Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hostel life - Part 2

Ashaari Amin (now Tuan Haji) was instrumental in getting me back to stay in the school hostel.

Prior to that I was staying with my foster mother on the fringe of Pasir Mas town. We were in form 4 then. Reading story books was my main priority then compared to studying for my exam. Since School Certificate of Examination ws only due in 1968, I thought studying for the exam can be done during the year itself.

During a discussion on Biology, Ashaari asked me to describe the alimentary system. He was horrified to know that I couldnt describe it. The alimentary system was elementary to students of a science class who was due to sit for the School Certificate of Examination in slightly more than a year's time.

He immediately asked me to move in to the hostel and promised to talk to the hostel master for a place for me. I definitely qualify to stay in the hostel with my home being located 10 miles away. Compare that to Ashaari's home which was just 1 mile away from the gate of the school.

A short letter addressed to the Hostel Master Mr. G. Thanda and handing the letter personally to him was all it took to enable me to join the hostel life for the second time.

I cant recall the exact date of my return to the hostel nor could I recall how I carried my beddings and few belongings to the hostel. Being a school prefect I was automatically appointed as the hostel prefect. Life changed for the better for me since now I will be going to class without an empty stomach. Meals will be regular. There will be at least 5 meals a day including mid morning tea break and afternoon tea. There will also be games in the evenings and prep class after dinner till 11 pm for the seniors. Those who were in form 5 will continue studying till the wee hours. The regular study among peers helped me with my grades.

Mr G Thanda demonstrated how to be an effective Hostel Master. As a hostel master we rarely see him around the hostel except during the occassional walk around the dorm. One day during prep class, one of us by the name of Abdul Rahman Hasan Koya (now deceased) fooled around by going out of the class and made silly dance movement. The next minute we saw Mr. Thanda walked over to him and in the sight of everyone he gave him several tight slaps on both cheeks. He felled down and Mr Thanda helped to bring him up on his feet then the slapping was continued . That was the one and only time that we saw Mr. Thanda punished any one of us and the impact was long lasting. Though we don't see him around, he could be somewhere in the darkness watching us.

One of the most memorable incident in my hostel life that year was when I got drenched with a small bucket of water while in deep slumber one night. I must have been boastful after prep class and somebody thought that I needed to be taught a lesson for that. The way they usually did it was to place a container full of water on your mosquito net while you were sound asleep. The weight of the container full of water will gradually lower the container until it finally reached a certain level whereby any body movement will make the container spill its content on you. It was more like a time bomb that will drench your body and not only your blanket but also the matress. I got mine on on a night when Pasir Mas was at the height of the monsoon season and flood water was nearing the level of overflowing the Kelantan river bank.

I was so frustrated that I took my revenge on the most innocent of persons who happened to sleep on the bunk above me. The victim cursed aloud and the dormitory light was switched on. With lots of guilt, I pretended to be asleep. The person who slept above me was none other than my best friend Ghani Senik (now Tuan Haji). So Tuan Haji, as I have confessed today in my email reply to you, I was the one who caused your cold discomfort that night. I believed many knew that I was the one who did it but they just didnt point me out.

There was not really much to recall for the year of 1967. More so when the teachers boycotted all extra curricular activities and we were left on our own to do any activites.

Part 3 will describe my final year of stay in the hostel of Sultan Ibrahim Secondary School Pasir Mas. It constituted the most memorable part of my hostel life.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

14th October 2007 A Significant Day In My Life

IdilFitri fell on 13th October 2007. After the morning prayers and visit to the close relatives' houses, we had to do something that we have never done before on such an auspicious day. We had to continue painting the recently completed porch which will be used during the wedding celebration of my son's wedding at our place.
It was while working on the painting job with my son Azuan, son inlaw Lokman that my 5 year old grand daughter Nur Farhana Jazleen blurted out that she knows of a secret about 'Tok Pa' (grand pa) but she can't disclose it yet until tomorrow. She stuck to her promise of secrecy no matter how much persuasion I did to her.
The morning of the 14th of October saw us putting the final touches to unfinished job around the house. I asked Nur Farhana again on her secret and reminded her that she said she can tell about it today. Before she could answer it, her elder sister Nur Alia Jazleen shouted 'I know, its perfume'. Nur Farhana ran off to her mother crying saying that she wasn't the one who broke the code of secrecy and it was Nur Alia who did it. Such is the strength of will of a young child when given the task of keeping a secret, secret. I cant blame Nur Alia because she didn't know that it wasn't the time yet though it was already the day.
Initially I had decided not to blog about my birthday. Celebrating a birthday isn't really a norm in our family. Only birthdays of the of the grandchildrens are celebrated. Living around KL, they frequently attend to birthday parties of their friends in the neighbourhood. For us the elderly ones including my children, at the most we will just wish each other 'Happy Birtday' and pass whatever presents we were giving.
That small incident about the keeping of the secret of the present changed my mind. What great will Nur Farhana had. Furthermore I would like to thank my children especially my eldest daughter Azura who was the mastermind behind the event. She was the one who read my blog about my son's impending wedding where I mentioned that it will occur a day after his dad's birtday. She caught the hint and immediately posted a comment pertaining to the hint.
The birthday celebration on the 14th evening was significant because it was the first time after 57 birthdays that it will be celebrated with all the children and grandchildren present and involved the cutting of a birthday cake (no blowing of candles though due to the number of candles involved hehehehe) and singing the birthday song! Usually only the grandchildren will get such a treat. Among the adults we will just wish each other happy birthday and hand over whatever present that we have. If we are being wished from afar (since all of my children are living their own lives faraway from home) the same will be done via phonecalls or the SMS minus the present. Anyway it feels good to be remembered especially when your birthdays are now numbered. On that auspicious occassion they gave me a beautiful gift in the form of a perfume set from Giorgio Armani. Beside that the marriage of my son Azuan to Wan Hanizah was another great birthday gift. Their marriage was solemnised on that very night of 14th October 2007.
I would like to thank all of my children, children inlaws and grandchilfren for making my 57th birthday a day to be remembered. Many thanks too to fellow bloggers who had wished me happy birthday. I would like to say a word of thanks to all my friends who did the same on my Travel site at
Here are some pictures that I would like to share with you.


Monday, August 27, 2007

The Three Angels - Part 2

As luck would have it, one of the three angels responded. The one who responded was Miss Teo Tang Ghee. This wholesome astute, sensitive, mature and caring lady had taken the trouble to write more detailed description of her experience and feelings about their experience there. To ensure that readers get it straight from the horse's mouth I reproduce verbatim what she wrote to me in her email. This should correct any mistake or perception made by me in the earlier posting about them.

On her first first day experience in Gua Musang.

When I got my posting in the mail, my heart sank and I almost cried. How could I possibly end up in one of the two most dreaded postings on the peninsular (Ulu Tembeling & Gua Musang were college jokes)? Don't they give any recognition to a 'Cemerlang' teacher training college graduate? Perhaps you could understand my feelings if you were born and bred in a city and the 2 1/2 -year stint at Maktab Perguruan Mohd.Khalid in JB were the only time I had lived away from home. I couldn't even find Renok Baru on the map!

Luckily I had a distant aunt working as a nurse for many years in Tanah Merah. She and her JKR engineering assistant husband kindly drove me to GM. Through some acquaintance of my uncle, I was shown a narrow room at the video rental shop. It didn't come cheap (I learned that accommodation was limited in Gua Musang) and I was to share the room with the owner's younger daughter. It was the sight of the bathroom that turned me off and I was praying that I wouldn't be made to accept it! On the way back to TM, my uncle made a stop at SK Renok Baru to see what it's like. Well, the bumpy ride some distance in from the highway past wooden houses on stilts and the sight of a single row of faded wooden building housing the classrooms that greeted me did little to lift my spirits! The school had no electricity nor piped water!

Sensing my dismay, my aunt thought I should go to JPN in Kota Bahru to appeal for a change of school. The next day I was put in a taxi and managed to find my way to JPN. The officer in charge was not helpful and would not entertain my requests. He said I could bathe in the river, etc (I didn't even know how to tie a sarong securely!). But there I met my first headmaster who was very nice and welcoming. He took me to his car where his wife and mentally-challenged son (he made strange noises that worried me when I was in the backseat with him!) were waiting, drove me to his house for tea then sent me to the terminal to catch a taxi back to my aunt's in Tanah Merah. He brushed aside all my fears, said not to worry, there's a teachers’ quarters and that he'd send a land rover to pick me up at the train station when I arrive in Gua Musang. I had no choice but to accept my fate. I can't remember exactly but I believe Suny came in the land rover when I arrived. My aunt gave me containers of boiled water and also suggested that I could carry water from the river into the house to bathe as the planks on the wooden floor had gaps (there was no bathroom). Can't remember anything about toilet facilities in the longhouse-style teachers’ quarters.

On problem with accommodation and transport.

Can’t recall the details but given a choice, we knew we wanted to stay in town and not in the teachers’ quarters. I remember the 3 of us walked around town looking for a room to rent. We were directed to a house with many tenants and were shown 2 rooms- one with no windows and a naked bulb hanging from the ceiling by a frugal and not-so-friendly old Chinawoman who listed out unattractive terms of tenancy. At first we decided on the one with a window thinking we had little choice, left our stuff and went down to bathe as we were hot and sweaty. Unsatisfied, we made further enquiries and as fate would have it we were brought to Chop Sing Hong, a hardware shop just relocated in a new 3-storey building. The owner and his wife were nice and there was a room to let. We quickly went back to the Chinawoman who showed her displeasure and said we had already taken our baths in her house! We paid her RM5 which she took!

Later in school, we managed to work out a car pool arrangement with Cikgu Yusof who I believe taught Maths & Science. Although he wore a white kopiah (skull cap), he was not an ustaz. He was from Pasir Puteh and had just been transferred to Renok Baru. He had his daughter, Ayu, with him and they rented a house in Gua Musang town.

On Relations with HM, fellow teachers, pupils, parents.

I remember serving under 3 Head Masters (HM) in my 5years in Renok Baru, The 1st was transferred shortly after we arrived the 2nd was nice and fatherly while we found the 3rd aloof and arrogant. The 2nd appreciated our contributions and valued us. We sometimes deliberately tried to make him panic by telling him about offers from other schools in town! He had a slipped disc operation and some time after got transferred nearer his home. He rang me one day to persuade me to join his school (he said he could arrange for my transfer), can’t recall which exactly, and cited a list of reasons to make his offer attractive. One was the distance. He said I could take a bus back to Penang directly even if I wanted to go home every weekend unlike GM. I didn’t take up his offer. I decided that when I leave GM it would be back to Penang , not another school in Kelantan. The same reason for turning down En.Sabri Salleh’s (the then District Education officer who was very impressed with the work I did with the students in Renok Baru) offer to teach in Kuala Krai where the district education office was based.

The pupils were curious about us. I think that was the first close encounter they had with non-Malays / Chinese. I think they loved us as we loved them. They were poor but simple and affectionate. They aroused the ‘altruistic’ values in me, making me do more than just teach. I have a few stories about that but they are too time consuming to write here (I’m suppose to study for my PTK Test day after tomorrow).

The parents welcomed us. They respected us and were supportive as well as appreciative of our efforts in teaching their children. Relationship with the rest of the staff was good. We even stayed overnight with the ustaz and his family when we were making the ‘asyura’ as a community project. His wife was very warm and was keen to teach us their culture. I remember how annoyed I was on one occasion when all the ladies (female teachers and teachers’ wives) spent the whole morning slaving in the kitchen and when the meal was ready and laid out on a mat on the floor, all the men were invited to eat first. When I protested, I was told that the womenfolk would only eat after them. It was so unfair!

Except for some minor hiccups, I didn’t think they were any big issues in our cultural and religious differences. There was a lot of respect and acceptance both ways. I don’t remember that it was the ustazah who told the children to use the stick. I think it was the students’ own ingenuity that led them to solve the problem of holding hands to make a circle creatively during one of my physical education classes. Of course they must have been taught that it was sinful to come into any physical contact with members of the opposite sex no matter what. They were only 6 to 7 year olds!

The children liked me. One day, when they were crowding round me, one student said she ‘sayang teacher’ (love the teacher) and ‘nak jadi anak angkat teacher’ (Wish to be the teacher's foster children). Suddenly, all of them echoed the same thing except one. The class monitor, the youngest daughter of the canteen operator said, “Tak leh, teacher kafir.”!(We can't be, the teacher is a non believer)Well, you can see that the programming started very early in their education.

On their transfer out.

It was just a natural progression, also an unwritten rule that once you have served 5-years in the ulus, you are eligible for transfer. Actually I didn’t wait till my 5th year, I submitted my application for transfer in my 4th year as I was unhappy with the 3rd HM. I didn’t feel much appreciated and once he summoned me to his office to tell me I can’t wear a sleeveless dress in school. He told me to tell Suny & Huey Ling. Suny reacted by saying that she would wear a sleeveless dress and shorter skirts the next time! Well, he never submitted my application for transfer. Later he told me he forgot to submit and had missed the deadline! I knew it was deliberate and I took it that he really wanted me to stay!

I think Huey Ling left 1st. After 3 years, it was easier for a local to get back to her hometown since it was not an inter-state transfer. Then Suny got a place to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Teaching B.Malaysia as a First Language in UPM. It was there that she met her Malay (of Java ancestry) husband-to-be. I was very unhappy and frustrated as I couldn’t get a place in the university. At that point I was determined I’ve had enough of Renok Baru. By then there were another 4 Chinese girls posted to SK Renok Baru.

On the children’s academic performance during their stint in Renok Baru.

I daresay having trained, qualified and competent English Language teachers made a difference. The UPSR results for English showed significant improvement every year. I thought the exposure to the ‘foreign’ language we gave them was invaluable. I believe many students benefited from our teaching. We manage to set up a Pusat Sumber (Resource Center) and DOW Chemicals’s aid (obtained through both your help and Hj.Hussein’s) of books and radio cassette recorders, etc was a great boost. In one year, we won (can’t remember whether it was 1st or 2nd or 3rd placing for our rural school category) in an annual competition among the schools in Kelantan. Later, just after I left, our Pusat Sumber was made the regional Pusat Sumber for the district.

On Miss Yong Huey Ling and her marriage.

His name is Oh Kim Leng. They were college sweethearts. I can’t remember his posting in Sarawak but it was in some remote part. I believe he injured his neck/spinal cord when he dived into the river when taking his bath. It was a tragedy as Kim Leng, I heard, was a very talented young man. It was a cruel twist of fate that ended a promising future for a bright young man. Huey Ling went against well-meaning advice and her family’s wish and married him instead. We re-established brief contact some years back and she said she was happy and contented with her life with Kim Leng despite his disability. At that time she was pursuing a degree privately. Her husband was doing well after medically boarded out, his Bahasa Malaysia tuition classes were well sought after. He even bought her a house and car (I have to buy them myself!).

All in all, the time in GM was an enriching experience for me though there wasn’t much opportunities for personal & professional development. You don’t even need to go abroad to get a culture shock, I had it in my own country.

On her reflection and regret in life.

Whenever I reflect upon those times we were in Gua Musang (GM), it brings a nostalgic feeling that is beyond comprehension.
Well, it was an important phase in our lives. We not only just embarked on our teaching career but entered the 'real world' outside. We were young and naive, and I was full of ideals. My one regret was not putting my 5 years there in good use. I could have pursued a law degree had I got the right motivation and support. Instead, life centered around school, and once the conditioning is set, I found myself trapped in a system that did me little justice because it is a system that does not give due recognition to talent or good work. It is a system that is demoralizing because it discriminates and it fails to help people like me charts my career path. I learn only too late that a system that treats unequal people equally is not necessarily fair. After 22 years in the service, you can say that I've no illusions left.

Most of my motivations are intrinsic. If I needed external rewards to stay motivated all these years, I would have been a dead wood a long time ago. However, the scholarship to UK was the best reward because it gave me an opportunity to realize my potentials and helped built my confidence. It was an experience of a lifetime to explore a world outside my little 'tempurung' and widen my horizons. But I did not get the scholarship because of my dedicated service, as far as the ministry was concerned I was only a name on the list, I got it because of my luck/destiny/karma.

Oh Kim Leng were later featured on National Televion as an example of teachers who contributed tremendously towards educating the youngs in Malacca despite of his being handicapped by paralysis from the waist down after the mishap. Their story brought tears to many who know either one of them and saw them on TV when it was aired.

There is nothing more that I can add at the moment. Suffice to say that these are examplary people (teachers) who sacrificed a part of their young lives to serve the pupils in the remote part of the country. How happy would they be if even a token of appreciation was accorded to them. To the three of them, this write up is to acknowledge their contibution to society.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Befriending Your neighbours

I once commented on Elviza's blog Write Away on the topic 'Love thy Neighbour'. I Felt compelled to write something of similar experience with neighbours. The slight variations do make a difference though.
In 1975 I was probably the youngest Manager that Felda Taib Andak has ever had. (Felda Taib Andak was made famous by Mawi of Akedemi Fantasia's fame). At 25 years of age with most sttlers in the above 45 age bracket it was pretty awkward for me to be advising settlers on their marital problems. The boom in the price of oil palm has brought about a drastic rise in the take home income of the settlers. The sudden rise in income had turned some of them into irresponsible fathers who frequent bar joints in Kulai for drink and women. Those who didnt indulge in that vice started changing their motorbikes or adding new ones. The good few invested in improving their homes.
My first child Azura was born while we were in Felda Taib Andak. She was delivered in Sultanah Aminah Hospital in Johor Baru.
I wanted out of Taib Andak and my request for transfer was granted and I was transfered to Felda Selanchar 2 in Pahang. The schme location was very close to the Johor border. The nearest town was Labis and Segamat. I chose to settle in Labis. My immediate problem was my wife Fatthiyah was due to deliver my second child and my maid wouldnt want to move to Labis which was quite far from Felda Taib Andak. My problem was resolved when my harvesting contractor, a chinese, suggested that I took along her 13 years old daugther Ah Ber to help us out until we find a new maid in Labis. Ah Ber wasnt schooling anymore and her main function with us then was to look after Azura while we went to work. My wife Fatthiyah managed to get a transfer to a school in town for her teaching job. Since we were desperate, Fatthiyah agreed to take Ah Ber along.
Prior to moving to Labis I have managed to find a vacant 3 bedroom terrace house very close to Labis. At RM70.00 a month the house was a steal. The landlord was an estate conductor and lived with his family and mother in the estate quarters nearby. How lucky I was I thought since suitable accomodation were hard to come by in Labis.
Labis was a small town in Noeth Johor. Electricity was supplied by an Independent Power Producer (small scale by todays standard) using generators powered by disel engines. Low peak period was from 7 am to 11 am and thus there was no supply during this period. Earlier it was until 2 pm but protests from residents of Labis shortened it to 11 am. We paid a different higher rate than those supplied by Lembaga Letrik Negara.
The terrace houses were comprised of 2 blocks of ten houses each arranged in series to each other. From the left end of my block, it was Cikgu Talib and Kak Intan's house. Cikgu Talib was a retired teacher and Kak Intan was an active and popular Ketua Wanita UMNO Labis member. Next to her and my immediate neighbour was Ah Chong's family. Ah Chong was a lorry driver and I would never miss my early morning prayer when Ah Chong started his lorry engine to warm it up befor going to work. Immediately on my right was a group of bachelors working for Malaysian Timber Industries Board. They are well off and well behaved. Next to them is Cik Gu Husin who married his ex student Kasmah. Kasmah later died after delivering their first baby. Next to Cikgu Husin was Rajoo, the brother of Krishnan, my landlord. Well at least I know most of my nearest neighbours.
To begin with Ah Chong's family wasnt the best of neighbours. The family was comprised of his wife in her forties, the eldest daughter of 15, a son of 12 and the youngest daughter of 5 years. (All ages are my guesstimate) The son was the naughtiest. He would climb on the roof of the houses and walk along the ridge from end to end. Should anybody tried to ask him to stop he would threaten to throw things at them. I never said anything to him, yet he shook all the papaya fruits on the only papaya tree growing in my garden while he was perched on the roof of my house. Ah Chong himself never returned the friendly smiles I used to break the ice in my attempt at being friendly. Any overtures to be friendly didnt get much response. Yet I didnt give up.
When we first moved in, I could read the amazement on Ah Chong's face when he saw there was a chinese girl living with us. I cant decipher further what went on in his mind. Maybe he thought that I had an adopted daughter. They found out the reality when his eldest daughter chatted with Ah Ber when we were away at work. Later they got even friendlier and chatted when we were at home. I thought that was good start towards the building of the bridge of neighbourliness. Towards us, there was no sign of welcome at all from his family. The rare meetings we had were mostly cursory and hostile in nature.
There was a piece of an old batik cloth hanging on the chain link fence between my house and Ah Chong's. It dawned upon me that the former tenant Cikgu Mad Yassin must have put it there to shield the sight of the 7 dogs that was kept in Ah Chongs front yard. I didn't know why the former tenant moved out. The seven dogs must be one of the reasons. The next thing I did was to remove the cloth. Only later that I learned from Ah Chong himself the significance of the removal of that cloth.
When Fatthiyah delivered our second child Azrin, my relative from Kelantan came with my mother to live with us during the confinement period. Ah Ber was sent back to her family in Kulai. I owed that much to her and her family.
Ah Chong was a habitual gambler. Quarrels were often loud between him and his wife. Often Ah Chong failed to bring food to the family's table. His children were hungry. One day I saw the children eating boiled oil palm fruits to tide their hunger. It was a pitiful sight and pretty dangerous as oil palm was never known to be edible in its fruit form even after boiling. The high oil content could result in dysentery as often happened to cattles free grazing in oil palm plantations. We had noodles for lunch that day and there was alot of surplus. I told Fatthiyah to hand it to the children. The eldest girl initially declined but the hungry look from her siblings made her changed her mind. All of them rushed into the house to help themselves to the food that they may have not had for the last couple of days.
Sometimes we forgot to close our gates. One of Ah Chong's dogs would wander into our compound to sleep under my car. This is the dog with four short legs. So they called her pendek. Kinda cute to look at. Unfortunately this dog had ear infection and the smell was nauseating. One day I found the dog sleeping under the car. I shooed the dog out calling her 'Pendek, chut chut'. The dog obediently went back to their house. Ah Chong was there to see it and for once I could see the smile on his face.
As fate would had it, I met Ah chong gambling at a shed near to where I sent my car for servicing at the edge of town on the way out to Chaah. The place was quite hidden behind the workshop. If I remembered it right all of them were chinese and about six or seven of them including Ah Chong were playing gin rummy while another five or six were watching from behind. I joined the watchers. When Ah Chong saw me he invited me to join in. Gin rummy was my favourite pastime and I knew with a bit of luck I could win some money and some friends here. As you guessed it right I did win. Most of the time they have to pay me and when I have to pay out I just dished it out on whatever thay said was due. I didnt know what was the stake. My usual rate was a sen a point but for this one it was definitely higher. It was ten sen a point, a stake that I would not have dared played if I had known it from the beginning. Since I was winning I wasnt bothered about it.
The workshop people called me telling me that my car was ready and that gave me the escape route to take home the winnings saying that my wife needed the car. Under normal circumstances it wasnt easy to stop from a game especially when you were winning. The losers would insist that he wanted a chance at winning back his losses. The winner sometimes wanted to ride on his good luck and win more. That was why a gambling session last and last. Only a police raid or an earthquake can stop a gambling session in progress.
To our surprise one day we found Ah Chong's house was quiet. No more dogs! Ah chong meekly told me that he kept the dogs to chase away the unfriendly Cikgu Yassin the former tenant of the house. He had vowed that he will increase the number of dogs till Cikgu Yassin moved out and he succeeded at seven dogs. That was the most that Cikgu Yassing could tolerate. He also told me that he thought I was different from Cikgu Yassin, and that positive impression happened the minute I removed the cloth on the chain link fence.
Deepavali came and we visited Krishnan's and his brother's house. Though liquor was served we had the option not to drink it and they respected it. Hari Raya came and all were invited to my house. Ah Chong's children came too. By now they were quite friendly and the boy was better behaved. They enjoyed the sumptous meals and delicacies served.
By the time Chinese New was near Ah Chong had left the family. The mother also went to work elsewhere. The eldest girl had to work at a petrol station. We visited the family on the eve of Chinese New Year. We were served orange drink opened from a bottle and some orange fruits. It was drinking the orange drink that was a torture to us. It was not that we had never had any food or drink in a non moslem house before. It was the glasses the orange drink was served in that gave us the problem. The glasses were visibly dirty by any standard. I downed my glass of drink like I was taking a glass of bitter medicine. Fatthiyah drank hers with more difficulty but somehow she finished it. We wished them 'Kong Xi Fa Chai' and went home next door.
Two years in Labis was enough. We moved to a house in Segamat to enjoy 24 hours of electricity supplied by Lembaga Letrik Negara and to enjoy colored television that had started to be transmitted in Malaysia.
We lost contact with Ah Chong and his family.
Sometimes it is hard to be neighbourly but a hard try can change the worst of neighbours. I am happy that we tried.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Three Angels - Part 1

During my addiction days to Internet Relay Chat (IRC) my standard reply whenever I was asked to name my location was 'The Siberia of Malaysia'. It has never failed to elicite further inquiry as to where is this place that I referred to as The Siberia of Malaysia. I was referring to Gua Musang, Kelantan. Gua Musang didn't seem to ring a bell to many ears and the mention of Tengku Razaleigh as the Member of Parliament still failed to strike any semblance of knowledge about Gua Musang on the uninitiated.
It was the Siberia of Malaysia that The Three Angels were first posted to in 1984 after completing their teacher training course in various Teachers Training Colleges. Gua Musang was by then accessible by road. Two years earlier it was only accessible by train. The few cars running around the few short roads there had to come by train. Dr. Rajoo was the only private medical paracticioner at that time in Gua Musang and his car too came by train.
In 1984 Gua Musang, the southernmost town in Kelantan bordering Pahang was the dead end by road. Only some years later that the connection to Merapoh in Pahang was opened up and thus Gua Musang was linked to Kuala Lumpur. Road travellers from the north need not go via the coastal road in Terengganu since the distance to KL is shortened by a few hundred kilometers. Soon Terengganu will be connected to the West Coast via Gua Musang when the second East West road is completed. Curently Gua Musang is connected not only to KL buat also to Ipoh via the Gua Musang-Cameron road which is part of the second East West road.
The Three Angels were comprised of three teachers in their early twenties. Miss Teo Tang Ghee, Miss Lo Suni, Miss Yong Huey Ling made up The Three Angels. It is difficult to describe them but suffice to say that the sum total of the three make up a pretty sight. Individually I would say Miss Teo as motherly inspite of her young age and a natural leader. Miss Lo is more model like and Miss Yong as a petite lady. Miss Yong is the only Kelantanese among the group and she hailed from Kota Baru.

Sekolah Kebangsaan Renok Baru was the school where they were posted. The school was located about fifteen kilometers and about a kilometer from the Gua Musang Kota Bharu trunk road. It must be fate that brought them to this school because there was another school right smack in the middle of town where they could have been posted to. They would be very happy to serve at the school in town due to the convenience of just walking to school. Being from Penang and trained in Mohd Khalid teachers Training College in Johor Baru, Miss Teo's first reaction when she knew that she was to be posted to Gua Musang was one of shock, dismay and apprehension. Being always resourceful, she soon found out about people from Penang who were residing in Gua Musang. Her fears were more controlled then.
The first lodging they managed to find was a decrepit room over a video outlet. Later they found a better room with a family who operated a hardware store on the ground floor. The room was comfortable with a living area and furnished with a settee provided by the landlord. The room came with a toilet of their own seperate from the landlord. Over the years the landlord was like a family to these ladies.
Their next problem was how to commute from Gua musang as there was no regular bus service. Luckily an Ustaz who teaches at the same school was also commuting daily by car. It was convenient for them to pay the good ustaz for a ride to and from school. The only snag was that Ustaz was too meticulous with his car. When it rains, he will park his car by the main road and everone will have to walk the 1 kilometer to school and another kilometer back to the car after school. As you can guess the Ustaz's car was spotlessly clean come rain or shine.
Being the only non Malay teachers in te school, the Malay pupils who rarely get to be close to others not of their own race and who speak Bahasa Malaysia without any Kelantanese slang was an atraction by itself. Pupils were eager to be close to them.
The were so good with the students that some students in year one voiced their willingness to Miss Teo to make her their godmother. Just before she managed to say anything another pupil spoke that however much she herself wanted to be her god children, she cant do it because the teacher is an infidel. How would you feel if you were in Miss teo's shoes? She didnt blame the 7 year old child but the person who poisoned the child'd mind was the real culprit.
There was another female teacher in the school and she taught religious classes. As such she was known as an Ustazah. This Ustazah was so primitive in her thinking and mindset that when teaching physical education among year one pupils she told them to use sticks to avoid touching the hands of the opposite sex when making a circle. Do you do that for year one students? There were other instances when this ustazah did which is deemed detrimental to the mental development of these young minds. Based on these incidences she was quite sure that the person who poisoned the minds of the pupils was none other than the usatzah.
All the three of them were made to teach in English as well as physical education training. They set their heart and mind to their job and the improvement in the English subject shown by the yearly exam's result was so good that they were noticed by the Education office that was then located in Kuala Krai. A rural school doing so well in English. That's really something unheard off. These things only happened in the schools in towns but not in the village.
Being ever resourceful they managed to get donations from Dow Pacific Chemicals to establish the resource center for the school. Though the amount was only RM2500.00 they managed to get quite a substantial number of books on sale at a book fair in Kuala Lumpur. A small transistor radio was also purchased with several headphones included. That is no small feat for teachers teaching in such a rural environment.
There were some festivities at the school. Surprise of all surprises the three of them were put in charge of the dance performance. With much zeal they prepared the pupils to put up an enthusiastic performance.
It is such teachers that can make a difference to our society. They would serve anywhere in Malaysia and with as much enthusiasm even when the pupils are not of their own race or religion. Dedicated to their job is the best word to describe The Three Angels.
The Three Angels Part 2 will be about their lives after Gua Musang.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The teachers of Old - The Secondary Teachers 1964

It was 1964 and we had passed the Standard Six exam to enable us to join the Sultan Ibrahim Secondary School in form one. The unfortunate ones who failed the exam had either to drop out or join another school called Sekolah Lanjutan and pass the Lower Certificate of Examination whereby they can rejoin us in form four.

Our form teacher in form one was Mr. J.V.Moses. An Indian teacher who came from another state which we didnt get to find out. We remember him as a teacher who walked at a very fast pace. He seemed to be more or less like Mr. Philias Fogg in the book Around The World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. He commuted daily from Kota Bharu by taking the bus to Seberang Pasir Mas, take a ferry across the Pasir Mas River then walk the two kilometers to the school. Since our class was in the afternoon session, walking to school in the hot afternoon sun was a torture to him. For him it was a daily routine. We joked among us that like Mr. Philias Fogg, Mr. JV Moses must have counted his every steps that he walked to school. It was not really confirmed if he did count his steps as non of us dare ask him about it.

Mr. JV Moses encouraged us to read lots of story books. This was where the habit of reading was inculcated in many of us. We are indebted to him for this beautiful habit. He told us to read books by Enid Blyton which suited us because of the simple vocabulary that she used. The Famous Five became the rage of the class. Everytime we read her books, we imagined ourselves to be in England. Every recess hour would see some of us rushing to the library to grab any copies available on the shelves. Being a small library, the stocks were of course very limited. From the Famous Five by Enid blyton we progressed to The Hardy Boys and The Beagles.

Being a non Malay speaking teacher Mr. JV Moses helped us alot in our quest to learn English. Like our experience with Mr Vijaya in the primary school, English is the only language that we could communicate with Mr JV Moses. So like it or not we have to speak English with our teacher. The learning process was very fast.

Food was Mr. JV Moses greatest problem while in Pasir Mas. He couldnt get used to the food available here. Thats the reason he had to commute from Kota Bharu. The State Education officcer and the Headmaster must have taken pity on Mr. JV Moses because he was later tranferred to Sultan Ismail College in Kota bharu and thus saved him from his daily misery. Our loss of such a dedicated teacher was the gain for the student of Sultan Ismail College.

Sad to say we lost contact with Mr. JV Moses. How nice it would be if we could contact him again to say thank you for the knowledge we have gained from him.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Teachers of Old - Mr. Vijaya Samaravickrama.

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.