VI is pretty unusual in that it has two Scout movements, 1st KL AND 2nd KL. Having been a keen Cub in PRES 1, I signed up for 1st KL in January 1966, prompted also by the fact that some of ‘my gang’ had enlisted. They included my hockey buddies Cheah Peng Keong and Chew Yoong Fong, Yap Meng Teck, Chan Heng Yooi, Kow Yoke Wah and silken sprinter T.A. Mohan Arasu whom everyone knew because his father was the well known and highly respected doctor who ran that famous private clinic in Ipoh Road – Arasu Clinic. Of course, Taman, misread from T.A.Mohan in the register by T.Rajaratnam, followed his father’s footsteps, and is now an established doctor himself.
The three of us together with Yap Lip Sin, Lee Chee Meng, Wong Kam Choong and Ming formed Woodpecker Patrol, led by Third Former Patrol Leader Wong Joon Owang or ‘Joe’ as he was universally called. Boys being boys, Woodpecker Patrol changed its name to Lion Patrol a couple of months later to stop the taunts of ‘peckerheads’. The 1st KL Boy Scouts were about 100 strong with Patrol names very evocative of the wild savannah, nature, jungles, plains and rivers, like Beaver, Bull, Eagle, Falcon, Kingfisher, Owl, Panther, Stag and Swift and of course, Lion (peckerhead) Patrol.
But my time in the Boy Scouts was short and somewhat anti-climactic. The main problems were associated with my diet, as my family was totally vegan, AND Saturday troop meetings and competitions, week-day Patrol gatherings and term camps tended to clash with football practices and matches. But nevertheless I enjoyed that year and a bit and wish now I had persevered.
For our first-ever Saturday afternoon Troop Meeting on the lawn opposite the mini-roundabout near the 6th Form Block area , I arrived in full regalia with uniform, cap, scarf with leather knot holder, stockings with garters and Patrol and 1st KL badges. However, I had a problem in that I did not have time to buy a proper pair of shoes and had borrowed my brother’s cadet corps green jungle hiking boots which were acceptable except they stood out like sore thumbs among the sea of black shoes. TA Mohan of course spotted it like a hawk and soon everyone was ribbing me about insulting both the cadet corps and the boy scouts. At the ragging that followed that investiture ceremony, I got a scarf-whipped a bit more than the other greenhorns for my new found fame, while made to run up and down the slopes leading to the school sports field, between rows of senior Boy Scouts!!
Joe, a bit severe looking at times, was a great and knowledgeable leader who was later appointed to the Prefects’ Board in 1970. He had a deceptive tough side to him. Once when Lim Seng Chuan was getting a bad mauling from Tan Joo Ann in a ‘friendly’ Scouts’ boxing match, Joe volunteered to take on Joo Ann and inflicted such a terrible beating on him, the match had to be stopped. Joe probably secretly carried weights and worked out, though you couldn’t tell from his lean frame.
Soon after joining the Boy Scouts, we were off one Saturday after another on inter-patrol games and exciting group activities. We’d bicycled together with members of Falcon Patrol under Yip Kai Onn to John’s Valley in Jalan Duta for night BBQ. In pitch dark conditions, Joe taught us about constructing the BBQ pit, frame and about starting and stoking a fire with very basic materials like matchsticks, candles, newspapers, dry wood kindling and leaves. The chicken had already been pre-marinated, but it did not help that half way through, a light drizzle started. That was the 1st time I tasted BBQ chicken. It was half cooked, half burnt and rubbery, but the toasted dark sweet soy sauce was tasty! We all huddled under an extended poncho as the rain got a bit heavier and sent a chilly wind up our Khyber! We cycled home about 2 a.m., half soaked and half starved.
Cake baking competition took place in pits dug in the grounds of the grassy knoll in the school car park using biscuit tins as containers. All ingredients were mixed on the spot that afternoon and the cake baked au naturel over wood fire with the earth pit serving as the ‘oven’. Again, proceedings were interrupted by a massive downpour and all Lion Patrol could present to the Assistant Scout Master (ASM)judges was a half-cooked soggy mess, which was still better than some of the other Patrols’ ‘cordon bleu’ stuff which did not even make it to the earth oven!
The Annual Treasure Hunt was part of the Inter-Patrol competitions to determine the Champion Patrol at the end of the year. Clues were written up by the Committee of Patrol Leaders and secreted in places like the gates of the Ampang Road Police Station next to where Yow Chuan Plaza now stands. The competition would run from 7 p.m. till 3 a.m. the next day. Patrols would cycle like fury, criss-crossing KL from clue to clue to be the first to claim the ‘treasure’. My name made its entry into the Lion Patrol Log Book as the person who solved the cryptic clue ‘I am cold’ written on a piece of paper. From those primary years reading Enid Blyton’s ‘Fatty and the Five Find Outers’ I had learnt that you could write ‘invisible’ messages with pen nib on paper, using fresh lime or lemon juice. The ‘invisible’ words would come alive if you ran a warm iron over the ‘blank’ paper or placed it over a candle flame. Another clever clue the leaders came out with was one that required finding the roots of a quadratic equation and applying Pythagoras’ Theorem!
We eventually ended up looking for the final clue in Assistant Senior Scout Leader (ASSL) Liew Kon Wui’s (or was it Lum Chee Soon’s?) bungalow house in Jalan Inai in Jalan Imbi. After Panther Patrol led by Chu Kam Choon were declared winners, we tucked into a hearty meal of piping and chilli hot hokkien mee, yin yong kung foo chow noodles, fried keow teow and friend mee hoon washed down with lashings of iced sunquick orange juice and F&N lemonade cordial. Then some settled down for Carroms while others just plunked down for chit chat and then slowly left in drips and drabs and cycled home at 5 a.m.!
There was Castle Camp in Gurney Road not far from the Army Camp, where you went to compete in Obstacle Course which included rope/tree climbing while elsewhere we practiced first aid, knotting, tent pitching etc and practised singing songs for the Annual Parents’ Campfire, songs like ‘Over hill, over dale, as we hit the mountain trail’ and the evergreen Jambalaya, If I had a Hammer, Waltzing Matilda and High There in the Deep Blue Sky (Rabbit Song?).
1st term Troop Camp was held in Camp Semangat at the National Scout Camp, in Cheras. Lion Patrol emerged the champs, topping the various disciplines as well as both the campfire sketches where my comic acting skills came to the fore. We were isolated from civilization for a week, slept 4 to a tent with no pillows and on tarps laid over damp, cold earth, hiked to waterfalls through raw jungle and play-acted first aid at accident rescue scenes and more for marks. We even swept the cooking competition (though my contribution was nothing more than slicing and dicing vegetables, preparing the dinner table and serving the Seniors/Judges and washing up) because we had Ming who at 13, helped his father run a ‘chap fan’ stall back in town! Each patrol had to safeguard its own turf and Joe taught us this fantastic skill of constructing a swing-gate entrance for our ‘house compound’ using a string-strung stone twisted over wood and employing the simple mechanics and laws of motion!
The 1st KL ASM’s like Ramasamy, Robert Ng Sing Peng (elder brother of Ng Chee Peng, my classmate who was himself ASM in 1972) and Lum Chee Soon as well as ASSL’s like Yap Piang Kian were there to co-ordinate all activities. Our 1st memorable campfire began with ASM Oh Seong Lye, Prefect and my House (Hepponstall) Captain reciting the incantations of ‘To the North, To The South, To the East...’ as he prepared to extend lit taper to set the woodpile on fire. There was much hooting and laughing as the seniors too acted out some hilarious sketches, but most of all it was the singing that established camaraderie and made it a night to remember even after 40 years!
During a session of scout inter-patrol water polo, Robert saved my live! I developed a cramp in the deep end of the pool and before I knew it, I sank like a stone and was struggling to make surface. Suddenly I heard a splash overhead and these huge arms circled me from behind and hauled me on my back over the pool’s edge and started pumping my chest, all the while asking me if I was ok. Fortunately, I had managed to hold my breath underwater. A few seconds more and I might have been done for good. My gratitude to Robert, whom I met again in June this year at a VIPB reunion after a hiatus of 40 years, is eternal.
But my Boy Scout career floundered as I could not get my Tenderfoot Badge, which is really the most basic of hurdles. I’d gotten through all the other tests like Scout Laws, First Aid, Physical Exercise, Campfire and Tent Pitching. But when it came to knotting, I managed to get my knickers in a twist. I’d practised till I could tie all the knots behind my back in total darkness. But for the 1st test, Senior Patrol Leader Wong Twee Juat set a time limit of 1 minute for 6 knots. All of us failed to beat the buzzer by a few seconds. At the repeat test a week later, Twee Juat threw in another googly. We had to tie all 6 knots - reef, rolling hitch, clove hitch, bowline, sheet bend, sheep shank – in exact sequence on the same rope!!
It was at this point that I rebelled and refused to take that final test a third time. I figured we were being messed around with. I could not work out if he was just bored and deliberately making it difficult for us or he had a natural mean streak in him. I mean, some of these knots, we were never going to use (and still haven’t) like the ones for tying goats and horses while we moseyed over to the OK Corral Saloon Bar for some neat whiskies, were we?! 6 knots on 1 rope? Which Armageddon was that going to be employed in? So, one thing led to another and I never made Tenderfoot. This was a huge embarrassment to me personally as I had ‘do or die’ ambitions to emulate my elder brother in Cochrane Road School who was close to a King’s Scout Badge, having secured his Bushman’s Thong (nothing to do with Transvaal Beach underwear)!
In ’67, Our Patrol leader was Christie Tan Tiong Tee (now Dr.) who is one of the most pleasant, nicest, understanding, patient and gentlemanly student/person I have ever come across. It was not surprising he made it to the VIPB in 1971, given that in addition to his superb leadership qualities, he also represented the school in Rugby and Swimming/Water Polo. I missed some of the early scout meetings in January and February when it clashed with football. Moreover, my father was not too happy with all these excursions and I had to allay his suspicions by spinning him about eating a lot of bread, butter and jam and chapatthi and dhal on these trips and camps.
Matters came to a head one Saturday afternoon as I was lying in bed with high fever and ASM Liew Kon Swee popped over to my house to check up on whether I was skiving or what? My father, a man of few words, explained to him my condition, but Kon Swee insisted on sighting me, at which point my father, not used to having his words questioned, sent Kon Swee off on his bike! Immediately, my father sat down at his desk and drafted my resignation letter from 1st KL Boy Scouts, which I presented to Christie a few days later. There was no Court of Appeal as far as my father was concerned. My father would never say it aloud, but secretly he was chuffed that two of his sons had made it to VI. But he too had his limits and any infringement of that total vegan diet thing was the last straw.
Kon Swee, who did not know of my vegan problems, would not accept my resignation letter just like that. He insisted I attend a sort of ‘court martial’ with the other ASM’s in the temporary scout den (previously the caretaker’s shed) opposite the VIOBA building, within the school field area. As it was fated to happen, we had football practice under Peethaparam, and I could not, dared not, get off at 5.30 p.m. for the ‘court martial’. When I arrived at 6, I got a shelling and that was that. There was no way I was going back to Lion Patrol and 1st KL!
But you see inflated ego and puffed up false pride are like that!
More than football, cricket and hockey, it is these group activities like Scouts, Cadet Corps, School Band and others that shape character, develop leadership qualities, discipline and living skills, engender camaraderie and lifelong friendships. As 13 year old Boy Scouts, we would place hands over each others’ shoulders round camp fire and sing ‘Ramasamy, son of Mani, drank some toddy, thana nay, thana nay...’ smile at one another and burst out laughing in complete innocence .
If I could have a second chance and go back in time, I would crawl on my knees and beg to be re-instated to 1st KL to earn my Tenderfoot, 1st Class and Kings Scout Badges.
- to be continued