52 people including 8 children, attended a dinner at The Vines Restaurant, organised to mark the 15th anniversary of the arrests made by the Internal Security Department on 21 May 1987, an event that changed the lives of many.
Among the former detainees who arrived early were Teo Soh Lung, William Yap, Chia Boon Tai, Vincent Cheng, Kevin De Souza and Chng Suan Tze. Others who arrived soon after included K C Chew, Kenneth Tsang, Jenny Chin, Tan Tee Seng and Low Yit Leng. Several friends and well-wishers also packed the restaurant and it was soon abuzzed with chatter in many corners as many of them were catching up on the latest news and well being of common friends.
In case there are people who are curious enough to want to know: Soh Lung is still in private practice, William is still doing translation work at the TV station, Boon Tai is growing his business well, Vincent is into healthy living, Kevin works too hard in his practice, Suan Tze will be teaching language again at the Singapore Polytechnic; KC has retired after selling his business and is involved in the Arts; Kenneth heads an advertising agency; Jenny is a free lance journalist, Tee Seng runs a company doing adventure learning programmes and Yit Leng is a journalist with a two year old lifestyle magazine.
Dinner was rather sumptuous - a five-course dinner was served while conversations continued. It took a while before all the diners were properly settled and fed and KC Chew was given the task to get everyone's attention to start the evening's `formal' programme. As expected, KC delighted the crowd with his sense of humour and invited his fellow cell-mates at various times (Kevin, Kenneth and Tee Seng) to the front of the restaurant for a reunion singing session. In fact, KC had been furiously writing down the words of the songs since he arrived at the restaurant and got the song sheets ready for the session. The men sang and bellowed their favourite songs (songs which they sang everyday while in detention) such as Bridge Over Troubled Water, I believe and the unofficial National Anthem, We Shall Overcome. Everyone present stood up and joined in the singing of the National Anthem, bringing lots of memories of those tumultuous days.
Then messages from friends who could not join us were read on their behalf - Wong Souk Yee who is pursuing her studies in creative writing in Sydney, Tang Lay Lee who is pursuing a doctorate on refugee law and doing work for the refugees, Edgar De Souza who is a news editor and who manages the web-site, Singapore Window with his heart and soul in Melbourne, Lai Maylene who is in Boston and exiles, Tang Fong Har in Hong Kong, Paul Lim in Brussels and Francis Seow in US.
The messages were well received - essentially they urged everyone to continue to be strong and resolute. While quite a few people considered the arrests history, it was obvious that emotionally, the event was still fresh in many people's minds - that even when the Marxist Conspiracy was mentioned again recently, it evoked a rather emotional response.
Soh Lung also reminded everyone that in the last 15 years, many of our friends and loved ones have passed away. A minute silence was observed to remember Juliet Tan Guek How, Lai Kim Fah, Fr Joseph Ho, Tan Kheng Sun, Aileen Lau Guek Lin, George de Souza, Tan Bih Rhu and Kenneth's father. A poem written in honour of Juliet Tan by an anonymous friend and which is framed in the hall of the University of Sussex where she was studying at the time of her death was read. Juliet who was a post-graduate student, died in a plane crash near Phuket after seeing her family for the last time at Johor Baru. She did not return to Singapore because she was afraid of being arrested.
The event would have passed quietly if not for a remark made by one of the former detainees that it had been 15 years since. Many of us have not actually seen each other for a long time even though we live on an island described only as a little red dot. In fact, with quite a few people having migrated, it was quite a feat to get this group together. If not for this dinner, many of us would have continued with our daily lives, revolving mostly on work and family.
While the evening continued with some detainees exchanging anecdotes about their encounters in the last 15 years, most of us left with KC's famous words that he borrowed from somewhere, "The best revenge is to live well."
The moon fights a lonely struggle With jagged clouds that mass to stiffle her pale fire And now, breaking through , she casts A silver pool on the drab grey sea. It moves imperceptibly, Like a spotlight on some gigantic stage Searching for something or someone.
It's said the moon can make men mad Or change men into beasts. How can this be? This moon shone to make men sane And change beasts into men. With her light on my face, shadows melted And, for a while, my heart sang.
This poem is dedicated to the memory of Juliet Tan (Tan Guek How) whose Chinese name means 'bright shining moon.'