Memory is a strange thing. Although we are the main actors in our recall of the past, all the main actors suffer from selective recall, remembering only a small slice of the past and forgetting the many incidents that are wedged permanently in the minds of some. I suffer from this too, all the time. But this time, I remembered more than some of the other actors. It seems that they have forgotten much.
Only yesterday, some 23, 24 years ago, I was a slim school teacher tutoring a 12-year old boy by the name of CGY (ie. his initials). We reunited today at Fork and Spoon in Toa Payoh. “Wah! You are gemuk (fat)!” Mdm Chua remarked on seeing me. Yes, I am now the no-longer-embarrassed owner of a bulging XXL tummy. Don’t believe I have an XXL tummy? Try sticking your finger into the navel and you might lose your finger in its depth and dirt.
CGY was a small young boy who was weak in Math. I remember his complaints well. “Teacher, teacher, headache, headache!” This happened whenever I stretched him to the limit. The playful lad had exercised his body with wushu and dragon dance but his mind had lazed around for far too long. And so I pushed him to the limit, making him memorise the timetables until he could regurgitate them within 2 minutes or so, at the speed of 1 time table card per second or two. This was the same boy who could not recite his time tables within 10 long minutes a few months earlier.
And so I met CGY, and we recalled what we each remembered. I was surprised they could not recall the many glimpses I had stored in my mind. You see, CGY was one of my first Math students whom I had impacted, and in turn, his transformation impacted me. Glimpses of him as my Primary 6 student still dance in my mind. He was able to pursue a 5-year Normal Academic Secondary programme despite studying at the EM3 level (what we call Foundation PSLE programme today) in Primary 6. Few EM3 students made it to the Normal Academic stream. When I looked at him, superimposed over his face was that small, often shirtless boy who loved practising his dragon dance moves. This is not the student that I had taught more than 2 decades ago! The boy that I knew could not speak English well and was not as polite as this associate architect. Indeed time has passed and CGY has blossomed into a caring gentleman. I smiled when 35-year old CGY declared that he had graduated from NUS with a Master Degree in Architecture.
Towards the end of our reunion, CGY’s mother enquired whether I could teach her niece who was struggling with Math. My first question was - was she failing? Was this a strange question? To make sure they understood my mission, I messaged him - “about tuition…I look at myself as a place of last resort, where hope is given to students and parents who are approaching hopelessness. This makes the work meaningful for me, and I need that - so because of this, the students I take are mostly failing in Math.” I am glad I have defined my work in tuition in this manner because whenever I succeed in my efforts to help a failing or weak child, I make an impact. And this impact is worth more than the dollars that are paid to me. So, with the reunion I had today, and the fact that CGY’s mother wanted to meet me after all these years, deep inside me, I felt something that money could not buy - that warm feeling and assurance that I had played a small role in the journey to success of a human being. It is indeed a joy to meet a soul from the past with whom I had shared a transformative journey. May God bless CGY, his mother and his family with success and truth.