Courting the Cane:


12 August 2006

VIOS Badge

Behaviour most unbecoming!’ would most likely read the upcoming report card of each ex-student present that night at Sydney's Seri Malaya Restaurant. Everyone strutted the floor with youthful abandon and merry disregard for noise regulations; enough to warrant several bouts of caning from the VI headmaster of their time. Like Olympians showing off their medal collections, many proudly enumerated the brandishings unleashed on them by the likes of Dr Lewis and Mr Murugasu.

Indeed, these brazen old V.I. boys and girls had no whip to fear, having already charted their mark as top notch accountants, teachers, doctors, engineers, whether in Malaysia or across Australia. That night, over 70 of us had gathered in Sydney to honour our teachers, celebrate our friendships and praise our school. (In my case, I finally met the King Scouts whom I had liaised with online for years but who have been too busily globetrotting to places like Jakarta and Melbourne. As usual, when Victorians meet, there was no ice to break).

As the theme of the evening was Meet Your Old Teachers, special efforts were made to invite those who once smote fear and inspired respect all those many years ago. A few of our well-preserved teachers made it that evening. They included Mr Wong Kook Cheow, who had flown in from Adelaide. He had taught English at the V.I. in the seventies to the nineties. Keeping him company was his V.I. staff colleague, one-time maths master and hockey master Mr Robin Goh Kek Foo. Mr Daniel Chan, the convenor of the night, joined the school in 1970 as a biology teacher, had his fingers in just about every extra-curricular pie during his stay there and left as Senior Assistant in 1981. Mr Loh Kung Sing also taught biology when he joined in 1966 and was Senior Science Master from 1969 to 1971.

Also present was Old Girl Mrs Lee née Chang Chee Lee, who had short stints teaching history and English in 1963 and 1964. Her claim to fame was that her Form 3 class was headed by a certain monitor named Hassanal Bolkiah who is today, of course, the Sultan of Brunei. An ex-librarian, she was accompanied by her ex-Victorian husband, Dr Lee Choong Keet. Incredibly, attending were two septuagenarians hailing from the Lewis era, Mrs Wong née Chiew Pek Lin and Mrs Patel née Yvonne Stanley. Mrs Patel was briefly in the V.I. in 1956 and can lay claim to having taught and given the first acting break to Krishen Jit the late doyen of the Malaysian drama scene. Mrs Wong as Miss Chiew taught English from Forms 3 onwards from 1957 to 1959. One of her former pupils, Prof Foo Yeow Khean, now lives two doors from her! In their presence our aging process was suspended (until some tried squatting for the group photo), and we became mischievous brats once more. However, this time, none of our old teachers told us to shut up, sit straight and pay attention.

Even Jackson Teh, our generous Seri Malaya Restaurant host and another old boy, was very obliging with the ruckus we made. After the school song, scrumptious rendang, chicken curry, butter prawn and other cuisine battled with slideshows and quizzes for our attention. Thanks to the generosity of the V.I. website and webmaster, a 62-minute powerpoint presentation of the century-plus history of the school played as dinner was served and filled the audience with inspiration and nostalgia. A second video presentation wrapped up the dinner with a stirring two and a half minute overview of the school, its great institutions and its even greater sons and daughters. These two presentations were first used at the school’s 110th anniversary dinner in 2003 at the Kuala Lumpur Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

In the middle of the dinner there was a break as Wan Kee Yio emceed a well-tailored V.I. history quiz. No historical stone was left unturned as guests shared juicy anecdotes following each quiz answer. Lee Choong Keet recalled the embarrassment suffered by his classmate whose sister - the first V.I. girl, Yoong Yan Yoong - was nicknamed ‘Y-cubed’. Chua Chon Sin re-staged Mr Lim Eng Thye’s growling put-down of students and their ‘x (insert age) years of wasted life’. Wan Kee Yio reminded the audience of the ‘sengkang’ as punishment (squats, with the right hand pulling the left ear and left hand doing the same to the right). Different cohorts laughed at others’ anecdotes as if they had personally witnessed the experiences described.

Those less willing to share their personal stories nevertheless reponded enthusiastically to the ‘V.I. census’. Daniel Chan craftilly weaved from mundane requests like ‘Raise your hands if you joined the V.I. between 1940 and 1945’, to the inquisitional ‘Who married their classmate?!!’. (I know of one instance where a teacher and student even married each other – though I have been gently reminded that the teacher never taught or knew that student in their V.I. days.) The ruckus reached fever pitch by the time it came to the questions like ‘Who was slapped by the teacher?’ and ‘Who was caned by the headmaster?’. The victims proudly punched both hands into the air and throatily chimed ‘Hear, hear!’, as if to make sure everyone noticed them. Some even volunteered extra information like ‘We also had to stand on the table or sit under it!’. (At that point, I smiled remembering how we were punished in Form 2 by having to sit under the chair).

If any ex-prefect present had dared to rein in the guests, he would have been mauled. There was no starker evidence of this than when Daniel Chan popped the question ‘Who was a prefect?’ and a loud ‘wohhh’ rippled through the crowd as they sternly eyeballed the nervous confessors. At the end of the census, we had identified seven teachers, two school captains, many house and game captains, as well as details of the oldest guest, Chong Ngee Hin, who had joined the school in 1941!

After a few bowls of gula melaka-topped sago, and a group photo, the reunion was adjourned, with a burning desire to meet again this time next year (if not before) to celebrate V.I.’s Founders’ Day once more. Perhaps our report cards might now read ‘Behaviour most unbecoming… but no caning needed, because he/she was just praising the founders of the school’.

Congratulations to Daniel Chan, Wan Kee Yio, Tan Ngee Tiong, Ken Lim and Khoo Seow Hong for organizing a superb night.

Dennis Loh Kok Kin

VI The V.I. Web Page

Created: August 16, 2006.
Last update: September 3, 2006.

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