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Monday, 11 July 2016

1971 - 1972 THE VI PREFECTS' BOARD - PART 2. THE 1972 RACE FOR THE SCHOOL VICE-CAPTAINCY


It was recently hinted in some exchange of correspondence and whatsapps with some of my alumni friends, that perhaps I was living, even wallowing, in the past.

Rest assured that I am also very much connected to the present, with a wary eye on the future. I have a separate sopo blog for some of that. My writings about my VI years serve as a record of those memorable years, if nothing else. Writing about the past does not make one a frog in the well. If that were true, many great historians would have been jobless, and we would not have all those insights into why the old civilizations fell or what the real issues were that set historic events in motion.

So, here I will recount an episode, as our experiences in later working life usually impress upon us, where, despite the cloud surrounding them at the time they were made, certain decisions turn out to be the right one. Please do not jump to conclusions half-way; read through to the end.

THE SCHOOL CAPTAIN

I had written in Part 1 of this article that usually the VI School Captains picked themselves. That too was the case with 1972 School Captain, N.Indran. More so since in 1971, he had been interviewed and picked by the USA Embassy in KL as the Malaysian representative for their sponsored 3-month round-the-world cruise for a select group of international student leaders. He missed classes for about three months that year. He was also the 1972 VI Sportsman of The Year (the award was presented in a ceremony in 1973, which explains Indran's Mark Spitz moustache!). CLICK HERE,


FOUR-HORSE RACE FOR SCHOOL VICE-CAPTAINCY?

This post is not so much about Indran, but to emphasise the point that the race for school captaincy was pretty much sewn up. However, the sprint for the much coveted position of School Vice-Captain, was fairly wide open. Of the 6 prefects remaining at the beginning of 1972, Fong Meng Wai was ear-marked for the 1973 school captaincy, and Indran for that of 1972.

So, it seemed that the competition for the vice-captain's post was a 4-horse race among Hiew Heng Foo, K.Balraj, myself and Yap Chee Keong, in order of seniority.

I must, at this juncture, pause and point out that it would serve no purpose in being hypocritical and claim that I did not have an eye on the vice-captaincy. You simply did not rise up the ranks in VI for five years including having been appointed Temporary Prefect, be appointed prefect for two years, and plan to end your term as just another prefect. You hoped against hope for that recognition, the icing on the cake as it were.

Equally, none of us campaigned overtly or covertly for it, as sucking up to the school captain, senior teachers or the HM was unheard of. Elevation was something that happened as a natural progression of events, on merit. I also felt that my run in with HM Somasundram, about which I had written earlier, was a storm in a tea cup and that he would not hold anything against me. CLICK HERE.

Then the unexpected happened.

When school re-opened in January 1972 and elections were held during the first week of term, Balraj was defeated by Yap Chee Keong for the Shaw House (Red) Captain's post; he was voted in as House Vice Captain. Indran (Sultan Abdul Samad/Purple), Heng Foo (Loke Yew/Brown) and I (Hepponstall/Yellow) were elected as respective house captains.



This must have been a hammer blow to Balraj, who like me, must have fancied his chances for the vice captaincy. I should know because in those days, Indran, Balraj and I were pretty close friends, having known each other since primary school days. But, never before (and I stand corrected) had anyone been made VI School Vice-Captain without first having been elected a house captain, and precedence was not about to be set by the outgoing school captain or incumbent HM, by breaking away from long-established traditions.

So, it became a 3-horse race for the vice-captaincy. 

THE DECISION

The formal announcement for the new school captain, vice-captain and prefects would normally be made by the HM in the School Hall at the School Assembly held during the second week of the first term (January). This was simply so that it could be verified that the respective candidates would be continuing their education in VI, to give sufficient time for us to inform the new prefects of their appointment, allay their doubts and fears, confirm that they accepted their appointment and to give them sufficient time to get their new uniforms, long pants and shoes for the investiture.

Rarely did anyone turn down appointment as prefect. But as it happened in that first batch of 1972, Ting Chooi Whar, an Assistant 1st KL Scout Master (ASM) declined, and we did not make up the deficit till the second term. S.Jayendran (School Drum Major) resigned his prefectship about a month after his instalment in 1973.

So, the six of us were called for a meeting at the PR on the Friday before the second week of school commenced, by the outgoing trio of School Captain Yap Kian Fui, Vice Captain Lee Kok Pheng and Secretary A. Balachandren. Among other matters, we were informed by Kian Fui that he would be seeing HM Somasundram later that afternoon about his decision on who would be appointed School Vice-Captain.

Quite late that evening, we were informed by Kian Fui that HM Somasundram had approved Yap Chee Keong's appointment as the new School Vice-Captain .

And that is exactly what came to pass.


   VI PREFECTS BOARDS - 1972

There was of course no written rule or convention that these appointments would go strictly by seniority. In the past, on several occasions, precedents had been set by the HM's who had exercised their absolute discretionary powers.

MY REACTION

To be honest, I was devastated! Shattered! So much so, I could not look Chee Keong in the eye. I mumbled congratulations, and then quickly offered some excuse and bolted off. My immaturity was such that for the next couple of weeks, I met or spoke to Chee Keong only when necessary, and at times showed my irritation.

I am sure Heng Foo too would have been disappointed, but did not show it. Now, Heng Foo must have been a leading contender, perhaps more so than me, because he was in particular, a sort of hero to the boys in the lower forms. He had a never-say-die gung-ho attitude in sports. He would coach the youngsters in rugby and offer them fatherly advice as well. His credentials then were impeccable. He would have been an extremely popular vice-captain, which position he might have well attained had the issue been put to an open vote by the student body. 

In my case, I felt that HM Somasundram had unfairly penalised me for the hoo-ha (no fault of mine) in April 1971, as confirmed later when he vetoed awarding me any games colours for 1972, despite my seven years of service to the school. I believe, Heng Foo too had got into Somsasundram's bad books, though I forget the background to it. But, 'alea iacta est' - the die had been cast - and there was no turning back.  

CREAM RISES TO THE TOP

Soon, I realized that no good could come out of my moping around. Besides, the flurry of first term studies, sports, house and society meetings left me with little time to weep over what might have been.

My attitude to Chee Keong changed quickly because of two incidents. 

Once on  a Saturday afternoon, I spied upon him as Assistant Scout Master of 2nd KL, marshalling his team and the patrol leaders during a freshies' ragging session on the slopes of the school field. All the scouts addressed him as 'Sir'. 




On a Thursday, there he was in the school swimming pool with the school junior and senior swimmers and water polo players. He was School Swimming Captain in 1972. (It turned out to be a record-breaking year for VI in inter-school competitions for that sport).






I realized then how little I really knew about Chee Keong. While we had known each other since Form 1, we were not really close friends and did not move in the same circles. But it struck me like a bolt of lightning that he, like Heng Foo, was well-known by many even in the lower forms.

In my case, my peers knew me well enough, having been involved in school hockey, football, cricket and debating. But lower down, I doubt many in F1-3 could ID exactly why I was a prefect.

My demeanour and attitude to Chee Keong changed instantly. I was after all No.3, Secretary of the VIPB, and could not project or encourage any divisions at the top. Perhaps, I should have taken the cue from Balraj who was the first among us to get close to Chee Keong when he was appointed prefect in late 1971.

Happy to say, thereafter, we all got along famously.

I say cream rises to the top because, through whatever play of fate, Yap Chee Keong was deservedly appointed School Vice-Captain.

I must pause again and say that this is not false modesty, hypocrisy or a face-saving opinion on my part. It's not a case of trying to mask my disappointment by praising him. Besides, there's no money in it!

There were many incidents that year with the students, which he handled better than I would have because, by nature, he was a calm, cool and composed character whose people-handling skills had been honed by greater exposure to the students, who gave him a great deal of respect in return. I was prone at times to blow hot and blow cold, though I too looked unflappable. I wouldn't back away from an insult by a student without weighing in with my 10 cent's worth. After an incident in primary 1, I swore I would never be bullied by anyone, and that attitude sometimes led me to skirmishes that I should have avoided. I would never start a fight, but would not back away from one either if pushed, figuring that even if I got hammered, I would at least have landed a few solid blows of my own to salvage my pride. Heng Foo was one who could be easily provoked.

Anyway, friendship blossomed among the top 5. Cheek Keong was the only one among us who had a car, a Datsun, and many's the time he would drop each of us back home after our late night meetings, despite the fact that it was out of the way, and that he must have been as equally exhausted as any of us from the long days. We went on outings together and even on an overnight trip to PD where we slept in the car and in ponchos on the beach. We helped Chee Keong clean up the premises when his family shifted houses to Segambut. His parents were also wealthier than ours, and his generosity towards us with the wallet, extreme.

The next year, we parted ways with Chee Keong going off to Manchester, UK to do a degree in Mechanical Engineering. The last time we saw each other in 1973, was at a farewell dinner for him at Balraj's house (his mum was a superb cook - her crab curry was to die for) before he left for UK.

So, the appointment of Yap Chee Keong as School Vice-Captain in 1972, turned out to be the absolutely correct decision.

And have we not all seen it in the corporate world with the least expected office promotion turning out to be the brilliant one? It usually does not happen by accident, but even when it does, a thorough examination of that individual's resume is bound to reveals nuggets of information about one's pedigree?

And so it was with Yap Chee Keong making it on pure merit, as in our batch, he was the one with the best character to carry the no.2 post outstandingly well.


43 YEARS AFTER




It was only in early 2014 that I managed to re-establish contact (through Foo Chi Chean and Lee Kok Pheng) with Yap Chee Keong who has been based in Singapore for many years, as CEO of an aerospace company. He readily agreed to meet the 'old gang' for drinks and dinner during his trip to KL on the occasion of Quin Ming or Cheng Beng as it is locally known, i.e. all souls day when the Chinese honour and pay respects to their dead by visiting their graves and praying there. Cheng Beng falls on 5th April every year.

I picked Chee Keong up from the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel close to the Jalan Ampang-Jalan Tun Abdul Razak intersection, for our gathering at the Royal Selangor Club, Mt. Kiara. It turned out to be a great gathering as the beer, whiskey, vodka and what not loosened tongues.

Regular attendees at these get togethers, like Foo Chi Chean, Dato Teoh Siang Chin, and special guests like Aw Kok Teng (U6B1) from Penang, were also there. I must say that Aw Kok Teng has been a really inspiring supporter of my writings and causes (like Abdul Jalil who can quote 'Daffodils' by Wordsworth, and poems by Keats), and was chuffed when I presented him (and Chee Keong too) with an autographed copy of my VI blog book 'Let Us Now With Thankfulness' published in 2011.



It ended with a superb Bak Kut Teh supper at Ban Lee near Dynasty Hotel in Jalan Ipoh, where the ribs (tai kuat) and black mushroom were outstanding, not to mention the energizing and head-clearing herbal broth. At about 2 a.m. Saturday, I dropped Chee Keong off at his hotel and later, Aw Kok Teng back at his, in Putrajaya.
                   


For some reason, I had thought that Ng Chee Peng had also been there that day, as I recall dropping him off home after one of our gatherings. Apparently not. 

   Ng Chee Peng

Chee Peng was another who would, during my Upper Six year, often give me a lift home to Kampong Pandan Indian Settlement on his Honda Cub motorbike. His home was close to mine. (Some of his older brothers, like prefect Robert Ng Sing Peng, had also schooled outstandingly in VI). His motorbike had been nicknamed 'Concorde' during his freshie week for the loud noise it used to make from a defective muffler.

It so happened that it was a Friday when I drove to the hotel with another long-standing great ex-VI buddy, Viji Nadarajah, to pick Chee Keong up. The evening traffic was horrendous, and I could sense the irritation rising in Viji from his questions and his fast darkening face. We had some trouble figuring out the exact location of the hotel and how to cross over to the right side of it, as I had left my GPS plug-in at home. As we approached the hotel, we could see that it was connected by an overhead bridge to the Jalan Ampang MRT station. Viji, who could not figure out who Chee Keong was, commented that I could have avoided 'farting around' in the Friday evening gridlock if I had asked him to take the MRT to the suburbs in PJ and picked him up from there.

It was forgivable as Viji did not know about our history. But, I gave him a hint when I said:

"Viji, if this guy had asked me to pick him up from Singapore, I would have done it!" 

Because, you reciprocate not just to those who have done you a favour, but in particular, those who were kind and generous to you and went out of their way for you, when they didn't have to!

4 comments:

  1. Yes, that's Malaysian and James Bond actress Michelle Yeoh posing alarmingly chummily with Dr. Aw Kok Teng!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yap Chee Keong11 July 2016 at 18:54

    Thank you very much for the article. You are too kind! Really look forward to meeting up again.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Finally some news about Chee Keong. He was a year ahead of me in school but we shared many experiences in the 2nd KL Scouts and Seniors, the Junior Library and Shaw House. Chee Keong was a mentor to me as my Patrol Leader and instilled in me a sense of responsibility and dedication. He always led by example and showed outstanding leadership in a quiet understated way and it showed in the way that people interacted with him.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Unknown

    If you email me at za@donplaypuks.com, I can put you in touch with Yap Chee Keong. Your comments will please him. You also write very well.

    ReplyDelete