*Updated on 12 Feb 2011 with pics after we got back..
New Year, Old Friends
I haven’t met K in maybe a decade. She’s one of my friends from secondary school – except we didn’t attend the same school. Her very well-behaved almost-6 year old wants Mc Donald’s for a mid-day snack. Rockstar is camped out at Coffee Bean in Queensbay Mall (they have toy cars to drive just upstairs!) asleep on my parents' laps while Kings and I organize catch-ups with Penang friends nearby.
When my family moved from Sandakan to Penang (I was born in PJ), I was expected to start all over again in a martial art my school did offer, otherwise it would simply not be a recognized activity on my school leaving cert. I’d spent the last 3 years in belt gradings, I didn’t want to start over. K’s school had the nearest training center. If there was such a thing back then (seems nothing, compared to what HK can be like today), I guess my own school was probably a more “desirable” school in terms of academic performance.
I loved training at K’s school. They had a taekwondo club, and for months I trained there (among other centers – I trained at least 5 days a week) using all their club facilities. K joined later – she was a sprinter on the track and field team who wanted to learn a little self defense on the side.
I wished she went to my school. Then I wished she were part of my life in Singapore. By the time I followed Kings to Hong Kong I was resigned that we would hang in different circles. But my girl friends from my new life would have loved her. Fair, with wide, lighter-brown eyes and long wavy hair, so would my male friends. Once, I planned for one of my college mates to strike up a long distance relationship with her (didn’t work out, we quickly realized she’d just started seeing someone).
In another life, she would have kicked butt in Hong Kong – when we met in our teens, her father had walked out on the family. She would accept assistance from none of us. She helped her mum get by, including taking care of an aunt with special needs, until one day she had extra school expenses. Then she picked up the phone and told her father he at least owed it to her to get them through that one patch. He did.
From my sheltered world of extra school subjects, extracurricular activities and zero social life, I looked at this girl, a few years my junior in school - about 5 ft 3, with delicate features on the outside, resilient, tough on the inside and with absolutely zero self pity.
I had so much respect for her.
I never figured out how to tell her that.
At state championship time, I realized during weigh-in when we submitted our forms that K’s school club had paid my entrance fee. “We paid as a club,” their team captain explained - only when I asked. “It’s only a few ringgit, we assumed you wanted to enter too.” We’d all been training religiously for our black belts (and I also had a grade 8 in piano and an ongoing state debate competition) – the championship, 10 days before the belt grading, was barely on my radar – I’d forgotten the closing date so they’d included me when they entered as a team.
How different from the circle of “friends” I had in school – I had so many extracurriculars I missed regular lessons often, and in getting the notes from a classmate I thought was a friend, I learned – too late – that she had given me the wrong chapters to study for an upcoming test.
In the middle of the tournament, their – my team captain gruffly handed me a lunchbox I hadn’t paid for. “We ordered for our whole club anyway.”
My final round in the tournament was one of the last fights of the day. Habitually I don’t look at score tallies if I can help it (because I figure you need to win, regardless whether there is a lot or not, riding on your fight). Suited up and waiting to get into the ring, some kids from K’s school asked “Um, which school are you fighting for?” That was the first time anyone had ever asked me that, all the time I trained there.
Only when it was over did I learn my gold had to be included in the medal tally towards K’s school for them to bring the overall challenge trophy home. It was raised that technically I didn’t go to their school.
Almost 2 decades ago in Penang. I worked in Singapore, then in Hong Kong, and now I Rockstar. 3 mergers and acquisitions, umpteen friendships and disappointments. How flakey do I sound, it remains one of my proudest achievements, speaking up about being part of K’s school team – I hadn’t trained a day in my own school, don’t think they cared, they are a Karate school. But it mattered to me.
So many years, so many experiences, so many relationships later, the friendship with some of my team mates, still so precious.