A Nostalgic Journey

It was a nice bright day with a few white clouds, not too warm and not too cold. Activities of our primary school's 50th anniversary kicked off with a tour of the school site in the early afternoon, followed by an evening banquet attended by over 400 students and teachers at a Causeway Bay restaurant.

There she stood before my eyes – nothing seemed to have changed in the last 40 odd years, with perhaps one exception. The small tree that used to squat quietly at the bottom of the slope has grown into a huge shady one that arches over the access road like a protective but welcoming guard. The graceful old tree, while bringing back fond memories of the childhood days, seemed to be whispering to us that time had a will of its own and was fair to all.

As I walked up the slope, I was met by many familiar faces as well as some strange ones. After a few happy greetings, what had appeared to be strange faces at first glance turned out to be long lost school pals but now found again. Another round of warm exchanges and it seemed like only the day before that we had studied together in the classrooms and played together in the playground.

Crowds were beginning to gather at the school entrance. We 1963 graduates were corralled by our capable coordinator, Tat Wo, ready to start our nostalgic journey through the school premises from the ground level up.

I was walking side by side with Chi Wai whom I had not seen since our primary school days.

“How come you never attended any of our classmate reunion functions in previous years?” I asked out of curiosity.

“It’s because my working hours are very long and I usually don’t get off work until 8:00 or 9:00 in the evening. I just don’t want to keep people waiting,” he patiently explained. Apart from admiring his dedication to his job (he’s in the medical profession), I was particularly touched by his consideration for others.

“Let’s find the small snack stall on the playground level,” Sui Man urged. On her persuasion, our team followed her lead to the stairs beside the stage in the assembly hall. The stall used to be situated underneath the stairs that led to the entrance to the open playground. Now the stall was no longer there - the spot was just an empty space. Hardly did we have time to dwell in sweet, premeditated disappointment were we called to a photo session on the playground, where our school principal Yung used to give inspirational speeches to students occasionally. As cameras clicked and flashed, the boys (men) were trying to recall fervently their past mischief and naughty acts in and around the playground.

After a few dozens of shots we followed Tat Wo upstairs to the classrooms. When we finally reached the top floor, where class 6 students used to be housed, we started to get excited and everybody was trying to find his/her own desk in the classrooms. As each one of us was seated, another round of photo shooting began; more laughing and more chatting about old times.

The last stop of the tour was the rooftop playground, where class 5 and 6 students used to spend their class breaks. The boys (men) would have had a game of football and the girls (ladies) would have played rubber-band string jumping had there been a ball or a rubber-band string! Instead, we stood transfixed and reminisced our playful days…..

The school tour ended with the crowd gathering in the school hall and singing our school song and other old folk songs, which gave our built up emotions a timely release.

Nostalgic as the tour was, the mood was generally passionate and joyous, with only a hint of a sense of loss. It was probably the feeling related to the loss of our youth, our naivete and our care-free ways that kept nagging us. But the experience was not as bad as Graham Greene once put it, that “as one gets older, memories will be painful, like an empty room filled with cobwebs, whose occupants left long ago under a cloud”. I guess our experience was less painful because it was a collective memory, so that interaction among the participants could serve as a mitigating agent to dilute the sadness.

One of our beloved teachers, Ng Shiu Ming, was unfortunately not able to attend the school’s 50th anniversary function but was kind enough to send us the following poem in commemoration of the occasion:-

建校如今五十年 , 痒門子弟各爭先 ,春風化雨栽桃李 , 戒尺警頑出孝賢 ,寰宇新知好作伴 , 同窗舊雨自矜憐 ,香城吉卜會師友 , 闊論高談笑拍肩 。 (2007 伍兆銘題)

I have taken the liberty to translate the poem for sharing with those who do not read Chinese, hoping that I have not ruined it in the process:-

"Fifty years have now slipped by, and students have galloped,

Each to his own dream, from the school door wide open.

Looking back, patient influence, with discipline galore,

Was indeed what was needed, to make decent men and women.

Even as they make new friends all over the world,

Old classmates will cherish old acquaintance.

As they come together for the celebration,

Laughing, chatting and hugging will sure mark the occasion."