Thursday, 28 January 2010
The first photo is courtesy 'Pedro Hariharan'. Nazri Aziz is the seated guy sporting a knee guard which was his trade mark throughout his years in VI.
Perhaps Pedro can provide us the complete list of names for the successful 1967 football team so we can have a permanent record and some other salacious details/stories, if any, of his time in school with the Minister.
Here's to our glory days!
Hey Pedro, can you forward this to the Minister? I'm sure he will be thrilled!
Monday, 25 January 2010
Life under Yap Yew et al? Yap Yew was an uncut diamond with a smile as enigmatic as Mona Lisa’s. Yap Yew could solve quadratic equations mentally and perform other mathematical gymnastics effortlessly, but I remember him most for his patience as we struggled to understand the world of calculus, vector analysis and complex algebra. In a sense, his talent was in my view wasted as a teacher, for he had the makings of a brilliant CFO. Without meaning to sound boastful, it would be remiss of me not to credit Yap Yew and his influence on me for the high grades I scored in maths, both at ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels. As a man, he seemed troubled all the time, for he would spend most of his time in class pacing up and down the aisles between the rows of desks muttering to himself after putting up on the blackboard problems for us to solve. We suspected women problems, but there was no evidence of this.
Bernard Koay: another gem, albeit a large and rotund one. Best English teacher one could hope for. I distinctly recall him teaching us how to write a good essay and the importance of structure, rhythm and choice of words in prose. A singular lesson that has stayed with me is the distinction between the words ‘matured’ and ‘mature’ - fruits and cheese can be described as ‘matured’ but human beings are never said to be matured, only mature. An image that has stayed with me over the years is that of Bernard rushing off in great haste around 1 pm, and I’m not sure if it was he who said so or just my sense of it, that he was rushing off to the stock exchange for the afternoon trading session…if you remember, in those days, there was no internet or Scripless trading, and the only way one could trade real time was to be at the exchange where buy / see quotes prices were continuously posted on the Big Board.. . I have often wondered if that was why he chose teaching as a vocation…for all the free afternoons…
Another teacher who left an indelible impression on my mind was our geography maestro, Dharam Prakash who joined VI in 1968 or 1969 as a fresh MU graduate armed with a Diploma in Teaching from MU. His pet was Pathma (Dr.R.Pathmanathan, Pathologist)) who displayed his latent surgical skills even then in his beautifully drawn and coloured maps of North America which we chose over Europe for our ‘O’ level Geography paper. What a mistake seeing that I am today sitting in London and knowledge of European geography would have served me more. Prakash stayed in old PJ and Pathma’s house was on his route, so used to hike a ride with him on his Lamberretta until such time as he got married whereupon Pathma was relegated to the back seat! Or so I believe. Pathma would have to verify this. Prakash and I are related in a convoluted sort of way, so I had the privilege of attending his wedding along with the rest of my family. I wonder if Pathma did likewise.
But of all teachers, the one to whom I owe the greatest debt of gratitude was a temporary teacher, Pong Kai See, who taught me Mathematics in Form 2 for a short period of time following the completion of his sixth form in 1966. Kai See was a brilliant student, a prefect and scored straight A’s in his HSC, which earned him 2 offers of scholarships, one for Naval Architecture and the other from the RRI; he chose the latter. I really do not know what became of him later on. Prior to PKS, I dreaded maths like one dreads root canal work or bumping into Murugasu unexpectedly going the wrong way. I never could get my mind around simple concepts like factorization and basic algebra. PKS showed me how easy it all was and awakened my latent talent for maths. It was a ‘Eureka-esque’ experience and from then on there was no looking back.
Hope this helps.
Ps Jaspal was 1970 8A’s VI Rodger Scholar, 1971 Top Pure Maths Stream Student Prize Winner, 1972 S’pore Govt Scholarship Winner and among the top students in Upper Six, Joint Editor of ‘Seladang’, Committee Member of Science & Maths and Horticultural Societies, Treasurer Rodger House and cricketer. An Engineer by profession, currently he is CEO of Metroline in London. See below - 1969 4B1 class photo in post dated 17/01/10 '1969 - the truly honeymoon year (part 1).' dpp
Sunday, 17 January 2010
Click on pic for enlarged view. The pic of 4B1 is actually that of 5B1 scanned from the 1970 Victorian. I think the Form Teacher of 4B1 in 1969 was Mr.Bernard Koay and not Mr. Yap Yew. Other than R.Pathmanathan who was the only student promoted from 4B2 to 5B1 and therefore appears in both 4B pics, all other students were there in the correct 4B classes in 1969).
The only truly honeymoon year in 13 years of education leading to the Form 6 HSC (Higher School Certificate or today’s STPM/A Levels) arrives when one enters Form 4. This is also the year when students face streaming – they have to usually choose between Pure Science and Pure Arts.
But for those who were still in two minds, VI gave you the option of signing up for the Additional Science or Double Credit Stream which differed from Pure Arts by the inclusion of Additional Maths and Additional Science and exclusion of History or Geography and Commerce/Book-keeping. Some like Sivandan and Shubon who hedged their bets, went on to University and graduated as doctors!
Most of my pals and I plonked for Pure Science. The subjects covered were Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Maths, Additional Maths, English, English Literature, Geography and Bahasa Malaysia (1 & 2) which was compulsory for all students. I wanted to drop Geography which I hated, in favour of History at which I was among the top students. But it was, much to my eternal regret, strangely not an option offered to Pure Science students. Predictably, I secured a stinkingly low C5 credit for Geography in the Form 5 MCE Govt examinations (Malaysia Certificate of Education, equivalent to today’s SPM/O Level).
Besides the 9 written subjects tested at MCE, we also had to appear for the English Oral Test and Practical (Laboratory) Examinations for Biology (Zoology/Anatomy & Botany), Chemistry and Physics. For Anatomy in particular, we had to identify, draw and labels bones such as the ulna and radius in the forearm, ball and socket joints of the upper arms/shoulder and pelvis not to mention the lumbar, thoracic, cervical and other vertebrae that made up parts of spinal column! And then there was the Coccyx and Rods and Cones which had nothing to do with the penis and the Patella which was not an Italian dish. Words like magnum foramen, medulla oblongata and occipital groove (highlighted in 2006 by Steve Martin/Closseau in The Pink Panther) will never leave your vocabulary or axon, dendrite, synaptic junction, myelin sheath (not a flavoured condom), pulmonary, cardiac, ventricles and auricles and more.
Our Form and Geography Master in 4B2 was a graduate, Dharam Prakash (BA Hons, UM), who while methodical, efficient (always completed the syllabus on time) and dedicated was quite uninspiring if not boring in imparting to us the study of planet Earth, its features and countries. As a person he was lovely and as a teacher, approachable and friendly to the students. And as Cheah Peng Keong in 4B1 would often imitate, Prakash had a habit of grunting lowly at the end of some sentences which gave you the impression he suffered from mild hernia! Much later, possibly in the ‘90’s, he was promoted as Head Master of Sultan Abdul Samad (SAS) Secondary School in Section 11 in Jalan University, Petaling Jaya where he was highly regarded by students, teachers and parents.
My weakness in Geography was directly related to my poor sketching and drawing skills for the Map Book and having to reproduce them for monthly, term and end of year tests and exams. My free hand drawing of Borneo looked not unlike a bear with a swollen head and in a skirt while that of India could be interchanged with Malaya! It was not until I peeked into Sum Yap Loong’s Map Book and asked for help that things improved, just a little.
Yap Loong, a classmate way back from Standard 1 in Pasar Road English School 1 days, was born with a charcoal stick and paint brush in his hand. Such was his perfectionism in drawing and colouring skills (with Mars Colour Pencils, the gold standard in 1969) that his maps looked like exact reproductions from the World Atlas. More than that, he inserted tracing paper between the pages of his Map Book so that the colour would not smear drawings on opposing pages when the book was closed!! I believe he nowadays makes a living as an artist specialising in Chinese paintings.
I learnt from him the art of drawing perfect square grids over the maps in the Atlas and then sketching them in the Map Book with scaled up grids. You could not imagine Dharam’s Prakash delight in my amazing improvement although he could not have harboured more than a pass for me at the MCE exams! For the life of me, I also could not get around the compulsory paper on Relief Map studies where you’d be given a Topographical Map (aerial photo view) of some part of M’sia and you’d have to draw contour maps to scale, identify hills and valleys and compute gradients.
For Botany and Zoolgy we had the stern, strict and foreboding Mrs.Leow Yew Onn (BSc UM) with whom no one took any liberties. But if you paid attention during her lectures, took notes intelligently, did your homework and practicals with due care and diligence, she would warm up to you. Once she had instructed the class to germinate some bean sprout seeds placed on water soaked cotton wool in small petri dish, measure and record their growth at home over the week-end and bring it along to the lab for lessons on Monday. Something to do with tropisms – photo, geo and hydro or the effect of light, gravity and water on seed, root and plant growth!
On the appointed day, only 2 bean sprout sporting petri dishes turned up – 1 from me and 1 from our “famous” bell ringer Tanjit Singh who in a state of panic that Monday morning had begged me to lend him some of my samples. Such was Mrs.Liow’s fury at the pathetic response from the class of 40-odd that she gave us a thorough roasting which stopped just short of her sending the whole class to dreaded ‘Muru’s’, the HM’s, office for a mass cane tattoo on our posteriors!! But she did call me up later to the staff room to convey her appreciation for my wasted effort, and from that day, her demeanour to me softened and she did not hesitate to tell me now and then she had “Great Expectations” from me in the MCE Bio exams. And I did not disappoint her! But, at the Bio lab session that following Wednesday, dang it if there weren’t 40 bean sprouts sprouting petri dishes, some even garnished with salted fish!! Lol!
Now, it wasn’t that I was a mama’s boy who would suck up to the likes of female Biology teachers and put my classmates in a bad light only to be taunted later as ‘Mrs.Liow’s armpit sprouting hair.‘ But my grandad had a thing for bean sprouts and their “fantastic” protein content. So, there you see, it was fated!
For Chemistry, we had a succession of teachers, temporary and permanent, who were all exceptionally qualified AND were good teachers as well. For the 1st term, there was Chong Kok Leong (BSc Hons, UM), an ex-VI student. I mean, hell, how could you ever forget a Chemistry teacher who taught you that you could detect which student had broken wind (silent killer exocet skunk class fart) in class from the strength of smell of rotten eggs or Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) as you moved around. And that you could easily narrow it down further if you stuck a piece of paper soaked in lead acetate in the vicinity of the student’s pants and the paper turned black from the Hydrogen Sulphide!!
Chong resigned in July or so and was replaced by Miss Loo Sai Harn (BSc Hons, NZ) who later became Mrs. Koh and also taught Form 6 students. She was a good communicator though yet again of the ‘lock jawed’ breed of unsmiling female teachers of which VI appeared to have more than its fair share! Loo/Koh kept us on our toes but alienated us somewhat when she went full steam ahead with the entire chapter on chemical reactions stated in ionic or redox form during the last week of school (when few paid any attention) and then refused to go over it again the following year.
The teacher who impressed us most was the young, good looking and stylish Terence Jayatilaka (BA Hons, UM) who took us through Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice’ and Kamara Laye’s ‘The African Child’ for English Literature. Who could forget Portia’s ‘Quality of Mercy’ speech on humanity, revenge and justice or Shylock’s ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed’ plea against racism and religious bigotry? Or, Kamara’s Laye’s description of his circumcision ceremony in a remote village in Konakry, Guinea, W.Africa where the foreskin was lopped off using sharpened bamboo for scalpel and banana stems for operating table (not unlike many a rural Malay boy’s experience before the ‘60’s, I suppose!!). There were curious tales of Laye’s father, the village chief and a goldsmith who took instructions from a black cobra on working with gold, and of tribal dances which Terence would demonstrate with head and hip gyrations to illustrate how getting ‘into the rhythm’ in the local discos could one lead into a trance like the ‘kavadi’ carriers at Batu Caves!
Terence Jayatilaka was also Asst. School Cricket Master who played for the extraordinarily successful VI team as all rounder in the Stonor Shield Selangor State Championship which involved mainly private clubs and state and federal statutory bodies’ teams like NEB (National Electricity Board/Tenaga).
For reasons no one could really put a finger on, Terence took a dislike to Sallehuddin or ‘Hood’ as he was popularly known, though nothing really came of it but for some sharp words directed at him now and then. Hood was an outstanding hurdler and athlete who also played rugby, football and hockey for VI. I never understood how he could hurl the javelin and shot putt further than me, more so that he could score ‘senior level’ points for (red) Shaw House while I struggled with basic points for (yellow) Hepponstall House! He came from a wealthy family in Gombak and boasted a stunningly good looking sister, Suhaila Shamsuddin, who had a popular and successful career as a local pop star! Ramachandran and I ran into him a couple of times years later in London, had dinner with him at his flat in Baker Street (near Sherlock Holmes’ fictional flat at 221 Baker St.) and met up again when he was with Ernst & Young and Guthries in KL. Hood, a ladies man, was an interesting character whose exploits both in and out of school were the stuff of legends!
Then there was Francis Ho Kim Wah (B.Engr., Canada) who led us through introduction to Additional Maths and was hugely popular with all and sundry. He left VI to join Esso in Port Dickson in March, but not before he was given an embarrassing dressing down in front of the whole class by HM Murugasu who spared nothing in warning him never again to wear sandals over white socks while teaching in VI. Thank God Francis had not been wearing his white collared T-shirt he had a penchant for, that day!! This was the 2nd run-in poor Francis had with Muru. A week or so earlier Muru had barked at him to stand up when he walked on to the stage at a Monday morning School Assembly. The teaching and administration corps had dismally failed to brief Francis on school protocols and etiquettes!! Little wonder he packed it in when the offer came from Esso.
Francis was replaced by one, Charles Norman Silver (Peace Corps, USA) which I suppose, him being of Jewish origins, can aptly be described as a disaster of biblical proportions for us. Poor Norman had not understood local culture which demanded students be 100% spoonfed and more so when it was intro to Differential Calculus. Only a few like R.Pathmanathan, Chim Kar Choon and Eow Yoke Kee could apply basic principles and standard formulae when asked to work out the straight line equation with co-ordinates (Uncle Sam1,Uncle Stalin1) (Uncle Sam2,Uncle Stalin2) and then dy/dx it. To his credit though, he did not direct us to work out the 2nd and 3rd derivatives and minimum and maximum points of inflection from those co-ordinates for Capitalism and Communism!! We might well have rebelled and started World War 3!! I mean given 2 crooks, Uncle Sam and Uncle Stalin, you couldn't possibly get anything straight, let alone a straight line, could you?
Fortunately, Silver only lasted a couple of months with us before being replaced by a speech challenged temporary teacher. I think someone out there was hell bent on sabotaging 4B2 for good. I was informed by Chung Chee Min last year that CN Silver later married a teacher from VI’s staff. Mozzletoff to him!! And don't ask me if it was a female staff; gay marriages were not legal then in USA or M'sia!!
Thereafter we had some brilliant Add Maths teachers, especially Cheok Cheo Foh who mesmerised and galvanised us and to whom all of us owe a debt of eternal gratitude we can never repay!
Miss S.Somasundram (BSc Madras) was a straight but dreary text-book Physics teacher whose unattached status was not lost on us sex starved 4B2 adolescent boys, especially Tanjit Singh. She was a bit height challenged, though shapely, well-endowed where it mattered to us sex maniacs and not half bad looking either. Tanjit livened up one boring lesson on sound waves by ‘accidentally’ dropping a twanging, zinging, vibrating tuning fork down the front of the Miss Soma’s (as we lovingly addressed her) saree blouse! It took some time for Miss Soma to retrieve the tuning fork and regain her composure though she never cottoned on to the set up. Miss Soma had an elder sister, Miss J. Somasundram who taught in VI till 1968.
For Bahasa Malaysia we suffered Cikgu Hassanuddin (College Trained) who went AWOL most of the time, involved as he was as the Master-in-charge of Cadet Corp, School Band, Rugby and Sports Day. We were mostly left to our own devices during BM lessons and were it not for the likes of Ciku Shuib Kassa (Language Institute Trained) later, and to a lesser extent, the sexy Puan Rohaty (BA Hons, UM) whom all the boys tried to flirt with, we would have been done in at the MCE exam the following year. Shuib was also highly respected for his dedication as Badminton Master.
I mentioned R.Pathmanathan (Dr), Eow Yoke Kee and Chim Kar Choon, who together with others like Tan Kai Chah (Dr) and Krishnan (Dr/WHO Manila) were all straight ‘A’ students who joined us in Form 4B2 from faraway places like Kuantan and Kuala Kubu Bahru. Who would have thought, as ‘Elvis’ Foo Kok Fee recently confessed in a class reunion last year, that Pat (Pathmanathan) from the so-called and mistakenly thought of ‘boondocks’ of the East Coast would boast such a powerful command of English as to put us all to shame and inspire us to new heights! Or that Kai Chah from KKB would be recognised later as one of the world’s leading liver transplant specialists. We have lost the likes of Maths Kings, Yoke Kee and Kar Choon who spearheaded the school basketball team, to Singapore. The quiet and modest Syed Ahmad who harked back to PRES days with us and later, I believe, headed the National Aerospace Institute.
4B1 of course boasted the cream of the top students like Jaspal Singh, Lim Theam Siew, Mac Kean Boon, Cheah Peng Keong, Goh Tai Kuang, Modhushudan, Sarmukh Singh, Low Sek Luen, TA Mohan, Raymond Hui, Teoh Siang Chin, Kwan Poh Woh, Yap Chin Seong, Lian Liong Teck and a host of others whom fate had thrown in the lot with us in the journey through school and life.
The fates had also been very kind to me throughout my VI years. I was spared the likes of teachers like Valentine Manual, EJ Lawrence, Ho Sai Hong and Bernard Koay except for their cameo appearances as relief teachers. Bernard Koay (who had Burmese blood) in particular rubbed me the wrong way. There was something about his overall demeanour and cocky manner – he walked on the balls of his toes and had the look of a pugilist (boxer) about him - as though constantly challenging you for a fight anytime, any day, anywhere!
(to be continued).