‘I must be getting old’ I said to an old schoolmate from my primary school days. ‘And sentimental and grumpy” he retorted. ‘Next you’ll be complaining that the sky was always blue, the hawker food tasted different and children plenty’. And so it was. Well I mean to say, we had less distraction in those days. Look at the lorongs now, not a child in it. I remember when every lorong would have been swamped black with children. ‘Even towards the last day of school holiday! The kids are at tuition centre or enrichment classes ‘he interrupted me scornfully as I gazed forlornly into a deserted lorong. ‘Maybe you are right’, I admitted reluctantly but rather than trying to pacify a proud Singaporean and to avoid another debate later. And as if I do not know the pressure the parents put on their offspring to perform well and all that goes with it. I was deeply concerned by the thought of the children’s inflicted inability to allow them to participate in simple pleasures associated with childhood.
‘There’s our old primary school if we turn left’ he said, as we walked along Sims Avenue. I turned into Lorong 23. I stopped and stared as I entered the old school gate of Geylang Primary School. The old school building with the grey asbestos roof still stood the test of time. On my right, behind the security fencing, a new warehouse structure was rising on the school field, where many ‘hantam bola’ games or rounders were played during recess time and being chased and fleeing gleefully with a torn shirt after avoiding being caught in a police and robber game. I noticed the century old Angsana tree at the corner was gone. It had a trunk which was partly blown by a bomb when the school was bombarded to the ground by the Japanese during the World War Two. Occasionally, a makeshift altar would appear at the base of its huge buttressed trunk to commemorate the tree not as a war survivor but most likely as a shrine by some illegal 4-D or chap gi kee winners to appease the spirit that many believed was living there. Ghost stories told at school lavatory and re-enacted in classroom with nightmarish result especially little did we know that Angsana tree bled a blood coloured resin when the bark was bruised or slashed.
But what have they done to my old school? Since then, of course, it has now become a centre of various welfare and charity organisations for housing the aged to rehabilitation of ex-prisoners. Well, at least it has been temporary reprieved and remained as an occasional remnant of the past for many an exile like me.