My V.I. years

by Koh Tong Chui

Koh Tong Chui was at the V.I. from 1958 to 1964. He played an active role in the various sports and extra-curricular activities of the school. Tong Chui was inducted into Club 21 for his contributions to the school and made a prefect a little later. He was installed as School Vice-Captain in his final year at the V.I. After passing his Higher School Certificate he read medicine at the University of Malaya, graduating in 1970. His housemanship stint was spent at Johore Baharu, where he took up polo, playing with the likes of the Johor Sultan and the then Raja Muda, Tuanku Ibrahim, the present Sultan. After his marriage in 1971, he relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for a residency in anesthesiology. Tong Chui is now in private practice at the largest private hospital in Wisconsin, specializing in cardiac anesthesia. He also holds a position as Assistant Clinical Professor of Anesthesia at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

t was the end of the 1957 school year. I had just completed my Standard Six at Pasar Road School and we were all waiting in our classroom for the results of the final examinations. These results would determine where we would be going for the next phase of our education. I was filled with anxiety as I knew I had to keep up with tradition in the Koh family. My father, Koh Pooi Kee, and my two eldest brothers - Tong Boon and Tong Boo - had been VI boys and my third brother, Tong Bak, was currently in the V.I. and I wondered if I could follow their footsteps. Thankfully, after what seemed an eternity, my name was amongst those announced and I realized that I had made it to the V.I.!

I reported to the V.I. in January 1958. As it happened, my sister, Helen, who had just completed her Form Five at BBGS, was also accepted as a new student in Form Six. The three of us could now go to school in one car.

I was put in Form 1C. I remember very well Charlie Chin who sat on one side of me and Kenneth Chong on the other. Charlie had a brace in one leg due to a bout with polio. However, he was most inspiring as he did not let this handicap get in the way. He even participated in swimming as a sport. His talent, however, was in music as he could sing very well. Pairing with Kenneth Chong, they were the best singers in Form 1 at the school’s Talentime contest. Kenneth and I had grown up in the same neighbourhood, and we had gone to PRS together. Khoo Siow Hong, Yim Yoke San, Tan Woo Tee and Ganesan are some of the classmates who come to mind. I last saw Siow Hong eight years ago in Sydney but have not met with Ganesan and Woo Tee since school days. However, I meet up with Yoke San whenever I come back to KL for a visit.

My Form master was one Valentine Manuel. Somehow I enjoyed a very good relationship with him and became one of his pets as a result. As life would have it, later on in medical school, his wife was my anatomy teacher. Mr. Manuel left the V.I. and eventually became a lawyer. Mr. P. Thomas, our science teacher, came to school on his old gentleman’s bicycle and he loved to play badminton. Mr. Khoo Teng Yuen taught us history and was also a good badminton player. Many will remember him as a badminton coach. He left after two years at V.I. to join Brinsford Lodge in England as a teacher trainee.

What does a twelve-year-old do when he is first exposed to a big secondary school? I knew it was not going to be easy having a brilliant older brother like Tong Bak in the V.I., as the expectations were so much higher. He was two years my senior and was always in the top three positions in class. So, as “Tong Bak’s brother” from day one, I was expected to be "smart". But I was in Form IC. So my first goal was to get back to the A class. It was tough but I managed it!

In Form 2, I got placed into the A class based on my overall Form 1 performance. I think there were four others from the C class who made it there as well. I was reunited with Wong Ket Seong, Teh Pooi Keong, Goh Tuck Kee and Wong Kwan Kit, all of whom had started with me in Primary 1G at PRS, and we had double promotions together along the way. So I considered our little group special. In fact all of us eventually became doctors as well! Ket Seong, Pooi Keong and I even went to the same medical school; so we had stayed together from 1952 to 1970. Now, that’s a long time.

My Form teacher was Mr. Appadurai at first. He was the only teacher who ever slapped me in school, and all because I once gave out a loud sigh when he assigned us a huge pile of homework. I was so mortified that I vowed never to be in that situation again. After Mr Appaddurai left, Mr. Richard Gow came, and I could do no wrong in his eyes. He wrote in my report card at the end of the year: “…a fine example of a very good student”. Our art teachers were Messrs Vincent Voo and Patrick Ng. The latter was a gifted artist with six paintings hanging in the National Art Gallery. I was never too good in art, but somehow, on one inspired occasion, I managed one painting which earned me an A from Patrick Ng!

In Form 3, I realized that I had to put more time in my books and not just in sports. That year, our classroom was at the end of that school wing which overlooked the swimming pool, with the boys’ toilet below. Tong Bak kept reminding me that the Lower Certificate of Education (LCE) exams were tough and that I had to do well in mathematics. Goh Tai Heng, Lim Kah Pean, Ramachandra and Yoong Mee Pin all had an influence on me.

Although I was small-sized, one boy, Ramachandra, was even smaller than I. Unfortunately, he was no mathematical genius and as a result, Mr. Harry Lau - that most feared of all maths teachers - always picked on him! I realized quickly that Mr. Appaduray’s wrath was nothing compared to that of the legendary Harry Lau. We had heard stories of compasses and other missiles hurled at students who did not know their math! I knew I had to develop my math skills quickly or face his outbursts as well. Fortunately for me, I did well enough for Harry Lau to leave me alone. Thank you Mr. Lau for improving my math skills!

Goh Tai Heng was very good in English and wrote beautiful and highly imaginative essays. At that time, at the start of a new term, we all had to write those silly essays on what we had done during our holidays. I remember the occasion when Tai Heng made up an account of how he had spent his vacation on the French Riviera. So well did he cook it up that I was completely fooled by his fictional effort and since Tai Heng hailed from a rich family I really thought that he had gone vacationing in France!

Kah Pean taught me how to study hard and to do all the problems from our blue math book. We spent many a time studying together after school hours. We developed a great bond throughout medical school. Kah Pean is one of the smartest persons I know. Mee Pin was an outstanding rugby player who had the distinction of playing for the V.I. Rugby XV while in Form 3. I always admired his toughness and passion for the game. At that time I had no ambitions, just taking examinations because they were there. As Tong Bak was in the science stream, I just knew I had to get there as well.

Thankfully, I survived Form 3 and managed to get to Form 4B - the science class - in 1961. Phua Juay Chee, Ong Say Kiat and Chandrasekaran all come to mind when I think of that year. Juay Chee was into sports and scouting; he was truly a natural leader. We became co-scout leaders and spent a lot of time together on the field and in tents. We were in the same rugby team and our V.I. Rugby XV was victorious in all the Lewis Cup matches we played. Juay Chee would become the School Captain in 1964 and I, the Vice-Captain. He went on to join the Air Force and flew commercially for Malaysia Airlines. He is now retired in Australia. Chandrasekaran was also in the scouts with us. He is now a neurosurgeon in the US. Say Kiat was a very good rugby player at the fly-half position. He graduated as an engineer from the University of Malaya and is today a successful businessman.

In Form 4 Mr. Yeong Seng Chye (“Baby Face”) was fresh from the MU and taught us physics all the way to Form 6. I remember his asking us for the equation for simple harmonic motion. When no one could write it down or explain it, he made us all write out the formula one thousand times! Sorry, Mr Yeong, but I still do not remember it now! We had Miss Fay Siebel as our geography teacher in Form 4 and Form 5. She was a great distraction in our daily lessons as our hormones were starting to rage then. Despite that, thanks to Miss Siebel, I got my A in geography in the School Certificate exam. The other lady teacher was Miss Wong Yoke Ling - Kwan Kit’s aunt - and she was always dressed rather formally, in tight skirts or cheongsam. She took us in literature and English.

My favorite teachers at this time were Mr. C. Anantakrishnan and Mr. Yeoh Oon Chye. The former was a great math teacher who was the most patient teacher I had ever had. He never lost his temper. I can still remember his huge scrawls on the black board and his large signature in my report book. Mr. Yeoh was our biology teacher and what a hard working man he was. He inspired us all to do our best in whatever we wanted to be. Our botany and zoology assignments had to be done neatly and orderly. He was a true educator and all of us have to thank him for getting us into medical school. Mr. Chang Chi Yeh was our chemistry teacher, who also doubled as our form teacher after Mr. Yeoh left. It was his first year as a teacher, but he survived our class!

There were three Headmasters during my V.I. years. My first was Dr. G E D Lewis, who made the V.I. what it was. He made the students excel in sports and academics as he believed in a well-rounded education for the students. When we had gang problems - especially from a certain Gang 21 - in and around the school, he was not afraid to confront the gangsters and even caned some of these boys. One of his ideas to boost morale was to set up a new club for the students. The name of the club was Club 21, as opposed to Gang 21. To be a member of Club 21 a student has to have brought honour to the school in either the sports or other extra-curricular activities. Though there could only be at most 21 members at any one time, that maximum has never been reached. In fact this club seemed more exclusive than the Prefects Board. Dr. Lewis installed me as a member of Club 21 and later as a Prefect as well. I still remember the day that my name was called out for the latter installation. I walked down the school hall, up to the stage and had the badge pinned on me by Dr Lewis. What a great feeling!

In Form 5 and Form 6, I finally knew what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a doctor, as two of my brothers were planning to read medicine as well. Kam Chin San and Lim Meng Hooi were the youngest in our Form 6 class and also aspired to be doctors. Chin San hailed from Kelantan and is one of the most intelligent persons I have had the privilege to be associated with. Chin San could listen to a lecture without writing anything down while all of us would be frantically scribbling whatever the lecturer said. But at the end of the lecture, he would write all his notes out from memory in an organized fashion. To this day I have yet to see another person who can do this. We were in the same medical school. He is now a doctor in private practice, after a stint as a Professor of Neurology at Medical School.

Meng Hooi came from Taiping. The son of Dr. Lim Swee Aun, the Minister for Commerce and Industry at that time, he was a most accomplished student in the arts. In fact, I wondered why he was in the science class at all as Meng Hooi was a superb pianist and artist, as well as a very good student. His biology sketches were so lifelike that you wanted them to hang in your house. His piano playing made him a darling of the girls. Needless to say, both Meng Hooi and Chin San topped the Sixth Form examinations. Meng Hooi went to Oxford, became a psychiatrist and is now retired in Norfolk.

The V.I. in those days produced students who were outstanding in sports as well as academics. As proof, in my U6B2 class, there were 32 of us. More than half of us qualified for medical school at the University of Malaya or the University of Singapore, and half of this number went in as second year "super-fresh" students. My classmates were an outstanding example of the excellence of V.I. students.

During the end of my fifth form, Mr. Alan Baker became Headmaster replacing Dr. Lewis who was retiring. He was to be the last expatriate Headmaster. He stayed less than two and therefore did not leave any lasting heritage of his own. It was hard to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Lewis! My feeling was that Mr. Baker was not as strict as Dr. Lewis. As a result the Prefects had a hard time maintaining discipline in school.

During my last year in school, Mr. V. Murugasu became the first Asian headmaster of the V.I. He was a very dictatorial person and no one could cross him. One of the first things he did as Headmaster was to put up signs to warning us off the grass! He wanted the students to return to the glory years of academic and sporting excellence. A year after I had left the V.I., the school rugby team lost the Lewis Cup to the RMC. This was the first time that we had lost this Cup. As a result of this, no colours for rugby were awarded to any player in 1965. Such was the ire of Mr. Murugasu!

In retrospect, adjusting to the V.I. was much easier thanks to the guidance of my brother. I started to indulge in sports, especially in badminton. I had represented Pasar Road School in badminton and I felt that I could do as well in the V.I. For badminton, I had to follow in another brother’s footsteps - Tong Boo’s. He was good enough to represent Selangor and was the first triple crown winner in the State Novices tournament, and later won the State Junior title. In fact he was even selected to play in the Thomas Cup junior squad. He was a member of the school team that also included the likes of San Seong Kok, the Malayan School Boys Champion.

So I had two goals. One, to emulate Tong Bak in academics, and two, eclipse Tong Boo in badminton. I immediately started playing badminton for my House, Davidson, at the end of my Form 1 year. My game flourished and, by Form 3, I was playing for the school team. Since I was short, I was known as a giant killer, winning against guys who towered over me. My asset was my speed and ability to retrieve shots from all over the court. In short (excuse the pun), I ran down my opponents! I won the State Novices title in singles and was a runner-up in the doubles. However, there were not enough entries in mixed doubles, so I only partially fulfilled my goal of following Tong Boo’s footsteps. Two years later, in Form 5, I did win the State Junior title, thereby fulfilling my ambition.

My greatest regret in badminton was not being able to win the King’s Cup for the school, even though we were close but lost eventually to St. Johns. But we did win the Stowe Cup. My greatest moment was beating Tan Yee Khan in the first round of the Selangor Gold Cup Championship. This was an elite field and I was invited to play because of my Junior title. Oddly, I was not afraid of Yee Khan who, at that time, was the All-England Doubles Champion. I felt that I could return his smashes. In the second round, I was to meet Wee Choon Seng the Singapore champion. However, he fell ill and so I had a walkover into the third round. My next opponent was Billy Ng, the Malaysian Champion. I was a nervous wreck playing against him and he disposed of me easily. In 1963, we had the first International Match against Singapore schools. I was selected to play as the third singles behind Tan Aik Huang and Gunalan. We beat Singapore 9-0.

I was also chosen to play with the Selangor team, but due to my commitments to the school rugby team, I could not accept. When I went to the University of Malaya, I continued with badminton and led the varsity team to victory in the Biennial Games between Singapore University and Hong Kong University. When I came to the US, I played in several tournaments in the Mid West. I was pretty successful at the national level as well. I was ranked number 6 in singles and 4 in doubles nationally.

My other sport was rugby. I was inspired by Mee Pin to take up the game. I played first for the Under-15 team and eventually graduated to the school team in Form 5 and Form 6. At that time the V.I. were unbeatable. Rugby was Dr. Lewis’s passion and he would make sure that V.I. rugby players were very well treated. Guys like Lim Chooi Tee, Wong Kong Chin, Badri Masri, Mee Pin, Say Kiat, Leong Wee Chuen and Wong Mun Fui were awesome players. However, even though we were the best in Selangor, we could never beat the Malay College, Kuala Kangsar. Our disadvantage was our lack of training and coaching. The Malay College was a boarding school, so their players stayed together and trained together more often, and were a better team as a result.

One year, we had a very good chance of beating them at the V.I. ground. I was the hooker, and I managed to get the ball after a loose scrum, I saw daylight 20 yards away and started sprinting towards the goal line. Thoughts of glory whizzed through my head. However, my speed was not enough and I was tackled before I could score. Later on in the game, Badri had the ball and was sprinting towards the corner flag. I managed to follow him but he did not see me and was tackled before he could pass the ball to me. What a disappointment it was! Our main opponent during those years was the Royal Military College (RMC), which we managed to beat each year at the Lewis Cup finals. I loved the game and shared a lot of happy moments on the field. I can say that my final year in school, 1964, was one of our finest years, culminating with our victory over the RMC at Merdeka Stadium. My high point was being selected for the Selangor Combined Schools team.

In both these sports, I received my School Colours.

Of course I was also heavily involved in another type of extra-curricular activity. On the second day of my first week at the VI, the Second KL Scouts came recruiting to our class and invited me to attend their next meeting. However, when Yee Sek Kum and Siew Chak Yun - both staunch supporters of First KL - found out about this, they chided Tong Bak for letting me join Second KL. So I was whisked off to sign up as a member of the First KL Troop and I never regretted that move!

Scouting to me was my break from my hectic sports program. It enabled me to interact with my friends in a different way. Scouting taught me leadership, brotherhood, survival in the wilds and gave me a sense of freedom and achievement, especially when we went camping. Scouting to me was not just collecting and wearing the coveted badges proudly, but the comradeship of being in tents and sometimes combatting the elements with your brother Scouts!

Even though we had Mr. Chan Bing Fai as our scoutmaster, we could not expect him to spend his precious vacation days away from his family. So under the aegis of the Boy Scouts Association of Kuala Lumpur, the Assistant Scoutmasters, who were literally only in their late teens, were allowed to take us camping. I doubt that this would be allowed today. The Assistant Scoutmasters would plan the trip from square one down to chartering the bus for long trips all throughout Malaysia, writing letters to the District Officers for permission to camp and doing all the other necessary administrative duties. In my Lower Six year, I myself personally took a group all the way to Langkawi for ten days. I still remember that trip with great pleasure to this day.

One of the highlights of our scouting year was the Interpatrol competition for the “Bone” Trophy. This bone was the femur of a cow that we found on one of our hiking trips led by John Lever and we made that into a trophy. I wonder where it is today. The culmination of the competition was our Treasure Hunt. This hunt was conducted in the evening, starting from the V.I. Scout Den. It would take us, dressed in our Scout uniforms and pedalling our bicycles, all over Kuala Lumpur. It could end at any of our favorite camping spots around KL or PJ - Klang Gates dam, Lever Valley (named after our ASM John Lever) at the Lake Gardens or the swimming hole off Jalan Duta. There, to cap the hunt, we would have a leg of lamb or some other meat over a campfire.

The clues would be hidden all over town and there were usually two to three sets of a particular clue so that each patrol could split off into separate search parties if needed. Of course the biggest task for the Scout Leaders was to devise and plant the clues properly so that their Scouts could go smoothly from one clue to the next. The way to set up a treasure hunt was to go backwards from the goal so that one should first write the clues pointing to that final goal, then those pointing to the goal before that and so on.

I remember the idea for one of the cryptic clues that I wrote as Troop Leader was actually taken from a book by a World War 2 spymaster. I first decided what my message would be and then buried that message in an innocent looking paragraph. Each letter of my secret message would have a very small pin hole made above it. I ensured that each hole was small enough not to be visible; yet the message would be literally "pinpointed" if one had the inspiration to shine a flashlight from behind the paper! These clues and others like them would be carefully hidden so that should a member of the public come across them accidentally they would not be considered as rubbish and thrown away.

One favorite place where we hid our clues was the St. Andrews Church at Weld Road, near to the Bukit Nanas Convent. It was usually dark and eerie. On one particular night, one of the scouts shone his flashlight on a couple in a compromising position. Pretty soon an irate young man was demanding from the Scout the camera that he thought was used to snap the picture of him and his girl friend. It took me a while to placate the man and assure him that no photographs had been taken. Such were our adventures!

Hiking at Klang Gates, up and down that range of granite hills that stretch towards Batu Caves, was also one of our regular activities. I understand that these traditions are now gone. What a shame! But I guess relentless development and its attendant dense traffic have spelt an end to such scouting traditions.

Another of our activities during our weekend Scout meetings was boxing. We had boxing gloves for our boys to settle any grievances the gentlemanly way. So when Mr. Bernard Koay, our geography teacher, started a V.I. Boxing Club, I was intrigued. Although I was not a member of the club, I did volunteer to participate in a boxing exhibition for our 1962 Speech Day. This was to be against the International School whose pupils were children of expatriates. I was eager to match my skills against the white guys.

However, on the day of the fight, Mr. Koay changed our opponents. We were to fight the kids from the Sungei Besi Reform School, in other words, the toughies! The bouts were held in the refectory which was packed to the roof. I was not happy to meet the reform boys but it was now too late to back down. So it was with some trepidation that I faced my chosen opponent. Within a minute, he had given me a bloody nose, but I overheard Tong Bak tell the referee not to stop the fight as "my brother will win". With such confidence vested in me, I composed myself and pummeled the guy for three rounds. He never landed another punch on me again. Except for one, the V.I. won all the bouts, including a walkover; so those toughies were not so tough after all!

I paid for that victory over the next few days, though, as I sported a black eye and walked around barely able to lift my arms. However, I would have very much liked to see what my hapless opponent looked like! I heard later that Mr. Koay was so impressed with my fight that he was still telling the V.I. staff about it long after I had left school.

One of our cherished Scout projects was to raise money to build our own Scout Hut, the one that was eventually built where it is located presently. We held campfires and fashion shows towards that end. We even staged a concert at the Chin Woo Auditorium and were lucky to have Mr. Joe Howard from the US Peace Corps who coached us with our singing. My classmate, Meng Hooi - that exquisite pianist - provided the instrumental accompaniment.

I must mention here the Chong brothers, Sze Nen, Sze Khean and Sze Foh, sons of Old Boy Chong Soon Lee, a contractor, for their contributions to the success of First KL. They gave generous donations of camping gear and usually provided the transportation for our gear as well. Without them we would have had a much harder time. Other scouts who are dear to my heart are Au Yong Kun Ying, Yap Piang Kian, Lim Kah Pean, Phua Juay Chee and Lee Kok Fai. I do believe in the adage, “once a Scout, always a Scout”.

One of the first things I noticed on joining the V.I. was certain older students who were dressed differently. They were the “blue shirts” or the “white coats” - the V.I. Prefects. I already had had forewarning from my brothers about them. In fact, older brother Tong Boo was a Prefect. So I had a fair idea of what prefects did. I knew that one could not cross them. They seemed to be present whenever you broke a school rule and they were there when you were late for school. They were like the guards at Buckingham Palace during school assembly, standing erect and looking very serious at the hall doorways, waiting to note your name if you misbehaved. Yes, we were afraid of them and in complete awe of them when we were new to the school. As I got older, I began to respect them for all they did for the school, and realized that it was an honour to be selected to be a prefect. Every Victorian knew what it took to be a Prefect. One had to be an ideal Victorian, an all-round student in academics as well as in extra-curricular activities. Being a Prefect meant that one had to sacrifice one's time to help run the school.

Each year, only one or two students in Form Five were installed as prefects during the first term. These persons were usually groomed to be future School Captain or Vice-Captain by the time they reached Upper Six. During the third term of that same Form Five year, more students would be installed as prefects to fill vacancies in the Prefects Board for the following two years. I was selected during that third term along with Phua Juay Chee. It was indeed a great honour for me when I walked up to the stage and was given my Prefect’s badge by Dr. Lewis, which was his last act before he retired. Two years later, on January 17, 1964, against all odds, Juay Chee would be the School Captain and Mr. Alan Baker, Dr. Lewis' successor, would pin the School Vice-Captain badge on my coat lapel.

On my last day of school in December 1964, I walked through the lecture hall of the Sixth Form Block. I reflected on my days at the V.I. with some sadness and some trepidation. I knew what I wanted to do. I had turned down a Colombo Plan Scholarship to New Zealand to study Botany and return as a school teacher. Although I had Mr. Yeoh Oon Chye as a model teacher, he had advised me to study medicine, which was what I now planned. We just had to wait for our results the following February before we matriculated to join medical school. I had spent seven wonderful years at the VI, fulfilling my every dream and ambition. This was what the VI taught: Work hard, play hard as we would then “be yet wiser.” Sports taught me to be disciplined, to train hard and to be competitive. As a prefect, I learned to be fair, to play by the rules and to be able to distribute my time with studies. I also learned to respect people. As a scout, I learned about leadership, the value of brotherhood. To this day, more than forty years later, we ex-First KL Scouts are still in communication with each other.

And so, as I looked towards the school tower before I left the VI for the last time, I said wistfully to myself that, in ten years' time, the School would be inviting me back as a speaker on Speech Day to tell the next batch of students how successful I had been. Well, it has been 40 years and I am still waiting!

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