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|