Across the divide

Across the divide

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s concert on Thursday night (27Jul23) was, as it always is, a treat beyond compare. The simple and crystal clear violin playing by Chloe Chua is a treat of truth not always exhibited by other great players. 

A minor, trivial event took place. If the story seems somewhat self-laudatory please forgive me. Its significance has little to do with me and much to do with the Chinese family sitting in the row in front of my wife, our helper and myself. Eliza said their accent was Beijing. They were clearly intelligent, simply dressed but notably elegant in an unostentatious way. They were obviously visitors to the Esplanade Concert Hall. 

The family consisted of mother, father and two exuberant but very well behaved young children. During the first half of the concert I noticed the family’s concentration on the music. In particular I saw that the mother, who was sitting in the seat immediately in front of me, was completely absorbed and marking the violin playing very gently with her fingers. I guessed she was a player, possibly a performer.

During the interval they stayed in their seats, as did we. I signalled to the husband asking him if they spoke English. He understood my question, smiled and shook his head. Then he pointed to a friend sitting a few seats further along the row from him and beckoned her to come over to where I was sitting. The friend was bilingual so could interpret for us.

I established that they were visitors to Singapore and I said that I just wanted to welcome them and wish them a good visit. It transpired that the mother of the family was a music teacher who had taught many of the entrants to the competition just finished. Several of her pupils, the interpreter friend told us, were at the concert. 

The family was clearly delighted that someone had spoken to them. They reciprocated the warm thoughts we were expressing. Our kindly interpreter did a wonderful job of conveying feelings even when the language difference meant that the right words were missing. I gave the father a business card to take home and their friend translated it for him.

At the end of the SSO concerts I always leave quickly to avoid creating a jam with my wheelchair. The Beijing family were still applauding but they turned round and waved us goodbye until we were out of sight. We waved back to them.

In the melee of world crises overwhelming us it is a story of triviality not worthy even of a canary’s discarded feather floating to earth. In the realm of international cooperation it may symbolise more significance than all the elephants in the room put together.

Great diplomacy may start a world war. 

Small personal contacts of affection may prevent one.

May our anonymous Beijing family be blessed all their lives.

Good morning

John Bittleston 

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28 July 2023