My V.I. Years
by Mr. Chan Bing Fai
Becoming a Victorian
I first went to study at the V.I. as early as 1941. But not as a V.I. boy because I was only in Standard 2 at the Batu Road School (BRS). At that time World War II was imminent. In the middle of 1941 many Commonwealth troops from the U.K., Australia/New Zealand and India arrived and occupied the premises of the BRS school. It was forced to function in borrowed premises in the afternoons, first in Pasar Road School then in the V.I. and finally in St. John's Institution. That was how I ended up studying as a primary student at the V.I. !
I used to travel with my cousin in my teacher`s new Austin 8 car. Sometimes he would park it under a shade tree by the animal house near the science wing. Sometimes he would park it along the road on the opposite side nearer to Birch Road. To me, the V.I. was so huge and a bit confusing finding my bearings. So during recess each day I would walk round the school to make sure I knew where the car was parked. Otherwise I would not be able to get home to Sentul by myself. Besides I did not have any money for the bus fare.
When the war started on 8th Dec 1941, I was 10 years old. My primary education was interrupted and when it ended in 1945, I returned to the BRS and finished my primary education there in 1946. I gained entry into the V.I. in 1947, this time as a genuine V.I. boy. After a lapse of six years I still found the V.I. huge but less imposing. The verandah around the classrooms is raised about 18 inches above the lawn which I now managed with ease but not in 1941 as a ten-year-old. The V.I. playing field was four to five times larger than the one in BRS. Everything was bigger and better.
For me studying in the V.I. offered an entirely new experience. From nature study in Primary School I now switched to studying general science under Mr. Lim Eng Thye, a most unforgettable character. He was big, weighing more than 180 lbs. He had a broad face, straight black hair and a slight paunch at the waist. He had a way of speaking very slowly but with a heavy Chinese accent. He could make the boys learn by making the lesson simple. When meeting the class tor the first time he would at random ask a boy to stand up and state his name and age. The boy would answer, “I am so and so and I am seventeen years old.” Eng Thye's time-honoured response was immediate: “Seventeen years of wasted life!”
Lim Eng Thye was Hokkien. When he saw a name like my friend’s name - Lim Kwi Huat - he would call out his name aloud, dragging his middle name out, “Kewee-e Whaaat.” It was not intended to ridicule but it was part of his mannerism. His intonation was slanted towards Hokkienese pronunciation. He never lost his temper in class nor resorted to corporal punishment.
For his peculiar way of speaking and mannerism, Eng Thye was the favourite subject for imitation in many school concerts. He was a likeable person and not unlike one of the "Most Unforgettable Persons” featured in The Readers’ Digest.
The V.I. would put up a big show for its annual sports meet. The climax of every sports meet was the Inter-school Relay. Our School’s relay team consisted of Lim Hock Han (Captain), Sha Soo Chai, Kwan Mun Soon and Mohd Amin, the anchor runner. Our relay team never failed to win. It was the talk of the town and the pride of the nation. At every sports meet, Mr. Foo Chong Choon was at the microphone announcing the results of the last race and the start of the next event. He told us that the H.M. had specially picked him to be the announcer because he could pronounce the words correctly based on Daniel Jones' Pronouncing Dictionary. Of course, he also had the right intonation, sounding like a BBC sports announcer. The only thing that Foo Chong Choon did not do was to give a running commentary.
For the annual sports meet, the School would not spare anything to put up a good show. Many dignitaries came to grace the occasion. They were given the covered stand in front of the Pavilion. Our friends and neighbours from Birch Road, Sultan and Petaling Streets, and also from Shaw Road came to witness our sports meet. With them also came the hawkers like ice cream and kachang puteh sellers. The school jaga had a tough keeping them at bay. The V.I. scouts were on traffic duty and also acted as runners conveying messages from each event’s Chief Judge to the announcer. Visitors were allowed stand on the road or on the embankment but were not allowed in the covered stand.
In 1949 our School Swimming Captain, Lim Hock Han, organized a swimming carnival at the swimming pool. There was a display of formation swimming and also a fancy dress parade. I took part in it and came out dressed as a girl. My partner was George Lee who dressed himself up as a buccaneer.
Our inter-school debating team consisting of Mahadev Shankar, Leong Chee Kong, A. Tharmaratnam, Mehar Singh and others, was second to none. They spoke like seasoned parliamentarians. Later they became prominent doctors, lawyers and other professionals.
The V.I. with its magnificent building standing majestically by itself on top of a hill could not earn its prestige and reputation on that alone. The building was only an empty shell and by itself mattered not. It was a combination of academic achievements and all curricular activities like athletics and games. But the V.I. also had a secret weapon known as MHM - "Members helping members". It was people like Wong Peng Kong who devoted his whole life helping young scouts in various aspects of scouting. All those boys who had benefited from his sacrifice and devotion to scouting and enjoyed his benevolence have fond memories of him.
Another very old boy, Tan Keat Chye, who finished his School Certificate as early as 1936, served on the Board of Governors for many years. He came back to help the Drama Society to co-produce the play, Lady Precious Stream. It was successfully staged in the Town Hall in 1958. His production won much praise from the public.
Harry Lau was another Old Boy who later became a teacher for many years. Externally he appeared to be very fierce, abrupt and a man of few words. Yet he was kind-hearted and charitable. One day he overheard a group of boys complaining about the lack of a quiet place to study for their 1951 School Certificate Examination. He invited these three - Foo Thiam Win, Tang Whai Chow and Mah Kee Meng - to study at his house. Each night, on his return from his supper, he would bring back fried kwei teow for these boys to eat.
Another Old Boy Paul Ratchaga (1950) was very poor but he received a scholarship from the V.I. to enable him to finish his studies. He probably received another scholarship later to enable him to finish his university education. On graduation Paul joined the Malaysian Civil Service and rose to a very senior position. He repaid his debt to the School by founding his own scholarship. The Paul Ratchaga Scholarship now assists another generation of poor and needy V.I. boys
In the V.I. there will always be a wide variety of personalities and characters, a potpourri of talents to satisfy every need. In any motley group there is this mishmash. The good ones are worthy for savouring while others we reject. To make music we need to blend selected notes together. In such diversity the V.I. will always strive to achieve greatness.
My Headmaster F. Daniel
Before I came to the V.I. I had heard of the man, F. Daniel, because two of my elder brothers were VI boys before the War. They had studied general science under him. Science teaching then was still at its infancy. For his science lessons Mr Daniel gave out cyclostyled notes. They were cumbersome to carry around. When he had perfected his teaching notes they were published into a series of four text books by Oxford University Press. Later this series of science texts were adopted by many schools in the country. F. Daniel was a name synonymous with science teaching in this country.
By the time I joined the VI in 1947 Mr Daniel had become the VI H.M. Although I missed his teaching, I benefitted from his wisdom and the efficient way he administered the school. He was about 5' 5" to 5' 6" tall, rather stout weighing 150 to 160 lbs. He had a broad forehead, short straight brown-black hair and he kept a moustache. Daily he wore a khaki brown bush jacket and shorts with colour matching stockings and leather shoes.
Every morning he would take a swim in the swimming pool. As I lived in Sentul I cycled to school very early for fear of being caught for coming late. On many occasions I saw Mr Daniel walking barefooted, wearing a swimming trunk with a large towel draped over his body walking back to his room. He had converted one of the upstairs classroom into his bedroom. It was situated at the corner between the science wing and the H.M.'s office. Whenever I saw him I greeted him, “Good morning, Sir.” He did not respond but continued walking straight towards his room. Maybe he did not hear me or was too deep in his thoughts. For fear of offending him, I detoured whenever I saw him approaching.
He was a strict disciplinarian and he introduced a number of rules. For example one must not come to school late or walk on the grass or stay in the classroom during the recess and many more. During one school assembly he spotted a boy talking. He identified the boy and shouted at him. He ordered him to bring his school bag and belongings to wait out his office immediately. There was another occasion during one of the qualifying rounds one afternoon he saw from the top of the sports pavilion a boy fooling around. He ordered the boy to wait outside his office. Remember Malaya then was still under British rule and our colonial masters were very powerful. Mr Daniel had the power to suspend or sack any boys for committing any offence that warranted it. On hindsight he was like a paper tiger. He threatened in order to maintain discipline.
He was a firm believer in signs and symbols and he used them as a kind of mass communication. For example if one saw the red light outside his office it meant that he did not want to be disturbed as he was having an important meeting. If one saw a black ball raised on the flag pole at the Pavilion that meant that the afternoon's games were cancelled due to bad weather. During Sports' Day the House championship was keenly contested. Each House had a coloured ball representing it. Their positions changed from time to time. The different coloured balls were suspended on a flag pole and were updated frequently according to their positions. They were placed in the centre of the padang so as to be visible from afar.
The school had its own flag and on one occasion it was flown from the flag pole below the clock tower to signify an important meeting was taking place in his office between the VIOBA and the school over a challenge trophy to be decided by a series of games between the old boys and the school.
The Rt Hon. Anthony Eden, the Deputy leader of the Conservative Party of Britain visited the school on March 17, 1949 to declare open the new library and to unveil the School War Memorial. The ceremony went on smoothly as scheduled without any hitch. The next day Mr Eden departed and he was requested to fly over the V.I. padang. The H.M. had lined up the whole school with about 900 people to form the huge monogram “V.I.” with 100 yard letters facing east. His plane circled the school and we waved goodbye to him. To make that day a memorable one the school was granted a day off.
Although he was a science man Mr Daniel was also a promoter of the fine arts. He bought a number of reproductions of great printings and then had them framed and hung them on the pillars along the corridors. He mentioned some of the great paintings by Van Gogh, Picasso and others during one of the school assemblies. We were then too young to really appreciate them. The paintings were subjected to weathering and soon they were destroyed by heat, light and rain.
F. Daniel as H.M. would be remembered for introducing a school uniform for the school It consisted of a white Hawaiian shirt and white shorts. On the left breast pocket was displayed the V.I. logo with the letters in dark blue over a light blue field background. It was not strictly enforced and it never caught on. When Mr. E.M.F. Payne succeeded him he never pursued the matter further and the project died.
A special concert was staged in the school hall on April 12, 1949 to bid farewell to Mr Daniel. It was produced on a modest scale by the School Captain. The programme included some songs and the trial scene from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. The most hilarious item was a sketch, Young Nadesa written and produced by S. Nadeswaran. It was narrated by J. D. Davies. The theme of the sketch was adapted from the original poem, Young Lochinvar. Shortly after that Mr Daniel sailed for England from Port Swettenham on the M.S. Selandia after his retirement.
Although he put up a very stern outward appearance Mr Daniel was probably soft inside. He did not publicly cane or sack anyone. Naughty boys were often sent to detention class or to polish the brass door hinges. Most boys appreciated his administration and leadership. He always had a soft spot in his heart for VI.
He was the first to sign up in the V.I.O.B.A. when he retired in May 1949. He returned to Wales and lived in a big farm. Some of his Old Boys visited him there. Some time in the mid-1950s Mr Daniel went to Cambridge University to meet my former classmate, J.M. Yong, who was studying medicine in Christ College. He was very proud that a V.I. boy had made it to Cambridge and he took J.M. Yong out for lunch. He was way ahead of his time to make use of simple signs and symbols for mass communication before the days of hand phones and the internet. He would always be remembered as a great H.M. equal to some of his predecessors.
My Photographic Beginnings
It was on a hot and humid Friday afternoon more than 60 years ago, in 1948, when my classmate, the late Liao Long Sing (LLS), invited me to visit him in his home behind Birch Road. He showed me his improvised darkroom converted from a small storeroom underneath the staircase. He wanted to show me how to make a print from a negative.
He had laid out on a table three dishes, holding (a) a developer, (b) a step bath (acetic acid) and (c) a fixer (hypo). He then switched off the room light except for safelight which he had improvised by wrapping a small bulb with red translucent red paper. He then took out a sheet of light sensitive bromide paper from a box and placed it over the negative. LLS then turned over the picture frame. He covered over the negative with a piece of black card. Then he switched on the room light to make an exposure.
Every three seconds he moved the black card about 1 centimetre sideways exposing a new section of the bromide paper to light. Since he did not have a timer, the timing was done approximately by counting — “and 1”, “and 2”, “and 3” until he reached “and 25”. When that was done, he took out the exposed bromide paper from the picture frame and dunked it into the developer. An image began to form and it became darker and darker with development. After a minute or so he took it out and transferred it to the stop bath to arrest further development. After another minute he transferred it to the hypo bath to fix the picture. LLS switched on the room light for closer inspection. The centre strip which had been exposed for 15 seconds seemed to have the right density. By giving a new sheet of bromide paper a 15 second exposure the resulting photograph turned out reasonably good.
It was pure fascination to see an image appearing as if from nowhere. To me LLS was a magician. Every day during recess a group of boys would crowd round LLS. Another classmate, the late Chua Swee Boon, the grandson of the founder of Cycle and Carriage, was also interested. Since he was well-to-do, he bought the whole photographic set and conducted his experiments in his own home. I persuaded Swee Boon to give me a few sheets of bromide paper so that I, too, could conduct my own experiments. The following day he handed me a few sheets of bromide in a box, carefully wrapped in black paper.
So, one day, after school, I cycled to Shui Kat Photo Studio and Suppliers in High Street. I was recommended by the salesman to purchase a small tube of Johnson MQ developer to make 20 oz of working solution. It was suitable for developing film, plate and paper. I also bought 1 lb. of hypo. When I got home I hastily dissolved half the contents in the glass tube container in 10 oz. of water and impatiently waited for night fall to begin my own experiments. I did exactly what LLS had done but there was no image formed. The experiment was a complete failure. I not know what had gone wrong and I could not wait to tell my Sifu, LLS. He told me to bring the remaining chemicals for him to examine.
When he read the instructions from the tube he at once spotted my mistake. It was clearly stated in the instructions that the MQ developer came in 2 parts. One was to dissolve part A in 10 oz of water. When it was done one was to add part B to it and stir well until it too was dissolved. Then one was to add water to make up a working solution of 20 oz. That meant my developer had been incomplete without part B. Much to my disappointment, I had to purchase a second tube of MQ developer. The second time I got it right and my photography took off and I have never looked back.
When we went camping in Castle Camp in Rifle Range in 1948, a member of my patrol, Liew Kon Lin (LKL) brought a camera to camp and asked me to take some pictures of our trip. I was more than happy to oblige. It was an Agfa folding camera with a f4.5 lens with a shutter speed ranging from 1 second to 1/250 seconds, it used 120 size roll film yielding 12 pictures of size 6 cm x 6 cm. Previously I had printed all kinds of old negatives from my siblings. Now I had the opportunity to print photos from my own negatives.
In the same year I joined the V.I. Photographic Society. The VIPS was actively organizing field trips; it also invited many prominent local photographers to come and give talks. In 1950 it organized a photo competition for its members. I very much wanted to participate but I was without a camera. So I approached LKL to lend me his camera again, the one that he had brought to the camp. He said that it actually belonged to his father’s friend. He could see my disappointment and so, on the quiet, he told his father that he wanted to use the camera again.
LKL succeeded in borrowing the camera again through his father. So one Saturday morning LKL and I cycled to Shui Kat, where I bought a roll of Kodak Verichrome 120 film for 80 cents. Together we cycled all over town to photograph the Railway Station, the clock tower, St Antony’s Church, Wesley Church, the Lake Gardens and cycled as far as Maxwell Road. With just two exposures left we returned to the V.I. where I photographed the V.I. clock tower. With the last exposure left, I shot the verandah from near one of the staircases. It was late evening with a strong play of light and shade, and it was this picture that won me the fourth prize in the photo competition. During one school assembly, I received my prize from the Headmaster, Mr. E.M.F. Payne. It was a very modest prize of a Fountain Press publication, a Photofacts booklet No. 17 entitled Artificial Lighting by H.R. Alder.
I bought my first camera, a used American Bolsey 35 mm camera with a 40mm. f3.5 Wollensak lens with shutter speeds from 1 second to 1/200 seconds, in December 1952. At that time I was doing my teacher training in Kirkby, England. When the camera arrived from London in mid-December it was snowing. When the snowing stopped, I took it out with me to the countryside and took three pictures with Kodachrome, a colour transparency film, of an old English cottage with the roof and the road in front still covered in snow. It is still in very good condition after more than 60 years.
My passion for photography has never waned because I am after the image which is endless. I have allowed my passion to grow into an infatuation which has lasted to this day. I have the uncanny ability to see beyond the obvious. My patience and precision in my timing often create pictures with impact that catches the viewer’s eyes. The message that it carries is often deep and meaningful. My educational background and psyche enable me to see beyond the surface. Many people can look at the same things but they often do not see what I see. In short my photography has depth, meaning and creativity. Over the years I have developed my own style which is unique.
I have written four books on
In them you will find my ideas and philosophy pertaining to photography. They are well illustrated with my own pictures. They are all originals and not concocted by Photoshop because they all come from my heart. That is what photography is all about. It is unending and inexhaustible.
From V.I. Boy To V.I. Teacher
When I returned to K.L. from Kirkby, England, after my two-year teacher training, I was posted back to the V.I. as a qualified teacher. I reported in August 1954 to Mr. G.P. Dartford, H.M.V.I. After welcoming me he sent me to see Mr. Lai Nyen Foo, my former teacher, now the senior assistant. I became a temporary relief teacher because the previous teacher had left. For the 3rd term, I taught English Literature in Form 4C, General Science in Form 2A. I also taught Art, and swimming and P.E. in Forms One and Two.
During the school assembly I sat on the stage with my former teachers. I looked down on the floor of the school hall. I saw a sea of gleaming young faces, so fresh and so eager to learn. It was just over seven years ago that I sat there in the front row beaming with the same enthusiasm. I asked myself what kind of teacher I was going to be to satisfy their keenness to learn. Although I was trained, I was not yet tested as a teacher. The expectations were high because, firstly, I was a product of the school and, secondly, I was the first trained teacher from Kirkby and the whole Kirkby project had been given wide publicity when it was started. What kind of teacher did I want to become and whom could I model myself on, I asked myself.
In the V.I. there were many Old Boys who later became teachers. High on the list were Messrs Ganga Singh, Harry Lau and Chong Yuen Shak, to name a few. I did not have the charisma of Ganga Singh with his eloquence and grammatically correct English. He had spent so much time in the V.I. that we often regarded him as one of the pillars of the school. Then there was Harry Lau, a strict disciplinarian and a very quick tempered, no-nonsense type of chap and. One had to be prudent and behaved oneself properly; otherwise, one could be a target of flying dusters, chalks and books, or worse.
On the other hand there was the most genteel teacher in Chong Yuen Shak (CYS), a Raffles graduate. In the mid-1950s, a team of school inspectors from the U.K. came and spent a week in the School to give it a thorough inspection. They were here at the invitation of the Ministry of Education which wanted to start its own Inspectorate. At the teachers’ annual dinner, Dr. G.E.D. Lewis congratulated CYS who, according to the U.K. inspectors, was the best teacher. He was worthy of emulation but again teaching was such a personal affair that one had to do it according to one’s individual way, based on the circumstances and also one’s psyche.
So I did it my way by trial and error depending on my conscience and to the best of my ability. I learned as I went along. I found out that most V.I. boys were very keen to learn and were highly motivated. What they need most was guidance and encouragement. Throughout my stay in the V.I. that was my course of action.
The V.I. scouts were allotted a swimming period of one hour every Sunday. The boys were allowed to swim without a teacher on duty. A duty roster was drawn to rotate between the two Scout Masters, of which I was one. Dr. G.E.D. Lewis lived in a bungalow within the school compound. On his rounds on Sundays he would see me there with my Scouts. One Speech Day he gave strict instructions not to allow any cars to pass through the front porch during the inspection of the Guard of Honour by the Mentri Besar or or His Royal Highness the Sultan of Selangor. That job was given to my Scouts and to make sure things were not fouled up in any way, I personally stood there together with two Scouts.
Sometimes I stayed back in the staff room to mark my books in the afternoons while waiting to fetch my wife from the Selangor Education Department. One day in 1959, I approached Dr. Lewis to furnish me with a testimonial to support my application for a USIS scholarship. He gave me his full support and said in his letter that I was one of the youngest and most promising teachers. On the strength of his recommendation, I was awarded the scholarship to study audio-visual education. Very much later when Dr. Lewis wrote his memoirs, Out East in the Malay Peninsula, he mentioned, “…and there were three more, our hockey expert, Yap Chai Seng, and the hard-working and reliable Bing Fai and Ho Sai Hong.”
On completion of my course in the U.S.A. in March 1960, I rejoined the V.I. staff. On the strength of Dr. Lewis’ testimonial and having acquired further qualifications in audio-visual education, I later managed to secure a job as the chief medical illustrator in the Faculty of Medicine, U.M. After that, I moved up again to became the Technical Director of Educational Technology Centre in U.K.M. From there I retired in 1985.
As a teacher it was not financially rewarding but one got the satisfaction in helping young boys growing up to become useful citizens of the country. But I also felt pleased with being recognized in the most unlikely places like airports and government clinics and offices. Invariably, my Old Pupils try to help me in one way or another. Being an octogenarian now, many of my former students themselves have retired. Whenever we meet we are friends on equal terms. Many still call me “Master,” or simply “Bing Fai.” My first K.L scouts are still active and they meet regularly once a month in a restaurant to catch up with one another and to talk of the good old times.
From very humble beginnings in 1894 in High Street, the V.I. has grown into the premier school with its majestic building standing proudly on Petaling Hill despite towering giants like Daya Bumi and Twin Towers in the neighbourhood. The V.I. is not about buildings. It is an educational institution and over the years thousands of students have passed through its portals. It is doing the founding fathers proud by being the school in the country. I am equally proud to be associated with it first as a student and, later, eleven years as a teacher there. I look back with fond memories of the happy times both as a student and later as a teacher.
May the traditions and its good name continue to flourish. Long live the V.I.!
My Form Teacher in Standard 8A
He was an Old Boy of the school. He was also the Rodger Scholar in his time. Mr. Ganga Singh spent his entire teaching career in his alma mater until he retired in 1963. He taught English Language almost exclusively including oral English and grammar. Ganga liked to impress his class with bombastic words and often quoted poetry off the cuff from Shakespeare, Wordsworth and others.
He was about five feet eight inches tall, heavily built and weighed close to 180 to 190 lbs. He wore a white shirt, white turban and white pants to school. He always walked briskly, despite a slightly extended waist line, giving the impression of supreme health and efficiency.
On entering the classroom each day, Ganga would fire away a few mental arithmetic problems to wake us up. He would show his impatience by snapping away with his fingers if the right answers did not come fast enough. The moment he entered the classroom, he meant business and he would not tolerate any tardiness, sloppiness and indolence. Ganga often punched his big fist hard on the teacher’s table to scare the boys. He often threatened that if anyone misbehaved, that culprit might come into “violent contact” with his big fist. I never saw him lose his temper and take the opportunity to use that fist.
When teaching poetry, Ganga used to stress the beauty of the verse with its metre, rhythm and rhyme befitting the imagery of the scenes described. To fully appreciate its beauty, he said, one should hum its rhythm like “dee dum, dee dum” or “dum dee dee dum.” Many of us led very insular lives and never had the opportunity to travel beyond the shores of Malaya. So, very often, Ganga would encourage us to close our eyes and use our imagination to see with our mind’s eyes the beauty as described. He would walk stealthily around the class to see that the boys were doing what they had been told. One day, in his poetry appreciation class, a Sikh boy, of all people, was heard warning his clasmates fairly loudly, “Beware, bayee is coming from behind!”
Some boys in our class had difficulty pronouncing certain English words correctly, especially words starting with “th” as in “this” and “that.” We were required by Ganga to bring a hand mirror to class and told to watch his lips as he enunciated those words. However, we boys burst out laughing spontaneously because Ganga’s lips were not visible from any angle because of his moustache!
Ganga was very impressive when he showed up in our class for the first time. Most of us were weak in English in the years immediately after the war and Ganga wanted us to do well in English in order to get good grades. He said he was prepared to help us and he would therefore require us to have two exercise books, namely for English I and English II. We were gratified that at last we had a teacher who was willing to work us hard. Dutifully we submitted our essays and other written assignments in both exercise books for Ganga’s correction and assessment. Unfortunately, we never ever set eyes on them again, even after the school year ended. Good impressions require good follow-ups too!
Ganga also taught English grammar and we were required to buy additional texts such as Oral Exercises in English Composition by J. C. Nesfield. This book had many fine points about the peculiarities of the English language. A year later in 1951, many of us sat for the School Certificate Examination. We did not let our English teacher down for we scored good grades in that subject. The good grades came from having a good foundation in the English language throughout our school years. There were no short cuts.
What Scouting Taught Me
Before the war I was still in primary school, too young even to become a wolf cub. My cousin, just a year older, became a wolf cub. He wore a very smart wolf cub uniform to his weekly meetings. He learned to sing many cubbing songs, played games and learned a few tricks with the rope. I was very envious of him and could not wait to join him the following year. But the war came and it disrupted everything.
The war ended in 1945 and soon after that the schools reopened. I quickly enrolled myself as a BRS scout and my scoutmaster was T. Ramachandram. Despite his age, he was active and took us to many picnic spots like Klang Gates, Kuala Sleigh (Ampang) and the Hong Fatt Tin Mine in Sungei Besi (now Mines Resort). We cycled together to all these places. He always carried a large kerosene tin for boiling water to make tea. We were allowed to swim and play in the water at Klang Gates. His orders were strictly followed and there were no mishaps or accidents.
When I joined the V.I in 1947, I continued with my scouting. My group scoutmaster was Mr. Lim Eng Thye. Later he was succeeded by V. Durainayagam. There were three scout troops in the V.I. at that time, namely, 1st KL, 2nd KL, and 4th KL My scout master was S. Ratnasingam. Fortunately, many former V.I. scouts came back to help. These former V.I. scouts may be divided into two groups. The older Old Boys were those who had left school prewar and newer Old Boys were contemporaries who were just two or three years our senior who had recently left school. One such Old Boy was Wong Peng Kong. He was dedicated to scouting his entire life. He came back regularly to our meetings to teach us map reading and how to tie different knots with a rope. Every camp we went to he was there to assist us in all aspects of scouting. He got along well with us.
In scouting we learned to play and work together as a team and that cemented us into a closely knit group. In the Hound patrol, Moey Yin Chee, three years our senior, was our patrol leader. When he left school, Chan Fook Wah took over. Later when he left school, I became the patrol leader and my second was Liew Kon Lin. The others were Khong Kim Kong, Lim Kwi Huat, Siew Fook Cheong and Earl Robson. We were all classmates. Besides scouting the group visited friends during Chinese New Year and sometimes we went to see a cinema show together. Although we had to part after finishing our School Certificate examination in 1951 in pursuit of our careers, we have maintained our friendships all those years. Of the six of us, two have departed, one resides in Canada, two in Australia and I have remained in Malaysia.
What I learned in scouting proved to be an asset in later life. While doing teacher training in Kirkby from 1952 to 1954, I hitch-hiked in Ireland, trekked the Lake District and visited Europe with another friend on our own without joining an organized tour. We found our way around and getting lost was part of the fun.
In my working life I did very little travelling. After I retired in 1985 my wanderlust got the better of me. So I dusted off my rucksack and fitted myself with a pair of trekking boots. In 1988, together with a friend, we decided to join a trekking party for a four-day trek in Chiang Mai, North Thailand. We took a flight to Chiang Mai and slept the first night at the Chiang Mai Youth Hostel. We were given a briefing and issued a rucksack and a water bottle each. Our heavy baggage was left in a locker at the Youth Hostel.
The trekking tour was for three nights and four days. The trek took us to Northern Thailand in the Chiang Mai area. The trek covered some of the most beautiful and pristine places like farm lands, padi fields and rolling hills. We stayed with different hill tribes such as the Karens, the Shans and the Lawas. We rode on elephants and rafted down a river. No matter how enjoyable it was, the trek alone could only cover a small area and was still very limited in scope.
So we decided to return a year later to Northern Thailand and covered a far wider area, offering a wider variety landscapes. In order to see more we decided to rent a Suzuki 4 wheel drive. We engaged our former assistant guide to be our driver. From Chiang Mai we drove north to Chiang Rai, to the Golden Triangle and then drove further on until we reached Mae Sai, the border town with Myanmar.
Standing at one point on the embankment of the Mekong River on the Thai side one could see Myanmar on the left and Laos on the right. The Golden Triangle was famous for its opium. There was a small bridge which connected two countries. Continuing our journey we arrived at another town situated upon a hill. It was Mae Sa Long. Thousands of former Chinese Nationalist soldiers of the 93rd Regiment retreated there, when the Communist overran China in 1949. They were allowed to settle down here by the Thai Government. Now it was a thriving community with farm lands, tea plantations and hotels. From there we drove further west and reached another town, Mae Hong Song, which in Thai meant “city in the mist.”
Driving back we passed through many rolling hills. Khun Yuan, a village on the way, was a valley full of wild sunflowers. It stretched for miles and miles, but was not visible from the road. While drinking coffee at a half-way inn I saw a poster full of yellow sunflowers. I asked the inn-keeper where it had been taken. She said if I went back about five miles the way I had come, I would find a dirt road leading to the valley where the sunflowers were. December was the time when they would be blooming. We did just that and my curiosity rewarded me with a spectacular display of sunflowers. In some places poppies were intercropped with cabbages.
Looking back, scouting has taught me to be adventurous, to have self-confidence, to be curious, to have initiative and to enjoy beauty and nature. Scouting was my little rehearsal to prepare me for the adventures in Northern Thailand and elsewhere later in life. Now I look back with fond memories of 65 years ago when a small group of us formed ourselves into the Hound Patrol. The bonding and unity of a half a century ago lasted our whole lifetime. Two of us have departed and the remaining four are now living separately in three different countries. Whenever we met we talk of the good old times. Long live scouting!
Last update: December 19, 2012.
Page-Keeper: Chung Chee Min