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Wednesday, 24 June 2009

1966 - the vi teachers

(Click on pictures for enlarged view).

The line up of teachers in Form 1 North was:-

Class,English,Art - Mrs.Chong Hong Chong,College Trained
Maths - Mr.T.Rajaratnam,College Trained
History - Mr.Kok Hee Fatt,R.T.C. Trained
Geography - Mr.Teh Mun Hing,R.T.C. trained
National Language - Cikgu Noran,Language Inst.Trained
General Science - Mr. Loong Nyi,R.T.C Trained

None was a graduate, but they lacked in nothing for that. The system was such that you had monthly tests, as well as mid-year and final term exams. And lots of homework! Even if you were involved in official school extra-curricular activities, the teachers brooked no excuses. They were constantly on your back, to make up for whatever they lacked in making you fully understand the topics as not every teacher was an excellent communicator.

It was a system that worked well because the teachers cared and kept you on your toes. That saved you from last minute cramming for tests and exams. It also gave you more time to work on your ‘grey area’ topics and revisions before the end-of- the- year exams.

English was the medium of teaching and essay style answering for History, General Science and Geography was in force. By the time we reached Form 3, additional ‘objective question papers’ and 2HB pencils came into vogue for Maths, History and Geography. The short answering system now used ubiquitously is one of the main reasons for the decline in English language standards over the last 40 years.

I have already written about Mrs. Chong and her diligence in drilling into us the rudiments of English language, though she had her odd cranky moments too. I was reminded by A.Ramachandran about an incident involving Teoh Siang Chin (now doctor and ex-President of the MMA). While Mrs. Chong was blathering on about prepositions and conjunctions (another of those really interesting topics like the sex life of the Malayan rhinoceros beetle) Chin’s gaze was affixed in the direction of the Sports Pavilion clearly visible through the open doors of 1 North. When pounced upon by Mrs.Chong, Teoh, startled out of his reverie, blurted as he pointed with his fingers, "Two dogs fighting teacher there!”.

No,” corrected Mrs.Chong, “You mean, Teacher, I was distracted by two dogs copulating over there by the Sports Pavilion,” as she copped him a couple over the ears and thrust and ground her English Grammar Textbook in his face!

Teh taught us this cute little trick of making small cardboard cut-outs of the outlines of country maps which you could use when taking down Geography notes. This was a great help for students like me, whose magnificent free-hand drawing of the map of peninsular Malaya was once famously described by relief teacher Mrs. Lee as ‘Whoa, what have we here? Picasso? A real jambu looking bulging brinjal’! Mrs. Lee was one of those female teachers whom even the F1 boys would check out as we passed her along the school corridors! Ask Cheah and Fong, and they will fall over laughing when reminded of Teh’s peculiar pronouncing of ‘Wanganui’, ‘Taranaki’ and ‘Rotorua’ when introducing NZ geography. Teh was strict, but fair.

T. Rajaratnam was of course of the same ‘fire and brimstone’ mould as Valentine Manuel. He was also the revered School Cricket Master and coached hockey as well. But, unfortunately, by the time he came upon our batch, he had lost one leg below the knee, to cancer. So, it was a somewhat subdued Raja who taught us Euclid’s and Pythagoras’ theorems. The feather duster was his weapon, though in 1966 Raja wielded it relatively sparingly. Sadly, Raja succumbed to terminal cancer in 1967 at a very young age.

I still believe that this ‘old’ system of teaching Maths from foundation, theorems and proofs leads to a better understanding of the subject as well as to a nimbler mind. This is as opposed to the modern method of heading straight to the solution and short-cuts to solving problems. Only a month ago, my neighbour’s son who is in F2 came to seek some help from me on ‘construction methods’ with compass, protractor and all. It was clear the teacher had not shown him why the construction of the 60 degrees or 30 degrees angles from right-angles and arcs was correct. ‘In the old days’ Raja would have first talked about the equilateral triangle and then proceeded to ‘prove’ his construction as ‘100%’ correct’ QED! (Or am I the odd one out, old fashioned?).

Now, Kok Hee Fatt was a different kettle of fish. He would blow hot and he would blow cold. He eschewed the lecture style of teaching for the blackboard. You had to copy his History notes rapidly. The chalk duster in his left hand would fly in pursuit of the rapidly moving chalk in his right hand like hounds after a panting fox in bloodsport hunt. But he came prepared for his lessons as the facts were a lot more than you could get from your text-book.

Once, he had given us some homework to be handed in the following day. Now, we have all had this experience where we would take extra, extra, extra care to pack the homework book in our satchels the night before so that we would not have to earn the wrath of the teacher. And the following day, sure enough, when the time came, the History homework book was missing from my bag (I found it later under my work table at home)??!! I panicked when Kok confronted me. I pleaded that I had actually completed the homework in class the previous day before going home. Kok not only laughed but sneered as well. He smelled a kill! Kok was famous for his stomach corkscrew twist-pinch and I stood there white-faced and zombified, not unlike a hypnotised rat waiting to be swallowed whole by a python or anaconda!!

Just when all seemed lost, my good friend Kow Yoke Wah (I don’t know what possessed him, but I would have given him the Victoria Cross were it within my powers to do so) stood up and blurted out that what I said was true (and it was). That saved my bacon! Yoke Wah’s wealthy family operated a chicken farm at the back of Imbi Road Postal and Football field. As far back as Standard 4 in PRES 1, I would walk with him from his ‘farm’ to the mamak bookshops in Jalan Imbi to buy the latest editions of Enid Blyton’s ‘Secret Seven’, ‘Five Find Outers’, ‘Famous Five’ etc, and after reading them, exchange books with him. Later, Abdul Jalil, another '66 virgin, lived in the upstairs of one of these mamak shops, as did Santhiranathan and his elder brother, Mr.Selvanathan, a BSc who taught Additional Maths in VI in 1970!

Kok Hee Fatt was also in charge of the Under 13 Football team which I captained in 1966. (You can see that gained me no favours with him). The team included one, a then relatively shy and unknown, Mokhtar Dahari! I shall devote a full posting on Mokhtar Dahari the legend, later, and about how we almost came to blows in Form 2!

Our team won all the preliminary inter-school games, some by huge margins. The matches would have been played under a Sahara sun with the mercury steaming out of the thermometer!! Just to rub it in at home matches, Kok would get us all to run a couple of times more round the 400m athletics track and up and down the hill slopes, AFTER a full 90-minutes inter-school match. This would be done in full view of the defeated opposition which would still be panting and quaffing from plastic cups the post-match iced lemonade supplied in plastic pails by Tuck Shop Boss Man, who attended most of the soccer matches played on home ground, especially the Under-20 games. (He once turned up in Kuala Kangsar to witness the annual VI-MCKK soccer showdown, such was his enthusiasm, devotion and support for VI soccer! In later years we would, during centralised Hockey Training, flirt with his friendly and giggly daughter Ivy, who helped out at the Tuck Shop and brought the iced drinks on to the field as well). There is a cricketing term and strategy invented by Alan Border, ex-Oz Test Cricket Captain (1984-94), called ‘Mental Disintegration’ meaning, to further grind into the dust and grime an opponent already facing humiliating defeat. Kok was clearly way ahead of his time!

But in the finals against St,John’s Institute, played on a somewhat wet and muddy soccer pitch at Brickfields Road School, we were unexpectedly undone 2-0 by the brilliance of SJI’s Johnny Loon Tsai, who in later years played for Selangor Schools. I had performed dismally. Our team included, besides myself as centre forward and Mokhtar Dahari as inside left, other regulars like ‘Thunderkicks’ Fong, left winger Amiruddin, Sallehuddin, Indran, Shook Keong, Liow Soo Chong as goalkeeper, Ket Chong, Balraj and Abu Bakar (who scored the winning goal for us in the U11 finals played at Merdeka Stadium between PRES1 and Prices Road Primary School in 1964). There was also Ee Beng Yew (2nd goalkeeper), who unleashed an amazing, brilliant and winning 45m drop kick goal from beyond the half-way line at the Royal Selangor Grounds to secure a famous Dr.Lewis Trophy Rugby Finals win against RMC in 1970.

Kok did not attend that final U13 final as it was inexplicably played during school hours (10 a.m.) a few days before the end of 1st Term. When I returned to school and gave him the bad news, he was furious and ordered me to report the result to HM, Mr.V.Murugasu. That’s when my better instincts got a firm grip on my regimented senses. I pretended to head in the direction of the HM’s office upstairs and when Kok was out of sight, veered to my classroom. I knew better than to approach Muru with such bad news, the reward for which would have been nothing less than six of the best! For the next couple of days, Kok would look quizzically at me, wondering why I looked normal, if not cheerful, after a visit to Muru’s office!!

But for all that, to paraphrase Bill Cosby’s message to his wife, “I love him more today than I ever did back then all those 43 years ago when he ordered me to go to Muru as the sacrificial lamb’!! Ha, ha! Sometimes, when I lie awake late at night in bed, the ghost of a smile would stretch my face, and a chuckle or two would leap out, which would have my wife querying if I’d finally lost it!

Loong was good at General Science and popular with all the boys. Again, respect was given whether they were strict or not. Rarely did we go overboard with any of these teachers. Once a month we would have a double-period session when we could ask him any (reasonable) question on science and he would answer it. To my amazement he patiently explained to the class my smart-arse question about how trees became petrified (like us F1 students when Manuel or Murugasu appeared). I still don’t understand it!

Form 1 hockey also came under Loong’s portfolio, but there was no inter-school competition (only Under 15). I remember him warning me about deliberately under-cutting the ball, which, if one was not careful about, could cause serious injury to someone on the field. But, such unsporting behaviour was never in my mind. I explained to him that the grass had not been cut on the practising pitch, and so whenever I took a big swipe at the ball, it was already sitting on top of a plateau waiting to do a ‘Houston, we have lift-off’! We graduated from 'firewood' hockey sticks in PRES to zinging Indian 'Chakravarti' and Pakistani 'Karachi King Super' brands which we cherished ownership of, like Gold!

We were prepared well by Loong for the final term exams and I fancied that I was above average in science. Unfortunately, the paper was set by Valentine Manuel. To this day, I think Manuel deliberately set that question which had everyone reaching for the scoped Magnum 45 with the cyanide tipped dum-dum bullets that would make a narrow pinpoint entry in the frontal lobe of the skull, but blow everything out the back, leaving a gaping hole in the rear of the head the size of the Grand Canyon. The cyanide was added to make sure the job would be done if by some miracle the victim still survived the blast. If we had a handheld grenade launcher with heat seeking missiles attached, we would have brought that into play as well, just to be absolutely sure!

The famous exam question was “What are the two systems?” I swear that is exactly as it was framed 43 years ago. No more, no less!

This stumped me when I first read it and so I moved on to other questions. I had a spare couple of minutes towards the end, and wrack my brains as I would, I could not crack it. What 2 systems? Chain and Pulley? Eastern & Western? Science and Religion? English & Malay? 5-3-2 and 4-4-2? It eventually dawned on me that it must have something to do with Science. Feet and Inches? My desperate Genting Casino answer was Centigrade and Fahrenheit. Boing! Wrong!

Well, Manuel’s answer was CGS and FPS systems – Centimetre, Gram, Second and Foot, Pound, Second. Maybe 3 guys out of a total of 180 students got it right, and that too I would wager was by pure guesswork. It was nowhere in out textbooks or notes. You lost 1/2 mark if you did not submit the abbreviated answers or include 'systems'!! In a competitive school like VI, the difference between the prize-winner and the next 20 top scorers could be as little as two marks!

Cikgu Noran was the quieter type and spoke English well. But the rules for learning Malay were simple. You could not speak in English during his classes or use modified English words in comprehension exercises or essay-writing. Even ‘Hospital’ was disallowed. It had to be ‘Rumah Sakit’. We learnt pure, unbastardised Malay. Where now is the ‘Campaign for Pure Malay Language?’ In tatters, that’s where! Noran also stood in as cricket coach for the junior squad. He really had no real knowledge of or enthusiasm for Cricket. But he would nevertheless turn up punctually for all the practice sessions and stay till the end. That was enough for the students who were often coached by the senior players like Zainon Mat, who eventually captained the Malaysian national team.

And that was the thing about those teachers. They would turn up in numbers for the practices, inter-school games and society meetings late afternoon. I don’t know if they were paid any allowances for these after-school activities, but such dedication deserves being worshipped. These days, students could count themselves lucky if the teachers made it to the classroom during normal school hours consistently! No doubt, The HM, Muru’s, leadership was the driving force, but the commitment from the teachers then was unwavering and awe inspiring.

As for Valentine Manuel, what can I say? We all had a love-hate relationship with him. At sharp 7.25 a.m. you could hear the ‘phut, phut, phut’ as his smoky Yamaha or Honda struggled up the hill to get to the parking area and to class or the Sports Pavilion (he was in charge of PE classes, Physical Exercise, as well as Athletics) before Muru spotted him. It was obvious he had splashed talcum powder on wet face in a hurry, because it caked in splotches on his cheeks. And he walked like a snorting, stalking bull which intimidated even the hard-crusted Rex Theatre 08 (Kosong Lapan) gangsters in school. Amazing that he later successfully gave up teaching for the legal profession!

The fact that he was not my General Science teacher did not mean I was spared his rod. Among my hand-me-downs was a well-thumbed copy of the Form 1 General Science textbook, which had been revised. So, before Loong’s lessons started, I would dash over to 1 East and borrow the new edition from fun loving and cheeky Michael Nettleton (ex-PRES 2) who was in the same football squad as I. Michael was poetry in motion in the 110m high hurdles. He had an elder brother, Harold Nettleton, who had some run ins with Manuel. The Nettletons had Portuguese blood. Michael was among Manuel’s ‘favoured’ students and across the length and breadth of the corridor we could hear the frequent calls of ‘Come to the front, De Melo’ followed by the thwack, thwack , thwack of feather duster on school pants. De Melo is a slang for the Portuguese, I believe.

As bad luck would have it, Manuel spotted me borrowing Michael’s book. Manuel had seen me before on the football field, but that cut no ice with him. We were both summoned to the front of 1 East and received 3 cuts from his infamous feather duster on our palms, in front of the whole class which had no idea why we were being Manuelized. I don’t recall if I said sorry to Michael, but that evening I begged my grandfather to use his Court and Police connections to have Manuel arrested under the ISA and locked up forever!!

On another occasion, it so happened that a taxi disgorged its passengers in the main porch of the school while classess were in session. I North was the 2nd class to the right of the porch and 1 West, the 2nd on the left. In between were 1 South and 1 East, with 1 South and 1 East separated by the main hall way leading to the common corridor. Just after that period was over, in stormed Manuel, and without so much as an ‘excuse me Mrs. Chong’ demanded that all those sitting in the row immediate to the porch side step out. Nine were each given 3 strokes of the best for failing to inform the taxi driver that it was against school rules to drop off passengers at the main porch, followed by Manuel’s ringing ‘Damn swine, now you will learn!’ All students seated in similar rows in the others 3 Form 1’s also received the same punishment. Fortunately, I was in the second row! But for the rest of the year, we all kept one ear and one eye in the direction of the main porch whatever lessons were on. We were terrorised and half stressed out by Manuel’s unpredictable mood swings.

But perhaps it is that incident over ‘Manual Labour’ headlines in the NST that takes the cake.

The school field tended to get waterlogged after even a moderate downpour and so plans were drawn up to lay pipes to improve the drainage system. Presumably some Engineers had been engaged to carry out the survey and draw up the master plans. One fine day, all those in F1 – 5 were told we would have combined PE classes the following week. Other lessons were re-scheduled to accommodate it. When we assembled on the field that Tuesday morning, there stood Manuel, with engineering plans in hand, and directed us to assist the school ‘Mandors’ to gather changkuls, dig, fill up coconut-fibre baskets and deposit mud and earth by the land at the edge of the field! The grass was marked over with turpentine and chunam (limestone) for the drainage lines. This went on for a few days with different batches of students, before someone leaked it to the Press (I swear it wasn’t me or my brother). 'Breaking News' screamed the NST and Malay Mail with pictures and all. The School denied it, but as sure as the sun rises in the East, it happened!

I noted some years later that Manuel reserved this ogre pose for the fresh batch of Form 1 students. It got much easier and relaxed with Manuel in Forms 2 and 3.

The other new thing we encountered in Form 1 was swimming lessons. VI was the only secondary school in Selangor, probably in the whole of Malaysia too, with a 25m enclosed swimming pool within the school compound. Some years later, we would climb on to the flat open roof-top of the pool to watch for free Malaysia Cup Soccer matches being played at night in Merdeka Stadium as we had a clear view from atop over the school side of the fence and walls that separated the stadium from the school.

Before that I would occasionally head to the Weld Road Public Swimming Pools (at the back of the now defunct Edam Seafood Restaurant) where the Pavilion Mall now stands, for a dip with friends for 20 cents entrance charge. I took to chlorinated water like the Apache Red Indian to soap bath. I would immediately get into sneezing fits.

Swimming lessons as the 1st or 2nd period in the morning sure was a bitch!

We had to don proper swimming trunks AND approved rubber swimming caps in the changing rooms, wet ourselves in the freezing common showers, dip our feet in the chemical bath and then line up by the pool side by which time Sawn Off Broomstick Handle (SOBH – refer to posting on 8/6/09) would be waiting for us. If it was a particularly windy or chilly morning, that, as SOBH said ‘is your bloody problem, I’m not your fairy godmother’.

Many made the fatal mistake of turning up for the first ever lesson without swimming caps.

SOBH’s punishment for that oversight was two full-swing resounding thwacks on the meaty part of the buttocks with a sawn off broomstick handle. Thus another legend was born. Among the legendees who wore the painful welts and bruises for a week or more were TA Mohan (now consultant surgeon), Teh Kim Hock and Mac Kean Boon.

They were culled like poor, innocent baby seals in a Norwegian slaughter fest frenzy! I and others like Fong and Cheah escaped the massacre as we had borrowed approved rubber swimming caps from elder brothers in VI!!

Scoreline: SOBH 2, PRES 0 !!

- to be continued.
AKAN DATANG - what's the connection between Awang Goneng and Judo? And what has the great Eusabio to do with Ramasamy? Ramasamy who? you say? TUNE IN 1st JULY 2009

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

1966 - the virgins' year. getting to vi and form 1 north.

Officially, school opened on 10th January 1966. It was a Monday. But there was no Assembly at the School Hall that Monday. This was deferred to the following Monday, so as to give sufficient time for new students in Forms 1, 4 and Lower 6 to settle in, and more importantly, to learn the School Song and other protocols, especially the voluminous ‘School Rules’.

Some of us approached the gates of Victoria Institution (VI) with some trepidation and some anger too, that morning. We had been initiated (and how!!) into a new disciplinary system even before secondary school had started and we were officially ‘Victorians’. (Refer blog of 8th June 2009 - an auspicious beginning). I was still seething in well-disguised anger, and thoughts of law suits raced through my mind every now and then. The fact that my grandfather worked at the Hill Court and my maternal grandfather was a lawyer must have had something do with that arrogant, juvenile attitude!

By comparison, life in Pasar Road English School 1 (PRES 1) had been a holiday camp filled with fun and parties; a wonderful dream. I lived in the Govt Quarters in Jalan Pelandok in a single-storey semi-detached house with ample green and angsana, frangipani and jambu trees in front, side and at the rear of the house. My immediate neighbour was a Malay family with 3 girls and 2 boys, one of whom, Din, was of the same age as I. Morning school sessions would commence at 7.30 and Din and I would leave our homes at 7.15 and walk the short 50 metres to school. Our primary school system was such that we would switch with PRES 2 in July, from completely morning to completely afternoon sessions. The morning session would stretch from 7.30 to 12.30 and the afternoon from 1.00 p.m. to 6 p.m.

VI, with its single morning session system, was a whole new ball game and getting there, a strain on my nerves.

My elder brother and I would wake up at 5.30 a.m., brush teeth and attend to toilet calls and functions, have a quick bath in freezing cold water #1, get dressed, swallow a couple of slices of bread with butter and jam washed down with coffee (not tea, Ovaltine, Horlicks, or Milo) prepared by Mum, exit the front door by 6 a.m. and quick-march the quarter mile to the School Bus stop near Star Theatre opposite the Pudu Market in Pasar Road. That last time I drove by, that spot was occupied by a RHB Bank branch.

The rickety and smoky School Bus, operated by the Toong Foong Bus Company, would arrive at sharp 6.15. The same silent Indian driver and bespectacled Chinese conductor/ticket collector served us from 1966-1970. The Chinaman wore a pyjama kind of shirt and draw-string long pants, always, and was for the most part sullen and rude. But he warmed up to the regulars in later years. The driver, however, remained the Henry Fonda strong silent type till the last! Neither spoke English, so we communicated in broken Malay. We never knew their names, but we named the Chinaman, Psycho, and later affectionately, as Gila (mad)! Rare was the occasion when either one of them smiled, or God forbid, laughed. It must have been a terribly hard and stressful vocation. And we boys were not exactly the easiest lot to handle, especially on the journey home when we could be pretty boisterous.

You either bough the Monthly Pass or paid cash daily (15 cents) for the tickets. From the 1st pick-up point in Pasar Road, the bus would collect VI students on its way through Cochrane Road, double back through Shelley Road past Convent Peel Road (Girls’) School and turn left into the junction where Kedai Arak Tsin Tsin (Tsin Tsin Liquor Shop) and the Cheras PWD grounds stand. Tsin Tsin was owned by the family of my PRES 1 classmate, Tan Seng Tee, who also made it to VI. The family lived on the 2nd floor of the timber constructed ‘coffee shop’. Seng Tee, who was among the top students as well as a scout and junior librarian, left for Down Under in 1971 after the F5 MCE exams. I managed to contact him after a hiatus of some 40 years; he’s now a finance and biz consultant and was a biggie accountant/FC type at the Stock Exchange in Sydney.

From Cheras the bus would make a beeline in the direction of Pudu, passing on its right the Pudu Post Office and on its left the Pudu Fire Station, Railway Station Eurasian Recreation Club and turn left into Shaw Road at Pudu Prison (opposite Berjaya Times Square which was then the palatial home and grounds of, Loke Yew?). The elevated highway and flyover just before Klinik Leela Ratos after Tsin Tsin were still some years off in the future.

About 50m after the left turn at Pudu Prison, the bus would hang a right at the roundabout, exit left, speed 50 m and turn left into Jalan Stadium Negara and drop off the VI students just outside the school gates at the top of the hill at the back of Stadium Negara. If you missed the School Bus, you were in trouble. The commercial buses which stopped, dropped and picked up passengers all along stops that route would not get you to VI on time. That meant an inevitable confrontation with the Prefect on duty just inside the school gates to apprehend latecomers, and, nightmarish DC (Detention Class).

Which meant missing the noon School Bus and possibly a 3 mile walk in the burning sun after crossing the Pudu Railway Tracks, to home in Jalan Pelandok. Worse still, DC in VI was rarely just ‘write 1000 lines why I must not be late for school’. It possibility meant polishing all the door hinges at the School Hall, sweeping the leaves, branches and debris and clearing the drains at the main car park or tidying up the School Pavilion and store-rooms there. However, the crème de la crème punishment of it all was the dreaded cleaning out the squatting stalls and urinals at the boys’ toilet, affectionately referred to as 206 from the municipality number plate at its stinky entrance!

Most of us would be in our classrooms by 7. After placing your schoolbag on the chair (you could not leave it on the floor or desk – against school rule no. 2,000,065) you would have to attend to one of the morning duties assigned to you by your Class Monitor. These duties could be any of sweeping clean the classroom, wiping clean the blackboards in front and back of the room with a damp cloth, dusting the duster free of chalk dust on the cement top of drains outside the classroom (and hiding the feather duster) and ensuring new chalk was laid out on the wooden running board for the teachers, polishing the door hinges either at the classroom or the School Hall, wiping clean the classroom doors and glass panels or arranging the desks and chairs in straight rows. The arty students would be assigned to write and colour up the ‘saying of the week’ or some famous quotation.

All this had to be done every day (Mon-Fri) before the Prefects came at 7.15 onwards to award marks to determine who won the ‘Cleanest Classroom of the Week’ competition. The winner would be announced during School Assembly every Monday, whence the respective Class Monitor would proudly walk up to the stage to receive the plaque from the HM, in front of the whole school. Some took this competition so seriously, so much so that a precedent was set in 1968 or 1969, when an enterprising Class Monitor got all his classmates to chip in to buy paint and paraphernalia and had their classroom completely re-painted by themselves! All those from the ‘Dirtiest Classroom of the Week’ would end up in DC.

As soon as you finished your chores, you either headed for a quick snack at the Tuck Shop (nasi lemak, fried mee hoon, mee rebus, laksa, buns, toast, tea, coffee, iced orange squash, bottled pop drinks) or trudged towards the spot assigned in the Quadrangle to line up with your classmates for the 7.30 bell to ring. The official School Bell Ringer, a student, would be appointed every year from one of the classes nearest to the School Office on the 1st Floor, for this purpose. This same guy was responsible for sounding the bell to mercifully end the 45 minutes subject periods! You could not return to your classroom, loiter around the corridors, Tuck Shop, or anywhere else once the Prefects marched out in numbers and asked you to go ‘line up’.

Once you lined up, you could not horse around or chat with your classmates. If spotted by a Prefect, you could be let off with a stern warning or be put down for DC. If spotted by one of the ‘strict’ teachers, or worse still, the HM who would often be patrolling the upper corridors before the bell sounded, it usually meant six of the best!.

Of course, new students like us had no classroom or spot at the Quadrangle to line up. So, we were directed to the School Hall and sat on the floor. Our bags were filled with new text books, exercise books, pencil boxes and the like, We had been given the book lists during the December holidays and had bought all the necessary stuff at the VI Book Shop in that room at the back of the School Hall near the dungeons where ghosts of prisoners tortured to death by the Japanese in 1944-45 are said to still roam at night. We also shopped in specialist stores like Anthonian Book Store in Brickfields or the mamak ones near Naina Mohammad opposite Bangkok Bank near the Central Market. In my case, there were several hand-me-downs from my brother.

Surprisingly for us, the first day of VI was chaotic. The list of F1 students and assigned classes were not up on the school notice board. So, all these new faces, teachers, were running up and down the staircase leading to the School Office, trying to sort out the unexpected hooha with the Chief Clerk, the evergreen Mr. Richard Pavee and his assistant, Ms. Anna Yap (who later became Mrs. Anna Pavee). Meanwhile, we were moved from the School Hall to the School Refectory (opposite the Tuck Shop) as the HM did not like the cacophony there. The Refectory was part mess hall, part study room and used in the afternoons for inter-class debates and other society meetings. The following year, it was converted into the Junior Library. Others took refuge in the shade of the Basketball Court next to the School Hall, shepherded over by some Prefects.

Eventually the list emerged. We were divided into 4 groups with the classes named after the 4 compass directions. I, together with Cheah and Fong from PRES 1 ended up in Form 1 North with pals like Ng Chee Peng, TA Mohan, Kwan Poh Woh, Kow Yoke Wah, cousins Mac Kean Boon and Mac Yin Tee, and others. Balraj and Indran were placed in 1 South and Liow Soo Choong (No.1 sprinter/athlete, soccer goalkeeper and table-tennis player), a close pal from PRES 1, in 1 East. After F 5 in 1970, Liow, due to family circumstances, started work at the newly opened casino at Genting as Croupier who rose up the ranks to Supervisor, Casino Executive, Casino Shift Manager, Slot Shift Manager and Admin & Training Manager. When he retired from Genting last year, he had been the Assistant Vice-President of Surveillance for the previous 6 years. He was recalled from retirement by his friend and ex-superior officer to help him out in Resorts World Sentosa in S'pore. The majority of the 45 students in F1 North were from PRES 1 and 2. A few others like Rama (now Retd. Major) and Sallehuddin came from schools like Batu Road, Maxwell and Brickfields.

Our class teacher was Mrs. Chong Hong Chong who led us to our classroom on the ground floor just opposite the HM’s, Teachers’ and Staff staircase next to the School Hall. We were thus guaranteed that the HM and every teacher would pass by our class at least twice a day. We were cowed even before we had settled in! Mrs. Chong was still single then, but later that year or the following year, she married another teacher from PRES 2.

Mrs. Chong immediately began to mark attendance. When she came across my mile long name, she casually dubbed me ‘Longfellow’ which caused me to blush and cringe as the others burst out in guffaws. I silently cursed my father!

But, Mrs. Chong drummed and laid into our thick heads the foundations of English grammar, vocabulary, comprehension and essay writing and for that, no amount of thanks or praise could be too much!

But, I nevertheless exulted. My brother had warned me about a particular teacher to be avoided at all costs. I said a silent prayer of thanks to the Lord.

My General Science teacher was NOT Valentine Manuel!!

- to be continued

#1 I
had an over-enthusisatic disciplinarian-type uncle who insisted on us taking a cold bath every morning before heading for school. I use the word 'bath' loosely, since we did not have a long-bath or shower in the bathrooom. We had, as was common then, a huge glazed clay Chinese earth-brown colour pot with dragon motif on the outside and all, from which we drew the freezing tap water with a plastic scoop. The trick was to douse yourself with one scoop of water, soap like lightning, fling another two scoops of water, grab the towel and shiver all the way to the room and don your uniform before you contracted some fatal lung disease or collapsed from hypothermia! Mercifully, my father, who was the senior brother, over-ruled my uncle, but not until the next year!

Monday, 8 June 2009

1965 - an auspicious beginning indeed!

(Click on picture for enlarged view)

Indran, Balraj, Chew Yoong Fong, Cheah Peng Keong and I met at the bus stop just outside Pasar Road English School (PRES) at 7.45 a.m. This Primary School at the junction of Jalan Rusa and Jalan Pelandok still exists and stands a short distance from the ancient Pudu Wet Market and Jalan Davis. In 1965, PRES consisted of the more modern brick and mortar 4-storey building as well as the old blocks of single-storey wooden ‘shacks.’ The Headmaster (HM) was Mr. Chew Ah Kong, an avid rugby fan. PRES 1 and 2 were among the leading Government schools in Kuala Lumpur then, along with St. Johns Institution, Batu Road, Maxwell, Methodist Boys’ and Brickfields schools.

The five of us boarded a Sri Jaya bus ( fare – 10 cents) which wound its way through Jalan Imbi and Bukit Bintang before reaching the interchange near Rex Theatre and Jalan Silang at the end of Jalan Pudu. The final stop for the Sri Jaya bus on this route would be by the side of the old Central Market. KL was then serviced by the Toong Foong Bus Company as well, but its buses did not ply the Imbi-Bukit Bintang route. We alighted at the bus stand just outside Kum Leng Restaurant in Jalan Pudu (diagonally across the road from Pavilion Theatre and Cathay Cinema) about a hundred metres before what is now the Pudu Raya Bus Terminal. From here we walked the half mile to Shaw Road and to the gates of Victoria Institution (VI) after crossing over the railway tracks opposite Stadium Negara.

It was the Saturday of the week before December school holidays commenced in 1965. We had completed our primary education and had all been awarded places in Form 1 at Victoria Institution. Fortunately for us, the long-standing Standard Six Government Examination had been abolished and we were among the first to ‘graduate’ to VI without having to sit for a mandatory public examination.

We had all been together since Standard 1 except for Indran who joined us in Standard 5. We were close because of our involvement in school soccer, hockey or athletics, and were genuinely sad at having to part ways with PRES 1, having had some wonderfully memorable years there. My good friend Rosli who lived in the Govt Quarters right at the end of Cochrane Road after Jalan Shelley, was a school football left-winger and sprinter who inexplicably missed the cut and ended up in Cochrane Road (secondary) School. I missed him. But he later found his way to RMC and would appear in their 4 x 100m inter-school relay team on VI Sports Days. There were also Rashid, Narendran, Kai Tak, Chen Fan Di and Yo Keng Fook (muti-talented, shy and gracious sporstman) with whom we sadly parted ways.

Cheah, Fong, Balraj and I had older brothers already schooling at VI. But we nevertheless stood in awe and trembled in fear at the mere mention of VI and its ‘legend in his own timeHM, Mr. V.Murugasu (Muru), the first Asian to occupy that exalted post.

I had never actually set foot in VI before that day. But famous PRES names like Zakaria (Zak) Shariff (soccer talisman and athlete), Yap Kian Fui (soccer/athletics), Wong Wei Wah, Wong Chee Seng, Chong Kwong Chin, Yap Kim Shin, Chong Kok Weng, Dave Chin Peng Hoon (football goalkeeper then, now of Dave’s Deli fame) 'Tiger' Thiagarajah (athlete) and Selvaraj (badminton) had made it there in earlier years and we took comfort that we had friends there. Once, Selvaraj had attended a badminton final at the VI school hall and rushed back to report ‘you know the VI singles player served the shuttle 40 feet high.’ I was in Standard 4 then and I tell you I could not quite grasp that and imagined VI had a school hall the size and height of an aeroplane hangar!

As we reached the VI porch at the bottom of the clock tower, I spotted the burly pear-shape challenged Syed Ali #1, my senior by a year at PRES. Ali was by then a six-footer (or so I imagined since I was on the shorter and skinnier side then) and was busy with his tuba or big drum and some School Band boys (or was he getting ready for Cadet Corps practice? My memory's a bit hazy here) in a classroom. It was astonishing to us that it was a Saturday morning and yet half the school population appeared to be present!

Ali guided us to the staircase to the right of the school hall just beyond the entrance after the porch. It led upstairs to the HM’s, Senior Assistant's and Administration offices as well as the Staff Room and upper secondary classrooms. Students were barred from using this staircase unless authorised by the HM. As we reached the bottom of the staircase, who should walk in from the other side of the long corridor? None but a serious looking VI HM, Mr.V.Murugasu, immaculately attired in a black pants and crispy long-sleeved white shirt with a red tie to boot and brilliantly polished black shoes and proper black socks. It was sharp 9 a.m.!

I can’t remember clearly, but I think all five of us took an involuntary step back as we spotted a long and dangerous looking rotan (cane) in ‘Muru’s’ right hand. Did he cast a shadow? My brother had already coached us to go prepared to meet Muru dressed in spotless white school uniforms, not to forget to wear our school badges and to use ‘Sir’ liberally when speaking to the HM. I only knew what Muru looked like from my brother’s copy of the VI school magazine, ‘The Victorian.’

I recall breaking out in sweat as I addressed Muru. As PRES 1 School Vice Captain, the spokesman’s job fell upon my shoulders. I pulled out the official letter signed by Mr.Chew from my short pants pocket, and handing it to Muru, explained that the five of us had missed the VI Entrance Examination the previous Saturday as we had been involved in the Selangor Inter Schools Under 12 Hockey Championship Final. Muru immediately shot back with ‘who won?’ It had been one of those matches where the superior and fancied team, us , lost by a freaky goal in a final against Princes Road Primary School contested at the playing field of Gurney Road Primary School. Balraj played at right wing, Indran at right half and myself at inside right. Fong and Cheah were the rocks of Gibraltar at defence and this is a position they held right through to our final year in VI in 1972!

(If I could have pulled out the envelope in mint condition 'from my short pants pocket' you have a fair idea of the elephantine FMS (Federation of Malaya Shorts) pants we wore in the '60's).

Muru beckoned us to follow him up the stairs to his office from where he summoned one of the Temporary Prefects (TP) with instructions to escort us to the classroom at the end of the corridor after the last science lab in the right wing of the main school E-shaped block. The TP, Chan Tak Kwong, a school swimmer, water polo as well as rugby player and 1st KL Asst. Scout Master was appointed to the permanent Prefects' Board in 1967. I remember him as he later emerged as my House Captain i.e. Hepponstall House. Tak Kwong had picked up the 2-hours test papers comprising general science, mathematics, history, geography and general knowledge questions and laid it out on desk tops for us to sweat it out. I can only recall one question from those papers – 'A group of planets is called (a) cosmos (b) galaxy (c) solar system (d) constellation (e) universe?'

When we finished, the TP collected our papers and told us we could go home. He also informed us that we would be advised which class in Form 1 we would be placed in when school re-opened in January 1966 (I ended up in Form 1 North). Not knowing our way around and out, we headed in the direction of Muru’s office and the staircase.
And that’s when it happened!
As we passed Muru’s, the adjoining Senior Assistant’s and Chief Clerk’s offices along the upper corridor, suddenly we heard a shout of “Stop right there you bloody buggers! What the devil do you think you are doing?”

We statuised like deer caught in the beams of a car’s headlights, not much unlike the privates when Sergeant Ernest Bilko, looking for volunteers for some hilariously unsavoury con scheme, would order, "Freeze, my heroes!"

“Do you think this is your grandfather’s school and you can walk about chit-chatting like you own this school? Which Form are you all in and who is your class teacher?” demanded a well dressed and presentable man who had his hair neatly combed in place and looked, well, trim, athletic and handsome. He was presumably a teacher since he had a bunch of school exercise books under one arm and some other text book in his right hand. His charming looks belied his fiery and hot-tempered nature!

‘No sir, we are from Pasar Road English School sir, and we came to sit for the Entrance Exam, sir. We have already seen Mr. Murugasu, sir,” I blurted out in a broken voice, already melting into a puddle on the floor.

Line up, line up in a straight line! The leader in front, the rest behind him in a straight line. Now! Move it! Faster, faster! My grandmother could beat you lot in the 100 metres dash, you idiots,” bellowed this teacher whom I shall only identify for obvious reasons as 'Mr. Sawn-off Broomstick Handle.'

Lightning could not have moved faster than us that time excepting some frisky, coltish grandmothers.

Sawn-off Broomstick Handle then proceeded to pull each of us in turn by our ears and administered two tight slaps on each cheek. ('Don't let me give you two tight slaps' was a favourite expression then among teachers).

“Line up when walking in groups along the school corridor. Learn the school rules. No chatting. You all understand that? This is not some half past six school you know. This is the best school in Malaysia, Victoria Institution! You are lucky I am in a good mood or else I might have taken you to meet up with the HM again. Now buzz off,” boomed Sawn-off Broomstick Handle who the following year turned out as our feared class swimming coach in Form 1.

“Thank you sir, thank you sir,” all five bleated as we bolted down the staircase and out beyond the VI school gates. We stormed in fury down to the bottom of the steep Stadium Negara road. On the right side of it, across the road and separated by a fence, stood the VI School Hostel. There we paused as I cursed, swore and screamed, “How dare he slap us, that bastard! We are not from VI yet. When I get home I’m going to complain to my grandfather who works in the Hill Court and knows the Chief Justice well. Make sure he goes to jail for life!”

How we flung four letter words and vile obscenities about and cast aspersions over Sawn-off Broomstick Handle's parentage that morning as we walked the two miles or so to the Central Market where we boarded another Sri Jaya bus for home. And swore oaths in memory of our ancestors in India and China to feed Sawn-off Broomstick Handle's goolies to the mangy pariah dogs in Pasar Road and his willy to the crocodiles in the Klang River after having his tortured and mutilated carcass drawn, quartered and salted!

As we reminisced over that incident on the last day of school in 1972, we laughed till our sides split.

Dei, don't play puks with us you know! Remember you were going to cut off Sawn-off Broomstick Handle's member? And when is your grandfather’s complaint going to be heard by the Chief Justice of Malaysia? Muahaha!”

By then we were 3 School Prefects (should have been all five), 1 School Captain, 1 School Football Captain, 1 Malaysia Under 18 Football Captain, 1 School Hockey Captain, 1 School Rugby Captain, 1 School Athletics Captain, 3 School Hockey Players, 2 Athletes, 1 School Cricketer, 1 Victor Ludorum, 1 Civics Society Chairman, 1 School Debater, 1 Seladang Sports Editor and 1 School Magazine Joint Editor.

Humble beginnings indeed!

by donplaypuks®

#1 I recently ran into Syed Ali at a VIOBA Annual Dinner and boy had he slimmed down and looked positively statesman-like!! Syed's family used to live in the Govt Quarters in Jalan Selatan across the famous 'drain' off Jalan Imbi as did Indran's, Zakaria's and Selvaraj's. After the 1969 riots, Fong's family moved from Gurney Road where Limkokwing Inst. now stands opposite Balai Dato Harun, to a bungalow house in Jalan Inai, off Imbi Road. Syed had a very tall elder brother who had movie-star good looks and would appear every year on PRES Sports Day to take part (and get a placing too) in the 100m dash for old 'boys'.

ps Victorians, do write in with your unique entrance exam experience or 1st day experience in VI.