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Saturday, 16 April 2016

1971/72 PART 1 - AND ALL THE GIRLS WE KNEW AND LOVED IN LOWER 6 & UPPER 6


'To All The Girls I've Loved Before'
by Albert Hammond (1975)
video

How the years have slipped by from when we were free and carefree and making the transition from boys to semi-adults, and we stumbled and fell and got up, not really knowing where we were headed.

We sat for the Form 5 Malaysian Certificate of Education examination (MCE) papers in mid-November to early December 1970, and then went on vacation for three months till early March 1971 when we received our results. The MCE examinations were the equivalent of the UK 'O' Level examinations. I believe we were the first or second batch of students to sit for the MCE examinations, which replaced the Senior Cambridge Certificate and Cambridge Certificate examinations. Our papers were marked and graded at Cambridge in UK.

The students had been divided between the Arts (A1 & A2) and Science (B1 & B2) streams in 1969, the honeymoon year. As for the Arts students, they had been further split into Pure Arts, and Additional (Add) Science or Double Credit classes, where they replaced History and Accounts with Add Science and Add Maths. This enabled some students to keep their options open to join the Pure Science stream in Form 6 and pursue medicine, dentistry, engineering etc, at tertiary level. Among those who chose Add Science were Sivandan (Dr., MBBS), Thayalaraja (Engineer), Shubon (Dr., BDS) and Abdul Jalil (Senior Manager, Hospitality Industry), while 'Cuts' Sivakumaran (right arm leg-spin/ left hand batsman cricketer, PhD Biz Studies), Hajit Singh Hullon (legendary TV newscaster/journalist), Prem Sagar (S'pore Police Trainer) and Darwis (Businessman) plonked for Pure Arts.

I was a Science Class (5B2) student which meant that for the MCE examinations, I sat for 9 subjects plus 3 practical examinations for Physics, Chemistry and Biology, as follows (The Arts option are stated side by side):

SCIENCE                            ARTS                        ADD SCIENCE
1. Physics                             General Science          General Science 
2. Chemistry                         Commerce                  Commerce
3. Biology                             Accounts                     Add Science
4. General Maths                  General Maths            General Maths
5. Add Maths                        History                        Add Maths
6. English                              English                       English 
7. English Lit                        English Lit                  English Lit 
8. Geography                        Geography                  Geography
9. BM                                    BM                             BM

Gruelling is an understatement. Almost every subject had a Paper 1 comprising 50 objective questions and a multiple-choice Paper 2 comprising essay-style questions, as well as Topography for Geography. English Language and Bahasa Malaysia had essay papers and comprehension & grammar papers. To cap it all, there was an English Language Oral Test as well which contributed 20% of the marks for English Language.

In order to pass the MCE examination you had to secure at least 24 points or less, calculated on the basis of the scores achieved for your best six subjects, where distinction A1 =1 point, A2 =2 , then Credit = C3-6, Pass = P7-8, and Fail = F9. We referred to F9 as extinction. A pass in Grade 1 was achieved with a score of 16 points and under for the best 6 subjects.

But, securing a place in F6 VI was a lot tougher. There were only about 300 places for the 2 Arts classes (A1, A2), 3 Bio-Science classes (B1, B2, B3) and 1 Pure Maths class (B4 & B5). There is a debate going on among us - the Class of 1970 - as to whether it was 5 or 6 points from the best 3 subjects or 8 from 6? If anyone knows for sure, please post it in the comments section here.

What was really unfair was that you could not move to Form 6 without a pass in BM, which accounted for some of our best pals, who I note, have nevertheless done well-to-brilliant in later life. Dr.Shubon, for example, not only won an Athletics Blue in 1970, but also the prize for General and Additional Science at Speech Day, yet could not progress to F6!!

Others either moved to private colleges like Taylor's, departed for studies overseas to UK and Australia or joined the employment scene. AR Ramachandran was one of those who, having had the benefit of the VI Cadet Corps experience as Cadet Sargeant, opted for the Army. Suffice to say he had a stellar career in serving his country with honour. This included a stint in dangerous Bosnia. I recall going with him to meet Sallehudin (Hood) at his flat in Baker Street in London in 1979. Rama had bunked in my flat for a few week-ends when the Army sent him to UK for advanced officers' training at the Larkhill Royal School of Artillery situated on the Salisbury Plains, not far from where the mysterious and eerie Stonehenge monument lies.

When I went to the school office to pick up my results slip, I was dressed in plain clothes, since technically, the 1970 F5 batch was deemed to have ended schooling after the MCE examinations. At the office, I met up with several of my then close buddies - Indran, Balraj, Chew Yoong Fong and Cheah Peng Keong who all graduated to F6. This was the same bunch which had trudged its way back in the December of 1965 to VI to sit for the entrance test about which I had written in detail in 2009. CLICK HERE.

It was a super joyful occasion indeed with much back-slapping and laughter. However, it was not yet the era of high-fives, and no one, but no one, would greet each other by hugging, for fear of being labelled 'homo'! Nowadays, it seems that 7-year old school friends can't run into each other without a prolonged WWF (World Wrestling Federation) mauling!

By this time, Indran, Balraj, Hiew Heng Foo and I had already been informed that we would be appointed prefects in March at the first school assembly which included the new batch of Lower 6 (L6) students. Balraj and I had spent Dec-Feb 1970 training with the school U20 hockey squad. While I was understandably proud of having been appointed prefect, I had some reservations since many prefects were not very popular with the students, despite the sacrifices they had to make.

The first girl I knew in L6 was Wong Kim Lin, who I met inside the school gates while walking towards the office that day. She was from the Bukit Bintang Girls' School (BBGS was insulted as Big Backside Girls' School by the boys. In turn, VI students were taunted as Vagabond Idiots!). She politely asked me for the directions to the office as she had secured a place in VI and wanted to register as a student. 

BBGS only had classes for Forms 1-5, and so after their MCE exams, the successful students would move on to VI or St. Johns for their Form 6 education. It's disgraceful and shameful that an outstanding school like BBGS which produced some of the most outstanding students in the country, should have fallen victim to Mahathir's evil machinations. The historic schools was sadly demolished in 2000 to eventually make way for that monstrosity called the Pavilion Shopping Mall in Jalan Bukit Bintang, KL!!

I accompanied Kim to the office with some trepidation, as up till that point in time, the only girls I knew were my sister, cousins and the odd sisters of close friends from whom I, like most of my colleagues of that time did within their spheres, kept a respectable distance. It transpired later that Kim became my classmate for about 3 months in L6B1 (Bio-Science) after which she switched to the Arts stream. She was also a member of Hepponstall House, as was I.

After a couple of months, I too had misgivings about Bio-Science and had thought deeply about switching to the Arts. But I feared my parents would not approve, and besides, I would have had to grapple with Geography which I hated like the plague, and also Economics, about which I knew as much as I did brain surgery. A big mistake!

Despite Kim moving to the Arts, we ran into each other at House activities. I also accompanied her a few times to Friday afternoon Christian Union meetings (not to know her in the Biblical way, but for knowledge's sake) at the VIOBA hall. We were also both members of the School Debating Team, which included R.Pathmanathan, Sally Chong Siew Moi (ex-Cheras Road School) and Kok Chew Leng (ex-BBGS).

Another girl whom I briefly met and had a dance with at the Freshies' Ball that year was Hashimah (Hepponstall House. My apologies for forgetting her full name). A couple of years ago when a group of us from the Class of 1970-72 had lunch at an eatery in Sentral, Brickfield, KL, with Raja Nong Chik (VI 1966-68, 71-72) who was then the Federal Territory Minister, I was gobsmacked when Bo Fatimah told me that Hashimah was unable to attend the function, but sent me her regards!!

Reports of my having danced with Hashimah have been greatly exaggerated. Again, like most of my colleagues, we knew in theory what disco dancing was like. We had seen the teenage Michael Jackson ooze around on TV like a whippet in heat. But, the gap between theory and our practical performance was like the distance between the Earth and the Moon. Nevertheless we jerked around like the zombies in 'Thriller' (which was only released many years later) oblivious to the fact that we looked like the southern view of north bound donkeys. I had clung on to dear Hashimah in desperation less I toppled over from my quivering jellied knees. For the life of me, I cannot recall what the music was or the few words I said to her where I had mumbled like Brando in Godfather!

Well, there were many outstanding girls in the 1971-72 batch about whom I shall write in greater detail in Part 2. However, the names of the girls who readily spring to my mind in no particular order are:

1. Wong Kim Lin (BBGS, A1)
2. Sally Chong Siew Moi (Cheras Road School A1)
3. Monica Chin Wylin (Assunta, Head Girl, B3)
4. Lee Yuet Mui (BBGS, Deputy Head Girl A1)
5. Kok Chew Leng (BBGS, B2)
6. Cho Hung Ling (BBGS, B1)
7. Bo Fatimah (CBN, A1)
8. Zaleha Ahmad (CBN, A1)
9. Fazah Yakin (BBGS, B1)
10. Faridah Harun (Ahmad?) (CBN, B1)
12. Yap Siew Peng (BBGS, B1)
13. Tan Tui Hang (St. Mary's, B1)
14. Teh Siew Heng (BBGS, B3)
15. Bing Ying (BBGS, B3)
16. Leong Kwan Pheng (L6A1, top Arts student)
17. Kok Po Tho (BBGS, A1)
18. Diana Ooi (BBGS, B1)
19. Sakinah (BBGS, A1)
20. Gloria Tan (St. Mary's, B2)
21. Ng Fook Neong (Assunta, B3)
22. Hamidah Ali (CBN, B3)
23. Ruby Hussein (CBN, B3)
24. Rozia Hanis THN (CBN, B3) - ex-PM Hussien Onn's daughter.
25. Aw Mong Lim (SMK Yahya Petra, Kota Bahru, B5)
26. Choo Ching Kit (BBGS, B3)
27. Tan Kiat Lan (BBGS, B1)
28. Sushil Kaur (BBGS, B2)
29. Hashimah (CBN, A2)
30. Siti Zaleha (CBN, A2)

There were of course many others, but their paths did not cross mine much. So, please do not take offence at being omitted because it's also been 45 years. But others may remember who they were and hopefully write in with fond memories and some great anecdotes. Note that there is not a single Indian girl in this list. My recollection is that there was only one Indian girl in our batch, maximum two!

Besides those in the list above, all of us who were in VI from 1966-72 also remember the following girls for various juvenile reasons:

1. Josephine Lee
2. Kim Fernando
3. Ristina Majid
4. Penny Chang (Michael Nettleton, where are you?)

But, I shall end this part with a recollection about mgf Dr. Chew Yoong Fong who left VI for London in late March 1971. His family (his father was a tin mine owner) had been uprooted from a bungalow house at the junction of Princess Road and Jalan Tun Razak (Circular Road) at the height of the 1969 riots. They later moved to a bungalow house in Jalan Inai in Imbi Road, which is where most of those  who knew him between 1970-72 would identify him with.

Fong was an extremely popular guy with most of his classmates. Many would gather at his house to listen to vinyl LP pop records and shoot the breeze, and occasionally also smoke cigarettes. How much things had to do with the fact that he had a very good-looking younger sister, is anybody's guess!

He also played right full back for both his primary school (Pasar Road English School 1) all the way through to the VI U20 Hockey Team in 1972. In his earlier days, he was also a sprinter and fine footballer (right wing) whom Mokhtar Dahari used to consult in F3 to improve his thunderkicks at the football wall at the far end of the school field.

Sometime in late April 1971, I walked into our L6B1 classroom which was the second-last room on the upper right wing as one faced the school clock tower, and was stunned to see Fong in school uniform and sitting with my classmates. This was a laboratory room and so we only had three rows of long benches and work tops with stools for the 45-odd students. I gave a wtf look at him to which he smiled back. I learnt later from him that he found the London school style difficult to cope with and decided to return to KL and VI. But, I suspect that was not the only reason.

A few weeks later, Indran passed me  a sealed envelope containing a letter. It was from his friend, a (non-VI) footballer from Imbi Road, a Eurasian-Chinese-mix guy.  I cannot recall his name, so I shall refer to him as Joe, whom I knew only vaguely from the Imbi Postals Club grounds. The envelope was addressed to my new classmate in L6B1, Yap Siew Peng, who both in 1971 and 1972 was among the top students in Bio Science. He wanted me to hand it to her. Anyone should be able to guess what the letter said. I was surprised at being asked to do courier service, but would not let a buddy down.

I did as I was asked and handed that envelope to an even more astonished Siew Peng. We were as familiar with each other like Cleopatra and Bill Clinton. I stared at my shoes as I told her I was only doing the post office routine. A few days later she handed me a different sealed envelope with a letter in it which I passed on to Indran. That was the last I ever heard or saw of Joe.

Well, the short and the long of it was that, for the rest of F6 , Yoong Fong and Siew Peng became a pair. So much so that some years later they got married and have been living happily together for some 30-over years. Both are doctors. I also understand Yap Siew Peng is the great grand daughter of one of VI's patrons, Yap Kwan Seng? This is an amazing piece of information, if true. Can Siew Peng or Fong confirm this?

But what Fong may have forgotten is that shortly before leaving for London, he mentioned to me that he and Siew Peng had been tuition students at the same centre in their lower secondary school days. And when he said that, he had a glint in his eyes that spoke volumes. He could correct me, but my instincts tell me that the real reason he cut short his stay to London had more to do with a certain besotted look than finding London difficult to adjust to!

I do not know if in those days I had a huge sign at the back of my shirt saying 'Serial Post Office Server', DHL or UPS in bold letters or what. But, a few months later another guy asked me to do him a favour. This time, it was Liung Cheong Poh, fellow VIPB (senior) member who handed me a long envelope for my classmate, petite and cute Tan Tiu Hang (ex-St. Mary's) with whom I had hardly exchanged two words in those few months. I reluctantly complied. She insisted on knowing who the envelope was from. Cheong Poh had not revealed his name. I reluctantly told her and at the same time decided this was too stressful for me and I was not going to do this anymore.

Tiu Hang recently told me the envelope contained a single red rose, her first ever from a prospecting wooer! Whoa, what a Romeo LCP was. But nothing came of what I suspect was LCP's short-lived infatuation. But, Tiu Hang and I re-connected some 5 years ago and keep in touch via Facebook. She's been an inspiring supporter of my writings and endeavours. She retired a few years ago as Senior Chemistry Teacher at Catholic High School in Section 5, Jalan Gasing, Petaling Jaya.

So, I dedicate Albert Hammond's 1975 hit 'To All The Girl's I've Loved' to all the girls in the VI Class of 1971-72. Thanks for the memories and for teaching us how to grow up!

(Unfortunately, I am overseas and do not have access to class photographs etc. which would have brightened up this blog post. I will rectify that as soon as possible).

To be continued, especially about who I had a crush on, more couples and my vote, if my life depended on it, for the most outstanding girl in U6 1972, Ms VI 1971-72!

E.S. Shankar