I taught art, English and maths at V.I. from 1958 to 1971. Sometimes when my students were busy doing their art, English or maths work in class, I would look at them and wonder what these boys would be doing after completing they had completed Form Five. I knew some would not go on to Form Six as studying was not their cup of tea. The popular professions in those days were accountancy, architecture, law, medicine or engineering because these professions brought in good income and prestige or because they were the wishes of their parents. There were severe shortages in these professions in the country then.
In addition, I would study the boys' faces as they revealed certain traits such as enthusiasm, interest, lethargy, restlessness, attitude and, in a few cases, melancholy. I remembered that the boys came from all walks of life - some from rich families and some from the very poor. Did the poor boys envy the rich ones? What feelings went through their minds? Did these feelings affect them emotionally? Thank Goodness there were scholarships then for those who did well in the final examinations and they were given based on meritocracy.
And I wondered what they thought of me, their teacher. What did they see in me? Was I sincere and enthusiastic in my teaching? Did I treat them equally knowing that they come from different walks of life with vastly different cultures and values and therefore different sensitivities? These thoughts often flitted through my mind whenever I was not thinking of other matters.
I believe that our educational background and the way we were brought have some bearing on our thinking and so affect our behaviour. Did not some great philosopher say "Cogito, ergo sum" or "I think, therefore I am", a statement so very true?
I thought it would be interesting for my former students to know the background of me, their teacher, who was so fond of punishing them by squeezing their trapezoidal muscles next to the shoulders or 'raising' the muscles of their biceps and occasionally caning them for not doing their homework.
They will see me differently after they have read the story of my childhood days and education for I was truly a terrible student: I fought in school! I was caned by a headmistress! I was made to sit in the headmaster's office for one period! I was slapped by my maths teacher! I fought with a tall girl!
Here is my story.
My Childhood Days
My grandfather who migrated to Malaya with his young wife in search of a better life, had high hopes of educating his future children. He toiled and saved hard on a large plot of land. So did my grandmother who delivered one of her daughters under the shade of a tree near the field. Soon more children came. Fortunately, my grandfather managed to save enough to open his own abattoir and pretty soon he was making enough money.
My father was sent to a well-known English school in Ipoh. He was the only son who did well in school and this pleased my grandfather who had plans to send him to England to further his studies. As you know Ipoh was noted for its pretty girls who would dress well in search of rich husbands. My father's passion was playing badminton which was very popular then and mahjong, also a game enjoyed by my mother who had learned it at the tender age of sixteen and had played it till the age of 80.
My mother was educated in Chinese (and English later) but spoke English most of the time with her friends. She was spoiled by her doting father who let her go out socialising with the boys. She was among the prettiest in Ipoh and this attracted all the eligible bachelors including my father. So enamoured was he by her that he ignored his future education. He had rivals but somehow he prevailed over them and soon married my mother. I don't think birth control pills were invented then. Soon I was brought into the world and then my brother and yet another brother and a sister in 1941, a year many people will never forget as it brought great misery and suffering to them all. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and ignited the Pacific War.
Soon the Japanese army landed at Singgora and from Kota Baru marched south, some on confiscated bicycles and captured vehicles. The British and Indian soldiers were no match against the ferocious J apanese soldiers.
Memories of the atrocities committed by the Japanese soldiers in Nanking came flooding back. The people were gripped by fear, especially the Chinese and those who had worked for the British. My father was one of them.
The British retreated southwards, as did my father who took his family to Kampar and then to a remote village in Ampang where an old friend of my grandfather offered him a little attap house to live in. Ipoh was soon occupied and people tortured and made to point out those who had worked for the British or had collaborated with them. Soon we received the tragic news that our abattoir had been destroyed by a bomb.
Life in the Village
For a boy approaching seven, life in the village was fun and carefree. The elderly folks consisting mainly of women. Some men gave us titbits to eat. There were fruit tree - banana, rambutan and chiku. When we were thirsty, we would cut down a sugar cane plant for its sweet juice. Tapioca and sweet potaotes were available, except rice which was most difficult to get, even for those with money.
Then news came that the Japanese had occupied KL and rumours of beheadings and torture and of Japanese soldiers looking for women were rampant. News had it that traitors were leading the Japs into villages. Village leaders began directing women, young and old, and children to dig tunnels into hillsides some distance from the villages.
These tasks were quickly done. Soon we did some similar to Dr. Mahathir's "Look East" policy that was promulgated years later. We "looked east" whenever we heard the faintest drones of the airplanes or the sounds of bombs exploding. One night we heard planes approaching, we looked east and saw flares being dropped. It was a beautiful sight to us children but to the adults it was worrying.
They immediately banged empty tins or any metal containers together, a signal to warn us to hide. The elders ran helter-skelter back into the houses, gathered their children and ran towards the tunnels. The children in turn were frightened by the sight of the panic-stricken adults. We reached our tunnels and remained quiet there for a long time. A few men got out to check for sounds of approaching footsteps or any signs of them. Then they sneaked back to the fringes of the village and saw, to their relief, that all was quiet. The villagers crawled out of the tunnels on being told that it was safe to do so.
Life in the village was back to normal but not for long. So frightened were the people that the slightest rumour was enough to send them into a state of panic. One morning someone heard that solders were on their way to the village. The village head told my mother to take my sister, who was then only a few weeks old, to hide in the hill some distance away. She did so, taking some food and milk with her. The two remained hidden for a long time, perhaps feeling safe, or so, mother thought. One day, after feeding my sister (who is today married to an Englishman in Brisbane and a very happy mother with four lovely grandchildren in Brisbane), mother sat down and dozed off. When she opened her eyes, there were, to her horror, five armed Japanese soldiers sitting down and looking at her.
The leader, a youngish man, spoke in broken English and in a calm manner told her not to be frightened. Mother, a rather timid woman, wet her pants in fright and could not utter any sound, let alone speak. The Japanese leader spoke again telling her that they had got separated from the others and had got lost in the jungle. They were very hungry and thirsty, he said. Could she lead them to the village for some food? He promised her they would not harm her or the villagers. Mother had no choice but to nod her head in agreement.
It took them quite a while to reach the village and all was quiet as they approached. Mother regained her composure and with a little courage shouted to my grandmother not to be frightened and asked the villagers to all come out from the huts. They did so in silence. Mother asked my grandma to slaughter two chickens, another neighbour to cook rice and sweet potatoes and yet another to prepare some vegetables and tea. Meanwhile, the soldiers took turns to clean themselves using the well water nearby. While waiting for their meal, the leader smiled at me and took my hand and told mother that he, too, had a son at home. I guess he missed his family very much like any loving father.
The soldiers ate the food with much relish. They thanked us, asked for directions to K.L. and told my mom not to be afraid for the future. He would not reveal our presence to others. The other four solders were silent all this while but nodded their heads in agreement.
My mom never failed to relate this adventure to others for many years after. Who says all Japanese soldiers are bad?
On the Move Again
Rumours of soldiers looking for Chinese men and women spread like wild fire causing people to sleep fitfully at night. Constant fears and worries took their toll on the faces of my mother, grandmother and father too whenever he sneaked back to see how we were getting on. Smiles on mom's face were rare. We were not permitted to make loud noises nor play at our usual places. I have no memory of how I felt or reacted when ordered not to do this or that. Those were miserable days for us children and the villagers.
Villagers began to move out of the village. This slow exodus had great impact on the others who did not want to be left behind. The atmosphere in the village changed drastically. Where once there were chattering voices and children's laughter there was gloom and empty expressions on the women's faces. For the villagers who had lived there for years tilling and living off the land, it was with a heavy heart that they had to leave for another place. Thoughts on how long the war would last and what would happen next occupied their minds and my parents'.
One day I saw my mom and father packing things into gunny sacks and small boxes used for fruits. Quite naturally I asked why. My father replied that we were moving to a nicer place - Klang.
A New Home in Klang
One morning my parents loaded the boxes and gunny sacks into a small lorry. I remember sitting at the back of the lorry with my father and grandma while my mom and the rest sat next to the kindly old driver. It was a slow journey but to me it was very exhilarating for I enjoyed the wind hitting my face.
Finally we reached our new home, a long and tall wooden structure divided into compartments which would house five families in all. Each unit was divided into rooms and kitchens. There was no ceiling in each room and we could see the numerous cobwebs hanging from the beams, nooks and corners. Never had I, a small boy with a curious mind, seen so many cobwebs. However my brothers were afraid of them. Fortunately the four rooms in our unit were large, much larger than the rooms of most terrace houses in present day PJ. The roof was of zinc but the place was not hot because of the old and large trees surrounding the building. There was a cement corridor in front bordered by a stream about four feet wide and of equal depth. The place together with other wooden structures behind was located near an abandoned pineapple factory. Nearby was a large river (the Klang river?). During high tide, sea water would flow into raising its level.
In a couple of days we got things settled - mosquito nets were a must. Later I was surprised by the arrival of two young men - my father's younger brother and my mother's step brother.
Days of Adventure, Fighting and Stealing
My mother was very concerned about our education as schools were all closed. In fact there was no school in Port Swettenham which consisted of one main road and a few lanes. At night she would teach us the alphabet and writing. My brother and I were keen learners and enjoyed the Aesop’s fairy tales that she read to us. I had another new interest - drawing. I would spend hours copying pictures from the Chinese comics borrowed from neighbours. One neighbor was impressed and gave me some paper and pencils. I drew on them and pasted them on the walls of the house.
As writing paper was hard to come by, so my mom got us slate boards to be use as paper. We learned to write constantly, we learned to add and subtract. I must say our mom was a good teacher. She knew how to motivate us by inventing stories of ambitious children who grew up to become rich and able to buy nice clothes and houses for their sisters and parents.
Our imagination grew. Mother told us about the English people and how well educated they were and the castles that were found in England. She painted very good pictures of Europe, England and America and that we could visit these countries if we studied hard and earned a lot money first.
Finally we settled down to a quiet life or so I thought. There were lots of children and teenagers in the area. Unfortunately, Kow Foo (my mom's step brother) was born with a pair of squint eyes that made him look a bit funny and was therefore subjected to much teasing and ridicule. At times the teasing infuriated him causing him to lash out at the teasers. Eventually fights ensued resulting in misunderstandings between the parents. One morning there was a big fight at the corner of the building. Two boys were fighting with my Kow Foo. I was nearby and heard the commotion. Out of curiosity I went towards it. My uncle saw me and yelled at me to run back to the house and bring a parang. I did and got the parang. The boys were still fighting. My uncle ran to me, grabbed the parang and ran towards the boys who were one step faster and scooted away. The parents had a peace powwow later and there were no more fights occurred after that. My father’s brother was older, jobless and did not get on well with grandma, a workaholic. He could not stand the constant grumblings of his mother and thought it better to leave the house to live somewhere. We did not see him for more than ten years and he was soon forgotten.
I made friends with the boys of my own age or slightly older and soon I learned much from them - and joined them to catch spiders and fighting fish and kept them in several bottles. I also learned where to steal sugar cane, fruit, sweet potatoes and tapioca which we took home to eat, telling my grandma that friends gave them to me. Some other boys saw us in the act and confronted us. Fights ensued. My brothers were timid and did not join me in the various escapades. When an old lady complained to my grandma that my friends and I had stolen from her vegetable patch, I immediately received a good thrashing and I mean a really good one. Evidence of this punishment was registered vividly on my legs.
As the eldest I was given the responsibility of looking after my brothers and sister and to set good examples to them. My grandma’s maxim to me was “Mng hoou tai kow wai sei” meaning a bad leader begets bad followers. One afternoon I was busy playing with my fighting fish when my second brother fell into the drain in front. He yelled out and an elderly neighbor rushed up and pulled my brother out. Fortunately it was low tide and the level was low. My grandma rushed out when she heard the commotion. On hearing what had happened she again rained cane lashes on my legs and buttock. Not satisfied she poured my entire collection of prized fighting fish into the drain. Luckily she did not notice my boxes of fighting spiders. Worst of all she threw away my precious little tortoise that I had kept for quite some time.
Meanwhile we were running short of money and my parents had to find a job, any kind, in order to live. My grandma kept an eye on us. So all trips to the fish ponds to catch fish and stealthy visits to the sugar cane field had to come to an end.
We struggled on and lived in Klang till my father heard that there was an opening for a clerk who could speak and write English well in the Port Swettenham (now known as Port Kelang Harbour) Master’s office. My father left the house very early in the morning on his rickety old bicycle for the interview. There was another man, a Eurasian, waiting to see the Harbour Master. As the other man had arrived first he went in first. Then my father’s turn arrived. The harbour master was a Japanese in his fifties, with a face that somehow did not strike terror in my father. After indicating the chair opposite him he told my father what he wanted in English that my father thought was good.
After the interview my father was to come again the next day. The next morning the Harbour Master told him to report for duty the following day. Father's lucky star must be shining on him for he was given a small “semi-detached” wooden house which was supported by concrete blocks.
During the weekend he moved his family to the new home. I was strong and old enough to give a helping hand. Though tired I enjoyed the various chores while my brothers romped about in the unfenced large compound in front.
For about a year some semblance of normalcy reigned in our house and to our surprise our parents were singing the evergreens most of which are still being heard today. My brother and I soon learned them and till today we still sing them once in a while. Our mom again read us fairy tales and taught us to read and write almost daily. Even maths was taught. What did my father do? He enjoyed a good game of mahjong. And my grandma? She thoroughly enjoyed tilling the large compound and planted a few varieties of vegetables. Of course there were the sweet potatos and tapioca plants …just in case.
When Nagasaki and Hiroshima were destroyed, the Japanese Emperor had had enough and decided to call it a day. Japan surrendered. We in Malaya jumped with joy on hearing the news. In spite of it the Japanese soldiers were still around.
One evening my father’s boss came to the house with two soldiers He was immaculately dressed in uniform and looked very distinguished. We were all taken aback by his sudden appearance and the soldiers. While the soldiers waited outside, he sat down with a countenance that indicated disappointment or sadness. He told my parents that he was returning to Japan very soon. He thanked my father for the good work done, patted us on the cheeks and then gave my father an envelope. Then they left in a black car. That was the last time we saw him - a kindly, friendly man with a likable face.
The letter contained very good news---that father be retained in the office as his work and knowledge of the harbor work was good. Not only that he gave instructions as to what things from his office were to be given to my father - a large wall clock and furniture in the office.
And what a bonanza for us! Again, who says all Japanese are bad?
My father continued manning the office. Pretty soon an Englishman by the name of Captain Bellis and his wife took over the Marine Office. They were friendly and very down to earth. The terrace house we stayed in was too small for us, so said Mrs Bellis. So we were given a tiny bungalow just next to it with three rooms. Behind it and on ground level was a large cemented compound fenced in by a plank wall.
My father invited them to our modest home much later on and they were surprised to hear us children speaking in English to them. Mrs Bellis played with us and hugged us. I was amazed by their friendliness but found they smelled peculiar. It was the first time we children had encountered the people from England, a country my mother had told us so much about that had set my imagination wild - the fairy tales, the hills and vales, the castles, the magic forests, etc.
My father was promoted to chief clerk and two more sisters were added to the family.
My grandmother built several two-storied chicken coops and I had to help collect the eggs and clean the floor beneath them. This smelly chore continued for some years even when we attended school. I observed the chickens’ behaviour and watched the roosters did their jobs of helping the hens produce eggs that would hatch into chicks. At play I imitated the rooster and my brother the hen. He did not like it. I was too heavy and my knees hurt his back!
Our First School
One morning in 1946, my father told my brother and me that we would be going to school. We jumped with joy for we had never seen one let alone attended one. One morning, we walked to the ‘school’, a small wooden bungalow standing on concrete blocks just like the houses in that area. There were already some boys there, some much older and taller than us. The teacher was inside doing some paper work. We were called in and we sat down. There must have been around thirty of us. She took down our names and ages. She was all smiles all the time and spoke slowly. Unfortunately, not all the boys understood her. All who could understand English were placed on one side whilst the others on another side. How she managed the class I have no idea but my brother and I and three other boys were ahead of the rest for we could write and read a bit.
In less than a year we were moved to a long wooden house next to the little Methodist Church with a little field separating the two buildings. My brother and I and another boy were promoted to Primary 1. The building with zinc roof covered with attap was divided into five classes. For toilet we used a small rectangular tall wooden box on stilts about twenty feet from the classrooms. To use it we climbed up a few steps, opened the door, turn around and then closed the door. The night soil collector, a Chinese, would come in the wee hours of the morning to empty the container. Later he would use the night soil to fertilize his vegetables. The three teachers could use the toilet in the little brick house behind the church.
A tall Indian named Sam Abraham was our teacher. He was a normal trained teacher. My brother and I were his favourites. We did well and were given a double promotion again. It was really tough but through mother’s encouragement we studied very hard. Our days consisted of going to school, doing our homework, memorizing our history and geography notes, house chores, etc. The church later was converted into a two classes. After our promotion we were moved to the class in the church.
Next we attended our first "school", a long attap house divided into three classrooms. I have tried to recall the number of 'quick' promotions my brother and I had but to no avail. I remember at one time it was in the middle of the year when a certain higher class was short of pupils. The HM just told us to go to the class. We obeyed him. We were like parrots - good at memorising. That was how we studied. I remember my fierce grandma once said after caning me, "Hard work wont kill you. But laziness will."
There were five girls in this class led by a tall girl by the name of Tan Ah Leng. My brother, though small, could be quite mischievious. We sat behind the row of girls whose hair sometimes would spill over our exercise books. My brother would pull at the hair and be rewarded with a scolding.
One morning my brother shook the long bench while the girls were writing and this really irritated the tall girl who turned around, took off the cover of her flask containing hot coffee and poured it on to his body. He howled. I saw it, left my seat, ran towards her and threw her a hard punch which landed on her left ear. She kicked my tummy which did not hurt and then she landed backward hitting her head against the wall. I saw blood oozing from the ear. The girls marched to see the headmistress in the house behind the church. The gardener cme in and dragged the two of us to the office.
The headmistress, Mrs Arumugam, asked us why I had punched the girl who was taller than I by a head. I explained everything and she told me to apologize. I refused to apologize and was given four strokes of a cane which must have been a third the size of the ones used by Dr Lewis and Mr Murugasu in later years. The caning was nothing compared to those given by my grandma. I am sure the girls heard the sounds of the strokes landing on my buttock. My brother and I returned to the class smilng. When we passed the girls I mumbled, "No pain, lah". The tall girl went on to become a teacher in Klang.
There were two gangs in the school and I belonged to one. One day during recess there was a fight and we started to throw stones at each other. To dodge the stones being thrown I ran and accidentally knocked my knee cap onto the sharp corner of a large rectangular flower pot.
A piece of skin about three centimeters long was left on the corner of the pot. I felt a sharp pain, bent down and looked at the knee. I saw the whiteness of the knee cap. Then blood began to ooze out. Some one took me to the office and the gardener took me on his bicycle to the dispensary near the harbour. I received five stitches without any local anesthetics. I could not bend my knee and was absent from school for about ten days. Today I have a misshapen knee cap. When I returned to school and the girls saw me, they bent their arms and started flapping them like that of the fowls, meaning "Serves you right (tai sei)".
My friends the bigger boys would do the same thing but with an addition. They would crow ‘Coocoo coo coo’, flap their elbows just like a rooster would do after it had its urge satiated. After a very stern warning and some caning from a very angry Sam Abraham, all fighting and teasing ceased and peace reigned in the school.
Off to ACS Klang
The church authorities wanted their church back. A lot of the parents were in a dilemma as to their children’s future school. There was no secondary school in tiny Port Swettenham I remember there were only four schools in Klang, about five or six miles away — the ACS, High School and the Methodist Girl’s school.
One afternoon on Friday my father came back early and told us that we were going to see the HM of the ACS, which was nearest to our house, some four miles away. When we reached his beautiful big house, I was awe-struck by its size and the plants bearing colourful flowers outside.
The HM, a middle-aged man, came out, smiled at us and invited us in. After the usual introductions we sat down on soft seats. Then a lady came out. Oh dear, she was the headmistress who caned me! My initial shock was quickly put to rest as she smiled at us and told us that we were Sam Abraham’s favourite students. We were given tasty coffee and cakes. After talking with my father for a while the HM Mr G.S. Arumugam turned to us and asked us some questions. Then he asked “Can you two sing?”
“Then sing me song,” he said. Luckily we had learned quite a few evergreens from our parents and the radio. We sang "I’m Always Chasing Rainbows." I think we sang well and this pleased Mr Arumugam.
HM: "Do you go to church or the temple?"
We: "No sir."
HM: "Then I want you two to attend our Sunday School in the church. You will learn many things about God and also learn to sing many nice songs."
We looked at our father who nodded, I think, uncomfortably. I also think he heaved a sigh of relief when the HM said that the little church (it is still there today) in Port Swettenham would start functioning soon.
We were put in Standard 7 (Form 3) in 1952, unaware of the hard school work ahead of us!
In those days the HM had much power to use his discretion. I am most grateful to Sam Abraham for encouraging us to study hard.
Vincent giving Sports Day gymnastics demonstration(1952))
My brother and I did well. We were always at the top two positions in out exams. One morning, Mr Arumugam telephoned my father and spoke to him for quite some time. That night my father told us what the HM had offered. Both of us would be given another promotion to the Senior Cambridge class (Form 5). But father would have to spend a lot more on books and fees if he accepted.
I was not keen as I was involved in taking care of the Methodist Youth Fellowhip. Also, as the eldest I was often given the responsibility of preparing the evening meal. My brother, being a book worm, was keen and took the challenge.
When the Cambridge School Certificate Exam results came out in 1953, he was the only boy in Port Swettenham to get a Grade 1. He was only 16 years old. In 1954 he was selected to enter the Malayan Teachers Training College in Kota Bahru. When his contract with the Government ended he left for London to study accountancy and became a Chartered Accountant after four years.
As for me, my decision not to accept the promotion was a blessing in disguise.
We had good and dedicated teachers who spoke BBC English. I sort of hero worshipped the much older and tough boys in the class. I always made sure I was seated at the back of the class with the big boys. Though we were naughty and some of us were much overaged we wanted a good education and we respected our teachers.
In Standard (Form 4), an Indian temporary teacher was engaged to teach us literature. He was very cocky and tried to show off his authority. He did not understand us. We had lived through the war, fought, stole food, and could take punishment, and so on. Boy, oh boy, he didn't last long.
The temporary teacher’s method of teaching was: "Right, boys. Open your books, read Chapter Four yourself. If you don’t know the meaning of a word you can use my dictionary." And then he would sit down and read the day’s newspaper. Our leader Pritam Singh who must have been nineteen years of age was a tall chapand and the son of a cowherd. He decided to give this "bugger" (as we named him) a good lesson. I too hated him for his sarcastic remarks. The other ring leader was Liew Chang Lan.
Our temporary teacher had one habit: just before recess he would pour his coffee into a cup and when the bell rang he would first go to the toilet before returning to his beverage. One morning Pritam brought along a small bottle of urine when the class was dismissed for the recess. Sneaking back into the class, he poured the contents into the temporary teacher's coffee. We then watched from a distance. To our surprise there was no reaction from him when he sipped his coffee.
Next morning another boy brought a container with stale urine that really smelled. He followed Prtiam's actions during the break. We watched as the teacher came back from the toilet and took out his food to eat. He then drank his coffee. He had a funny look on his face after the first sip, sniffed the coffee and, to our great surprise, poured some more into the cup and drank it.
We would do it again, I said. This time, I volunteered. “Hey Vincent, how old is the urine?’ I replied, "Yesterday night’s collection.” Again, to our astonishment, the temporary teacher went through the same motions. We howled with laughter from afar.
Finally, on the fourth occasion, and this time with a contribution from an Indian boy, our teacher got suspicious after the first sip, poured the coffee away, washed the cup and drank the rest from the flask. He was in a furious state and shouted at us in some language. We continued with our little irritants like:
1. Putting a thumb tack on his chair. The first one got him. We could see the fury on his face. He said nothing.
2. His bag was thrown into the water tank behind our class. He never found it.
3. I punctured his rear bicycle tyre.
There existed a cold war between us. He finally reported to the HM. To this day I do not know why the HM singled me out and called me into his office. He quietly asked me whether I poured urine into his coffee. It took me quite a while and I said yes. I told him why. Who were the others? Only I, Sir, I said. He told me to sit in a comfortable chair for one period. He even got me a cup of coffee and a bun. I returned to the class smiling.
The next morning we never saw the temporary teacher again. Either he left on his own free will or was told to leave. The HM took over his class and gave us very good advice about good behaviour and really working hard and getting through the Cambridge School Certificate examinations. He was concerned about the over-aged boys.
Much later an elderly Chinese woman taught us literature. She inspired me to read the classics. Life became routine - going to school, doing home work, doing the chores in the house, studying at night till 10.30, waking up at five, washing away the chicken droppings before going to school. On Saturdays I took an active part in the activities of the Methodist Youth Fellowhip group and Sundays I went to church. This was our world. As the saying goes: what you do not see or taste you do not miss. We only went to KL once that year.
Vincent (seated left) in Port Swettenham Table Tennis Team (1955)
Standard 9 (Form 5) Teachers
That year was really tough but fortunately we had good teachers who understood our difficulties.
English, Literature Teacher: Mr C. Nadarajah. He spoke very good English. We liked and respected him. I bumped into him in the 1990s in Petaling Jaya. I was surprised that he recognized me. He still looked good then.
Scripture: Mr Ponniah. He was short and stout. His teaching was good and explained the scriptures well. He expected me to get an A for the subject. The two books we studied were St Luke and St Mathew. I practically memorized them. He had a daughter doing her Form Six at the V.I. in 1958.
History: Mr Koh Liang Shih. His son Koh Teck Chong taught at the VI for a couple of years. He was very strict.
Geography: An Indian whose name I forget. Another good teacher. I taught his two sons maths and English at the VI. They were in the best class. They were good and well-behaved and received no punishment from me.
Maths: Mr V. Charko. Strict, dedicated and a good teacher.
Science: An Indian teacher. A no-nonsense teacher who never smiled, spoke softly and rarely demonstrated experiments in the science lab. We just studied from the book which was also used by the VI boys. We never liked him.
Art: There was no art teacher in the school. Guess what? The Standard 9 art teacher in 1955 was VINCENT VOO and he taught English to the Standard 5 (Form 1) boys!
Vincent as Standard Five English teacher (1955)
I took an additional subject - additional maths which was not taught in the school. So on Saturday mornings I had to cycle to an elderly teacher’s house, a two-storied bungalow in Meru road, Klang, to take the subject together with five other boys. Mr Ooi Cheng Teik was good and liked me much. He had a large room the walls of which had high book shelves full of books. He had written a small book, Red Sun Over Malaya. It must have been be about the Jap occupation. He loved to sing the Indonesian folk song Terang Bulan. This was before Malaya used its tune for Negara Ku. Poor fellow he had a mongoloid daughter who spent hours playing with rice. After class he would ask me to clean his many fish tanks in another room, then have lunch with him and his wife. Before going home he would give me 50 cents, a good sum of money to me then. I really looked forward to Saturdays.
A Tight Slap
After the mid-year maths test, our maths teacher was furious with the results. We had done badly, including I. After the tirade he toned down a bit and the silence was eerie. That was when I let go a loud fart. I hadn't known that it would be that loud. The class giggled.
The teacher yelled out "Who did that?" His expression frightened me. I stood up and said, "I, Sir."
He shouted "Why?"
"To make the boys laugh, Sir”.
Next moment a loud “Piak’ was heard when his palm landed on my cheek. To this day I have not forgotten the slap — harder than the ones given by my father and grandmother. But the slap was a turning point for us. We paid more attention to maths and only one person in the class failed his subject.
One morning in December 1954, my father told me to go and see the HM. He told me that he had been observing me and was impressed by my drawings. He asked me whether I liked teaching. I answered in the affirmative. I wanted to be a teacher, too, like my brother.
"Good, I want you to teach English to the Standard 4 boys and art to the Standard 9 boys next year," he explained. I accepted, thinking of the money I would get. There was then a dire need for qualified teachers. Many teachers had left the country or had been killed during the war. Well-trained qualified teachers were desperately needed. So a second Teachers Training College had been established in Brinsford Lodge in Wolverhamton in 1955. (The first one was in Kirkby near Liverpool.)
When the School Certificate results were announced, I got a grade 2 scoring an A1 for art, F for scripture, P for history, C for the rest. An interview was conducted for the selection of candidates for the second college in England. The man who interviewed me was Dr Rawcliffe. He was amazed that I was already teaching and joked about it. My headmaster must have given me a good recommendation.
I was selected. The little ‘kampong’ boy would soon be on his way to England in August 1955.
A very tall American preacher by the name of Mr. Zimmerman would come to the little church in Port Swettenham on Sundays occasionally to give his sermons and then stay back to talk and give us advice as to how to keep the MYF members active. As I was the MYF leader and spoke good English he would also talk to me privately, as he had taken a liking to me. When he learned that I would be trained as a teacher in England Mr Zimmerman invited me to his house for lunch one day and gave me the following advice:
1. Do not be intimidated by the physical size of the English or other people. Don’t let my height make me feel inferior.
2. Use the brain: read widely, be curious, learn from others, ask if in doubt because most people are keen to help especially with knowledge.
3. Don’t spend too much time with fellow Malayans but use the time to visit and talk to the ordinary people, learn their customs, etc.
4. Make full use of the following: brain to absorb knowledge, eyes to observe, ears to listen, and develop .
5. Learn to appreciate art and music.
That afternoon will never be forgotten and I have adhered to his advice to this day. Little did I realize that we would meet again after my return from England and I would learn from him how to conduct a choir after Lim Eng Thye appointed me to conduct the school song on Monday mornings.
Journey to England
The plane load of trainees congregated at tiny airport in Sungei Besi. There were many parents, some tearful, to see their children off to England. We took off in the evening. It would be a slow flight to our destination but we were not disappointed. In fact it was very interesting. Our first stop was Ceylon where we spent the night in a comfortable hotel near the beach. After a good breakfast I went for a walk on the beach and the areas surrounding the hotel. I had a Japanese camera, a Konica, an exact copy of the German Leica 1g, loaned to me by a classmate who later became a rich towkay engaging in some smuggling activities.
Soon we were on the way to Bombay where we spent another night. We had more time this time. Surprisingly an Indian lady gave us a conducted tour of the city. We left the Indian city at night, I think. The next airport was Beirut. We did not stay long there but we had a chance to leave the plane thus giving us the opportunity to look around. It was really hot.
On reaching London airport in the afternoon the Brinsford Lodge college coach took us all the way to the coal mining city of Wolverhampton, then to a small village called Featherstone seven miles away and finally along a small lane to our new homes for the next two and a half years.
The other batch of 150 trainees had left Malaya earlier by boat - the lucky blokes. I would have preferred the slower journey stopping at various ports. The college was a former army barrack but recently renovated (with Malayan money of course). I was very happy with my room which had a thick mattress under a large window, a writing table with a comfortable chair, bookshelf and a tall cupboard. It was still summer and it was not that cold for us that evening. After a dinner of Western food, of course, we had a briefing from the principal, a tall man in his early fifties. It was past nine. We were surprised to find that it was still bright outside and we could read the notes given us.
Schools where I did my Teaching Practices:
Great Wyrley Secondary Modern School: It was a large three storied building. The Headmaster, Mr David Gardiner, was a friendly man and was well-liked by the staff and pupils. This was a mixed school which also taught metalwork and woodwork. The students’ ages ranged from twelve to sixteen when they would leave for other institutions — technical, trade or straight to work. I spent two days just observing, including the Form 4 girls doing cooking or needlework. Oh, I certainly enjoyed ogling at the girls. This was the first time I had set my Chinese eyes on the English girls, all of them taller than me. I could see that some of them were stealing glances at me. I think I had a likable or handsome face, for they would talk to me later before or after school. A year later one of them visited me in my college room. What transpired I cannot tell you, lah! Later I taught art and maths to the lower forms. No problems from the pupils. In the staff room the teachers were inquisitive, asking me about Malaya and the war years. The Headmaster, too, joined in. We became firm friends and wrote to each other till the last year of his life. He and his wife visited me in PJ in 1986 and I returned the visit in 1992 in Somerset.
Greenvale Junior School: This was a small but beautiful school in a small town. The HM, a plump man, was friendly and talkative. Children’s ages were from seven to eleven. There were twelve staff, with more females than males. I taught art and craft to the young ones and maths to the ten-year-olds. It was in summer and one afternoon the maths teacher said, "Hey Vincent. It's hot, let’s play football." So we took the class to play football. Could we do that at the VI? Nope, but we can do the sports march-past at 2 p.m. Teachers in England were poorly paid. The teachers saw me with my camera and asked if I could take their photos. I obliged and made large copies and gave them free of charge. They were most grateful, including the HM.
Rugby Grammar School: Forms 1 – 6. In the primary schools the 11+ pupils had to sit for the government exam. The 25% who did well would be selected to go to the grammar schools and then to the Universities. Of course some might not make it. I found the pupils in this school very bright and cheeky and talkative. All teachers had to have a degree. All but one… me! I taught art and maths to the Form 1. Not all the teachers owned cars. Some rode bicycles and motorbikes and some took the bus. Our own graduates are better off. In this school I hardly saw the Principal walk round the school. When I left I didn’t bother to say goodbye to him.
I paid a one-day visit to a school for the very slow learners. It was quite an eye-opening experience for me. The teachers were so patient. I salute them. Did I enjoy the experience of teaching in these schools? I certainly did.
I was a good mixer, with a good sense of humour and always cheerful. I sang a lot and played my harmonica. As you know we have two brains — right and left. I tend to use mostly my right brain. Mr Zimmerman, the US preacher had got me to love music (singing mainly) and had encouraged me to learn to play a musical instrument (any kind). My first choice was the harmonica since I was already knew how to play it. I joined the college choir, attended music appreciation classes and learned to play the recorder and, most important of all, I learned to read music (in my own unconventional way).
Active and strong, I joined the gymnastics club as well as the PE option trainees in canoeing, map reading and rock climbing (I managed to climb Mount Snowdon, England’s highest mountain). The P.E. lecturer, Mr Sam Hill, and I became good friends. I joined the music society's choir. We sang Handel’s Messiah at Birmingham University. In 1956 the college gave a concert to a large English audience of prominent people.
I sang an English folk song I will give my love an apple without e'en a core and played Lysette on my harmonica. I joined the music group and went to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see two of Shakespeare’s Plays, Hamlet and A Midsummer's Night Dream. On my own I saw the ballet Swan Lake at Covent Garden, London. I attended three orchestral performances and five Gilbert and Sullivan operas in Wolverhamton.
On My Own
In 1956, I visited art galleries, museums, zoos, historical buildings, parks in Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Rotterdam. I went with a group of five, two girls and two men. On the third day I got fed up with the girls getting up late, having slow breakfast and window shopping. I told them I preferred to go on my own and to meet them in the evening. In Oslo I passed by a little church in the evening. Attracted by the voices of children singing, I walked towards the door to have a peep. The young pastor saw me and invited me in English. He asked if I was a Japanese. I told him where I came from. He never heard of Malaya. I gave a short talk to the congregation about Malaya and the various Christian denominations. The pastor translated. He asked a girl to go out to get some cakes and some hot drink. I was asked to sing a folk song from Malaya. I sang Terang Bulan. Later the pastor drove me back to the Youth Hostel. What an interesting day!
On my second Continental Visit in 1957, I travelled alone to the Hague and to Geneva. I walked five miles to see the Castle of Chillion, Bern, Zurich, Lucerne where I stayed in a youth hostel on top of Mt Pilatus. The weather was cool and I walked down the mountain. It was Switzerland’s national day. That night I danced a folk dance with a huge lady who practically lifted me off the ground. Later we watched the huge bonfires being lit in the cities around the three big lakes below us.
In Milan I paid an entrance fee to see The Last Supper, a mural painted on the wall of a church. Then something strange happened to me. I felt tired and lost my appetite. Something was wrong and I was alone in a strange land. I decided to return to the college, thus missing other cities in Italy and Paris. The journey by train from Milan to Calais and then to Wolverhampton was long and tiring.
In college I was found to have contracted the Asian flu. The daily injections were very painful. I was the only patient in the sick bay and was there for six days. What did I do? I read at night, played my harmonica, recorder, sang folk songs and chatted with the middle-aged nurse who treated me like a small boy.
In the small home of Mr Simpson on Christmas evening in 1955, I inadvertently sat under the mistletoe used to decorate the tiny hall. During the party his daughter came towards me, smiled at me, pointed upwards towards the mistletoe up above me, bent down and gave me a good kiss on the lips. Yech! I did not like the taste of her saliva. Mr Simpson had served in the army in Malaya.
Wolverhampton was known as the coal mine city. Here were the homes of the domestic and needle work teachers who also drove me in a Beetle to visit its historical places. They were unmarried, in their late thirties. We became firm friends and still write to each other to this day. Twice a month I would visit the home of one of them, Miss Mable Wilson and her 80+ mother who never failed to bake me my favourite biscuits — ginger biscuits — to take back with me. Poor Miss Cross, the other lady, had to look after her bed-ridden mother who lived till 93.
I once visited the home of a rich Rotarian. It had good collections of paintings, books, four suits of armours, small sculptures, etc. About twenty well dressed guests turned up as well. Dinner was formal with small talk and some questions levelled at me. Later we adjourned to the sitting room where tea was served. Then five guests stepped out and one sat in front of the piano. The other four, two ladies and two men, stood beside the piano. They sang in parts some madrigals and folk songs. Later I sang Terang Bulan and a spiritual Old Black Joe.
I spent 1956 Christmas with an old retired mayor of a small town. He lived in a small cottage. His wife had died many years earlier. His driver came to pick me up at the college. I was the only visitor that evening. The driver, the mayor and I had a simple meal and some wine. While the driver cleaned up the tables the mayor and I sat in front of the fire place. Not much conversation ensued except for some questions he asked. I was rather nervous. He said "Eat" every now and then waving at the various nuts in a tray. At 10 pm we parted but a moment before that he gave ten pounds. On the way home the driver asked me "Did he give you some money?" I said, "Yes". He smiled and said, "He likes you. He always does that to people he likes." I asked "Did he give you some, too?" He smiled and said, "Yes". What a strange Christmas night.
I visited two farmers regularly near the college. They had fowls, cattle and pigs and large fields of wheat. When I was free I would go to the farms on Saturday mornings just to see the workers work and occasionally give a helping hand. It was fun milking the cows.
I had to wear wellington boots as the ground was wet and sloshy. The fragrant of pig, chicken and cow dung was awful. Soon I got used to it. The cheerful men treated me like a little boy. I didn’t mind that. I had accepted that I looked like a boy. The college and the students bought much from them.
Near the college was a little post office which doubled up as a provision and photo printing shop in Featherstone. The owner earned much from the students. He had high praises for the sharpness and contrast of the photos taken by my Japanese Konica camera. We became firm friends. I visited the village in 1992. The shop was still there and run by his grandson. My friend had died of a stroke.
The 1957 Christmas was spent in the home of a preacher who hailed from Canada. Both he and his wife towered over me by more than a head. I travelled to London by train and arrived at the station on Christmas eve in the afternoon. The preacher drove me to his modest home. I was given a room and later asked to give a helping hand stuffing the turkey and other minor chores. Strangely I was the only guest again. On Christmas morning I looked through the window and a beautiful white Christmas had greeted me. The whole ground and branches were covered in pure white which prompted me to sing I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. I did not have any discomfort talking with them. They made it comfortable for me to open up. After a warm and hearty breakfast the next morning I returned to the college.
I guess I followed Dr Zimmerman’s advice to the letter and had learned much and gained experience tremendously from my stay in England. It was highly educational too. I must say my stay in England was the happiest and the most educational part of my life.
As the saying goes, seeing is believing. I saw and, indeed, experienced much.
To the V.I.
Three days after my return from England I received a letter from the Education Dept stating that I was posted to a secondary school in Tanjong Malim. I was profoundly disappointed. I had expected a school in Klang. I had rung up the HM of the school in TM and made an appointment to see him. He sounded friendly and said he needed more teachers in the school.
A day before the appointment with the HM I received another letter from the Education Department informing me to ignore the first letter. The new letter asked me to go to the VI. Believe me or not… I had never heard of the school! I don’t remember my teachers had ever mentioned the VI either! I guess my life as a school boy was confined to tiny Port Swettenham and the ACS Klang.
Of course the second letter brought great joy to me, my parents and sisters. My father (by now promoted to Deputy Harbor Master) made some inquiries about the VI. On a Saturday morning I visited the VI quietly, walked here and there, watched the handful of older students who could be new Six Formers themselves checking out the school. Then I had a drink in the canteen.
January 6, 1958
Dressed in baggy white trousers and shirt with the sleeves rolled up, I turned up proudly at the VI. I was early and nobody noticed me. I mingled with some of the new students because I looked like one. I tried to walk tall, stiffening my back to keep it straight and as high as my 5 foot 2.5 inch frame would allow.
When the bell rang and the boys assembled in the Hall I went to the clerk’s office. I knocked on the door. Mr Richard Pavee looked up and said, "Come in." I stepped in.
Before I could open my mouth, he said, "Are you here to join the Form Six class?"
"Er..no. My name is Vincent Voo. I am a new teacher posted here to teach art."
"I’m sorry," said Pavee. "I mistook you for a student. You look so young. Yes, I know about a new art teacher coming here. You are Mr Voo from the Brinsford Lodge Teacher’s Training College?"
"Yes. May I know the HM’s name and can I see him?"
"Not now. He is busy with a parent. I think 9 a.m. is the best time to see him."
Pavee got up, went to the staff room, then came back. There was nobody there. He said, "Everybody is busy. Would you like to wait in the staff room?"
"Since no one is around here, can I take a walk round the building?"
I got out of the office, turned right and then left toward the science lab when a very tall Indian prefect told me to wear the school badge and asked me where I was going. I looked up at him, gave him small smile and told him I was the new art teacher looking around the school.
I could see the embarrassment on his face. He immediately apologized. He had thought….. (need I repeat?)
I went down the staircase next to the library and headed towards the toilets. After that, as I was going up the steps a pretty girl prefect remarked in a rather loud voice, "Hey you… where is your badge?"
I smiled and answered in my soft-spoken manner, "I am the new art teacher here."
She stammered, "I’m sorry, sir. …I’m sorry sir. I thought you … " (O.K., O.K.... you know what she said!)
After these two rather embarrassing encounters I thought it wise to return to Pavee’s office. The typist, Miss Loh Sau Harn, gave me a chair to sit on. Later that year, Miss Loh would be replaced by Anna Yap. Anna and Mr Pavee would work as a team until Pavee retired in 1971. Along the way they would become man and wife.
Half an hour later the visitor came out from the HM’s office. Pavee then went in and came out to tell me that Dr Lewis would like to see me. I walked in and stood in front of his table, and said good morning to him. Dr Lewis just nodded his head and silently looked me over for some minutes. He then told me to turn around. (The HMs of the English school where I did my teaching practices never asked me to do that!) I did as I was told but my countenance had changed. I was fuming. I guess Dr Lewis noticed that. He asked whether I played rugby. How could I with my stature play rugby? It was such a stupid question, I thought but I kept my cool. I told him I did gymnastics in school and at Brinsford, and had represented the college in table-tennis. The college became the Wolverhampton table-tennis league champion. I also told him that I took up judo at Brinsford and had taken part in the activities of the PE students even though PE was not my option. Dr Lewis listened quietly. He never mentioned anything about my interest in art. We stared at each other for some seconds. I never took my eyes off his until he said I could leave. What a strange welcome reception from this kuai lo!
As I returned to Pavee’s office, in lumbered bulldog-faced Mr Lim Eng Thye. Pavee introduced us. Eng Thye was cheerful and took me to the staff room where I was introduced to the only two teachers there. Later during recess, they in turn introduced me to the others. Boy oh boy, was Mr Ho Sai Hoong happy when told that I was to take over the art classes. He was the art teacher then. How he managed to teach art to the Fifth Formers was a mystery to me for he himself could not draw well.
Ho Sai Hoong was a friendly and down-to-earth sort of bloke and we got on well quickly. After the recess he took me to a Form Five class and introduced me. The curious looks they gave me did not intimidate but rather amused me. I had taught English boys much taller and bigger than I. here I was, just twenty-two, very fair and youthful-looking. I looked more like a Form Six boy than a young man. Ho Sai Hoong did not stay long and disappeared from the room. I told the boys about the various types schools in England and the great art galleries I had visited. They listened with interest and laughed when I told them about the English girls I had encountered. The ice was broken. I spent the rest of the time answering their questions which were quite varied.
Ho Sai Hoong never returned to that class. To him it was good riddance to his art classes. When the period ended he returned to escort and introduce me to the next class. Thus ended my first day. I was happy and satisfied with the day’s proceedings.
The next day I got my time table from Lim Eng Thye. It was then that I met a very good student - small, polite and enthusiastic. That little boy was Vong Choong Choy. He was in Form Four then. He would later return to the VI in 1966 as a VI teacher, specializing in geography. Over time I would discover many more students like Choong Choy, ever so proud to be a Victorians.
The V.I. Tradition
At this juncture I would like to go back to the period when the VI was founded. This is strictly my point of view. Do correct me if I am wrong. The many good schools established by the British and the Christian organizations were run by highly qualified HMs who took great pride in their work. So were the senior assistants. Over the years in each school a tradition or culture or pattern or system of running a school was passed down from one HM to the next. Not only that, the school clerk also played an important part in keeping the accounts and files in order. In later years you must have heard of clerks who absconded with the fees collected which got the HMs into deep trouble.
If you remember well, Malayans always seemed to have the idea that the kwai lows were better than the locals in many respects. An English graduate seemed to command more respect than a local one. Do you remember how many locals were proud to be seen chatting with a white man? Even the government felt the orang putihs were the best in providing the best education for us.
After the war VI's HMs were white and dedicated to providing the best of English education to rival those in England. Malayans thought the world of them then and accorded them the respect they deserved. And so this continued after the war.
Was I surprised to note the respect and (or is it some fear) the teachers had for Dr Lewis. I heard "Yes, Sir" all the time. In my case I sometimes inadvertently addressed him as Dr Lewis. (In England I had addressed HMs as "Mr…".) But soon I was following the other teachers in sirring him.
Running the school was a piece of cake for Dr Lewis as a very good system had already been established by his predecessors. All he had to do was sign the necessary documents prepared by Pavee, following directives from the Education Department or Ministry. Pavee was an efficient clerk whose filing system only he himself knew. Dr Lewis, with his Ph.D. degree, his white skin and charisma commanded much respect even from the government officials. How many of them possessed a Ph.D.? From the 50’s onwards having a degree was a passport to a good job and respect from those with less education.
I was really impressed by the way the school was being run by the Senior Assistant, Lim Eng Thye. Though sometimes rather crude in his mannerisms and speech, he was efficient and had no problem delegating the various duties. Boy oh boy, was he observant. He noticed things.
I was very impressed by the tall Indian School Captain Krishna Rajaratnam. He was polite, well-mannered, spoke very good English and carried himself well. One morning I was walking along the corridor and he coming from the opposite direction. Krishna slowed down, looked down at me and said "Good morning Sir" in a tone that showed deep respect. He made my day.
The VI Prefects? They had a good leader who must have briefed them well for they too carried themselves well and did their duties efficiently. They were polite too. In a flock of sheep you do find a black one. Some prefects used their power excessively and strutted like peacocks. Thank goodness these were few and far between. I must say the VI’s atmosphere was much better than the Rugby School (remember Tom Brown’s Schooldays?) where I had taught for three weeks. That school was noisy and discipline was lax and children could be seen running down as soon as the bell rang for recess. I did not see their prefects leaving the classrooms first to keep order like those of ours. Well done, Prefects of the VI!
Mr Lian Chee Seng soon was transferred to the VI later that year. He taught PE and geography and had been my Brinsford College mate. In 1959 we decided to teach gymnastics. Dr Lewis gave his permission. Gymnastics must have been taught in the school before for we discovered some mats and vaulting horses in the store room. The mats were in poor condition but we used them for few months. I approached the HM for money to buy some new ones. He looked at me for some moments and said, "I’ll think about it."
Two months passed. I again approached Dr Lewis for his decision. It was in the negative and I left the room fuming. After two more months Chee Seng and I decided to stop the class. The boys too got fed up of using the old and limited apparatus. The HM never asked why. Pity Mr Lian was not a rugby player. Otherwise things would have been different as Dr Lewis was crazy about rugby.
I was the School table tennis coach and master-in-charge. In 1959 I was called upon by the Selangor Schools Sports Council to organize a table-tennis tournament. It was not easy but somehow I managed to get some teachers from other schools to help out. We needed a championship cup. I thought I could write to the Board of Governors to donate one. Mr Bernard Koay volunteered to write a letter for me. Oh boy, was it lengthy, flowery and full of flattery for the Board members. I hesitated to send it but thought, what the heck. I sent it. A few days later I was called into Dr Lewis' office. The letter I had sent was in his hand. He was not in a good mood and asked whether I knew that the letter had to go through him first. I replied that I did not know about this procedure and I apologized. From that day onwards I avoided him. Whenever he walked this way, I would walk that way.
School Table Tennis team, 1958
I went to see a Chinese school teacher to find out if he knew of some one who could donate a cup. He gave me a name: Cho Yew Fai, a businessman. I went to see him. He spoke English and was very pleasant and told me he was once a school champion. When I saw him again a week later, a $150.00 challenge cup was waiting for me. I got it engraved and brought it home. Next morning I showed the cup to Dr Lewis. He was not pleased and did not say anything. That year, we won the cup. VI was the champion.
One morning I was showing a small reproduction of a painting to the Fifth Formers. I was surrounded by the boys who towered over me. Dr Lewis passed by, stopped by the door and asked in an unusually loud voice. "What are you boys doing? Where is your teacher?" I heard his voice and sort of crawled out from the pile of boys and replied, "I am here" pretty loudly too. Dr Lewis then walked away.
Soon I had grown to love the school and was proud to be a teacher there. I guess I was maturing. I managed to greet Dr Lewis with a smile but his reply was still soft and cool. I got on well however with all the teachers and the senior assistants.
I joined the Selangor Philharmonic Society and participated in the various performances held at the KL Town Hall. One Thursday night there was a full dress rehearsal. My face was made up for the occasion. The following morning, a school day, I had difficulty opening my eyes. When I looked into the mirror, my horror, I looked like a pig. It was the heavy make-up; my skin was allergic to it. With a face like that I could not go to the school. I rang up Pavee and told him what happened. The doctor gave me a jab and some pills. In the afternoon the swelling had gone. When the show opened at the Town Hall, I took a risk and went for the performance, this time using only coloured powder as my make up.
I took the part of a soldier and it would have been very easy to spot me when I marched out on to the stage. All the other soldiers were kwai lows, big and tall, towering above me. Then, when I looked down at the audience, I spotted in the second row my 'nemesis', Dr Lewis! Still I enjoyed my opening night of performance, singing my heart out.
I went to school on Monday making sure I had my medical chit with me. Sure enough, as I had expected, I was told to go see Dr Lewis. I told him what had happened to my face. He listened quietly and, to my surprise, he told me he had enjoyed the show. I could swear I detected a smile on his face. I returned to my class feeling better and this incident, I think, finally took away any remaining animosity I had for him. No more playing cat and mouse with him.
Mr. Alan Baker
He was not much of a headmaster. He seldom walked round the school nor showed much interest in the school. He only spent a year, 1963, at the VI. Baker spent a lot time reading his law textbooks in his office. Once I went in to see him with the intention of getting his permission to order some reproductions for my teaching. I had sort of interrupted him and could see that he had been reading his reading books. Lian Chee Seng was at the same time studying law but he did not steal school time to do his studying law.
I was sharing a terrace house with him then. He really worked hard and studied into the wee hours of the night. When Baker found out that Chee Seng was studying law, he deliberately gave him more subjects to teach so he had to study the subjects and get more books to mark. I thought this was a most despicable act by a Headmaster. Chee Seng told me later that he and Baker both sat for the same exam in London. Chee Seng passed and later earned enough to send his two sons to study law and medicine in England and Ireland respectively.
Mr V. Murugasu
Murugasu came to the VI quietly. Being the first Asian posted to a famous school was one big deal. He had to prove that he was as good as the kwai lows if not better. His roars began to be heard and, suddenly, his famous rules came into existence, including the one about not stepping on the grass. But these were but unknown to all former students who used to come back to the school in the evenings to use the field to jog or practice their running. Some former VI sportsmen who used to help out our boys were abruptly stopped when they unknowingly broke those new school rules. They were shouted at by Murugasu and told to leave the field. The Old Boys were hurt and angry. After all they were now adults, still proud of their alma mater and willing to give a helping hand.
Soon we learned that our Malayan Headmaster had powerful people backing him. Then the canings began, followed by slappings for misbehaviour or any infringements of the school rules. There was a now different kind of atmosphere in the school. The school was quieter, especially during the assembly on Monday mornings. But little me was pleased as it made my job of conducting the singing of school song easier. I stood on the stage and if I saw any movement all I did was to stare in that direction. Then it ceased.
The most feared moment was when the term examinations were over. Murugasu would go round each class with report cards in one arm and his famous cane in the other. In the class were some boys already shaking because they knew what was coming their way. One had a bright idea by wearing two trousers to school. No big deal.
Mr Muru (aka "The Black Tiger") would pick up a report book. The boys’ immediate thought was, ‘Who’s going to be the first?’ Mr Murugasu turned to the results page. Any mark written in red would bring on one big painful stroke of the cane on the backside. Pity the boys who had several red marks. They never forgot the experience. Eventually good results began to appear. Without doubt, this motivation by fear worked.
How did I find working under Mr Murugasu? I RESPECTED HIM THE MOST. In spite of his poor relationship with the past pupils, and his autocratic way of running the school, Mr Murugasu was sincere in bringing up the image of the school. He did earn a name for himself, good or otherwise. Beneath that autocratic appearance he listened and would help any teachers who showed dedication in their work. Woe betide the teacher who deviated from what was required of him for he could be transferred out immediately.
Mr Murugasu did not sit in his office most of the time as did his predecessors. He would walk round the school armed by his cane to see that the teachers taught on their feet and were still on their feet after the boys had been given work. The teachers were not allowed to sit down at all. They were to just walk round and give help to the weaker ones. This rule was a hard one to follow, especially for the pregnant women. Of course most teachers broke this rule. All they had to do was walk to the door, peep out to see if The Tiger was on the prowl. It was fun playing "hide and seek."
After school Mr Murugasu could be found in the field looking at the activities going on. One afternoon I was sitting on the steps of the pavilion watching the activities. He came from behind me. I was the duty teacher that day. We got to talking. Suddenly he asked me if could coach the smaller boys in rugby. Me? A rugby coach? I told him I never played rugby before. He was persuasive and told me to get the rugby teacher, Hassanuddin, to help me. Murugasu smiled and walked away.
I panicked. I talked to the teacher-in-charge and then I bought a Teach Yourself book on rugby. I watched the boys practice — some bigger than I. With my gymnastic experience I thought I could jump and give a leg tackle. I told a Malay big boy to run to demonstrate. I chased, I jumped and grabbed the legs, he fell and I fell behind him holding his thighs but my crotch landed on his heel. Oh my goodness, the pain was excruciating. Whether the boys noticed that or not, I did not know. I never did any demonstrations again. Mr Murugasu watched me for a few occasions and finally concluded I was not suitable. Another teacher was found to replace me. Well, I tried and did my best.
After two years of teaching at the VI, I had already grown to love it. The discipline was good, the teachers were friendly and jovial, and the boys good. I thought ..this is the school for my brother who was then studying at the La Salle in Petaling Jaya. I took the courage to tell Mr Murugasu that I would like my brother Victor to be admitted to the VI. His replied surprised me. He said, "Bring him to the school next term." Just like that. Thanks, Mr. Murugasu.
During his tenure I was given permission to buy many good art reproductions to be shown to the pupils. I could also buy clay, prepared in England, for the boys to make figurines. I would take the models made by them to the local kilns for firing, a tedious and expensive chore. I thought.. why not buy a kiln for the art room. With great enthusiasm I looked at the catalogues and decided on one costing about $4,000. I discussed this with Mr Murugasu. He thought it over and approved it. $4,000 was a lot of money then. I broke happy news to the pupil. Two months later the large kiln arrived and it had lifted by a fork lift to a corner of the art room.
Now came the surprise. I had not done my homework before ordering the kiln. To connect the special wires from the power pole to the kiln would cost more than $7,000, Mr Pavee told me. And so the kiln remained there till this day. No reaction was heard from Mr Murugasu, though.
An atmosphere of fear, of the sounds of slapping and caning pervaded Mr Murugasu's tenure. Here was a man who pushed his authority to the fullest to fulfill his ambition to rival those of his predecessors, the white man. He did bring in order, discipline and better teaching by the teachers. Lesson notes became more detailed and longer, essays given to students fulfilled the quota of one a week and were marked properly. Of course this did not appeal to some teachers. Every single exercise book was examined by Mr Murugasu to see that they had been marked by the teachers. No one - teacher or pupil - dared leave the school during school hours. All teachers were treated equally.
To the teachers, Mr Murugasu had one principle — you are paid to teach, so teach. But as far as discipline was concerned he was definitely overzealous in this respect. But he realized that later and apologized. It requires humility and courage to do that. In life we undergo many changes (for better or worse). To accept another's sincere apology is to be magnanimous. Can we do that now that we are older and, hopefully, more mature and wiser?
Mr Tan Cheng Or
Prior to his arrival to the VI to succeed Mr Murugasu, there was much speculation. As he was from the Federation Military College would he be as fearsome as Mr Murugasu? Mr Tan Cheng Or came in quietly. He was introduced to the staff. The first few seconds gave the staff some kind of relief. He was the smallest of the three headmasters I had been under but still taller than I was (sigh!) and there was the ready smile. The face and Mr Tan's personality exuded amiability, something the students and staff had been starved of.
After some months I could see some changes in the school and also in the attitude of the staff and students. Students were not so afraid of the prefects, the teachers were more relaxed and the noise factor rose! Naughty and rebellious students were sent to the new HM who felt that a pep talk would do the trick. The more serious case would just get a light cane landing on the legs. The boy would emerge from the office grinning. This was the beginning of the gradual decline of discipline. As did the fear and respect for the prefects who had helped tremendously in the smooth running of the school.
Was Mr Tan as dedicated as his predecessors? Did he radiate great enthusiasm for the improvement of the school? I remember one year I was asked to attend a VI Board of Governors meeting chaired by him. I was vastly disappointed. There was no enthusiasm shown by the HM for the suggestions proposed by the members. I studied the faces of the Board members as each suggestion was brushed off by Mr Tan. I could detect surprise and disappointment on their faces. In the end nothing much came out of the meeting. And the school continued its normal routine with the teachers and efficient prefects keeping good discipline in check. However, without a strict and dynamic leader at the helm the prefects were beginning to show signs of a lack of enthusiasm. Bear in mind that they had their studies to think about too. They needed time and peace of mind to concentrate on their studies. This is particularly so for the School Captain.
Mr Tan was friendly, very amiable and easy to get along with. Oh yes, he loved a good drink. At two dinners organized by the staff he was in a good mood and suddenly gave out a yell after some drinks. That caught us by surprise. He was not at the VI long and soon a send-off ceremony was given him in the quadrangle with Mr Oh Kong Lum standing proudly in front to deliver the farewell message.
Lim Eng Thye and I
Eng Thye was efficient. His manners could be brusque at times but as a person he was alright as long as you did as he said. One of the teachers told me he would sometimes pinch a female teacher's bottom when he was in a naughty mood. I never saw him lose his temper once. He and Mr Toh Boon Huah taught science and would compete for the largest number of students taking tuition under them after school.
I had the habit of reading a book during my free periods. One day, Eng Thye's sharp eyes noticed that. He also noticed my neat handwriting. He said, "Vincent, your handwriting is very good. Can you take charge of writing the school’s daily activities on the notice boards — in the canteen, staff room and at the entrance to the hall?" That's how I got the job. Another time, he said, "Vincent, you read a lot. Your English must be good. I want you to teach English to the Form 1 and Form 2." I agreed and so I taught English in addition to art.
Another time Eng Thye said to me, "I hear you are a member of the Selangor Philharmonic Society. Miss Floyd is leaving the school. I want you to take over the conducting of the singing of the school song." Once again I obliged. Now you just don’t stand on the stage and wave your hand about. There was a technique to it. So I paid $50 just to study the art of conducting from my old friend Mr Zimmerman who had a doctorate in music. I was now ready to face the boys at the weekly school assembly. Those skills came in use when, in 1966, I was put in charge of the Girls Choir who sang to the parents and guests at the Speech Day Concert.
A few months later - you guessed it - Eng Thye again approached me. "Vincent," he said, "we are short of maths teachers. Could you teach maths to the Form 1 and Form 2 boys?". Again I consented. Little did I realize that I would thoroughly enjoy teaching maths and English to the boys, much more than art to the Fifth Formers.
Conductor Vincent takes the Girls Choir through Whispering Hope, A Lover and His Lass, and Loch Lomond. (VI Speech Day 1966)
These were made up of a potpourri of characters. We had the worriers; the braggarts, the playboy, the genteel, the loudmouths, the grumblers, the naughty, the playful, the helpful, the cheeky, the philosophers and the one-track minds — just like you'd find in every organization.
So which category did I belong to? I would say I belonged to the playful, cheeky, serious and helpful ones. One morning in my friend’s large garden, I caught a beautiful little green lizard with a long tail. I took it home, kept it in a cage and fed it with grasshoppers. It became tame, so tame that I could take it out with me and it would remain still wherever I put it.
One Friday morning I decided to take it to school. During recess I took it the staff room. Putting the lizard on my shoulder, I sat next to Miss Wong Yook Ling who thought that it was made of plastic. I told her to give the lizard a little pinch on the tail. When she did it, the lizard jumped and landed on her chest. Miss Wong gave a piercing scream. In dashed Dr. Lewis to find what the commotion was about. Oh dearie me, my goose was cooked!
Luckily, Mrs Tan Soo Hai came to the rescue, telling Dr. Lewis that a house lizard had fallen from the ceiling and had landed next to her tea cup. Mrs Tan was so quick-witted, bless her. A few prefects had heard the scream too and milled outside the staff room door wondering what had happened. Dr. Lewis smiled and left. What a close shave it was for me! Miss Wong accepted my apology and we all had a good laugh. I quickly rushed to the art room with my lizard and put it in a box. A few weeks later I set it free in a wooded area.
When I set first set eyes on Miss Wong, I thought she was the prettiest teacher in the school. I was enamoured by her sweet smile and gentle speaking manner. I would sit opposite her just to admire her pretty face. I was in a whirl when suddenly a little voice inside me said, "Hey, you have a girl friend waiting for you. So perish that thought." And so it did.
One evening I was chatting with Miss Wong and two male non-graduate teachers on the slope overlooking the school field. My Lambretta scooter was beside me. Miss Wong asked me whether I could give her a ride on my scooter. Reluctantly I said O.K. She stepped on the foot rest putting her full weight on it. Well, our Miss Wong not a Twiggy you know, and my scooter tottered sideways towards the slope. Had it not been for the two teachers who grabbed and pulled the scooter upwards our Miss Wong would surely have tumbled down the steep slope with the scooter. We all had a good laugh.
My father had a good friend who was the captain of a large ship from Shanghai which docked often at Port Swettenham. Captain Khiang's wife had died some years ago and he was looking for a new life partner. My father asked if I knew of ladies who might be interested in meeting him. My first thought was, "Voilà! Miss Wong!" I carefully hatched a ploy.
Soon after I asked if Miss Wong and her lady friends would be interested in a boat ride at Port Swettenham harbour to be followed by a good lunch. They was game and agreed to go for the ride and to meet this captain. Aiya! Mr Yap Chai Seng who was in the staffroom overheard our conversation and wanted to tag along. I agreed reluctantly. So that weekend I let Chai Seng have the pleasure of driving Miss Wong, her two friends and myself. While driving, he talked a lot just to impress the ladies. I, however, preferred to listen. One learns more listening.
Captain Khiang was there at the jetty. He was brimming with excitement and when he set eyes on Miss Wong he got extremely excited. His speech got faster and faster so much so that droplets of saliva sputtered from his mouth. We went for the very exhilarating and pleasant harbour ride. All the time the captain could not take his eyes off Miss Wong. We were greatly amused. Captain Khiang spoke of his voyages around the world, occasionally turning to the other two girls. After the ride we adjourned to the Sea View restaurant for a good lunch. On the way back to PJ we had a good laugh over the saliva-spewing captain. But my sympathy went to Captain Khiang. Eventually, he found his new partner, a tall, nice lady. Today Wong Yook Ling lives quite close to my house and occasionally goes out with me and Saw Choo Thong for lunch.
Mrs Yiap Khin Yin
She had a motherly look and a personality that everybody in the staff room liked. She was kind, hardworking and there was always a smile when she spoke. She had no airs about her. Mrs Yiap and I shared the same table near the window looking out to the balcony above the school porch. When we were not talking with each other we were busily marking books. One morning she needed a rubber (eraser) to erase something and I did not have one. Charles Norman Silver, the Peace Corps teacher, was seated nearby. Mrs Yiap turned to him and said "Charles, do you have a rubber?" I saw his expression of surprise on the American's face. He answered "Beg your pardon? Rubber?" Then Mrs Tan Soo Hai who was seated next to him explained, "Eraser, she meant." Charles handed Mrs Yiap one. Later Charles came to me and said, "Hey Vincent, I was shocked for a moment. I thought she wanted a condom. In the States, rubber means condom!"
When Mrs. Yiap first became pregnant she had difficulties driving. She asked if I could use her Mini and drive her to school. No problem, I said. So every morning I would ride my scooter to her house and park it there. Then we would both get into her car and I would do the driving. Later when Mrs Yiap had delivered her baby and returned to her teaching duties she again asked me for another favour which was to accompany her to look for a new car. She decided on a small BMW. Later when she became pregnant with her second child, I was asked to play chauffeur again.
When Mrs Yiap's two boys grew up they went to the VI where I taught them. They were smart and well-behaved boys. Her husband was a dental surgeon. He once gave me a gold filling without any charge. His workmanship was excellent.
Mr Patrick Ng
He was a quiet, intelligent, talented, very mild-mannered and shy man whom I first met when we were members of the Wednesday Art Group. He had many female young artists who would approach him for help, so much so that they began to show signs of his influence in drawing style and thinking just like the apprentices of the old masters.
Patrick came to the VI in 1959 and was asked to teach the Forms 1, 2 and 4 classes while I taught the Forms 3, 5 and 6 classes. You could say his classes were the noisiest in the school. Patrick simply could not control the boys. Dr Lewis would sometimes go downstairs to his art class to warn the boys to be less noisy. This fell on deaf eyes and the fish market atmosphere continued. One time Dr Lewis arrived outside the noisy classroom, shook his head and turned around back to his office. Even the VI Headmaster had given up!
I would go into his class, pretend to do something there but really I was there to help keep his class quiet. Patrick was a good teacher and his influence was strong. Artists Hajeedar Abdul Majid and Ismail Mustam were his protégés. These two have become famous in the Malaysian art world. Ismail is the artist of the Mural on the frontage of the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.
Ismail Mustam and Hajeedar Abdul Majid
Either he was very shy or had some form of complex because of his effeminate nature, but Patrick very rarely went up to the staff room to mix with the others. So I would go down to the art room, order two cups of tea and some food from the tuck shop and chit chat with him. Strangely enough, at parties with his artist friends, Patrick was funny, sociable and popular with the girls. He passed the Form 6 Malay paper and could write in Jawi. He once wrote an article that was published in the Reader’s Digest. His English was excellent — written and spoken. We became very firm friends and it was through him that I was introduced to some very good artists.
One Friday he telephoned to ask me to visit him the following day at his wooden house in Jalan Pinang. That Saturday morning, I arrived a little early and found the front door closed but not locked. I opened the door, walked inside and tip-toed quietly towards a room with an open door. I nearly burst out laughing at what I saw. There was Patrick, all alone, squatting on the floor and painting a portrait of himself in the nude. And he was stark naked himself! He was not aware I was behind him. I gave him a gentle tap with my toe on a certain delicate part of his body. Patrick jumped up with a loud yelp, then turned around and saw me. I fell on the floor laughing my head off for some lengthy seconds.
Patrick at 1960 Speech Day Art Exhibition
Patrick quickly ran to a chair grabbed his pants. He, too, laughed, saying, "Aiya, you naughty rascal!" and gave me a hug. Patrick left the VI when he got a British Council Scholarship for a four-year art course in England. On graduation, he decided to live in England for good. He taught art in a large college. Whenever he returned to Malaysia for a holiday he never failed to buy for me an expensive art book. He never married. In 1992, I had intended to visit him in London only to be told by his sister that he had passed away three years earlier. I had lost a good friend.
There was this graduate in a certain arts subject who would not hesitate to use bombastic words in his conversations in the staff room. He was very fond of showing off his vocabulary or his knowledge of Shakespeare’s works. This was annoyed the other teachers who couldn’t be bothered with him but he just could not keep his mouth shut. One morning I was seated next to him when he related something that was annoying another teacher. I figured that I had had enough when I heard Mr Braggart use the sentence "My furiosity was aroused." I pulled out my dictionary and looked up the word "furious" and its derivatives. With the dictionary opened at that page, I brought it to our braggart, saying, "Excuse me. I can't seem to find your word 'furiosity'." Then Mrs Tan Soo Hai chimed in, saying rather loudly, "It's 'fury', lah!". Oh, how Mr Braggart's face turned red on being deflated. I had shut him off that morning. He never talked to me again.
Mr C. R. Anantakrishnan
He was a very good teacher who showed extreme concerns for the weak boys. Ananta rarely mixed with the others as his place was away from the main table occupied by the young and noisy teachers. All his maths exercise books were stacked by his table which was near the doorway to the school office. He was well-liked and respected by the others.
I felt he was too stressed about his boys. There were too many unnecessary worry lines on his face. At times, Ananta would slap his palm to his head, and say to me, "Aiyo, Vincent, these boys are not working hard enough. They are so weak in maths!" "Sometimes I don’t know what to do with them," he lamented, "what shall I do?" My first thought was to tell him to send the boys to the Headmaster. Better not, on second thoughts. I would then bring my coffee and sit next to him and we would talk it over.
Mr Yap Chai Seng
Mr Yap Chai Seng, nicknamed "Money Man", was very down to earth. He spent most of his teaching career giving maths tuition, even on weekends. He was proud of the money he amassed. Reading was not his passion. He had one bad habit that annoyed us: he would move very close to his listeners — about nine inches away - whenever he talked to them, sometimes with his mouth full of food. The smell from his mouth could be most irritating. If you backed away from him, he would move in to close up the distance. How could Chai Seng not notice that?
One Monday morning he claimed that he had played golf with Tungku Abdul Rahman the previous weekend. I said, "Did you wash your hand after that?" Chai Seng grinned. He retired to become an insurance agent — an extremely successful and very, very persistent one. You'd better watch out!
Mr Ho Sai Hoong
Ho Sai Hoong, nicknamed "Dr Ho", was one teacher who was asked to teach the most number of subjects — from art to commerce. He was obliging, kind, frank and very blunt, yet with nary a harsh word for anyone. One time, the Art Superintendant of Selangor, the eccentric Tom Harris, came to the VI to observe Sai Hoong teach art to the Form 5 boys. He rudely entered the class without knocking catching Sai Hoong by surprise. Harris then walked around the class and started throwing away the erasers the boys were using. To add insult to injury, he rudely ordered Sai Hoong to take off his shirt and pose for the boys. Of course, this infuriated him and Sai Hoong stormed off to Dr Lewis to complain. The Headmaster, as I later learnt, despised Harris. So he walked down to the art class and ordered Harris to leave the school immediately.
Sai Hoong spent most of the time in the classroom, even during recess, marking books or studying accountancy. He was determined to qualify as an accountant. He needed money to provide his children with a university education. With his teacher’s salary it would have been impossible to realize his dream. Eventually he passed his exams and left the teaching profession to work as an accountant in Singapore. Sai Hoong died a few years ago. God bless his soul. His two sons are doing well in life.
Miss Chiew Pek Lin
She was one pretty little lady when I first met her. I found her friendly and straight forward and without any pretence. I cannot remember how I came to be renting a room in her mother's house across Shaw Road overlooking the railway track. I was introduced to her brother, Francis, and sister, Nonnie, a pretty and well-endowed girl who had quite a lot of admirers. She was a few inches shorter than I was. I got on well with her mother and everyone else and they all, including Pek Lin, liked me and tried to get me interested in Nonnie. As she had admirers I left her alone and the thought of dating her did not occur in my mind.
However we did go to the VI pool for a swim occasionally and the young male teachers could not resist stealing glances at her. She sure had a good figure and I was the one who had the pleasure of holding her in my arm. Just as I was beginning to take an interest in her that little guardian angel above me again whispered, "Hey Vincent, you have a girl waiting for you." It was tough getting rid of my strong feelings but I managed.
I gave Miss Chiew the nickname of "Chili Padi". For, among the lady teachers, she stood out from among them. Her fairly loud and high pitched voice could be heard clearly by all in the staff room. She was direct and would not hesitate to speak her mind — no such thing as beating around the bush. She had a sharp mind as well as a sharp tongue. Should you antagonize her, she can lash out at you and you would be cowed. Male teachers learned this and were careful with her. You could say she walked the talk. Still, she was nice lady to talk to.
One morning I was on my way to my car to get out a pile of exercise books when I passed by Miss Chiew's Form 2 class. I heard her shrill voice reprimanding a boy who had not done his homework. She was saying, "I had warned you boys that if you failed to do your English homework, I would take off your shorts." On hearing that I stopped and stood outside the door, out of sight of Miss Chiew. She now ordered the boy to step forward. She put her hand on his belt and, pulling him toward her, said, "I'm keeping my promise about taking off your shorts. The class was very quiet but I could see some boys sniggling away. They saw me and I could not help smiling too and quickly put my finger across my lips. Miss Chiew took off the belt and as her fingers poised to undo the buttons, the boy suddenly burst out crying. "Teacher, I’m sorry. I promise to do my homework in future. Please don't take off my shorts." What a hilarious encounter! I had to admire Miss Chiew. She really had walked her talk.
She and her family members were greatly surprised when I sent them my wedding invitation card in December 1962. I had never told them I had a girl friend waiting for me. Years later, on a Saturday morning, I was on my way home to SS3. As I passed by the Sri Aman Girls school, I decided to pay Miss Chiew a visit. She was the headmistress of that school by then. Luckily she was in her office signing some papers. She was surprised to see me, of course. We talked about our families and occasionally about the old VI teachers when suddenly the Malay school gardener hopped in with blood dripping from his foot. The poor elderly man had stepped on a nail. I looked at the wound. Gosh, it was deep and needed medical attention. Typical of Miss Chiew, she said, "Vincent, can you take him to the doctor?" Aiya, what can I say? So I drove the gardener to the doctor and waited for the wound to be dressed. As he could not afford to pay, I paid $25 fee and drove the man back to the school and went home. It was an expensive visit indeed!
The Stock Market Players
There were four of them in the staff room. I remember they would snatch the staff copy of the Straits Times every day and turn to the stock market pages that interested them. It was fun watching their expressions of delight or disappointment. One of them had made it and migrated to Australia. Another, a female, passed away later and another had left the school. The fourth was a very careful player and did well. One morning he could not resist telling how much he had in his bank account. Today he calls himself a "financial consultant".
Mrs Teh Khoon Heng
She was not an easy person to get along with. She could be most demanding at times. If she could not get what she wanted, she would grumble and her grumbling could be most annoying. The other teachers did not have much to do with her and left her pretty much to herself. After a trip to Hong Kong she would wear her new and expensive ring to the school to show off. But oh, the other lady teachers saw it but deliberately ignored it. Naughty Vincent Voo noticed her disappointment and decided to give her some pleasure. I sat next to her and said, "Mrs. Teh that's a nice ring you have on your finger." She perked up and started off, "My husband and I went to Hong Kong and I …………blah, blah…"
On another occasion I happened to sit next to her. My naughty nature surfaced again. I said, "Mrs. Teh, you have very nice tapering fingers." Before I could say any more, she said "Yes, lah. My husband also told me that." I again had made her happy. I thought I saw Mrs. Yiap smiling too.
Because of her cantankerous nature, I nicknamed her "Auntie Teh". The name stuck. When she first came to the VI she taught science to the Form 4 boys. There were complaints from the boys. She was moved to teach the Form 2 boys and, over the years, to my surprise, she ended up teaching the Remove Classes in the afternoon. She died some years ago.
Miss Joan Floyd
She was the British biology teacher. I wonder whether she had a complex because of her tall and large stature. I did not see her frequenting the staff room during recess. If she did she would sit on the long couch, propping her two feet on the table.
One Sunday morning she decided to join the staff who included some ladies for a swim. She climbed up the ladder and stood on the high diving board, remaining there for some lengthy seconds until she got our attention and jumped. Unfortunately it was not a perfect 10 dive. The splash was the largest ever, a gold medal performance never performed before at the VI pool. When she got out of the pool our timid lady teachers congratulated her for her courage in daring to jump from such height. Miss Floyd was pleased. I guess she had a good time and was rather chatty with the ladies.
I am sure deep within her she was a nice person but perhaps lonely. An expatriate Englishman saw the goodness in her, fell in love with her and married her in 1960. She had to leave the teaching service on account of that.
Mr Lam Kok Hon
Lam Kok Hon taught geography and took great pride in the way he dressed. His clothes were expensive and could sometimes be quite loud. His belt was broad and fastened right over his belly button, perhaps to keep his tummy in check. His belly was certainly larger than his chest.
Kok Hon certainly could talk and weave his arguments around but you could see that he was either showing off or doing a round of avoidance and to camouflage something. He sure had a high opinion of himself. He once said to me "Aiya, anyone can teach art, lah." Rather than argue with him I just smiled and said, "Yeah, you're right." That pleased him and shut his mouth. Also that stopped him from spewing more words from his mouth. With Lam Kok Hon, it wasn't "walking the talk" but "talking the walk"!
One year the VI Adventurers' Club was formed with him as the master-in-charge. The members were the Form Six boys and they had planned to climb Mount Ophir. Lam Kok Hon approached me and talked me into joining the expedition after painting a good picture of the 3,000 foot mountain. Always game for an exciting adventure I readily agreed.
The morning came. We were all attired for the climb but Lam Kok Hon turned up in his normal clothes. "Oh, don’t worry," he reassured us, "I can change when we reach the base." When we finally arrived, he said to me, "Vincent, I’m not feeling well. You take charge. I’m going to Malacca town to rest." And he quickly drove off. The boys were surprised but not worried. In some way deep down they were happy as they felt Lam Kok Hon would definitely have great difficulty dragging his body up the mountain and would be a hindrance. Me? I was young and strong. After some hours of climbing I became a boy again and was laughing and joking away with the boys. We did have a really jolly good time. At times they joked about their geography teacher. One boy borrowed $5 from me. Alas, I never saw that again.
In spite of everything, Lam Kok Hon was a nice fellow and could be fun to have him around. He just liked to talk and enjoyed the attention he got. I heard much later that he had become a born-again Christian. God bless his soul.
Mr V. Manuel
He was a jolly fellow who loved the good life and, of course, a good round of beer with his buddies. But this cost money and his teacher’s salary was not enough. So Valentine Manuel decided to become a lawyer. And he succeeded. I take my hat off to him for his determination. I heard later that his old VI habits died hard and the judge had to remind Mr Manuel the lawyer that the court room was not a classroom where he could just yell at people.
In the VI, I enjoyed his company for he was always cheerful and mixed well with all teachers. But then a cheerful countenance could hide so much. What was hidden no one could not tell.
In the classroom, Manuel could be funny, cracking jokes to the boys but when angry he could be a terror. One morning after the report cards had been handed to the pupils, I witnessed him slapping and hitting an Indian boy on his shoulder blade. The shocking thing was that the boy’s father was present and looking on helplessly nearby. He did not utter a single word of protest. All I heard was Manuel yelling, "You are a disgrace to your father. You have disappointed him!" This was followed by a slap and the sound of a body blow.
Encik Othman Mohd Ali
I consider him the most dedicated teacher in the school. He was one teacher who gave a lot of his time for the sake of the school's footballers. On most days of the week he would be on the field coaching the boys. He treated them as if they were his own sons. They could rest in his house after school and could open his fridge to get a cold drink.
As a class teacher Othman was mild with the boys but he taught well and in the staff room he was always marking books. Seldom did he while away his free periods. He occupied the corner next to the prefects' room away from the main table and so was left alone most of the time. He had a serious and quiet demeanour but was friendly with all. Othman had nary a harsh word for any one, but do not offend him for he could be stubborn and would speak out in defence for what he believed in. At staff meetings the others would be frustrated at his stubbornness.
Somehow he and I got along well and I could joke with him. Poor Othman, he was diabetic and had to have his daily insulin injections. As far as I knew, he was the sole breadwinner and financial constraints could have had an effect on his health. How could a man give private tuition when he sacrificed so much time for his pupils?
Mr Khoo Teng Yuen
A man who never married but was a foster father to so many boys and girls in KL as well as in Kuala Selangor. Here was a man who turned down a datukship, something very rarely done by anyone. Teng Yuen first taught at the VI as a temporary teacher in 1957 and 1958. In 1959 he was selected to be trained at the Brinsford Lodge Teachers Training College in England. During the one year in 1958 that I met him I took a liking for him. He was friendly, chatty and dedicated. He talked a lot about badminton. It was his passion.
In the VI staff room, Teng Yuen gave me a daily pinch on the cheek followed by a good hug. Why was I so huggable? Miss Chiew's brother Francis would hug me too. Patrick Ng too gave me hugs. When I was in England I got lots of hugs from the elderly ladies. I got three in Europe from strangers I met. Till this day I am still wondering what it is that I have that attracts hugs from ladies and some men.
Every year in November, Teng Yuen's "children", some already married with children, would throw a party to celebrate his birthday. Saw Chu Thong and I would be invited along. At these parties there would be many young men, children, older ones, some datuks quietly congratulating him. Teng Yuen now lives a quiet life, ever since his "children" forbade him from driving around too much. There is always be someone to drive him around at night. As for his health he looks fine but still depends on the very expensive ling zhi pills daily, paid for completely by his children, some of whom have done well in business.
Teng Yuen is still very helpful, obliging and generous in throwing lunches for his friends. He now has a new passion - collecting huge vases, beautiful pots, tiny trees made of colorful stones or jade from China. His double-storied house in Cheras is full of his new toys, in the sitting room, along the staircase right up to the rooms upstairs. Cleaning the house can be a great chore. But Teng Yuen is happy that he has helped so many poor boys succeed. Now they in turn help him. A very rare person indeed. Oh, he STILL gives me a hug - but leaves out that painful pinch.
Mr Chan Kai Cheung
Ah, the inimitable Kai Cheung, the 'boy' with a string of superlatives to describe him. Let me use mine: the cheekiest, naughtiest, friendliest, nicest, ‘harmliest', frankest, most flirtatious person I have ever met. We have or are born with the three roles in us — parent, teacher, child. At times the parent in us surfaces but sometimes the child in us is revealed depending on the situation at the moment. In the case of Kai Cheung, it was almost always the child - playful with an infectious cheeky smile on his face. Even his body language worked in tandem with the face. When flirting with a pretty girl, his body language seemed to be doing the same thing too. Putting his arm across the shoulders of the pretty ones was a piece of cake for him and the surprising thing was that the girls (including the pretty married teachers as well) didn’t mind and actually seemed to like it. If I am not mistaken most married wives would have liked that from their own husbands.
Well, Kai Cheung had one asset. He had this likable baby face and the girls knew that he was just a harmless 'boy' in the body of a teacher. Sometimes he would whisper something to a pretty teacher that would make her break out in a grin. Whether in school or outside, Kai Cheung was good company. His joviality was contagious. If you go out with him, don’t let his roving eyes spot a pretty salesgirl behind a counter. He would say, "Wait, let me talk to the girl". And we would watch from afar and let him have his moments of pleasure.
Our group consisted of Loke Kum Mun (now Dr. Loke), Yap Yew, me and sometimes our naughty Peace Corpsman Sam Edwards who also revealed the little boy in him outside of the classroom. We would go for lunch after pay day every month, usually on a Friday when school dismissed earlier. Once we went to a restaurant in Pudu Road and asked for a private room. A pretty waitress came in to take our orders. Naturally Kai Cheung did most of the talking, what else? I could see that the girl giggled and blushed. Loke Kum Mun who could be quite naughty, too, joined in the tête-à-tête.
We ordered four dishes including roast chicken. As we waited, the waitress stood near the door way watching us. She could not speak English. Ah… my naughty nature now bubbled up. As the waitress brought in the chicken dish, I said to the group, "Let's show the girl how fast we can finish this dish." So Kai Cheung told the girl to watch us. I was the time keeper. Guess what? We cleaned up the dish in 14 seconds flat! Kai Cheung himself picked up the trickiest part, the head, held it up and told the girl to watch. He put half of it, beak first, into his mouth and then bit into it. You should be there to see the expressions of the faces of the rest of us when he started to grind up and swallow the whole head! The waitress let out a disgusted "Eeeyer..!" and had good laugh. We all had a good time. What a day!
Kai Cheung and gang would go for a swim in the VI pool occasionally. One particular Sunday we five rascals were enjoying a swim. There was much joking and bantering. While resting and threading water their bums were partially exposed. I was walking along the edge with my Canon half-frame camera in the hand. I yelled, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who has the sexiest bum of them all?" Guess what? Yap Yew immediately pulled down his trunk and was followed by the rest. I fired away with my camera. They had a good look of each another's bums and I yelled out my decision, "Yap Yew wins!"
Vincent doing his back stroke; diving with Khaw Cheng Liam
Soon Sam had to leave for Nepal to explore the beauty of its mountains. This signaled the beginning of the end of our care-free days. Perhaps it was time to think about one's own future — marriage, career or provision for a better future for one's growing children. Yap Yew resigned and went to teach in Singapore where teachers are much better paid. Loke Kum Mun resigned to join the RRI in KL. Kai Cheung left the teaching profession. They just left quietly without telling me.
A couple of years later I got the phone number of Kai Cheung. I rang him and was invited to see him on a Saturday morning in his company situated quite close to my house. Wow! Was I surprised! It was a condom factory and he was the General Manager! He showed me around with his usual grin on his face. I was surprised that 90% of the workers were females. The males were involved in the heavy work. Naturally I asked why. His reply was that the girls were more dexterous, more sensitive and more patient at detecting flaws in each condom. Finally, he showed me some very large and very curious-looking ones meant for the US, Europe and Africa. "Can I have one or two of those?" I asked mischievously.
A few years after I was at a political talk. During the tea break I spotted Kai Cheung. We sat down and chatted. He pointed at a lady putting some kuih onto a plate and asked, "What do you think of that lady?" Knowing him and his mischievous bent, I said in all honesty, "Nice plain face but too flat-chested." Boy of boy, did Kai Cheung grin without saying a word. I was puzzled. Minutes passed by, then the lady approached us and handed the plate of kuih to him. Kai Cheung said, "Meet my wife". You should have seen the colour of my face, which was probably redder than Campbell tomato soup. Kai Cheung grinned so broadly that his wife asked, "Why are you grinning?" I said to her, "I just told him a joke", and burst out laughing. What an encounter!
Much later, on Christmas Day, my wife and I went to the PJ Trinity Church where we enjoyed the singing and the performances. Then came collection time. Was I surprised when Kai Cheung appeared with the collection bag. Ah, I thought, his wife had performed a miracle on him! Good for him. God bless him and his wife.
Mr Harry Lau
Harry Lau was an Old Boy who had joined the staff immediately after the war. He had even taught Murugasu as a pupil. After Lewis left the VI, Muru became his boss. Harry was in charge of the bookshop which was located behind the stage. Here among the shelves and stacks of textbooks and exercise books, Harry ruled over his little empire, far from the madding crowd. It was popular with the young teachers, including me, who would pop in during their free periods or recess to have a quiet meal or to discuss or chit chat on all kinds of topics. If Harry was alone he could be seen checking his accounts books and sometimes marking books.
Anyone was welcome to his den, including Auntie Teh who would eat her favourite dish of laksa there before recess. This was to avoid waiting too long for the canteen girls to bring her food to the staffroom. The poor girls had to make several round trips to the staff room bringing the orders of food and drinks to the hungry staff. Harry's den was the closest to the canteen. Harry was popular with all as he was the oracle and knew people, and places where things could be obtained. He would regale us with anecdotes of prominent educationists and their idiosyncrasies. Harry had numerous friends from the business world including rice merchants. During the many times I was in his den, no headmaster ever ventured there to find out why we congregated there. It was as if the den was out of bounds to all headmasters! Sometimes I would do my work there far from the distracting sounds of the staffroom. Though Harry had the reputation of having a fiery temper not once did I see him losing his temper in his little den.
Harry very good man with a kind heart who helped many - teachers and students - in his own quiet way. He never asked for any favours in return. When Chan Yew Kee was made a prefect in 1959 he could not afford to pay for his prefect blazer. It was Harry who paid for it and for that Yew Khee was most grateful to him till Harry's last days.
In the last years of his life, Harry was wheelchair bound with Parkinson's. When I first learned of that, I and former VI Senior Assistant, Mr Saw Chu Thong, paid him a visit at his Taman Seputeh house. When Harry heard Chu Tong's voice, tears of joy ran down his cheeks and he held on to Chu Thong's hands for a good length of time. I, too, had tears clouding my eyes. Harry could talk but rather feebly. His eyes remained closed. We reminisced for a good two hours about the many people who had taught at the VI.
One morning I visited Harry alone. I read out the papers for him, played his records, chatted a while and reminisced about some of the naughty acts of the teachers he knew. I could see a flicker of a smile on his face. That was good - he could hear me. Another time Lian Chee Seng, Chung Chee Min and Chan Yew Khee came along as well. The latter reminded Harry of how he had helped him with the prefect blazer. Harry semed a bit embarrassed but was certainly pleased that Yew Khee had remembered. On another occasion old teacher Mr Toh Boon Huah returned to KL for a visit and was brought along by Chu Thong to see Harry.
Harry could be stubborn, too, despite his condition. He would insist on getting up from the wheelchair, grab the staircase railing, and pull himself up and gradually climb up to the dining room. Many a time he would lose his grip and tumble down. Result? Bruises here and there with cuts on the forehead, elbows or knees that sometimes needed stitches. Sometimes I had to tick him off, much like a teacher ticked off an errant pupil. Harry would just grin or keep silent, looking down at the floor.
Once I bumped into Mr Murugasu and told him about Harry's condition. He said he was keen to see him. One morning, when I was about to open Harry's gate I noticed Murugasu's car pulling up. He had kept his word. Muru approached Harry, took his hands and asked about his health. By then Harry could hardly talk and remained silent. Muru and I chatted about the old school and his method of running the school. An hour later it was time for him to leave. Again he shook Harry's hand and left. I thought it was a magnanimous gesture of him to pay his former teacher and staff member a visit.
One morning I was with Harry when Chu Thong turned up. We two talked loud enough for Harry to hear. As he sat there quietly, I noticed that his head drooped a bit. I saw his far-away look. We thought he was tired. We helped him up to his room to his bed. Chu Thong held his hand and said, "See you next week." I held his other hand which, to my surprise, was tightly holding onto mine. His grip was harder than before and I had to use my other hand to pry open his fingers to release my hand. We did not know at that time but it was the last time we would see him alive. A few days later his wife, Cathy, rang to say that Harry had passed away.
That day was miserable for me. A great pang of remorse, disappointment and anger enveloped me. In spite of my years as a volunteer counselor with regular training, I had failed to read Harry's body language. As I replayed the scene in his bedroom I realized that he was trying to say to me, "Vincent, don’t go yet, please!" Was it a premonition that told Harry that he was going away soon?
The wake was held in the large garden. The weather was fine. John Doraisamy, Saw Chu Thong, Lian Chee Seng and Chan Yew Khee were there. Of course, there were the relatives and friends. Harry's son and his two grandsons were there — all tall men just like him. So Harry, goodbye and may you rest in peace!
The White Teachers
In the 1960's there was an influx of volunteers from the 'advanced' countries to help out in the various fields. Malaysia and the VI, too, received its share of volunteers from the US, England, Australia and New Zealand in the mid-sixties. Prior to that we had white teachers, of course, mostly British teachers, but they had come to the country under the colonial system. After Merdeka, these educationists gradually returned to Britain, the last VI expatriate being the Headmaster, Mr Alan Baker, in 1963.
Dennis McClelland, who taught physics, was from Belfast and spoke with an Irish lilt. In his late twenties, he was a pleasant, well-mannered, soft-spoken and very polite man. His quiet demeanour in some way did not appeal to the young teachers and he was left alone much of the time. Like the typical Englishman, he had difficulty understanding our sense of humour. I talked to him and told him I was trained in England as a teacher. Dennis began to open up and asked questions about the various races in Malaysia and how we could live together harmoniously. We soon became good friends and he appeared to be more relaxed and chatted with the teachers. His allowance was small and he had to be careful how he spent it. Dennis did not come from a rich family. Since he did not own a camera, I gave him my father’s camera. He was most grateful.
I remember there was an embarrassed moment for him that caused him to blush. I was in charge of setting up the stage for our big day — Speech Day 1965. I found that the podium light did not work. As Dennis was nearby I said, "Hey, Dennis. You know what’s wrong with this light?" He fiddled with the wires, the bulb, shook this and that but still the light would not come on. The son of Loh Wing, our school school carpenter, was also working on the stage and saw Dennis fiddling with the light. He went forward, took out the bulb, turned the starter a few times, replaced the bulb and turned on the switch. Lo and behold, there was light. He looked up at Dennis, smiled and walked away. I quickly gave him a pat on the shoulder, looked up at Dennis and smiled. Oh.. his face was already red.
Naughty Sam Edwards had this infectious smile on his youthful face that exuded friendliness and made the teachers like him at first sight. He was in the vanguard of Peace Corps volunteers who had been inspired by President Kennedy's call on American youth to serve in developing countries. He was very comfortable mixing with Asians and did not put on any airs. He soon became one of us. He enjoyed listening to Chan Kai Cheong's and Loke Kum Mun's jokes and at times told us some of his own.
Soon we began to invite him to join us for our monthly lunches. He was really good company. At nights he had his own Peace Corps buddies made up of Japanese Americans as well as his white friends. He loved a good beer and parties. Sam's father was a politician and so he had no money problems. After his term in Malaysia he went to Nepal to see the great Himalayas.
Mrs Elizabeth Watson and Mrs Robin Sinclair, both Australians, were very different from the two Americans Peace Corpsmen who taught at the VI. They were quiet and pretty reserved and took their teaching duties seriously, especially Mrs Sinclair. I found Elizabeth Watson most friendly. We were interested in each other’s peoples. She was surprised that Malaysian students often did well in their studies in Australia. Mrs Sinclair was more reserved and had an air that prevented us from being close to her. Her husband was hard to converse with as he seldom smiled or appeared friendly. At staff parties they would sit together and looked on quietly.
For an American, Charles Norman Silver would be considered short, about five feet six. He was stocky and was quite good-looking. His accent was not that nasal and he had a way with words. You know, birds of the same feathers flock together and, since he and I belong to the FSP (Fraternity of Short People), we got on marvelously. Charles joined the VI at about the same time as the ladies from Australia. I discovered that he was a voracious reader like Mrs. Watson. They often talked about books together and their knowledge of art was deep too. Charles was intelligent too. He was in his late twenties. Somehow the young teachers did not get close to him for he seldom bantered with them or joined in idle chit chat with them.
Why Charles and I got on well I still cannot understand to this day. Once he asked if I played tennis. I said no. He said that he could teach me and so I bought a cheap racket. Like our VI sportsman, Nah Seang Hoo, who was good in the various sports activities, I, too, learned fast. After several games I was serving well and playing well. Charles was really surprised and once asked me, "Are you sure you've never played tennis before?" "No," I said. He had difficulty believing me. After about three months, I was beginning to beat him. I think Charles got annoyed and soon the tennis matches ended! Anyway we still got on well and we went out together. Charles introduced me to his Peace Corps housemate, a Japanese American. They occupied a bungalow at the end of Jalan Imbi which faced Jalan Bukit Bintang. We had sake together.
One day a friend of mine gave me two tickets for a play at the KL Town Hall. As I could not go because of a wedding dinner I passed them to Charles. He said, "Vincent, I don’t have a partner." I said, "What about your Japanese friend?" He said, "He is not interested in this sort of thing. He prefers a good drink with his friend." I thought of our Old Girl Siew Moo Lan who was teaching English at the VI too. Well, they both had met in the staffroom, of course, but were not on very friendly terms. I approached Moo Lan and asked her whether she was interested in watching the play. She was. So Charles and Moo Lan met. At this juncture there had been no intention on my part to be a matchmaker. Well, they went and that was the beginning of the eventual journey to a church in Washington DC. where they would exchange rings!
Charles, prior to dating Moo Lan, had bought a second-hand Yahama motorcycle. One afternoon at the VI after sports practice Charles decided to give Moo Lan a lift home. In his excitement, Charles forgot to kick down the bike’s foot rests for the pillion rider. Poor Moo Lan was a first time pillion rider and as soon as she was seated, Charles zipped off. Next morning I asked her how she enjoyed the ride. She said in a nonchalant manner and said, "Aiya, tiring lah, lifting my legs above the ground all the time." I laughed my head off. Moo Lan asked, "Why are you laughing?" I had to tell her. Charles was teaching and I could not wait till recess to tell him. When he learned of his faux pas, Charles apologized profusely to Moo Lan who laughed graciously.
They began to date and finally one day they invited me to have dinner with them at the revolving restaurant of the Merlin Hotel in Bukit Bintang Road. There they told me of their love for each other. I already knew as their faces showed everything. It was those two tickets of mine that brought them together. Remember, ah, it was not me, O.K.? Today Moo Lan and Charles live in Washington DC and have a really beautiful marrried daughter who has qualified as an engineer.
Mrs Lee Hung Yen
You could tell she was Chan Kai Cheong’s or rather the young male teachers’ favourite.
She was the friendliest teacher in the school, a person with a good sense of humour who could take all sorts of jokes. Her smile was infectious coming from her pretty and attractive face. Even her students liked her a lot for her patience and sweet nature. With a teacher like that around you think Kai Cheong or Kum Mun would sit in a corner and mark their books quietly? Certainly not. One of the young men would always be seen sitting next to her to start a conversation with her. I wonder if I could call that ‘conversation.’ I called her Sexy Lee. Oh yes she did have a sexy look as well as a sexy voice.
I met her at a reunion dinner held last year and sat next to her. Mr. Muru was present too.
She, I thought, must have had a stroke as she spoke with a lisp due to the affected facial muscles. She was much quieter. I guess age could have played a part.
Mrs Elizabeth Vaz
A very hard working lady who was liked by everybody because of her good nature and friendliness. Her ‘motherly’ look revealed love and care for the students. After my retirement I learned that she ran a home for the orphans and those rejected by their parents—Indians and Chinese. Out of curiosity and interest I paid her visit. Of course she was surprised to see me.
I do not know how she did it in getting the donations to build such a large two-storied and most comfortable home for the children ranging from 6-year olds to children studying in Form 5 in nearby schools. It is situated behind the Assunta Primary School. It occupies a large ground. It is specially designed to house about 60 boys and girls or more. I was taken around the home. At the bottom there is a large hall with an old piano and a long table and lots of folding chairs for visitors to sit on whenever there was a function. Next to it is the large kitchen and bathrooms. Upstairs there is the study room with computers. Next to it are the dormitories with double deck beds for the children. Some girls sleep in rooms beside the hall. All the children called Mrs. Vaz ‘Mum’.
That day I saw two Americans volunteers teaching the boys and girls. There were other volunteers too - cooks, a gardener who doubled as a handy man, cleaners, teachers, mostly from the Catholic Church.
Later in her office I had tea with her. She told me of her difficulties getting volunteers to stay long. Of course she asked if I could help out teaching the young ones to read and the older ones English.
One month later I was a volunteer there teaching in the evening. It was not easy teaching children who came from broken homes. Some showed no interest, particularly those teenagers. Some were moody, some with low esteem, some who could not wait to leave to work outside, some showing signs of depressions. I did my best but in spite of my counseling experience I was fighting a losing battle. But there were four girls who were determined to do well and succeeded and are doing well in life. Mrs Vaz adopted two of them, both Chinese, as her own daughters. I too liked two of the girls very much.,sweet and well-mannered . They had good care and love. Hopefully they will give these to her children.
The young ones needed love very much such as hugs and loving care. I was touched by a pair of Chinese twins who enjoyed my stories and would stand as close to me as possible. They were loving girls and I could not help hugging them often. So many needed the love of their parents but could not get it.
I wonder how they felt when they witnessed well dressed children with their parents in the city or in malls shopping. Occasionally they were taken out by volunteers.
After a few months I left. I was frustrated. Did I fail?
Miss Ooi Guat Wah
She joined the staff much later. You can say she was a rival to Miss Wong and Mrs. Lee. She had one advantage - she was single and in her early twenties and very pretty. She was quieter and when she smiled she was one lovely girl to look at. Like sugar attracting the ants she attracted the three bachelor ‘ants’ from among the staff. You know who they were - three of the naughty ‘boys'. Either they were not interesting enough or not using the right technique or handsome enough or the time was too short, they failed and had to seek their spouses elsewhere.
She took part in the unprecedented teachers’ ‘strike’ together with some other teachers and was soon transferred out. So there went a very eligible and pretty girl from the staff room scene.
The staff room was back to ‘normal’ when the three bachelors left too - one to the RRI (or to further his education), one to Singapore and you-know-who to a condom-making factory.
During the sixties there were many young male and female teachers coming to the VI but they never stayed long. Some left soon to further their education or for greener pastures and so on. Oh yes there were intelligent and talented male teachers too.
My first outing was with the Historical Society with Mr. Saw Chu Thong in charge. There was another teacher (science ) with chubby cheeks (can't remember his name but I think Ka Hang does). The group consisted of 6th formers. It was very interesting and exciting with the girls roughing it out too. The trip took us to Tasik Chini where two dove into the greenish and murky water of the lake that was also covered with water lilies.
The boat then took us to the entrance of a small river, one of the tributaries of the great Pahang river, where we were transferred to two sampans which could take about six or seven passengers. When the river became shallow the boys got down and pushed and dragged the boats forward on rocky surface with the girls on it. With their weight the boat’s bottom was scrubbed or rubbed off and sprang a leak. A small plank was nailed over the hole and we continued our journey up river. Occasionally the boys had to jump off the boat to lift it over a tree trunk that had fallen across the river. To cut the story short we reached a small village, Besut, where we spent the night and did some fishing in the afternoon. We also climbed a steep slope to reach the entrance to a cave. There was this girl who was rather slow in climbing and was lagging behind. I noticed that and gave her a helping hand. Well, not just one helping hand but a few. My goodness it felt good to hold another girl’s hand. I did the same thing on the way down and enjoying it. She was friendly and we talked and we talked again on the bank of the Pahang river.
Aiya, this stupid creature with wings appeared on my shoulder and whispered, ‘Hey Vincent, you have a girl waiting for you.’ Anyway, it was a very interesting trip. The company was good. I remember Ka Hang and I were on the roof of the boat and we got to talking. I asked him what he wanted to study after Form 6. He talked about becoming a lawyer and sounded serious about it. Looks like he did not take up law, did he?
Several staff parties were held in the staff room. There were also one-day trips to PD, Morib and Templers’ Park. The groups consisted mainly of the younger teachers. We had good fun and camaraderie. These parties gradually trailed off as these young teachers migrated or left the teaching profession.
Teaching the Boys
I consider myself very lucky teaching at the VI. I found the boys very well behaved, cheeky and most of them intelligent with the exception of a few. The VI ‘spirit’ or tradition was there and reflected in the boys’ attitude towards their studies. The smarter boys had much influence over the weaker ones and this I belief was the motivation to work harder.
Just look at the way and the interest as well as the pride in getting the materials in putting up the house tents before sports day. The house teacher in charge need not tell the boys what to do or where to get the materials. This was great initiative shown and the younger boys quickly learned from the older ones. It was like knowledge and experience passed down from father to son and then from son to grandson. The house captains showed good leadership qualities.
The march-past practices were great to watch too particularly watching a pregnant lady and ladies marching alongside the students during the Muru era.
There were the special competitions between the VI and the Royal Military College and the Kuala Kangsar College held at home or away. Also there were the football and hockey matches between the staff. Oh Kong Lum was our star player in the hockey matches.
I remember I was the goalkeeper during one football match between the VI and the RMC. We lost 7 – 0! Of all the years they had a very strong team that year and our teachers were short of stamina. Each time as the RMC forward went on the attack, the boys enjoyed watching me shout in mock terror, ‘Alamak, here he comes again with the ball.’ It was fun and both sides enjoyed my antics.
The athletics meets between the VI and the colleges were exciting too. We lost most of the time. Dr. Lewis was particularly fond of the rugby matches.
Then there were the regular staff versus prefects competitions in the following;-football, hockey, badminton and swimming. I took part in them. In swimming I always came out first—from the bottom. Only once did I beat a prefect in a singles badminton match. Fancy the boys were cheering for me. That was a proud day for me.
The best thing Eng Thye did for me was to ask me to teach English and maths to the Form 1 and Form 2 boys. To me these young boys - like lumps of clay - could still be sculpted into fine models by means of motivations and words of encouragement and friendly competitions within the classroom. The most important thing is to make the lessons interesting and fun to learn. Another thing is that the teacher enjoys teaching the boys and the subjects.
I was surprised the boys learned so fast. I was also surprised that these boys could be mischievous too. I remember vividly asking Liew Fah Onn whether he had any more brothers coming to the VI and if so what his name might be. One cheeky boy suggested in jest an obscene phrase and the boys laughed. I, of course, yelled out, ‘Who said that?’ The boy raised his hand. He got two strokes on his bum. He did not cry but kept rubbing his bum. That was good enough for me. On another occasion Fah Onn did not do his homework of learning one new word a day. He had to come forward to me, raise his right arm, then roll up his sleeve. I said ‘ You have very thin arm. It is easy to raise the ‘mouse’ from your bicep.’ The boys watched eagerly. I raised the ‘mouse’ by pinching the bicep fairly hard and the mouse rose. The boys laughed. Fah Onn returned to his desk laughing and jumping at the same time. "Don’t laugh so much," I warned him. "Next time I will raise two mice." Fah Onn is today a well known O&G.
I made it a point to get the boys to write one composition a week. I had to tell them not to write more than two pages as it would take me about 8 – 10 minutes to mark one book.
For the Form 2 boys they should not exceed more than two and a half pages. Marking their books took up a lot of my time. When the boys in Form 2 had done all the exercises from the text book I taught them grammar. They had to buy the grammar book I chose. Again the boys learned fast and enjoyed it. This really surprised me.
I was strict with the boys, yet at the same time cracked jokes or poked fun at them.
The first encounter between me and the Form 5 boys was rather strange. I entered the class room together with Ho Sai Hoong who introduced me. I think I was a bit nervous but whether the boys noticed this reflected on my face I did not know. My memory of facing the English boys much bigger than these boys came back and I quickly regained my composure. After Sai Hoong left I introduced myself in my slow manner of speaking, where I was trained and about the schools in England and especially about the boys and girls. I also related how I felt when seeing the pretty girls. This broke the ice and the boys laughed. My first question was ‘How many of you are really interested in art?’. Hands were not raised immediately and this was followed by smiles on the faces of practically all of them. I decided to test them by asking them to draw some figures which I found were not good enough. There was laughter when they saw one another’s drawings. I also told them later about my experience attending the nude figure drawing lessons. They perked up with curiosity and asked, ‘You mean the girl was completely naked?’ and such questions. One boy had the temerity to ask ‘How did you feel, sir?’ I smiled, looked at him for a few seconds, then replied, ‘At first nervous, then curious and much later excited.’ They laughed and I thought I heard the word ‘shake’ being mentioned to be followed by laughter. It was time to be serious. The rest of the time was spent on talking about art in general.
The same thing was repeated in the rest of the Form 5 boys.
Art as a subject in the 50’s and 60’s was considered important as far as the boys and parents were concerned. Some had to take the subject because they had no choice unlike today. However there were those who showed interest because they really liked to draw and paint. Some won competitions for poster designs and paintings. The famous ones, Hajeeda and Ismail Mustam were protégées of Patrict Ng, whose influence was very strong. My method of teaching art was different from that of Patrick. I preferred free expressions of painting. Vong Choong Choy won a painting competition. He painted a city landscape with his ‘cubist’ style.
Later some of the Form 6 students wanted to take up art as one of the subjects. Eng Thye had difficulty fitting the class to be held during the school days. It had to be held on Saturday mornings. From 9 a.m. – 12.00 noon. It was a challenge to me and so I had to go back to school on Saturday mornings. The figure drawings of one girl, Khir Johari’s daughter, were very good.
Bulldog-faced Eng Thye had noticed, much earlier, that my hand writing was neat and so asked me if I could write down the following week’s sports activities on all the notice boards — in front of the hall, in the canteen and in the staff room. I obliged. As this chore would take at least an hour to complete I would do it before the Form 6 art class started at 9.00 am. This was my responsibility until the day I left the VI in December 1972.
After a stint as HM of Shaw Road primary school, I was transferred to the Sungei Besi Road School. I was told that the area had a lot of bad hats. The children of mechanics, fitters, hawkers, mata-matas go to that school. So I decided to take up the Japanese martial art of jujitsu at age 41. It was dangerous but I was at it although it was expensive. The jujitsu gym was in Section 21, Petaling Jaya. The exams of each individuals were recorded on video camera and the tapes were sent to Japan for evaluation. I passed the first three exams - white, yellow and brown. In the picture I am taking my yellow belt exam on December 21, 1975. My oponent was a 180-pounder. The instructor was Shihan Goh one of six persons with a Fifth Dan black belt in SouthEast Asia and one of two in Malaysia. After three years I called it a day, but I was tough as hell, extremely confident and unafraid of any adult. I was at Sungei Besi Road School for fifteen years as a very strict Headmaster with nary a complaint from the parents. I made it a point to have at least two boys going to the VI each year. One of them (whose name I forget) eventually became the V.I. School Captain who is now in Chicago with a Ph.D. degree.
In 1986 I opted out of government service and joined a mutual fund company as a trainer. I remained in the company for six years before I returned to the teaching of English which I still enjoyed, this time to adults in hotels, Chinese undergraduates from the M.U. and supervisors in the factories. For relaxation, I went caving througout Malaysia with some friends and jungle tracking in search of waterfalls. Of course my camera always accompanied me.
Have I learned anything during my years in the school? Certainly — from the teachers as well as from the boys their keenness towards their studies, their realizations of their goals and their intensity in performing tasks given them. It was with a heavy heart that I had to leave the school I have grown to love — more than my own alma mater.
Last update: November 14, 2010.
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