Memories Of A Chinese Lady
When my wife Iris and I went to India from England in 1964, we planned to stay for one year spending six months at the Theosophical School of The Ancient Wisdom and then six months visiting any interesting Ashrams, thinking we might find addresses of some such Ashrams, from people at the Theosophical Headquarters, Adyar near Madras. This we did but we also met Sathya Sai Baba during that first year with the result that we stayed for six years. We finally had to tear ourselves away in the middle of 1970. Then after spending some time in England and over twelve months in America, mainly with Sai friends in California, we reached destination Australia about the end of 1971.
A couple of years or so later, some time in the early seventies, we were planning to re-visit Sai Baba in India and spend about six months there. We hoped to go as far as Singapore on the Greek Ship the Patris on which we had had the memorable voyage in 1960 at the beginning of our spiritual search, me for my prophesied ‘Star in the East’ and Iris for a teacher who would lead her to God. The Patris at the time was taking Australian passengers as far as Singapore from where they went on by plane to England. We would go by plane to India.
We managed to book passages on the Patris but just before we sailed, a friend who had spent some time in Singapore told us that if we wanted to do any shopping there, we should go to a certain shop in Northbridge Road where the Manageress was fond of Australians and always gave them a good deal. He could not remember her name but as she was the Manageress we should have no trouble. Of course we wanted to do some shopping in India, as who didn’t, in those years. It was our first visit to that City and we had heard that passengers on the Patris were given accommodation for a number of days at a good hotel in Singapore, so we would have plenty of time to visit shops and other places before catching our plane to Madras in India.
It was a wonderful trip of about three weeks on the Patris of happy memories. The Captain, Ichiadis, who had been the First Officer aboard on our earlier voyage gave us special treatment and we had meals at the Captain’s table several times. I shall never forget the first time. Iris was sitting on the Captain’s right and I was somewhere along the table, when after soup, the fish course came, what were Iris and I to do? We had been vegetarians since 1964. I decided to eat the fish but Iris was a very strict vegetarian and she told the Captain that, being a vegetarian she had to miss the fish. His unexpected reply was, “Well, I don’t like the look of it so I won’t have it either” and he kept her company as a vegetarian for the rest of the meal and for other meals that she had sitting at his right. He was a thorough gentleman, as all well-educated Greeks that we have met, are.
We were sorry when the Patris sailed back to Australia while we stayed in Singapore but we spent a very pleasant week there on some sight-seeing tours and doing our shopping. For the latter, we made straight for the shop in Northbridge Road recommended by our Australian friend and sought the Manageress. Her name proved to be Janny Tay and we did not have to do the usual bargaining which was customary in Singapore in those days because Janny gave us good price reductions without asking; even on items she did not have in the shop and had to send out for, she gave us reduced prices. At the end of our shopping Janny looked at a ring on my finger and said, “That is a beautiful ring may I ask where you got it?” I told her how it had been miraculously manifested for me by Sathya Sai Baba in India some seven or eight years earlier. I gave her the ring to examine it was made of Panchaloha, the untarnishable alloy used for making idols in India. There was some interesting carving on the Panchaloha and a beautiful embossed gold figure of Shirdi Sai Baba on the crown of the ring. As Janny Tay’s interest did not wane, we both told her more about Sai Baba and his spiritual teachings. At the end of the talk she said with a sigh, as if regretfully, “Ah, well, I’m a Buddhist of course,” but she added, “Come to see me whenever you are in Singapore.” We decided that we would certainly do that although there seemed little hope of her becoming a Sai devotee.
Towards the end of our planned six months’ stay in India, which proved to be well over six months, we managed to make brief contact with my young sister Leone, who had made a brief stay in India during her trip around the world. She was planning to call for a few days in Singapore and then go on to China the country in which she had always been very interested. We told her if she was buying anything in Singapore to go to the shop in Northbridge Road managed by our friend Janny Tay. She said she would do so but later by letter she let us know that Janny Tay had left the shop and, as her stay in Singapore was brief, she did not try to locate the lady. This news surprised us greatly and we thought that maybe my sister had gone into the wrong shop. We hoped we would find Janny Tay still managing the shop where we first located her. So, on our return journey to Australia, although we were only staying in Singapore for one day and had no shopping to do, our first call was at the shop in Northbridge Road but Janny was not there. We asked some of the assistants in the shop if they could tell us her whereabouts but they did not know, or if they knew, they did not want to tell. On several subsequent transits through Singapore we visited the shop hoping that she may have returned but she was never there, so eventually we decided that we had lost a promising friend, and never expected to see her again.
A few years later when we were spending a longer than usual time in Singapore, a totally unexpected thing happened. It came about this way. We were staying in a pleasant apartment some distance out from the centre of Singapore, in the green and leafy grounds of a settlement belonging to a religious organisation. We had some connections with this organisation and were able to obtain the apartment for a couple of weeks.
One day we had a surprising visit from a prominent Sai devotee with whom we had had a slight acquaintance. It was Dr Kanda Pillay, a leading Orthopaedic Surgeon with a practice in Singapore. How and why he had traced us to this remote spot, we had no idea, but were very glad to see him. After a pleasant talk, mainly about Sai activities and Sai people, he asked why we were staying this time so long in Singapore. “Well,” we explained, “We are trying to catch up on the interesting places we have not had time to visit before,” and we told him our plans for that day. “You can use my car and driver to go there,” he said, “I will not need it myself today.” Despite our protests he insisted in his kind gesture. After a very enjoyable journey we sent the car back to Kanda Pillay’s home in Singapore. The next day he paid us another visit at the flat, this time with an invitation. He had arranged, he said, a special luncheon party at a good restaurant in Singapore and he would like us to come to it if we would. The people at the luncheon, he said, would be mainly followers of Sathya Sai Baba and it would be a good opportunity for us to meet some of his Sai friends. He would send his car to pick us up at our apartment and take us to the restaurant – how could we refuse!
Next day Kanda Pillay did not sent his car but came in it himself to take us to the luncheon. At the restaurant he led us to a private room where we found about twenty people, men and women, sitting around a large oval table. Before leading us to our places he took us around the table introducing each person to us. The guests were a mixture of Indian and Chinese. When we came to two Chinese ladies sitting together he introduced one of them saying “This is my friend Janny Tay.” I caught my breath and I heard Iris give a gasp. Neither of us had recognised the Janny Tay we had met some years before. “Not the Janny Tay of Northbridge Road?” I queried. She looked surprised and then replied, “Well, I used to be at Northbridge Road.” It was, beyond any doubt, our Janny Tay the lost had been found and furthermore, found as one of a party of Sai Baba followers. This added a big bonus to our pleasure.
After a delightful luncheon period she took us and a few others to her home, where in the evening, her husband Dr Henry Tay was planning to show a short movie, a videotape I think, on Sai Baba. So we had the rest of the afternoon and tea-time to talk and there was much to say. We did not ask her how she came, after all, to be a follower of Sai Baba but there is little doubt that her interest began with the talk about my ring and Sathya Sai Baba’s teachings at her father-in-law’s shop on Northbridge Road some years before. Whatever had happened since then seemed to have made her a firm devotee of Lord Sai. Henry was, she said, a follower too in his own way. During the long talk we learned something of Janny’s background. Both she and Henry had obtained medical degrees at a Melbourne University, in fact I think that was where they met but Janny had herself never practiced medicine. She had gone straight into business as manager of her father-in-law’s shop. We met her two small children when they came home from school. The girl, Audrey was the eldest and the boy Michael, a very likeable little fellow.
During her missing years, that is, missing to Iris and me, Janny had not been idle, she had not only become a Sai Baba devotee and visited Sathya Sai Baba in India, but had also launched the first stages of a string of shops that would spread over Singapore with some in other countries. They specialised in selling watches and were known as the Hour-glass shops. As the years passed, other things were added, such as a watch factory in Switzerland and eventually Henry was persuaded to give up his medical practice and join Janny in the expanding business. Other commercial ramifications were added and eventually the business became so large that it was made into a company. Janny, who remained the leading light of the company became quite famous in the business circles of Asia when her investment and other activities spread to Australia. Her name became well known there, particularly in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.
Our own friendship with this warm-hearted Chinese lady ripened through the years, in fact we always made contact with her while passing through Singapore, either going to India or coming back. If our time was short we had lunch with her and she always loaned us her car and driver, whose name was Mr Wong, for transportation to the restaurant where we were meeting. If we were staying for a night or more, Janny invited us to stay at her mansion-like house which had been built in the prosperous years after our first or second meeting. If she was away overseas on business we often stayed with her sister Anne, a very beautiful lady living in a very beautiful house. Anne’s husband was also part of the medical profession being an Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist. Furthermore, he became during our many visits, Chairman of the Singapore Sai Centre, a large and very active group which we visited several times when opportunity offered.
On one occasion when Janny had asked us to stay at her place, and had suddenly been called away overseas, we found our host was Henry and our hostess, the third child, Sabrina. Henry kept a close eye on her but she proved to be a perfect little hostess. Audrey and Michael were now absent, being in England to complete their education. One of the many pleasant memories of our visit to Janny were luncheon parties she organised, sitting by the side of her luxurious swimming pool. There we met her friends and also some associates from her business connections; they were all cultured and interesting people. One afternoon, when all visitors had departed and we were sitting having a pleasant chat with Janny, she made an unexpected request. Unexpected, because she was a person who gave favours rather than asking them. We were leaving next day for India and of course, Sai Baba. “I know you always have an interview with Sathya Sai Baba while you are there,” she began “So I will be very grateful if you will do me a favour.” An opportunity to do her a favour was something we were always looking for and we told her so. “Well,” she said, “I have purchased a large tract of land in Australia, in fact in Queensland, in the northern part of the Gold Coast. I would like to develop it into a kind of Health Farm and Holistic Healing Centre, but it would be a very big project and I would not like to attempt it without Sathya Sai Baba’s agreement, so would you please ask him if I should go ahead or not. If he says, ‘No’ I will sell the land and if he says, ‘Yes, I should go ahead’ I will do so. Would you mind doing that for me? If I wait ’til I go myself it may be too long. I may not even have the favour of an interview from him.” She paused, looking at us questioningly. We both quickly agreed we would do as she asked if Sathya Sai Baba gave us the opportunity, as we felt sure that he would, while we were there, “But,” said Iris, “It would be a good idea if you gave us a photograph of yourself. We know you have met Baba personally but it would help him to quickly bring you to mind if we showed him a photograph.” Iris was very astute in such matters. Janny quickly found a suitable photograph of herself and gave it to Iris. Both she and I were happy to have a mission to perform for our dear friend.
Well, the moment came when we were sitting alone with Sathya Sai Baba in the private interview room where he takes individuals, after seeing everybody first in the main interview room. It was the opportunity to put Janny’s question to Sathya Sai Baba as to whether she should develop the Holistic Health Resort or simply sell the land. Iris handed Janny’s photograph to Sathya Sai Baba and we told him the place where she had purchased the land was at Oyster Cove in the northern regions of the Gold Coast of Queensland. Sathya Sai Baba silently looked at Janny’s photograph and then seemed to go off into deep thought. I have seen him do this before I think it is more than thought in the ordinary sense. He has the power of course, to go into both the past and the future at such times. We anxiously awaited his reply. Suddenly his eyes which had been far away came back to the present and he smiled, we held our breath; “Yes,” he began, “Tell her to go ahead and develop the Health Centre but tell her not to develop a place for the under-privileged only, it will be a spiritual place and the rich need spiritual guidance as much or even more than do the poor, so she should cater for them too. She will understand what I mean.” So we wrote a letter telling Janny of Sathya Sai Baba’s reply and on our return journey going through Singapore about six weeks later, we discussed it with her giving her all the details. She was certainly very pleased. “Yes, we will make it a spiritual place,” she said, and went on “and plan to make it attractive to the rich as well as the poor. When the time is right we will start a Sai Centre there and if you will come there and be my Chairman, Howard, it will become a great Sai Centre in every way with a healing atmosphere.” I replied that if it was possible I would certainly be her Chairman, thinking that she meant of the Sai Centre only. “Thank you,” she said “I will build a house for you at Oyster Cove.” I thought she was speaking somehow metaphorically, and did not take her statement literally.
Well, years passed, a good many years when we did not see Janny. We sometimes stopped over at Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia instead of Singapore on our Sai-ward journeys, which had become less frequent anyway. When we went through Singapore, Janny seemed to be away always on business somewhere in the world. We heard that she was developing a centre at St Kilda in Melbourne, from talk, it seemed to be a kind of super Roman Bath with warm sea water for swimming, massage centres and the rest, but on occasions when we spoke with Janny’s sister Anne, in transit through Singapore, we were told that Janny was certainly going ahead as rapidly as possible with the big project at Oyster Cove. Our informant said that a golf course was going to be part of the centre at Oyster Cove and also a polo ground. It sounded as if Janny was carrying out her instruction to cater for the well-to-do. Perhaps we might be lucky enough to visit it ourselves one day when Janny was there herself, we hoped so. But before that happened, Iris had departed to the vast and happy Forever, leaving me alone to cope with the lights and shadows of earth.
Though I saw nothing of my friend Janny for several years, I heard of her. The news was that she was selling off some of her Australian possessions, such as a luxury apartment at Surfers’ Paradise and an expensive home in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. The grapevine reported also that she had sold some of her chain of shops, that is, the Hour-glass shops. This was all apparently a result of the serious currency troubles in Asian economies. I wondered if the Oyster Cove project would also have to be sold, or even abandoned. It must have been about in late November or early December of the year 1997 that I had a phone call with the well-known voice of Janny Tay at the other end. After brief greetings, she said, “Your house is ready, Howard, can you come up for Christmas?” Dumbfounded, I asked her what house, what did she mean, what house and where? “The house I promised to build you Howard, at Oyster Cove of course, it’s all ready, when can you come?” The dim memory came back to me that she had said she would build me a house, but I had not taken that seriously. Now there was a house ready and I was being invited to take it over immediately. As well as expressing my gratitude to her I had to let her know that I could not come at Christmas as I had made other arrangements. Remembering that Iris and I had found it too hot in Queensland in summer time, I said to Janny that I would try to come down in June the next year, that is, 1998. I did so and found a colony of about a hundred attractive houses on the shores of a lake which was, I was informed, mainly a man-made lake. A few grand two-storey houses were built close to the edge of the lake. One of these was a part-time residence for Henry and Janny Tay. The short street leading directly to it had been called Tay Court. From this, one could reach two other palatial residences on the lake shore, both of them having been erected by wealthy Singapore friends of Janny. The only other street in Oyster Cove at this time, in which ‘my house’ was located was named Wisemans Court.
Next door to my very attractive house was another similar one occupied by Janny’s half-sister named Helen Richie Robbins. She was a widow of an Australian army man of that name. Originally from Malaysia, Helen now regarded herself as a permanent resident of Oyster Cove, her job being to look after Janny’s interests while the latter was absent in Singapore or elsewhere on her business matters. Our two houses were connected by a paved courtyard and she proved to be a very good friend, always bubbling with happiness, despite the not-far-distant sorrow of her Australian husband’s death.
I learned that the progress of the big plan to build a luxury hotel, establish a golf course, build a very fine building to house the Holistic Centre had been slow somewhat. I was not told why but assumed that it was financial difficulties brought about through the currency crisis in Asia; but Helen gave me the impression that there were no problems about capital for developing Oyster Cove. Although the beautiful street Wisemans Court, and the other even shorter street, Tay Court, seemed as blessedly free of motor traffic as the roads of Tasmania had been in the first years of the motor car, the two official offices were very busy indeed. One of them was for selling real estate and the other busy currently on other development and plans. After I had been in my new delightful residence for a few weeks, Janny herself arrived from Singapore.
Soon after her arrival she came and we had a good talk in a lounge of my delightful residence. She asked first if I was comfortable I assured her that I was and again expressed my thanks for this most unexpected development. She replied that I should not have been surprised, because she had promised to build me a house long before. Then I remembered something too. I said “That was a long time ago, some time in the 1970’s and I dimly remember saying I would be your Chairman of something what was that?” She seemed delighted. “You promised,” she said, “you would be Chairman of my Holistic Healing Centre,” and she immediately called Helen in and told her that she had made me Chairman of the Centre that she hoped to open at the end of the year. Helen expressed pleasure at my appointment and said she would have to get the Architect in to make a change to his plans to include an office for me, there. She seemed a little surprised about Janny saying that it would be opened at the end of the year. The real estate manager was not only surprised, but 100% sceptical.
Janny who was always busy as well as optimistic, did not stay long. She had to go down to Melbourne to inspect the progress of her bathing project at St Kilda and to see Sabrina who was still at school in Melbourne. Oyster Cove proved a delightful place to spend the worst winter months, always seeming to have sunny skies and warm weather. Although the Sai Centre at Oyster Cove would be something for the future, there were already several ones not far away to which I was able to go at least once a week, while I was there.
My health began to show the signs of my advancing years towards the middle of the next year, that is, 1999 and I was not able to travel to Oyster Cove until about the middle of July. However, I stayed for a longer period although there were further signs of deteriorating health. It was sometime during the month of September that Joan Moylan, who was living at Paradise Point, not far from Oyster Cove, came to my house to give me a session with my wife, Iris. It was not only very enjoyable, but a very instructive sance. Iris came and sat, facing us, in the chair that we had provided for her against the wall, about two and a half metres from where we were sitting. Then my mother walked in with her Bible under her arm. Iris immediately got up and offered her the chair, coming and sitting nearer to us on the foot of a bed. Other people began to appear, including my two deceased sisters and Iris’ deceased mother, Eve. Then Sathya Sai Baba was suddenly there standing beside the chair, now occupied by my mother. It seemed a good chance to ask him a very important question, because, as there seemed no prospect of the Holistic Centre being opened that year, I was beginning to doubt if I would be able to do the job offered by Janny. So I asked Sathya Sai Baba if I would be well enough to take the position of Chairman when the Holistic Centre opened. His reply came in three words, “In name only.” Soon after that he disappeared from the room but we had a very interesting session with unexpected visitors. I believe that was the time when a line of my ancestors appeared along one wall and Joan said she knew they were ancestors of several generations but was not able to identify them by name. At the close of the session they all formed a queue to touch the feet of Sai Baba, who had reappeared. I felt very pleased that my deceased ancestors of several generations were on the journey home to God.
I felt that I must let Janny know what Sathya Sai Baba had said about my position of Chairman so that she could think about getting somebody else to fill the position. I knew that Helen was expecting her in Oyster Cove during the next week. I must find an opportunity to talk to her and explain the position; she would, I knew, be very busy talking to those who were already working on the Oyster Cove project, turning ‘negative energy into positive energy,’ as she called it. On her second day in Oyster Cove I went for lunch with her and a number of her friends at a 1st-class restaurant at Sanctuary Cove, a short drive away from Oyster Cove. I managed to tell her there that I needed to talk to her and she understood that I could not do so there among all the other people, so when we drove along Tay Court to her big house and everybody else had dispersed, she took me by the arm and led me to the double swing overlooking the lake. I did not waste any time because I knew her days were always busy solving problems and smoothing the way to the progress of the Oyster Cove development. So I told her just what Sathya Sai Baba had said, that I would be able to fill the position of Chairman in name only. She realised as I did, that there were problems holding up the building of the Holistic Centre and neither of us were sure how many years would pass before it could be built, because now a new road had to be put in before she could get official permission to begin the earth-moving and to lay the foundations for the building that would be the heart and very purpose of the Oyster Cove Health Centre.
Janny sat silent for a while looking out over the Lake as we swung gently backwards and forwards. Suddenly she turned, looked into my eyes and said “Howard, if you can be Chairman in name only and in spirit, that will be all I need, after all, if sometime in the future I need a more active businessman as a Chairman, I can always appoint a Deputy,” she patted me on the arm in a friendly manner and concluded, “So you are still Chairman of the Holistic Centre as well as of the Oyster Cove Sai Centre when the time comes to form it.” I was surprised and very gratified that this wonderful Chinese lady whom I had loved like a sister for so many years still wanted to have me officially connected with the Holistic Centre for which Sathya Sai Baba had given his blessing. ‘Holistic’ is a New-Age word that seems to embrace ‘whole’ and ‘holy’, a healing that makes people whole and holy, a work that is both spiritual and practical and I felt, she might eventually find somebody more qualified to lead such a work for God.
So I will end this chapter with the happy memory of sitting and swinging gently over the edge of the shining lake, beside the wonderful lady I had met so many years ago, over a counter in a shop, in Northbridge Road, Singapore.
Reference:: “The Lights of Home” by Howard Murphet
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