By Foo Jie Ying
The NTU campus may be home to many iconic buildings, but it is a nondescript walkway near Canteen 2 that is significant to Malcolm Loh (NBS/1991) and his wife Phuah Sock Pin (NBS/1991).
That was “where it all began” for the couple, who met in 1988 as accountancy students. Today, the couple are accountants.
On this walkway, Sock Pin and her friend had approached Malcolm and his friend with the intention of forming a group for class assignments that semester. “The first thing Malcolm said to me was, ‘Are you in my class?’ He didn’t recognise us,” says Sock Pin, 53.
Without missing a beat, Malcolm, 55, pipes in: “In my defence, there were so many girls and only a handful of guys in our course, so I didn’t really recognise her.”
It was hardly a romantic moment, but one that paved the way to their marriage of three decades. The couple married in 1992 and have two children Rachel, 27, and Mark, 26.
“Some would say it’s fate, but for us, we believe (as Christians) that someone is in control of everything,” Malcolm says.
That encounter at the walkway is merely one of a few happy coincidences that brought the couple together.
Both Malcolm and Sock Pin did not think they would end up reading accountancy – he initially dreamt of becoming a lawyer while she, a doctor. Not only did they end up in the same accountancy course at NTU, then known as the Nanyang Technological Institute, but also in the same tutorial class.
“For some reason, the school decided to deviate from its usual practice of sorting students into tutorial classes by surnames in alphabetical order, so the both of us ended up in the same class,” Sock Pin explains.
The two of them even ended up in the same project group, though not exactly by choice. Their “kiasu” coursemates were quick to form groups among themselves, and Sock Pin and her friend realised that Malcolm and his friend were the only two other people who did not have a group yet.
Being in the same project group meant the two of them spent more time together working on assignments, even though Sock Pin stayed in Hall 2 while Malcolm stayed in Hall 5, which used to be located a distance away from the campus.
Finding love on campus
That first year was spent sizing each other up, says Malcolm. “To be honest, when we first met, I never really noticed her. But when her hair started growing longer, I started noticing her and thought she looked not bad with long hair.” Sock Pin quips: “Now the truth is all coming out. So shallow, right?”
Sparks flew – according to Malcolm, at least – in December 1988, at his 21st birthday party that he invited his classmates to, including Sock Pin. “I was playing the guitar at the party. My friend later told me as a neutral observer that she was blushing and told me, ‘Got chance.’ I started to drop more hints,” he recalls.
Protesting, Sock Pin says: “But I blush at everything!” Adding that it was “probably a reflex reaction” because of her shy nature. Things between them progressed organically. “It was important to me that my partner share the same background and faith, and it just so happened that Malcolm had both.”
With a heavy workload and a lack of transport options at the time, the couple spent most of their time on campus.
“Our special place was the restaurant at the (now-defunct) Staff Club. It’s a cosy place and had a nice ambience, although the food’s a bit pricier. We would go there once every two months,” says Malcolm of the restaurant formerly located at the Sports and Recreation Centre.
The couple continued dating in their second and third year at NTU and graduated in 1991 – their graduation photo was taken on a bridge at the Yunnan Garden.
Malcolm and Sock Pin's graduation photo taken on a bridge at the Yunnan Garden in 1991.
The bridge may no longer be there but thankfully, the walkway near Canteen 2 remains. Malcolm even had the opportunity to walk down memory lane when he sent his daughter to the National Institute of Education for her postgraduate diploma recently.
Says Sock Pin: “I still can’t believe the first thing Malcolm said to me was to ask if we were in the same class. But it’s something to look back at and laugh about. That’s what life should be, to take things with humour.”