Stanley Alan Pengelly stood on the footpath overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was a familiar sight but as his mind turned back the pages of his life he contrasted the beach at Mooloolaba with the way it was when as a boy his father would bring them to this place for their half year camping vacation. He remembered learning to water ski a few miles away on the Maroochy River and the frustrating spills he’d taken crossing the boat wake until he mastered the art. Those were the days when it was possible to camp by the beach, but that peaceful paradise had morphed into high-rise air conditioned apartments over the road with spectacular views of the ocean and a multiplicity of up market shops and restaurants now possessing this once quiet retreat. He’d spent years working overseas and it was good to be home despite changes, some of which he had to grudgingly admit made life a lot more comfortable.
His life had fallen apart, and he was home to try and get things together again. His brother and sisters with their families had been a tower of strength but the sight of their happiness in his country birth town somehow grated on him as he nursed feelings of grief so he’d retreated to the coast to try and let the ocean soothe his depression and make him whole again. It had been five years since Jade died. He’d thrown himself into work afterward in order to cope with her loss under the watchful eye of his father in law’s brother Wong Hui and the family who’d now integrated him into their community. He was loved and supported through his grief, but it was not enough to substitute for his loss. He needed a change. He’d returned from Singapore to Australia six months ago without a plan and his savings were running down. Memories of his happy life in Singapore conflicted with his memories of a happy childhood here.
The pages of history began to turn again in his mind. After completing an MBA and modules for CPA qualification, he’d been picked up as a trainee by one of the big four international accounting firms in Sydney and transferred in time to London. London had been an impressive rendezvous with history but finding reasonable accommodation had been expensive so when offered the chance to relocate to Singapore with accommodation provided he gladly accepted. It was closer to home.
Singapore was an amalgam of East and West with a thriving expat community rubbing shoulders with the educated elite Chinese citizens. The mix of Malay and Indian sub-cultures completed a mosaic that drew him in and after careful observation by the Chinese over time he was accepted as part of that mosaic. Stanley threw himself into the unique cultural blend desperately wanting to be part of it. He had to work hard to match the professionalism of the locals he worked with and took private lessons in Mandarin and elementary Malay language. While his efforts to express himself in those languages at first ended him in embarrassing situations his attempts to fit in were noted approvingly and he was drawn into the company of Singapore citizens who included him slowly into their society.
Wong Hui the senior administrator of the firm noted Stanley’s professional talent, humble spirit, and willingness to accommodate to the culture. Stanley was increasingly respected by Chinese and Malay clients as well as expatriates wanting professional advice and Wong Hui determined this man trying so hard to fit in would be an ideal bridge between Western offices and their city state office. He was a keeper but as it was common for foreigners to stay a few years and then return to offices in the West there needed to be an anchor to keep him focused on remaining in Singapore. He was yet unmarried and in his late twenties so perhaps that was the key?
Stanley suddenly found himself being invited to some of the homes of the elite and the shock of the opulence of these people’s lifestyle made a deep impression on him. He became aware of the links each family had around the world and how they cooperated internationally to add to the prosperity of the Chinese diaspora. Stanley was also impressed with how Singapore was constantly re-inventing itself and realized that in a remarkably short time this country had become an innovative and prosperous mini powerhouse, stable and safe. He was grafted into the exclusive clubs’ other expatriates could only dream of belonging to and his rudimentary Mandarin as only spoken in those circles gradually improved.
Then Wong Hui made his move persuading his niece Jade to consider returning from California where she’d completed her MBA and California CPA and was currently interning in an accounting firm in LA. Wong Hui persuaded her to take up an internship in Singapore instead. Jade was delighted at the invitation. She’d missed the lifestyle of Singapore but had been rebuffed by her Uncle in the past and jumped at the opportunity of her Uncle’s seeming change of heart. Soon after arrival she realized there was a price to pay for her Uncle’s seeming change of heart as she was thrown into a constant whirl of out of work activities with the extended family and noted with distain this foreigner had somehow intruded into the family circle. She took an instant dislike to Stanley Pengelly and resented his presence in the family considering it not normal to be that familiar with this relic of the colonial past.
The accomplishments of Singapore and Hong Kong now far exceeded their situation under colonial rule. The colonialists were to be used now to learn from their innovation and practices, but she felt that by now the colonialists had something to learn from them. Stanley did not notice her distain at the time and treated her like the rest of her extended family happy to be included. Wong Hui and her own family took every opportunity to dwell on Stanley’s talents and exemplary life as they were all working together on this keep Stanley Pengelly project. The project was to keep Stanley in Singapore for the gain of the firm and potential gain for the community as they used his talent and experience in the West where deals could be made using his help.
It was not that Stanley disregarded Jade. She was a classic Northern Chinese beauty and he was attracted to her grace, pride, and professionalism. But he realized that accepted as he was socially there was still that reserve he dared not cross or it would cost him the fulfillment and joy he had in his work there. He had no idea what was being orchestrated by Wong Hui though Jade suspected he was part of the plot and decided to confront her Uncle.
Wong Hui was furious when his Niece challenged him on the family plan to get them together. She pointed out this was not the Chinese way, and as the senior in their extended family he should not be working with this foreigner to entrap her and ruin her life. She was planning on a Chinese husband and he should be setting an example by supporting her in wanting a match within their extended family their branch of the race.
The fury of her Uncle at this outburst and the angry reaction of her family confounded her. It came to light the foreigner had no idea what was going on behind the scenes. The family had accepted him for who and what he was as an honorable person who loved their culture and he’d be useful to the extended family in smoothing the way for contacts in the West among non-Chinese. It was put to her bluntly that if she had no respect for her elder’s wisdom in these things then perhaps she’d be better finding her own way in life. This of course would have been unthinkable as it could be interpreted as a loss of place within the extended family and resulting loss of face for her too.
To be continued
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