Koh Tong Bak (V.I. 1956-1962)
Peter Koh Tong Bak attended the V.I. from 1956 to 1962. Besides scouting, he was active in the school's publications, serving as business manager of The Victorian, and subsequently as editor in 1961. He was Davidson House secretary, vice-captain, swimming and waterpolo captain as well as badminton captain. He was secretary of the V.I. Nature Society and a School Prefect. In the Science and Maths Society he was a committee member and edited the Society's annual publication, The Scientific Victorian, in 1962.
Tong Bak read medicine at the University of Singapore from 1963 to 1968. There, he and fellow Victorian, Chin Yuen Fui, teamed up to run the Medical School newspaper for a couple of years. With the call of Scouting still strong even then, Tong Bak joined the University Rover Scout troop and, as a community service, took on the job of ASM of the School for the Blind Troop for a couple of years.
After graduation, he interned at the Johor Baru General Hospital and was assigned to the Tampoi Mental hospital as a Medical Officer. He then moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for specialty training in anesthesia. On completion of his training in anesthesiology he moved to Wausau in Central Wisconsin to practise as an anesthesiologist with a multi-specialty group. In 1978, Tong Bak and his wife, Suzanne, who is also an anesthesiologist, left the group practice to set up their own corporation which has since grown to a sixteen-person group.
Tong Bak welcomes all V.I. ex-Scouts as brothers and may be contacted at email@example.com
s I had been a boy scout in PRES, when I started Form 1 in the V.I. in 1956, it was a natural progression to join the Boy Scout troop. There were 2 scout troops, First KL, and Second KL. I knew a couple of kids from PRES who had joined the 1st KL the year before, so I followed them into the 1st KL boy scouts. I was made a Patrol Leader in 1956, and troop leader of the boy scouts in 1958. I then joined the Senior Scouts in 1959. I got my Bushman's Thong in 1960, and the Agong Scout badge in 1961.
My first ASM was Mohd Nasir, and he was my inspiration for the rest of my Scouting days. He was Muslim, of course, but he encouraged us to say our prayers in our own religion and he preached tolerance and acceptance of others. Wong Peng Kong was my first Scout Master in Form One, and I went to my first real camp at the Port Dickson seventh mile village. Wong Peng Kong set rigid standards for us. If our campsite was filthy, he made the PL pick up each scrap, stitched the pieces together, and made him wear the scraps as a necklace for the rest of the day! Other offenders had their punishments that night at our campfire. Wong Peng Kong would bring out a supposedly dirty/ used underwear of his, soak it in a pan of water, and squeeze it out over the offender's head! Nonetheless, he was always accessible to us any time he was home. In fact, a lot of us hung around his house. He regaled us with his stories, and inspired us to do lots of things we wouldn't have done. There was not too much else going on at that time as far we were concerned.
One of my pet memories is of the times when we First KL guys would travel to the ends of the country for a week, all for $10 and a couple of cans of food! We wrote to schools in Penang, Fraser's Hill, Taiping, Singapore, asking for the use of their school building/ classrooms during the school holidays. We would just put the school desks together and slept on top of them, or like in Singapore, we just slept on the floor. So boys who otherwise could never have afforded the trips managed to visit these places. I still remember going to the Railway Administration office opposite the KL Railway Station and speaking with the Superintendent to see if I could get discounted tickets for our First KL boys. When he found out that it would be the V.I. Scouts making the trip, he said, "Of course you can get discounted tickets, I'm a VI boy myself!". Not only did he give us discount tickets; he even gave us a whole carriage to ourselves!
We had to change trains in the middle of the night, so we organised the guys in a line between the two cars and transferred our luggage tossing the bags - army style - from guy to guy, from one car to the other. It is this sort of stuff that made it such a worthwhile thing to be a Scout. We learned to take responsibility, and to act like adults, seeking out adults to give us whatever help we needed. You have to remember that, in the 1950's, students were taught to be afraid of teachers and never to talk at the same level. So it was quite a job to have sought out the Superintendent of Railways to ask him for the discount pricing!
For travel to camps and outings, we usually biked to the nearer spots, like Klang Gates, Pongsoon, Dusun Tua and Kepong. We camped a lot in our time in the narrow valleys in the Lake Gardens, before they were destroyed by development and highways. We either biked there or were dropped off by our families. A lot of times we just hiked with our equipment from our school. For camping trips out of town, Chong Sze Nen's father would provide a chauffeur and station wagon, usually a trusty Peugeot, to ferry the guys. Others had their own cars. I remember driving my car (a mini Austin 850) to Cameron Highlands, all loaded up with tents, etc, on the top of the car! Then there were those train trips. To get to Port Dickson, we usually took the bus from Foch Ave to Seremban, then changed buses for P.D. When we were camping in the Lake Gardens or elsewhere that afforded privacy, or at Port Dickson, our usual attire for camp was our bikini swimsuits. This was quite practical since we didn’t have to be afraid of the rain.
The time we set out from the school in my trusty Mini for the Cameron Highlands, we had planned to stay at the Brinchang Buddhist Temple. However, Lum Chee Soon was representing the V.I. in a swim meet that day and so could not come with us. Sze Foh gallantly volunteered to drive back from the Camerons later that day just to fetch Chee Soon after his meet, so that he would not miss the trip. Well, as soon as they got up to Brinchang, Chee Soon complained of a very bad headache, and was very nauseated. He looked ill, even lethargic, to me. Lim Pang Hon was the other ASM with me. We decided that Chee Soon was too sick to stay with us, so Sze Foh and I set out with Chee Soon for Kuala Lumpur, in case he needed to be hospitalised. Surprisingly, as soon as we got to Tapah (the turn off to the Camerons), Chee Soon said he felt much better and was no longer feeling lethargic and nauseated. I was quite baffled by his sudden turn around! It was not until years later, when I was living in the U.S. that I solved the mystery of Chee Soon's illness and swift recovery! I was bringing my mom and sister Helen on a trip out west to Yellowstone and we were stopping at the Rocky Mountain National Park. We had driven to the highest point in the Rocky Mountain National Park, where we saw the tundra environment and even an odd glacier, when everyone began getting a headache. My mom and my wife, Suzanne, both complained of nausea. Right at the scenic spot was a big board that said, "If you have a headache and are feeling nauseated, do not be alarmed. These are symptoms of high altitude sickness, and you will feel better when you have descended to lower levels." Of course, we all felt better as soon as we left that high altitude. It was then that I recalled Chee Soon's illness at Brinchang! None of the others had any problems because the altitude was really not high enough to produce symptoms in normal guys, BUT Chee Soon had just finished his gruelling swim races, and was in oxygen debt because of his exertion. He also had lactic acidosis and probably a higher carbon dioxide blood level, which all aggravated the situation and gave him his high altitude sickness. Had he joined us the next day, instead of the same afternoon, he might have been all right. As it was, poor Sze Foh made that trip to Camerons twice, and I remember he and I arriving back in Brinchang quite late at night.
The Kenny Hill site is memorable for the swimming hole that we used at the end of a long hike... we would strip and jump in, swim/ horse around, then dry off sitting around. Or we may have brought along our tiny bikini suits. This is also the place where Lim Pang Hon and I terminated one of our night Treasure Hunts when we were ASM's, and laid out the trail of the Treasure Hunt to end with the guys all stripping naked and jumping into the swim hole to retrieve pineapples that had been weighted down with rocks and thrown to the bottom of the pool. You had to bring up the one that answered your description, so guys kept throwing the pineapples back in until they got the right one. Imagine going for a skinny dip at about 11.30 pm! To get to this swim hole, you had to bike through a rubber estate in Kenny Hill, located off Jalan Duta.
Sometimes, we would bike out to Pongsoon after the midnight show was over on Saturday night, and arrive late at our favourite campsite and then we would just go to sleep on the ground. Mind you, this would be an unplanned trip. Next morning we would then go swimming in the pool on the flat part of the river - there were actually two pools formed at the flat part of the river before it got to the Malay kampungs. Orang Asli would, from time to time, shoot past us on their bamboo floats which were roughly strung together (yet managed to keep afloat), as they floated the bamboo down to be sold. Sometimes, we would feel something brush against our bodies/legs, look down, and see what seemed to us to be water snakes, seriously! Once at one camp at Pongsoon, some of the guys decided to cut down some big bamboo to make a raised bed/ hut. They were carrying the bamboo back to our camp when one guy suddenly seemed to fly through the air! He had struck the high tension wire with his bamboo, and the resulting shock had sent him flying. It was a miracle that he had not been electrocuted. We quickly learned a lesson there!
The truth be known, we had a lot of weekend sleepovers all over the place, one of them being the Kepong Forest Reserve. This was the place that had a big billboard that warned of leptospirosis, a bacterial infection carried by a spirochaete bacterium that attacks the liver and can be fatal. In 1961, we lost one of our boys (he died at home) to high fever, and after I went off to Medical School, I came to the conclusion that he most probably died from leptospirosis, although I have no way of proving it. I was away with Au Yong Mun Seng, the oldest brother of the guy that died. We only knew of the boy's death when we got back, as there was no way for them to contact us. The kid's brother was in our Boy Scouts. Another Scout also almost died from the leptospirosis, although at that time, we blamed it on malaria. But I think we were misdiagnosed at the General Hospital, since if it was malaria, a good dose of the antimalarial drugs always cured the patient.
We were hiking down the East Coast with the Royal Air Force 656 Squadron friends of our ASM John Lever, who had managed to convince his buddies to take five or six of his Boy Scouts with him on an unforgettable trip – a sixty plus mile hike down the East Coast, sleeping out in the open by the beach, with the foam/spray of those waves dropping upon us as we slept (no wonder those houses had mats hanging in front of them!). It was in 1961 and the East Coast natives were really intrigued to see white men right amongst them. The men folk who were back from their early morning fishing would be sitting by us watching our every activity; then after makan, it would be the women's turn to sit and watch us, so we did not have any privacy! It got so bad we had to go into the ocean even to pee! And, if you had to take a dump, you had to swim way out, peel your trunks off and do your business all the while treading water, then hastily slip your trunks back on! The East Coast currents being as strong as they were (in fact, one of our Second K.L. Scouts, Dickie Mei, actually saved a girl from drowning in the current), we usually ended up being swept a quarter mile from our camp by the time we had finished relieving ourselves, and had to walk back along the beach to rejoin our companions!
Another memory is of us having to swim a stretch of lagoon. We found out that two of the white men could not swim at all. Luckily most of us First KL guys had our Life-saving Bronze Medallions. So a couple of us would drag the guys along like we were rescuing them! I was crossing this lagoon when I felt a big whoosh, and felt as if a giant animal was close by me. The next thing I knew, I saw this huge mass rise out of the water (like a Loch Ness monster) in a big swamp of water. It was a big rounded mass, no head or any body parts visible. It came up again, in a big mound, further along, at great speed. After collecting my senses, I figured it had to be one of those big leatherback turtles that we went to the East Coast to watch come out to lay their eggs. It was frightening to be so close to one of those giants, especially when I didn't know what it was at that time!
At camps, we always insisted on building an elevated kitchen/cooking stand, just like we would cook at home, that is, standing up, and not squatting to cook at ground level. Some of these kitchens were very elaborate, and we even had baking competitions. We usually ate pretty well at camp, depending on where the camp was. We usually sent two guys to the local market to buy fresh food. I remember at Pangkor, I sent two guys into town to the fish quay to buy fresh fish, and they came back with a bunch free! The guy at the fishing place just reached into his basket, and gave the fish free. Next day, the two boys went back there, and this time they asked how many boys we were feeding, and when the reply was, like, 24, they got twice as many fish free! We cooked mostly curry - chicken or beef - and, of course, veggies, especially long beans, which kept well, and potatoes and large onions. Every boy brought at least one tin of canned food, usually Spam or corned beef or sardines, but we tried to get fresh stuff every morning. A couple of times, I even bought a whole leg of lamb (from Cold Storage) that we cooked over our campfire like a real barbecue, and even rabbit meat from Cold Storage. NEVER did we curi ayam, which was the derogatory term for Boy Scouts in our days.
At our campfires, each patrol had to come out with their own skit. There were some really good actors/ comedians. I remember one Subramaniam who was really good. At our annual campfires held at Castle Camp, the crowd usually filled the whole campfire circle, and for refreshments, we went into the main hall. Once, I think, it rained, so we had the campfire without the campfire, in the main hall. For refreshments, we made up our own syrup drinks, and I brought my father's ice-cream making churn (like a butter churn) that we had to take turns to crank by hand, (but it made great ice cream!), and we timed the ice-cream making to finish when the campfire was ending, and everyone, the guests included, got some fresh home-made ice cream. In those days, we had the songs typed out on a stencil, and we printed out our song books in the room next to the Headmaster's Office, where Mr Pavee worked. He was also an ex-V.I. Scout. we had to keep rolling the machine by hand and the paper would catch, and come out the other end, after which we had to staple the pages together. Nowadays, you just push a button and your HP Laserjet does the rest!
Castle Camp had a permanent campfire circle in the middle of a grove of trees. The room where we had the rained out campfires was a main 'meeting room' in the complex. Castle Camp always looked like it was in ruins, and it would be interesting to find out what its origin was. When we were using it in the late fifties and early sixties, there was a covered structure that looked like it had originally been built as a covered swimming pool, albeit not a very large one, not bigger in size than the VI pool. Since it had been drained of all water, it actually served as a shower room for the scouts. There were about six shower heads, so about six guys could shower at one time. I remember one evening, a bunch of the guys were showering together, minus their swimsuits, but in the dark of night. Suddenly a voice called to them from the door. As they all turned towards the voice, there was a bright flash, and someone had taken a picture of six naked guys turned towards the camera. If the photo is still around that would be hilarious!
There was a wall between the main building of Castle Camp and the padang, in front of which parades could be held, troops mustered or football games played. This wall, which looked like an aqueduct, did not seem to support any structure but gave Castle Camp the look of a ruined castle. We practised our rock climbing techniques scaling that wall to the top, then walking along the top of that wall. There was a secret to scaling that wall bare-handed. It was that you can't free-climb the sheer face of the wall, as there's not enough of a ledge to catch your toes on. The wall takes a turn near its midpoint, making a slight zigzag, and thereby making a corner of sorts. You have to climb it at this corner - bracing yourself against both walls - kind of the way Jackie Chan climbs walls in his movies. When you see it done, then it looks easy, but you still have to have strong fingers, as there's only about an inch hold. You also have to launch yourself off the wall to catch your fingers on the narrow ledge which was just out of your stretched reach. We used to challenge new guys to climb the wall, and they would give up after many tries. Then we'd show them how!
I learned these songs as a Scout:Een Gonyama
Ging Gang Gooli
We're riding along, on the Crest of the Waves, when the sun is in the sky…
Chan Mali Chan
Ah, se-gemok makan lah, boom, boom lah, boom boom lah...
Our campfire is kindled, our ten laws glowing brightly...
We are boy scouts, trusting in our honour....
A Thousand Legged Worm
One Elephant, went out to play, up on a spider's web, one day...
The White Rabbit…High there, in the deep blue sky…Down the Milky Way...
Smooth and straight the road runs, to the City…
Young man driving down…
Load of water melons…
Fills his thinking, till he meets a pretty girl....
We're here for fun, right from the start...
John Brown's Baby had a cold upon its chest
JB's motor car had a puncture in its tyre and he patched it up with chewing gum...
Say Chester, have you seen my Harry? He's gone to join the Army....
Most of the short ones were sung as 'round' songs. We also sang army songs such as It's a Long Way To Tipperary, Irish songs such as H, A, double R, I, G, A, N , spells Harrigan..., Has anybody here seen Kelly... K, E, double L, Y..., most Mitch Miller songs, some Chinese songs and Malay songs like Sarinande, Putri Sarinande.
During our time, our repertoire grew because of a certain Joe Howard, a Peace Corps volunteer, who trained our choir to sing on TV Malaysia. Joe was working as a Librarian at the MU at Pantai, minding his own business. Then one day, when I was back home on vacation from Medical School, Sek Kum and Jonah told me about this nice American Peace Corps guy who also was into teaching choir singing. Somehow, in our conversation, we got the bright idea that maybe we could get Joe to teach our scouts to sing in perfect harmony. As usual, I was given the task of approaching Joe about possibly training our scouts in the art of "part singing".
Joe turned out to be such an easy guy to talk to, and soon we had fixed up for him to meet up with our Boy Scouts, to see if he would really want to take up the challenge. Arrangements were made to have the boys meet at Lim Siong Ghee's house, where he had a piano, and soon Joe was "auditioning" each boy. He'd hit a note, and have the boy sing it. After a couple of tries, he'd say "tenor" meaning the boy would be assigned to sing tenor. Similarly, I was classified as a "baritone".
To cut the story short, Joe soon got us all singing like pros and he put together our 1st KL Boys' Choir culminating in our Boy Scouts eventually singing on TV Malaysia. But before that, with our new found skill and confidence, we had put on a variety show/fund raiser for the Scout Den Building Project at the Chin Woo Auditorium, and made a pretty good sum of money for the Scout Den. But even without all that, the boys had a great time singing with Joe, and he taught us many songs. The boys learned "part singing" and you could see how they put everything they had, into singing the songs at Campfires. To this day, I can sing from memory Sarinande and hear in my head the other voices harmonising. Similarly for other songs like:Smooth and straight the Road runs..
to the City.....,
Young man travelling down....
Anak China, mengial ikan
We always closed our campfires (even those at camp) with Taps, which we all felt profoundly. There was one song we seniors were very proud of - we wrote the words to the Davy Crockett tune, with the chorus reading as:
Boy scouts and Seniors, of the First KL!
Here's an example of the men 'who don't know fear'. My brother Tong Chui, Au-Yong Kun Ying and 'Jonah' Siew Chak Yun made national news when they became the first Scouts to raft all the way from KL (from the Railway Station) down to Port Swettenham. They overnighted somewhere on an island on the Klang River. Their achievement caught the attention of The Malay Mail, where their picture was printed. There had been at least two previous attempts by other Scout Troops that were aborted either because their craft sank, or they saw crocodiles and high-tailed out of there. And each time, it was reported in The Malay Mail. So First KL got the laurels! To prepare for the rafting trip, the guys built a number of rafts, and practised in the mining pools. Chak Yun would ram the others with his canoe/raft, and sink. So he got his moniker, Jonah, as in Jonah and the Whale.
We usually had Saturday meetings that ran from 8 to about 11 or noon. I can't remember specifics of meeting agendas, but do remember doing first aid courses/ CPR and obstacle courses. One unfortunate recruit actually broke his femur on one of the obstacle courses, and I drove the Boy Scout and his ASM to the General Hospital. Meetings at the school would be in uniform, but meetings elsewhere may not have been in uniform if we had to do specific things. But most of the time we were in uniform. Some of the guys were very fastidious in their dress and would come to meetings with their uniforms neatly ironed and starched. One such guy Lai Kim Leong was always so neat, and now he's a big wig in banking in Malaysia. We usually had our uniforms tailored. I don't remember the price now. As for badges, we bought them at BP House or Castle Camp, after we passed the tests, or we were awarded them by our ASM.
What did the Den look like inside? It was the big room at the right end of the school main building, that is, the room closest to the bottom of the hill. There used to be a big mahogany tree at that corner. The room was divided into two, split diagonally down from the right hand corner. First KL had the room on the left (as you entered) while Second KL the room on the right. We were responsible for our own room and decorated it according to our tastes. The guys who lived far from the school usually hung around the Den, using the room as their base. I didn't do that, since I lived in the Imbi Road/ Bukit Bintang area, and could bike to and fro quite easily. Guys would even do their homework there. We also had our own patrol meetings in the Den. Tenderfeet were usually taught their knots there, and also taught Kim's Game, which is a memory game (like the Memory Card Game).
I took scouting very seriously, and it was a part of my life that I prided myself on being a really honest, hardworking Scout who approached everything with "I will do my best". This ethic served me well, and I tried my best at School work and athletics as well. Unfortunately, I never did better than playing for my Davidson House, and being Captain for Badminton and Swimming (shows how bad my House teams were in those sports!). We had Scouting activities practically every weekend, and we lived as Scouts all the time. We never did consciously want to be King Scouts until Wong Peng Kong, the Grand Old Man of scouting (as far as we were concerned), said that we should try to become King Scouts. (Mr Wong, who did not teach but worked in the mapping department, was the ADC and Scout Master for the First KL Seniors in the late 1950's and early 1960's. He had also been a TL of Fourth KL in 1948). So we channelled our zeal towards that.
The most unusual badge for me was getting the Butterfly Collector's badge which I'm very proud of, because I did learn a lot about butterfly collecting. We really earned that badge! Once four of us were biking to Dusun Tua to catch butterflies. We were each going to bring specific baits for specific species, like rotting pineapple/ bananas and rotting shrimps, which we would lay out on the rocks on the river banks. Then we could pick off the butterflies with our fingers as they blissfully sucked at the bait. Well, I had this Milo tin of rotting shrimp strapped to the carrier of my bicycle and was pedalling in the hot sun when, suddenly, there was a loud BOOM as if a carbide cannon had gone off! We were wondering what the hell was going on when a shower of rotten shrimps rained down on us and covered our bodies with a bad stench! The shrimps had rotted so much in the HOT sun, the gases blew out the lid and the shrimps came out in a geyser-like mass! We stank like high heaven, but we still had to bike through the last village before getting to our usual spot. When we got there, we dumped our bikes, and jumped into the river fully clothed, to wash off all the stench. Then we did our butterfly collection naked until our clothes dried off!
John Lever was the ASM of the early 1960's who introduced us to rock climbing, abseiling and belaying, etc. However, using ropes to climb was slow and tedious (not to mention expensive), and we always ran out of ropes anyway, so we dispensed with ropes. There's a story about how John and Siew Chak Yun, Lim Pang Hon, Yee Sek Kum and Chai Hock Lai went climbing Bukit Takun at Templer's Park. I was supposed to have been with the others on that climb, but the morning of the trip, just before I was to go with them, I was asked by my mother to catch a couple of pigeons for her to cook that day. In jumping up to catch a pigeon, I landed on a rusty nail that punctured the sole of my foot and that put an end to my excursion.
While on Takun, John slipped and a spike of the limestone projections went deep into his buttock, like he was speared in his rear end, and they didn't get out of Templer's Park (with the rumoured tiger sighted recent to their excursion) till about 11 p.m. at night. They were forced to move out of the jungle in the dark, unable to identify landmarks. Sek Kum's mother frantically called me that night asking why her son was not back yet and I had just gotten my sister to drive me around to some of the other guys homes to check if they had actually not returned (some of them did not have phones). Then when we got back to my home, Sek Kum called to let me know they had gotten home at last. John's wound was so deep, it had to be tended to for a month. The wound was so old by the time they got out, his squadron's doctor had left it open so it would not get gas gangrene, and it had to heal by primary intention. Guess who had to dress it every day? It stank too!
ASM John Lever was posted with the 656 Light Aircraft Squadron at Gurney Road. We became familiar figures at his barracks whenever the Boy Scouts dropped by his place.When he was near the end of his tour of duty in Malaysia in 1961, his Squadron arranged an Open House Day for the 1st KL Scout Troop. We were invited to their base and treated to an air show of sorts, and afternoon Tea. Then the commandant of his base, Lt. Col J.H. Creswell presented us with a plaque commemorating the friendship between the scouts and the 656 Squadron. The squadron had also presented the Troop with a $1,000 gift of camping equipment. That was a big help since we were using very old tents that had to be waterproofed each time they were taken out for use, and the old equipment we had was in really bad shape.
One time, we had just taken in a new intake of Boy Scouts into our First KL, and were having our first camp in Lake Garden's "Agriculture Valley". It was a narrow valley with a drainage culvert running along its length, with two wells that allowed us to pull up water for washing and even for cooking purposes. Parents would park their cars at the mouth of the valley to let their boys out, and they would hike into the valley to set up camp. Well, Chong Sun Yeh was patrol leader in Second KL, but his younger brother Chong Sun Thien decided to join the First KL instead. Sun Thien was one of the new guys at camp.
The first day was going pretty good and evening was coming up. Our ASMs, CL (for the Senior scouts), and WK (for the boy scouts), both decided it was time to take their baths. Since the direction of flow was from the upper well towards the front of the valley, they decided to take their baths at the lower well, closer to the road. They were merrily soaping themselves when I heard some chattering coming from the front of the valley. I decided to check on the noise and, to my surprise, there was Sun Thien's mother and - I forget who else - walking into the valley towards the camp!! They were coming to check on Sun Thien! I ran back to warn CL and WK that we were getting company, but they dismissed it as a prank on my part despite my protests. Suddenly, WK saw the women folk coming at them, and he jumped right into the well to hide. However, the well was only wide enough to take one guy, which left CL butt-naked and exposed. There was nowhere for him to run to hide, so he held the water bucket in front of his privates much like how they hold hats in the movies, and calmly welcomed the ladies into our camp... Talk about composure! I was then given the task of escorting the visitors further up the valley to visit with Sun Thien. It's safe to say that the ladies didn't come back for a return visit!!
One of my Scouts, Yap Peng Lee, has given an account of his climb up Bukit Takun (See Climbing Up the Tiger's Tooth (1964)). I myself must have done it at least four times. Once, we all stayed up there overnight, sleeping on the moss-covered rocks at the top. The moss made a really cosy carpet of sorts and we all huddled pretty close to each other for warmth while we slept. In the morning, we awoke to a magical sight - we were enveloped by clouds which rapidly dissipated with the morning sun, but it was truly an experience to peer down through the clouds at the miners' quarters in the distance, that marked the start of our trek to the summit. We felt like we were looking down from heaven!
Another time, after I had joined the Medical School in Singapore, I went to Templer's Park with the Scouts. We were still working our way around the base of Takun to our ascent point when suddenly the Scout in front of me turned around and ran right back at us. He had startled a large snake that had been lying on a big rock. I saw it rear its head, then slither off in the opposite direction. We then continued our trek until we came to some cave-like holes in the side of the mountain. The guys decided to rest a while in one of the caves. Suddenly they started yelling - someone had been bitten by a snake in that dark cave and they could not see what kind of snake it was. We immediately put a torniquet on the arm of the victim, above the snake bite. We had to bring him out to the clearing where I had parked my jalopy, an old Morris Minor. Then followed a mad dash in my car to the K.L. General Hospital where we had the boy treated and observed. Of course, I never made it up to Takun that time!
The last time I climbed Takun was right after I had graduated from Medical School, and before starting my housemanship in J.B. I was back home in K.L., and had found out that a group of guys was going to climb Takun, and I wanted to see if I still had it in me to climb old Tiger's Tooth! However I had forgotten that I had spent two months ill with severe hepatitis just six weeks before my Medical School finals. I was definitely not a healthy specimen right after I had slogged through the finals. In fact, Prof Khoo, the Internal Medicine Prof who was taking care of me, had advised me to sit out the exams, as I was too debilitated to study for the exams, let alone sit for the grueling papers and survive the vivas. He had figured that with the supplementary exams being six months later, I would be healthy by then, but I reasoned that even if I managed to pass one subject, I would only have to be referred in two subjects instead of three.
I have digressed only to show you that I was not in good shape for the climb. This showed up as I was edging my way up the same chute that Peng Lee has described, the half-tube that we had to ascend backwards. This was the one that Peng Lee was swung towards by his friend when he slipped. So here I was, pushing out on the sides with my arms and feet, and bracing my back against the smooth side of the tube. If I lost my footing, I could slide right down the chute like in those water tubes at water parks, and sail right off the side of Takun to plummet a thousand feet to the bottom. Then it happened - as I was working my way up the half tube, I overreached with one leg and sustained a painful cramp in that leg, which caused me to lose my footing, and I was left holding on for dear life with one hand only. I remember the thought that flashed through my mind at that instant, "What am I doing here, risking my life? I just passed my Medical School exams, and I'm not going to be able to practise as a doctor!" I yelled out loud that I was in danger of falling and, just like in Peng Lee's case, a hand reached down from above and grabbed hold of my wrist. This steadied me enough to allow me to get back a firm footing until my cramp subsided. So that was another narrow miss at Takun!
I have to say that my patrol guys were usually very close to each other. Most patrols were assigned by us to try to balance the patrol strengths out, although we did assign close friends to the same patrol. Of course, by the time we got to be Seniors, our patrols had to split up if two or more of those guys were good enough to become PL's or Second on their own right. PL's always had a special bond with their seconds, and we have mainly stayed friends till these days. I was so proud of my having been a First KL boy that I carried that memory with me to the US. The US allows people to choose their own letters/words to make up their licence plates, called vanity plates, for a premium. Most people who have vanity plates choose some clever/funny/personal things to say. As you can see, I had my own special message to broadcast to the people of America!
The school as a whole respected the Scouts. We always put on good exhibits on Speech Day. For Sports Day, it was an honour for the Scouts to raise and lower the School Flag at the start and the end of the ceremonies. I considered that an honour to stand before the School doing that job and timing it to the music. As others trusted in our honour, we did our best not to disappoint.
Last update on 16 April 2007.
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