Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Teachers Of Pld - Mr.Vijaya Samavickrama

My earlier years of schooling began in a rural school called Sekolah Kebangsaan Kangkong, Pasir Mas, Kelantan. I was there from year one to year four. The teachers there didnt leave much impression on me except for the very nice Cikgu Aziz and the very fierce Cikgu Ramli. Cikgu Ramli never taught my class. He was teaching in another class next to mine one day and it happened that our own class teacher didnt come in at that time. Being free and not supervised, some of us went out of the class and saw many pupils in the next room were being punished by standing on their chairs by Cikgu Ramli. They immediately rushed in when Cikgu Ramli saw them outside his class. His stern look alone could scare the shit out of us. I was not in the group but out of curiousity I went out to see what was hapening in the next class. Cikgu Ramli caught the sight of me and he came after me. He gave me two whacks of the rotan. The lashes were so severe that it took the whole day for the welt to disappear. My thin shirt didnt help me much. Sympathetic class mates looked at my back and saw the two distinct parallel grooves left by the cane. From that time onwards I hate Cikgu Ramli. I felt the punishment was too severe for the offence that I made and I was physically too small to endure that two of his best strokes.

The next phase of my life involve a certain teacher by the name of Mr Vijaya Samaravickrama. To him I would like to dedicate this section.

After the 4 years stint in the Malay School I was fortunate to be accepted into a Special Malay Class in Sultan Ibrahim Primary School Pasir Mas. That was in 1961. The Special Malay Class was a two year transition program for Malay school pupils to enter the English school at standard 6. This is the earliest entry for malay school pupils to an English school. We can also enter form one in an English secondary school after completing standard six in a Malay or a Chinese school. Entry to form one was after undergoing a one year remove class.

What is special about this Special Malay Class is, it is not just for Malays. We have the Chinese and Thai pupils too but they were from Malay rural schools as well. I can remember two classmates by the name of Khoo Cheng Ho (deceased) and Foo Kheng Hwa.

Our class had a very special teacher by the name of Vijaya Samaravickrama (now Dr). He is of Sri Lankan ancestry but to our limited knowledge he was an Indian. A graduate of Kirkby Teachers Training College in England, I would consider him to be my best teacher. He was extremely tolerant of our ignorance and stupidity. The first teacher that we have in the English School whereby the teacher couldnt speak a word of Malay and the pupils couldnt speak a word of English.

The first day in class started as such:

Mr. Vijaya: Good morning children.
Pupils: Good morning children.
Mr. Viajaya: No you must answer 'good morning sir'.
Mr Vijaya: Good morning children
Pupils. Some answered Good morning sir while the rest answered good morning children.
Mr. Vijaya: Good morning children.
Pupils: Good morning sir.

At the end of the day another communication problem cropped up. Some pupils have to take the evening train. Since we were in the afternoon session, the class only ended after the time for the train to leave. These pupils asked Mr Vijaya for permission to leave early in order to catch the train. Since Mr. Vijaya couldn't understand Malay, they used all sort of gesticulations to make him understand the request. All attempts failed. Help came in the form of a senior pupil who passed by the class. He informed Mr Vijaya of their predicament and before Mr Vijaya could say yes they bolted out because the train was already hooting their horns at the station which was situated almost a kilometer from the school. The next day we heard they did manage to catch the train as the train driver saw them running after the train and he took pity upon them and delayed the train's departure.

Mr. Vijaya was a very creative teacher. What we love most about him was when he told us stories. As a dramatist, all stories came alive with not only him doing the parts but us pupils too will have to act certain parts. So not only we got to enjoy the story but also enjoyed acting. During such story telling times he would vent his frustrations with the dunces in the class. Either the dunces will be asked to act the part on a table or he will shake his/her head as a form of punishment. I guess not many of us realised that.

Art and craft is another interesting time with Mr Vijaya. He had so much to teach us and he taught us as much as he could. Thats learning and from a teacher who is so passionate about his job, we learnt alot and very fast. By the end of year one, we could understand English though speaking it is still a problem what more with our Kelantanese tounge which make our English sound with a different twang.

Our class teacher in Special Malay Two was Cikgu Hashim Mohamad. A great artist who could paint with withwater colours and produce great artwork. At least to my eyes. Unfortunately he didnt teach us art and so none of his ability rub off on us.

In year three we joined standard six. The three classes of Special Malay Class were combined with the 3 classes from standard five. The new 6 classes of standard Six were named by the letters A to E and we were streamed based on our exam result.

Again I was fortunate to have Mr. Vijaya as our English teacher of Standard Six A. A teacher who laid the base for our English education and someone whom we know, like and trust. Mr. Vijaya was also the hostel Master for the combined Secondary and Primary School. During his tenure at the primary school, he was also involved in many activities such as drama productions and other literary activities such as debates and elocutions in The Secondary School. Shakespeares plays such as MacBeth and Julius Ceasar were staged in this East Coast school during his time and if I remember it right it was carried in The Straits Times then. Later he produced Androclus And the Lion whereby he played the leading role. Unfortunately it was staged in Kota bharu and it was too faraway for me to see. As I was alwayss interested in these activities I will always snooping around to such functions. It was such experiences that helped me to create activities for my English Literary and Debating Society of which I was Chairman. This was when I was in form 5.

Mr. Vijaya was transfered out of the school in 1963. Later he lectured in UITM and the last we were in contact in 2005 he was lecturing in Taylors College. A teacher who will teach as long as he is capable to teach. To you sir, I am indebted for life.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Hostel Life Part1

Hostel life was the most memorable part of my life. Till this day I vividly remember those days when we lived in a hostel within the school compound at Sultan Ibrahim School (SIS) in Pasir Mas, Kelantan. I had the opportunity to experience life in the the same hostel twice. The first time was when I was in standard six way back in 1963 and again when I was in form 4 in 1967 till I left the school after completing my form five that was after doing my School Certificate and Malaysian Certificate Examination in 1968.

The same hostel catered for both the primary and the secondary school. As such there was a mix from the smallest from standard one to form 5 later from the sixth form living in the hostel. Later the school opened up Sixth Form classes for the Malay medium students. English medium students had to go to Sultan Ismail College in Kota Bharu to do their sixth form and sit for the Higher School Certificate examination.

During my first stint at the hostel, the hostel master was Mr Vijaya Samaravickrama. Mr Vijaya was my class teacher when I was in Special Malay Class 1 and teaches us again when I was in Standard Six.

Each hostelite was given a a bed. Its either a lower berth or the upper ones depending on the availability. They were the Vono Steel double decker beds. The seniors will ofcourse had the first choice. You have to bring your own beddings including mattress, pillow, bedsheet, blanket and pillow covers. The kind of matress you bring depended on how wealthy you are. The son of an Army captain brought a dunlopillo mattress with a matching pillow. Others mostly own locally made kapok mattress and pillows. Making up bed is the most important ritual in the morning. An inspection by the hostel prefect on duty with everyone standing by their bed ensured that all beds are made before going to breakfast. Bedsheet must be unruffled and the sides firmly tucked under the matress. The blanket must also be neatly folded and placed on the end where we lay our feet when we sleep. Anybody who failed to make up bed will be punished by the prefect and made to clean up the toilet the next day much to the enjoyment of the persons who were on roster duty for the day to clean up the toilet. The toilet will be inspected too to ensure that those on roster did it properly. Failure means having to do it again before being allowed to go for breakfast.

Another personal allocation is the cupboard for the seniors and cubicles for the juniors or kids. The cubicles are also known as lockers. This is where our personal belongings were kept. The prefect may also announce a locker inspection and everyone will standby their lockers to for inspection. This ensured that lockers were neatly kept at all times.

Another regulation maintained during Mr Vijaya's time was for every hostelite to have their own set of fork and spoon for dinner. This is personally owned and used for dinner. Everyone are required to use for and spoon during dinner. Dinner was a quiet affair and no onle is allowed to speak during dinner. Even noise from the fork and spoon is not allowed. So evryone must observe the best way to use the fork and spoon so that no noise is produced. When things got noisy, a sharp rebuke from the hostel headboy or from one of the prefect at the main table never failed to bring complete silence.

This habit was inculcated in us so early in life that till this day I am still observing it and passing it on to my children. How annoyed I would be if I were to hear people eating with loud noise when using the fork and spoon in a restaurant. It shows a poor upbringing of the person involved.

For those who were on roster for the day must also water the flowers using either watering cans or water hoses. The older students usually get to use the hoses and the poor small kids had to carry the watering cans or pails.
Those who are not assigned to do watering the flowers were free to play games or practice for the sport events.

Preps or study is done after dinner. Everybody must be in prep class. A hostel prefect will take care of one group which did their prep in the school classrooms. They will only be released at 10.00 pm to go back to the hostel. Lights would be out at 11.00 pm.

Very few of us could afford to send our clothes to be washed by cleaners. Those who love to wash daily do it whenever they were free. Weekends were washing days for most

Once a week we had a free day. The free day bagan on Friday night. Freedom means we were free to go out of the school compound but not allowed to go home. The free day will continue until 6.00 pm on Saturday. Sunday was a school day in Kelantan.

Such were the regulations in a hostel. The hostel prefect were the enforcer and not many dared to break them. Some who dared to sneak out to town on non free nights found their beddings outside the hostel the next day and were told to move out of the hostel by the hostel master. thats how we were disciplined in those days.

I left the hostel after the Standard Six Examination.

Part 2 will be about my second stint in the hostel some years later when i was in form 4.

Monday, July 9, 2007

My School Days

It was 1967 and we were in form 4 at Sultan Ibrahim Secondary School in Pasir Mas. It was then the only English school in this small town. Our Biology teacher Mr. Toh Kin Woon (Now Datok Dr) sent us on a field study to study various topics for our ecology class. The class of 40 were divided into four groups each comprising 10 students. Each group was given different topics to cover such as padi farming, rubber small holding and some others .

My group was comprised of 5 Malays and 5 Chinese. This is an all boys group. We had to walk a few miles for our field assignment since not all members could  afford to even own bicycles what more motorbikes as often is the norm nowadays among school children. We enjoyed the 4 miles walk to the village as we passed by beautiful Chinese houses with peculiar curved roof. These wooden houses remain standing to this day. According to Liong Siok Hui of The Star, this curved roof seemed to be only pertinent to Kelantan.

Our subject was Pig Rearing. Upon discussion among the group, we decided to visit the nearest farm operated by a chinese farmer in Kampong Mekasar. There are also pig farms operated by Thai farmers in Tumpat which is quite a distance away.

Pigs are reared in unsheltered pens with wooden fences and earthen floor. This contributed to the muddied state of the sty which emanated a strong stench. Believe it or not not a single one of us seemed perturbed by all this unhealthy state of the subject and everyone of us took it as a matter of necessity for our study.

While having a look at the sty and its conditions, our presence attracted the attention of the owner who lived in a house nearby. After a short explanation by our Chinese member as to the reason of our visit, the owner who is about 40 years old, opened up and agreed to answer our questions on the subject of pig rearing. We had our information on how pig was reared in the traditional ways and the economics of it from the farmers experience and perspective. We realized that he was a very hardworking farmer as everyday he had to collect leftovers from restaurants in the town to feed his animals since they are voracious feeders.

Our next stop then was the veterinary office in Pasir Mas. The Vet then was a Mr Raja who was a very friendly officer. He assigned his Veterinary Assistant Che Husin Che Musa who answered more questions on pig rearing in the district. The questions were mostly on statistics, modern rearing techniques, diseases of pigs etc.

Armed with ample information about the local industry, we were able to put up a very creditable presentation to the class and deftly answered questions fielded by the class. Mr Toh Kin Woon was very impressed with our work and we gloated on the accolade.

Now of course you would want to find out what is so great about this exercise? I didn't see it as significant either until later in life when Major (R) Chong Chow Kar who was a member of the group sent emails to our classmates reminding us of this field trip we made as students during our schooldays. He reminded us of the camaraderie that we had among friends. It reminded us of our blindness as to the colour of our skin. It reminded us that nothing is taboo among us if we can see the tree from the forest. Do you think Mr Toh Kin Woon had the audacity to assign Malay students in Kelantan to study pig rearing as a subject for field study way back in 1967?. I guess no one would dare even suggest such a subject now for fear of being labelled as insensitive to ones culture and religion. If the assignment were to be done now I could envisage that students would go home and tell their parents about it and hell and fury would be unleashed in all the media and ptotests would be held by the so called guardian of morality. Remember PAS had a field day riling Pak Lah when he was put in charge of controlling the JE Virus when the industry was hit by it.

Upon reflections, I guess the education back then was far superior compared to what it is now. Schools seemed to be the best avenue to bind us together. We respected our teachers so much and regarded them as our mentor. When we did something wrong we were slapped in front of the class for everyone else to act as a lesson for everyone. We didn't whine a bit or rushed home to tell our parents because doing so would elicit further beatings from our own father who would feel ashamed of us for doing something wrong in school.

Since it was so good I often wonder why did we change the system. Above all I regard the conversion to Malay as the medium of instruction as the biggest mistake by the country's leaders. It put the Malays at a disadvantage more than the others. I will dwell more on this in my newer postings.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

My First Personal Computer

When I bought my first pc in 1986, I didnt even know how to use it. It was the most basic with just the floppy drives of the 5 1/4 in size (which is now extinct) and no hard drive at all. If I were to mention the brand it may not even ring a bell on most of us now.

Have you heard of Amstrad? It was then owned by Mr. Alan M Sugar who also did some sugar trading. Thats is how Amstrad was named. So far I have not heard of the brand anymore. He produced computers which was manufactured in Korea and sold to the world. The salesgirl at the computer fair asked me whether I know how to use it and my reply was a no and I asked to be shown the basic of of how to use it. my instinct told me that give me time and I will learn it on my own. At that time I could only be the rare few who owns a PC in that small town. The PC costs me RM3995, quite expensive given the price of todays PC which cost much less and with higher specifications.
I have seen a word processor in my CEO office. It was a Raytheon and cost a whopping RM19,000. Being a word processor alone, the machine outlived its usefullness. Having to do numerous reports which needed to be corrected many times over before it could be presented, I thought a PC which can serve as a word processor as well as several other functions with database and spreadsheet, a PC would definitely help me alot. That prompted me to buy the PC. I t would also give a headstart to my young children to the world of computers.
At that time it was a branded machine alright. Thinking that a branded one like that would be great and create less problems compared to clones. I had lots of problems later because Amstrad made sure that nobody but their agents only can repair their machine. All parts were sealed and any tempering with the seals will render all warranties to be void. The nearest agent is in Kulala Lumpur. Gua Musang then wasnt near to Kuala Lumpur as the road via Kuala Lipis is yet to be improved and travelling to Kuala Lumpur wasnt easy.
The Amstrad outlived its usefullness with the introductions of more powerful PCs with loads of features. Without any spareparts to make repair worthwhile, my PC was dumped at a dumpsite after giving me about 5 years of its life. Little did I know that I have contributed to polluting the environment by dumping a computer with so many hazardous materials in it.