A tragedy has happened this June holidays. Students and teachers from Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) went to scale Mount Kinabalu and fell victim to an aberration of an earthquake. You see, that place is almost never had an earthquake. 18 people were killed, 10 were from TKPS, seven kids, 2 teachers and 1 adventure guide, all Singaporeans
The news arrested the nation in grief and sorrow, and unwittingly marred the current limelight event of our nation, the SEA games. As the nation comes to terms with the tragedy, TKPS set up a tribute site, so that the concerned public can come and pay their respects, write a few words of condolences and encouragement for the bereaved.
Your dad found his way to the Tribute Centre at TKPS, honestly, I didn’t have a logical reason to go, I’ve no affiliation to the school. Nor do I know any of the bereaved. But I went, because something in me told me it was a sensible thing to do.
The mood wasn’t as somber, although there was an air of serious silence. My heavy heart was greeted by the sweet smell from the countless of bouquets and wreaths sent by well wishers and concerned organizations. I can see that the tribute site was rather hastily set up at the school tuckshop. There were many wheeled partition boards improvised for people to write their thoughts on a small card, and paste on them. I told myself on my way out, the tuckshop of TKPS will never, ever be the same anymore.
There were many ‘creative’ ones which wrote on a larger vanguard sheets and took up more space. Most of them wrote of shock, sadness, and grief. Many more wrote in support of the school, in support of the teachers and in support of the Omega program. Some of them, wrote with handwriting like yours, Wayne, and others drew like you.
The words on the cards had choked me, but I didn’t cry. My stoicism got a better of me but the overwhelming sense of loss made me felt really, really sad.
You see, boys, we are a small country, with a small population. When I heard about the fatalities, I remembered a story I read about the commander of Sayeret Matkal, an Israeli Counter Terrorist Force. He said that when their soldiers goes to war and die, the dead soldier’s neighborhood and community will feel the loss, just as much as the soldier’s family and friends. This is because Israel is such a small country with such a small number of them, every death is felt throughout the fabric of the society.
Somehow, that part of the story came back, when the news of the earthquake broke and we have people there hurt and dead. I knew, this time, tragedy had struck… much closer to home.
True to my ominous feeling. I learned that one of the girls who died, used to attend the same nursery as your mother’s friend’s son. So your mum’s friend, knew her and her family, not close, but they knew each other. Another boy from TKPS who died, was a soccer kaki with our 2nd floor neighbour. My friend from Facebook, knew the form teacher where 5 of the students died.
I think I have to go because I’m a parent, a dad and a Singaporean. And unlike an earlier tragedy this year; Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s death (I’ll blog about that some other time), this affected me differently. My Lee has lived to a ripe old age of 91, we knew with his poor health, it was a matter of time. These kids and their young teachers, died, as one of the tribute card puts it ‘gone too soon’. The student are 12 years old, and they are no longer here. I can feel for their parents, as their hopes and aspirations were dashed before there was a chance of fruition. Their hard work and growth has been ruthlessly robbed from them by this unfortunate event. I think I went because I want to represent this part of Singapore that is still growing, growing and sharing their anguish. sharing their story, sharing their aspirations, sharing how brave their teachers were.
“Unfortunately, in the daily humdrum of our busy lives, they only hear us pushing them to be their best, rarely do our kids hear that we are doing it because we love them.”
We are known for a nation with a somewhat psychotic obsession over our childrens’ grades, the newspapers are always filled advertisements clamoring about enrichment classes, music lessons, abacus, and other things we parents are suckers for, so that our kids can become somebody when they grow up. We do all this because we want our best for them and we want the best for them because we love them. Unfortunately, in the daily humdrum of our busy lives, they only hear us pushing them to be their best, rarely do our kids hear that we are doing it because we love them. This tragedy, I think made us think of our kids as not just grade churning organisms but they are our kids, and if we don’t tell them we love them, we may be robbed of a chance to.
So I wrote, with my terrible handwriting with a blue marker, which was used by countless before me to share their grief:
To the fallen Angels and their Guardians,
Your bodies may have expired
but your spirit and story will be remembered.
from, a parent, a dad, a Singaporean
I’m sure that TKPS will grow from strength to strength. I can see a long and proud history with many, many trophies from achieving their goals. This is a dark moment for TKPS and they will emerge stronger, more resilient. And if they can hear one calling, my calling, is that never stop going back to Mount Kinabalu, your Omega project cannot stop, not because of this tragedy. I’ve seen at the tribute site, many former Omega participants who wrote glowing testimonies that the trip was the highlights of their lives. This is what character building is all about, the challenges on that moutnatin gave our kids, and students to TKPS a sense of purpose, a life’s milestone. Don’t use this as an excuse for the project to be discontinued. Every year, this time an day, someone from TKPS, please ascend Mount Kinabalu to pay homeage, to those who came and died. and continue to lead those young aspirants up to the summit, and see how beautiful the world is.