Over the 40 years after they have shifted out from the islands, these islanders still met annually to catch up with each other. In fact, we were invited to a BBQ organised by the islanders at East Coast Park on 6th October 2019. Islanders from all over Singapore and even from other countries like Malaysia and Australia came down to this annual meet up.

They were alumni from the St. John’s Island English School (SJIES). Upon seeing each other, the old friends boarded the memory train, reminiscing their lives on the island, the fun, peace, serenity and freedom. Their conversations were interspersed with recent events and updates on their families.

Islanders setting up the table and waiting for the arrival of other friends.

Many of those present are already in their late 60s or early 70s. While the ladies carefully laid their home-cooked food over the stone tables, the men were left to the barbeque pit. Soon the salty sea air were filled with chatting, laughter and mouth-watering aromas.

Dr Hamzah at the BBQ pit chatting with an islander and his grandson.

The ladies brought home-cooked bee hoon goreng, egg sandwiches, chicken curry, otah otah and even air batu.

Of course an island BBQ is not complete without home-cooked food from the ladies!

One of the items they brought was air batu (flavoured-ice lollies). Air batu were a favourite childhood food of theirs. They came in flavours like red bean, milo, bandung (rose syrup) and lime and preserved plum juice. Mdm Jasumin told us that when they were on the island, only St. John’s Island had electricity so the residents were able to keep refrigerators. On the other hand, Lazarus Island did not have a common generator, only a few household had them. As such, the mothers on St. John’s Island would make theses ice lollies and sell it to the children on Lazarus Island for a few cents. Whenever the islanders on St. John’s made the ice lollies, the children from Lazarus Island would immediately take off in their sampans to buy these cool treats.

Makan time!

Of course we did not miss this opportunity to interview some of the ex-islanders. Dr Hamzah brought a few maps for the islanders to point out the areas of interest on the island. Very soon the tiny table he was sitting at was crowded with islanders recalling and pointing out places on the island.

We were impressed by how much they could remember even after leaving the islands for so long.

Dr Sonia and the islanders.

The islanders also shared with Dr Sonia about their lives on the islands.

The islanders were warm, bubbly and carefree. It was as though their hearts never left the islands.