The closing SAYOWE party was in full gear as usual, held in the College of Music, perhaps in the hope that the drunken stupor wouldn't flow over into the remaining hotel floors when it was officially over (didn't hold back the members, though from the looks of it). It was sometime then when I got the news - Alex Phuah had passed away. Car accident, long-distance driving, hit a tree.
Many of the people who read this blog might not have met Alex, but I want to share some of the spirit of his personality and his person with you anyway. You see, this is what made Alex special - you didn't have to know him personally to appreciate who he was.
We were the old gang of Penang music, back when we stayed in crap dormitories during our residential music camps, of which the only thing that made it forgivable was the fact that it cost next to nothing. For many of us music camp was the highlight of the year, and there are so many memories:
No personal restrooms, so when we all showered, the guys sang each of their orchestral parts, first loud, then with equally loud laughs.
More singing later, with me conducting with a toothbrush - followed by super quick mass going-into-hiding sessions when the adults came along (the most memorable of which was the one we called the Shower Cap Lady). Under the bed, in the closet...Sneaking out of camps crammed into an old car, and going "overseas" - meaning, taking a ride on the Penang ferry - the same one to and from the mainland, to the surprise of the ferry operator.
UNO sessions, with a side-bar commentary of every single dirty joke known to man.
Alex was part of that. We didn't learn how to be soloists in these music camps, and personality wise, the ones among us whose egos inflated, found themselves going solo as well. But Alex, he was always part of the gang - always a chamber musician as far as friendship was concerned. And that's the best kind of music, even though we sang Carmina Burana to high heaven (though we sang like hell).
I don't believe in regrets, but I still do wish that we had kept more in touch after school. It happens so often, losing touch. Too often. There's always another day, maybe tomorrow. Still, I count myself lucky for knowing him, the times early morning in school, and meeting up with Kenneth and chatting for hours. And also, though the old gang doesn't meet up much, there's still something that connects most of us quickly when we do get the chance, that bridges months or even years of absence. Memory will be what we have of that connection with Alex.
We miss you. There aren't enough words.
The old gang will hopefully meet up sometime next week to do something in memory of our friend. It's a powerful word, "friend". If you're one of the old bunch, come along, it's time for some long overdue chamber music of friendship, even though one of the parts is conspiciously tacet.
As I packed my bags at the end of the third SAYOWE project later that evening, I heard the horn players trying out octet music - and this after a gruelling wind ensemble concert, with the added problem of faulty air conditioning. To fill out one of the missing parts, a clarinetist took up the challenge of transposing at sight. And I know that any and every time we come across younger people who go all out in this energy of friendship, I, we, will remember Alex Phuah, a flautist, a Free, and a friend. Forever.