Monday, December 31, 2012

Christmas in Kuching

To avoid being misunderstood, let me first start off by saying that I do not celebrate Christmas, not in the religious sense of the word. I have been advised by some Muslim friends that even wishing my Christian friends a `Merry Christmas' is a wrong thing to do. There have also been opinions by some learned Muslim scholars that doing so would lead the Muslim greeter into shiriq. On the other hand, there are also views of other scholars who say that such an act is permissible. Whichever line of argument you may choose to follow, the important thing to keep in mind is that each differing opinion comes with its own basis or reasoning. Respect that others may hold a different view to yours. And as I mentioned earlier, while I do not celebrate Hari Natal, as what Malays call it, I do however respect that my Christian friends have the right to celebrate the occasion, just like any other citizen of this country.

But this post is not to discuss the issue of religion. It is to tell the story of how I made the trip to Kuching, Sarawak on 25th December, to meet up with a friend I last saw more than 30 years ago. Before that, let me relate the background story...

In January of 1980, a group of young teenagers fresh out of secondary school were selected to further their studies to the United Kingdom. Among this group were myself and an Iban chap from Sarawak named Gabriel Mason. When we first arrived at London for the A-level course, Gabe and me somehow got along with each other and we became close friends. After the initial week of sorting things out, we decided to share a rental flat together to save cost. To survive the high expense of living in London on a miserly student's allowance, we pooled funds to cook our own meals... actually I did most of the cooking while Gabe would do most of the cleaning-up. Gabe would eat anything that I cook without complain and he always respected my need to buy only the halal stuff. We shared stories about our families and learned about each other's hobbies and peculiar habits. We even went for a summer backpacking tour of Europe together.

Our paths separated when we went to different universities. Both of us graduated at the same time and returned to Malaysia but we lost touch. Over the years, I had wondered how my friend was getting along but I didn't know how to look for him... or perhaps I had not tried hard enough. Then in 2008, I went for an alumni event at our old school in Kuantan and met Gabe's younger sister Cordelia, who was also our junior. Cordelia told me that her brother is back home in Kuching and had fallen on some hard times. She knew of our close friendship and hoped that I could call him and lift his spirits a bit. She gave me her brother's mobile number and I immediately placed a call. My long-lost pal was surprised to hear my voice after all these years.

Over the past four years, I kept regular contact with Gabe through phone calls and FB messages. I had hoped that he could travel to the peninsula so that we'd have the chance to meet up. On my side of the equation, I was going through a roller coaster ride on the work front and couldn't muster enough spare funds to fly over to Sarawak. And then earlier this month, Gabe called me up and invited me to come over to Kuching and join his family for their Christmas celebration. I initially gave the excuse that I was busy with a new project that had just started and didn't think I could find the spare time. After thinking about it for a day or two, I realized that if I never put in the effort, then I will never find the time.

I quickly put in an application for 2-days leave during the Christmas period and once the leave was approved, made hotel and flight bookings for me and my wife. We flew in to Kuching on the evening of 24th December for our first visit to Sarawak.

The next day, Gabe picked us up at our hotel and took us to his family's Christmas dinner party held at another hotel. We were introduced to the other Mason siblings plus a whole lot of other in-laws and cousins and aunts and uncles. While primarily an Iban Christian family, some of the siblings and cousins have inter-married with people of other faiths and nationalities. Gabe's mother has a number of Muslim grandchildren, so my wife and I were not the only Muslims in attendance that evening. Indeed we were made to feel like family...

It was a very short visit to Kuching, so we really didn't have the time for much sight-seeing. Nonetheless, I am very pleased that I made the decision to travel to meet up with a very dear friend whom I've spent so much memorable time with.

I guess it's nice to end the year with a happy story. Wishing all my readers and friends a wonderful year ahead...

Cloudy sky over Sungai Santubong
Old pals... and I mean real old
Gabe with one of his cousins singing on stage
Me with the Mason siblings. Cyrus, Edith, Oldstock, Gabriel and Cordelia. All ex-students of MRSM Kuantan 
Footnote : Earlier stories in this blog where I've made reference to Gabe can be found here -> Finger lickin' delicious; and here -> A day in beautiful Belgrade.

12 comments:

Amelia said...

Hi OldStock, Happy new Year to you and your family. Wish you all the best in 2013.

MamaTim said...

Great post and sharing of happy moments with dear friends. I love the idea of fostering good relationship no matter race/religion. After all it is Sunnah to be good to all.

By the way, it's been a wonderful year - of making more virtual friends from the blogging arena. Wishing you a rewarding 2013..

Al-Manar said...

No the old friends are not old enough by my standard (if you read my posting two weeks ago). Happy new year.

Oldstock said...

Hi Amelia,

Best wishes for you and family in 2013 too...

Oldstock said...

MamaTim,

Indeed it has been generally a wonderful 2012 for me. Some high points plus some low points as well. But I always try to make it a point to meet up with long-lost friends if I ever have the chance.

This year I'm planning to meet up with some friends from primary school days... that's nearly 40 years of separation.

Anyway, nice to be friends with you here in cyberspace.

Oldstock said...

Salam Pakcik Al Manar,

I have to apologise for not having dropped by Al manar for quite some time and missing that story of your pen-friend in the first instance. Indeed Allah swt has been gracious to you and Hj Abdul Khalik in allowing for the meeting of wonderful souls after so many years. May Allah swt grant us to energy and opportunity to be meeting up with old friends again very soon.

Wishing Pakcik and Makcik a healthy and rewarding 2013.

doc said...

definitely a feel-good story.

i would imagine the camaraderie between friends of different religious/cultural backgrounds at the christmas dinner is something you may not find over here in the peninsula.

by any chance, was there a dentist by the name of Lydia Mason, who studied in UM & who married one of my med classmates??

have a good 2013!

Chahya said...

Salam Oldstock,
Happy New Year to you. Yes, I'm back. Miss you and all my blogger friends. It's been almost 3 years.

Oldstock said...

Doc,

Lydia, the dentist, is one of the older siblings and she was there that evening. Small world!

Oldstock said...

Salam Chahya,

Welcome back! Nice to know that you still remember us. Best wishes for you and your family in 2013.

noorique said...

a story that warms the heart.... :)
next time pi kuching kena dok lama sikit, boleh sample the food there!

Oldstock said...

Noor,

Yes, next time pi Kuching will spend a longer time hopefully. I would much like to visit one or two of Sarawak's national parks. This trip was really a spur of the moment thing, to re-connect with a long-lost friend.