Wednesday, August 8, 2012
My Bunk Mate
YC Lim was not all that quiet in the right clique of people, especially with those who conversed in Mandarin. He would seek out folks like BK Chan, Tong, Eddy Sim during field camp. He liked folks who were perhaps leaned towards the literary.
At the core, YC was a decent chap who was helpful and ready to spring into action anytime - why we worked well as bunk mates. Sure, I was more English-pai (tribe) and he, the opposite. But we still got on fine. We helped each other to study and pass our many OCS knowledge tests.
I liked our evenings together best. YC was a very good classical guitar player. He confided in me once that he was asked to consider the classical concert route. He was THAT good. But YC was not sure though. I think the competitive environment gave him pause. And it wasn't a career one could say with definite surety that will yield dividends. What if he does not make a name for himself?
I have rhythm and can move myself to dance. But I am indifferent to music. It's a quality that stumps my friends. Later, as an engineer, I would help test VCRs and stereo sets for audio fidelity. I could, with my ear, tell if a sound was deficient in any way. Whether it was distorted, had harmonics or suffered from poor crossover. But I do not often listen to say, a favourite record. And I dislike using headphones. You'll never find me walking around with a Walkman or Discman. Or an MP3 player.
As an avid cyclist, I find that to be utterly unsafe. Maybe even for a pedestrian.
My lack of interest in music probably irked my friends wishing I was otherwise. I do love a good poem or limerick though.
That said, I was once a fan of Elvis Presley - saving money as a boy to buy a precious record - which in itself was startling. It took me a while to even be a fan of a football club, one of my favourite sports. I just find being a fan a rather mindless act. But I guess that's how it is suppose to be. You like something so much you are willing to go all lengths to get enough of it. I now see it as a way to celebrate a unique talent. I think my worry has always been fans doing the most absurd things to follow their idol.
When I was younger, I liked Tchaikovsky. I liked that his music was full of emotion and pathos. And I liked Richard Chamberlain playing him one time in a telemovie. I believed I would have been a good piano player if I had undergone some training. But I am not a natural though, unlike some. I am more a builder. I can build up a skill if you let me have the opportunity and time.
I, like many others, am envious of folks who have natural musical talent. It's like the gift of tongues; no effort required. How blessed is that?
So I was a bit taken aback when YC told me that he was not sure of music as a career. To me, I could tell that he was quite good with his choice of instrument. A wonderful plucker of chords. It would have been a waste if he kept all that just for campfires, BBQ functions and family reunions.
I said as much to him. "If you don't try, you'll never know." YC shrugged, as he was apt to do. One of his strengths was to ignore stuff he didn't like. He's an ennigma like that. I tried again to dissuade him. That's when he mentioned about the competitive nature of the music/concert business.
"I'd pay to hear you play," I said. YC laughed, grateful. He didn't say more and I was starting to get worried that he might just throw his talent into the What-Might-Have-Been pile.
I decided to push the issue a little further. "What did your teacher say?"
A practical thing to ask, actually.
"Er, it was my teacher who said I should explore being a concert guitarist," was the reply.
What? I said very loudly in my mind. Outwardly, I was calm. I was trying to respect my bunk buddy's wishes. But, isn't that endorsement enough? That skill WAS evident?
YC sighed. He seemed to have given it much more thought then I gave him credit for. Thinking back, perhaps he had other issues to consider. Family for one. Many concert players come from rich or upper middle-class families. Families who could afford music lessons or private music tutors. I felt it was impolite to probe, so I didn't.
YC offered to play me a tune. He asked if I had any favourites. I said Streets of Fire. He said he didn't know that one. I said just play me anything you like. And so he did. I laid on my bunk as YC plucked away at his guitar. The rapid way he moved his fingers, I could tell it was a complex piece. It was beautiful, it was classical. But remembering him like that breaks my heart. Years later I would discover him working in a component factory. He was in Sales. We spoke briefly over the phone. When I recalled our OCS days and the fact that he used to play his guitar, he simply said oh. That was a long time ago, he added.
I knew then that he did not pursue a concert dream. Perhaps it was not his dream but mine for him. But it seemed a far departure from the electronics component business. In Singapore, he's not the first such talented but practical person I've met. I've had friends who were very good sportsmen but gave up soon at the university. With such folks, there's always that what-if.
YC was my bunk buddy and I shall not judge him. I really didn't know him all that well to do that. But I would surely have liked to lay on that bunk and listen to him play one more time.
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