I had the rare opportunity to rendezvous with a childhood friend of mine named ‘Wai’ this CNY. I’ve known Wai since I was 9, and this CNY, we would have known each other for almost 30 years (I’ll be turning 39 this year)! His mom and my late mother were BFFs and that was how we got acquainted. We never got off to be considered as BFF ourselves like our mothers but we were quite close as kids along with his younger brother whom we fondly called ‘FatKid’ (they also have a younger sister, but we weren’t close). I’d go to his village at Paya Terubong (a spot now developed into a big ass sports complex) whenever my mom visited his mom, and I had fond memories of us cycling, flying kites and hanging out by the filthy stream that ran behind his zinc-roofed house.
It wasn’t long after that Wai’s parents had to leave to work abroad and we lost contact with each other for a few years… up until circa 1991 when his parents returned and moved to become our neighbor a couple houses away. That was when we spent a lot of time hanging out (I’ve actually written a piece of bike crash adventure with Wai back in 2004 – link), and visiting his house – which his dad extended to incorporate a small women’s shoes manufacturing workshop, and he worked with his dad as a cobbler (he already dropped out of school then, and I on the other hand, earned some extra money doing odd jobs helping out at his family workshop). His younger brother – FatKid – was still schooling then, but eventually dropped out as well, and but instead of being a cobbler like Wai, he was in the sales at the family shoe outlet at the city (Chowrasta Market) so, he wasn’t around at home much. That explains why I was closer to Wai than with FatKid.
Then in 1994, Wai accidentally knocked up his teenage girlfriend and was forced into marriage. After that marriage, his family moved away from that workshop house for reasons unknown to me. That was when we lost contact again, until this CNY, when a classmate of mine – Paul – hooked our contacts up. So how did Paul managed to hook us up? Well, hear this, this is when it gets really interesting – Paul was married to Wai’s younger sister. So, in the grand scale of fate, Wai somehow became Paul’s brother in law (both whom I’ve known for years). The thing is, I hung out a lot with Paul in 1993/1994, and he had even visited my house back when Wai’s family was still living a few doors away from my house. So, some time in the past, Paul and his wife had crossed path and they didn’t even know it. Something trivial but nevertheless interesting. Anyway, I hadn’t contacted Paul himself for years until we stumbled into each other at a wedding banquet of another classmate’s, and got to talk about Wai and this rendezvous. That’s how I managed to meet Paul and Wai again this CNY.
That was like, close to 22 years I had not seen Wai. The first thing he said to me was, “Dude! You’ve grown so huge now!”. Figures… I was no longer 16 and have grown quite significantly over the years. But Wai was still in his scrawny frame, just like how he was when I last saw him. He has aged a lot, his face is now wrinkled like his dad, and there’s this permanent scowl on him that told me he had been through a lot, and had waddled pool deep of shit in life. He also talks different now. We used to banter about stuff when we were teenagers, but now it felt like we’re both strangers brought from 2 different dimensions to live back the memories we’ve shared at one point in life in the past. My views were later attested by Paul, over the beers when Wai left earlier in the evening. Wai had since split with his wife from that first marriage, and married the 2nd time with another 3 kids (His son from the first marriage is now 22 years old). Wai is now a business partner for a construction firm at Johor and is doing well for himself, but before he landed this stable life, he had been in a quagmire of debts and was even into drugs. It was through some sheer determination that involves a new found faith that put him back on track in life to provide for his family. I mean, I couldn’t be happier for him… he’d been to the bottom and back. Not many people can do that.
Anyway, as we drank into the night, Paul and myself did our own rendezvous talking about our own stuff (with another classmate who joined later). But deep inside me, I couldn’t stop recalling the memories of our old neighborhood, and think about the bike stunts we did at the kampung, and the simpler life we had back then. The smell of rubber glue from the shoe factory. The Carina Lau lookalike prostitute we ogled next door. The schoolgirls next block we got infatuated with. We’ve certainly came a long way.