saying Hello.

He looked exactly the same. Even without having seen recent photos of him, I would recognise him still which can’t be said for many of us. And some of us would count that as a blessing.

He said I looked the same too. It must be something to do with our Asian genes. I can more or less accept that observation and not be upset by it but I would like to think that my sense of style and personal grooming has improved somewhat since then. Thank goodness the misguided spiral perm that ALL the girls were sporting had long grown out before we last saw each other.

It could have gone terribly wrong but that’s the risk you take. Neither of us had to make up an excuse of going late night prawning to justify an early exit which was a relief and proof that we have emerged from being socially inept.

To prove how socially inept we were back then, he asked me the other day, ‘What were you doing living there?’ Some 25 years later, he finds out why.

I was interested to know where he moved onto after school because he came to our school as an Expat from Japan. I can tell you that being an Expat in our small town is not like being the Expats we are here. Far from it.

He is very modest in his academic and career achievements but it’s a story that would make our school very proud of its alumni. And so should he be because when English isn’t your first language, you have to strive much harder than your peers just to keep up, let alone excel beyond. I’ve seen Big Brother Li and Nephew #1 go through this too.

But what is heartwarming is how fondly he spoke of our school friends. Grown Ups now with families of their own and yet I can’t picture them any older than the last time I saw many of them at the age of 16.

Our small town may not possess the glitz and glamour of your usual Expat destination that you and I are used to. But for one person unexpectedly thrown in there as a teenager, I’m glad they come away with good memories because of the people there.

I already knew this though. I came to this school at the age of thirteen having transferred from a much larger school and subjected to quite a lot of bullying because cultural diversity wasn’t that common in those days. I wasn’t looking forward to starting a new school and having all this to deal with again. It’s paralysing when you’re singled out for something you can’t change with catcalls that actually make no sense.

But no one at this school ever showed such behaviour and soon enough I stopped waiting for it. There is no such thing as a little bit of racism or any other kind of prejudice. Even when masked as a harmless joke, something which I came across recently. I thought we were beyond that.

So, I’m glad that he doesn’t carry such memories from the school we both attended at least.

And you know, it was good to be reminded of names I haven’t heard in many years and faces I had to search hard to remember. But the abundance of stories about these people made me laugh a lot. I wonder how they’re doing.

I used to be quite sceptical about school reunions. For surely if you were meant to be friends then you’d still be in contact. But sometimes we drift off and find ourselves far from where we started, looking in on those who still have each other. I don’t know what we have in common now, but after meeting up with Nori, I know we had some good, fun years together. Even if we were socially inept.

What brings people in, and sometimes out, of your life is not always clear. Sometimes it’s down to no other reason than a chance encounter, timing or the fact you just get on.

But in this case it’s quite obvious. As I watched #3 run amok at lunch on Sunday when she ought to have been sat at table like all non feral children, I thought back to the well behaved, disciplined children dining out with their parents when we were in Japan. I’m quite sure this is divine intervention in letting me know that I could do with a bit of help from a different parenting style.

So I’m more than happy to do a Kid Swap (why is Swap spelt with an A
but pronounced with an O, do you know how irritating that is?) if Nori and his wife will have #1, 2 and 3 in exchange for theirs. What do you say? I’m sure a weekend will soon get them into shape.

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