Fifty years of friendship

Form Four Arts CHIJ Johor Baru
Stella is far left in second row from top
Fifty years ago, almost to this very day, we were that bunch of tiny tots going into primary school and we started life-long friendships as schoolmates since Standard One in Johor Baru’s Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus.  Most of us were classmates from Standard One through to Form Five or got to know each other in sports, arts or society activities.  In recent years the Class of 1974 had a series of three exciting class reunions and had the opportunity to reconnect with most of our classmates but one whom we longed to meet again was Stella.

After years of wondering what had happened to Stella, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from her on 1 May 2013 asking me: “Is this the Peggy from Convent days?  Wasn’t sure if it was you but that picture of you looks like the Peggy Loh from school…”  Apparently, her sister now based in Melbourne, read my Johor articles on the internet and urged Stella to write me.  I wrote right back and as we caught up with each other, I also shared her contact details with other classmates who started to reconnect with UK-based Stella. 

[Left to Right] Hwee Ling, Lee Chin, Kim Yuen and Stella
having a picnic
The old black-and-white photos that Christina Khoo shared brought back many memories about our school adventures with Stella and these were shared in my article, Strong Convent Bonds (NST May 30).  Our classmates, Hwee Ling and Lee Chin, holidaying in the UK in June 2013, were the first to meet with Stella and they enjoyed a lovely picnic with Kim Yuen, who also lives in the UK.  The picnic photo they shared was my first glimpse of Stella since I last saw her after we completed secondary school some 39 years ago.  And she looked exactly the same in all her ebony beauty with her mischievous grin that showed off contrasting white teeth!

In our email and telephone exchanges Stella told me that she has travel plans to Singapore and Malaysia at the end of the year and I eagerly anticipated the day when we will meet again.  We briefly discussed her year-end plans but sadly since October 2013, my messages to her went unanswered and we lost touch.  On Dec 1, I sent her a message to tell her about my trip to Perth, hoping that she would not turn up while I was away but there was no word of reply from her.

Stella with Linda in Singapore
On new year’s eve, I received 2014 new year greetings as usual including cute and colourful plaques with phrases and one of them came from Hwee Ling.  That was why I was surprised to receive a call from her two days later.  Without preamble, Hwee Ling said there’s someone who would like to speak to me.  Before I could ask, “Who?” she passed the phone and I heard this smooth, slightly high-pitched voice speaking to me with a tinge of a British accent!

“Stella!” I yelled into the phone followed by a deluge of questions including why she did not reply the messages I left her.  She was most contrite and also frustrated that after she accidentally dropped her phone, its messaging application decided to pack up.  That was why she failed to retrieve my messages.  She was already in Singapore and anxiously waiting to meet me/us!

The twelve who met in Singapore
It did not take long for us to agree on the arrangements for that long-awaited reunion with Stella and on 6 January, eleven of us reunited with Stella again in Singapore.  I assured Hwee Ling that once she gave me the address and location, I can check with Mr Google and find my way there as soon as we clear the checkpoint.  So five of us from Johor Baru braved the evening traffic to cross the causeway for a dinner rendezvous with six others and Stella at a café in the city. 

Jenny, who made her way to the appointment by MRT said that when she came out of the station and was walking towards the Marriott, she heard shrieks and thought it must be our friends meeting each other, as usual, with great enthusiasm and much emotion.  She came to the conclusion that some things never change.  She imagined that if those old school teachers were within earshot, they would still be calling us, “jungle wallah,” “blinking fools” or other horrible sounding names!

Stella with former classmates in Singapore
Just as Jenny predicted, there were shrieks of excitement when we finally met Stella again.  She could certainly recognise me because she often reads my blog.  In fact she easily recognised 9-year old me from the photo taken at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng that is used under About Peggy Loh in my blog.  Stella took her time to hug and meet each one of us and while it took her longer to figure out the names of a few, it was amusing how she remembers the full names of the Chinese girls and insists on calling them by their names – in full!

Stella clarified that her brother was the guy who read my article on our grandfather’s house at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng and wrote me from the UK.  In response to his comments, I did a follow-up piece – Jalan Ngee Heng Revisited.  Last May in the course of his work, my cousin Dennis also met with Stella’s cousin in Perth and discovered that their grandfather Soosay’s family, used to live opposite our grandfather’s house in Johor Baru! 

It obviously took a bit of time before we settled down to order our meal but the evening was ahead of us and there was so much we must talk about.  As always, we recalled our school memories especially those which involved Stella, who was also a Secondary School prefect.  We roared with laughter when we discussed how she would appear to be reading her text book in class but she was actually deeply engrossed in a romance novel that was tucked inside the open text book! 

CHIJ JB Primary School, Standard 6A - Can you spot who the nine are who met in Singapore that day?

It was not surprising that Stella mentioned the names of a few former teachers and the others too had vivid recollections to contribute to the discussion but this just goes to show what a huge impact they had on us.  I brought along the precious photos of us taken during primary school and we had fun looking at our cute faces posing for the formal photos.  It was interesting that nine out of the twelve of us around that table were classmates along with Stella in Standard 6A.

More chit-chat over drinks!
The priceless photos of our first stage presentation in 1966 were of particular interest because Stella was in the role of the Conductor, dressed in long trousers and white shirt.  She mimicked the way she waved a baton to “conduct” the singers who were grouped as the Violins, the Clarinet, the Horn and the Drums and we remembered that the groups first sang their verses separately and then together in 4-part harmony. 

For once, food was not a priority – even though it tasted pretty good – and our conversation took precedence.  So over our shared meal of pasta, nasi kerabu, chicken chop and a specialty cake baked with layers of fresh coconut, we made Stella fill-in-the-blanks of what was going on with her in the past 39 years since we left the Johor Baru Convent.  Stella was still her vivacious self who spoke candidly about her ups and downs, the colourful characters in her family and filled us in on the happenings in her eventful life.  Time truly flies when you are having fun and as it was already closing time at the café, we were politely invited to leave!

Catching up with Stella again after 39 years!
There was still so much to chit-chat and we were really reluctant to part.  So we pushed the Pause button and moved to a nearby lounge for drinks and continued catching up on the happenings with each other.  There was talk about going on holiday to an exotic destination, first in Malaysia and then, maybe to Hawaii or Las Vegas!  But before going to Vegas, I suggested to Hwee Ling to let Stella have a taste of the Singapore casinos while she here. 

Meanwhile Stella was quite keen on her wild idea of a self-drive trip and to drive about like Thelma and Louise.  But in Malaysia, we’d probably be known as Letchumy and Salimah! 

All too soon the evening was over but we have truly reconnected again.  Now we have plans with Stella to revisit Johor Baru where we would take her on a walk down Memory Lane.  On her part, Stella has assured us that when we arrived at Heathrow, she would certainly try to pick us up from the airport.  As we bade farewell, our hearts were light as we looked back on our fifty years of friendship that started when we first met as Standard One kids in the Johor Baru Convent.

. . .

Glad to share the feedback I received:
Angeline Lee Vinay said:  Thanks Peggy, for sharing this with us!!!
Lee Fung said:  Thanks for the write-up, Peggy.  It was indeed wonderful to be able to connect with Stella again after 40 years!
Hwee Ling said:  Oh! Peggy, what a lovely piece you have written.  We are immortalised in your blog stories!
Bee Choo said:  Memory lanes are made of these…

Daphne said: Nice job Pegs.  Happy new year old friend!

Pat said:  Happy 2014 to you and your family!

It's been a very busy one for us with travelling to Melbourne for Xmas and then interstate and overseas visitors over new years but it was sooo good this morning, sitting in the peace and quiet of my back verandah with a cup of tea, reading your article on reconnecting with Stella! Thank you for that. (Seeing the 6A class photo was very nostalgic and a bit sad also remembering that at least 2 of the girls there chose to end their lives prematurely.)

I am sure it was very special for everyone especially our dear Stella. I have enjoyed many a long chat with her over the phone since she emerged last year, but sadly, our plans to meet up had to be postponed.



  1. wan jooria hood1/10/2014

    Hi u still remember me...i m d quieter one....that time was a shy kid n was always w yong azizah who used to be my best friend....n also together w noraini n murni abbas....i m Wan Jooria Hood....does that ring a bell?

  2. How can I forget Jooria? Did your ears feel itchy last Monday when we met with Stella and mentioned your name too? Sounds like you are no longer shy and quiet now, eh? In the Form 4 photo, you are 3rd from left on second row from front, standing behind Noraini and Murni. Regret that Yong is no longer with us. So good to reconnect with you again so do write me on email so that I can share the contacts of the others with you. Looking forward to hearing from you again real soon!

  3. Hi Peggy
    I guess this is the price I pay for stop buying the NST. Indeed a great effort for this unity meet.GOD Bless