Dunman High. It’s been exactly 20(!) years since I graduated from the school and over a week ago, our cohort, the Class of 94, had a reunion.
It was a school with a strong Chinese culture that intimidated me. From morning assembly talks, to the school song, to the CCA I chose(Chinese Orchestra), almost everything was conducted in Mandarin. By the time I realised it, it was too late to do anything about it. By the time I got used to it, it was time to leave the school.
We had a lovely campus in Tanjong Katong, with shady 木麻黄 (old Casuarina trees) dotting the sprawling compound – we occupied the space of two schools and had two canteens. There were legends about a well, plus lots of other stories that came out during annual campfires and “ghost walks”.
Some of the closest friends I have today, I’ve known since I was a 13-year-old. We spent long hours practising Guzheng in our CCA room, bonding over girly talk (think cute seniors!), CCA outings and overseas performance trips. Some couldn’t make it for the reunion, but it did not matter.
Then there were friends whom I became much closer to later on, when we were in the same university course or workplace, who turned out to be from Dunman too!
There were also classmates I have not seen in 20 years. It was precious to rekindle old friendships. The people whom I hung out with in Sec 1, whom I lost touch with later on, but that day we had endless things to talk about. It helps that we’re now Mummies with school-going kids.
There were the familiar faces of schoolmates whom I did not know personally, but definitely knew by face or reputation. The floppy-haired ones who had their hair cut too often by the discipline master, the trendy ones whose too-short skirt lengths might even be considered modest today (our skirts had to cover our knees…) and the ones in the classes next door whom we would see every day then.
And the teachers. A handful turned up but no one who taught me, unfortunately. But it did not matter, it was good to see them all the same. And of course everyone knew the discipline master Mr Kiw. He got the loudest cheers. When he took over the mike at the “podium”, we were teleported back to our secondary school days. I’m not kidding. I never thought I would say this but it was good to see Mr Kiw again, and strangely comforting to hear his “lecture”.
20 years is a long time to go without meeting up. Many of us have gotten married, had kids, done well in careers. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to attend the reunion initially, after all, what if I had nothing to say to the old friends? My close friends and I meet regularly anyway. Furthermore, the school, now an IP school, has been in its swanky Tanjong Rhu campus since after we graduated. Not having studied there, I felt no attachment to the new campus.
Then I thought about what the school had given me. As good a foundation in Chinese language as I could get (even remarkable scores in exam), a love for Mandarin pop music that came from late night mugging with FM93.3 in the background, an ease with which I communicate in Mandarin, a fondness for loud, clangy orchestra music, a familiarity with its culture and more.
Plus, it was our first cohort reunion after 20 years.
My worries were unfounded. We chatted, we laughed, we reminisced. Some of us had gained weight, others had lost weight. Some have no hair now, others have grown luscious locks. When we met, and chatted, and hugged, 20 years did not seem that long after all. Beneath all the changes, without the presence of spouse and kids (for some of us), it was as if we had never left school.
So the school looked and felt different. We went on a tour that did nothing for me because I was too busy catching up with my old classmates as we walked around the campus in the sweltering late afternoon heat. But I was glad I went. I was glad the ones who turned up, did. I wished more had come that day.
I left feeling thankful. Thankful for a schoolmate, Chiew Farn, who thought to undertake the massive task of organising a reunion – using Facebook, Whatsapp and email reminders. And amazed that he did it all the way from Japan where he is based, and from where he flew back to attend the gathering.
Thankful to the current principal of Dunman High, Dr Foo Suan Fong, who suggested the idea of a reunion to Chiew Farn when they met last year, who said he would open the school to us as long as a gathering was organised. Thankful that he bothered to think about ex-students who have long graduated and moved on in life, but who will forever be rooted to the school in one way or another even if we may not realise it.
I have not sung the school song since I left school. But when we belted it out that day, the words came automatically to my lips. It was a goosebump-inducing moment. I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Some things, you will never forget.
Dunman High… As they say, we do not run the country, (that’s RI), we do not own Singapore, (that’s ACS), but that day, with over 100 of us who turned up, it felt like we could do much more. There was even a collection for the ST Pocket Money Fund which I wasn’t aware of until later. The school has a very special place in our hearts. I’m thankful for the reminder that day.