Hostel Life in the 1960s at Sultan Ibrahim Secondary School
By Mohamad Zawawi Ahmad
Accommodation was a major problem for outstation students attending the only English medium school, Sultan Ibrahim School, in Pasir Mas in the 60’s. Public transport then was inefficient and not many people could afford personal conveyance like cars, motorcycles or even bicycles like the present day. The solution to such problem was to find accommodation in a relative’s house near the school (if you have any willing to provide), share renting accommodations with other school friends or stay in the school hostel. In my case, I experienced all those forms of accommodations. I stayed at the school hostel in 1963 while still in Primary 6 at Sultan Ibrahim Primary School. My accommodation reverted to the rented house again from 1964 to the middle of 1967. I rejoined in the hostel again until the end of my schooling days at Sultan Ibrahim Secondary School in 1968.
Lifein the Hostel in 1963
My elder brother, who was a teacher, suggested to my parents that I should stay in the hostel in order to enjoy a better living condition that will provide amore conducive environment for me to study. He agreed to support me with a monthly allowance of RM20 of which RM15will go to paying for the hostel fee while the remainder was for my pocket money.
It was easy for me to gain permission to stay in the school hostel as the Hostel Master then, Mr. Vijaya Samaravickrama, was my Standard 6A class teacher at Sultan Ibrahim Primary School. He nodded to say yes after a verbal request in class. Mr. Vijaya was a young Kirby trained teacher.
So on the same day, I carried all my worldly belongings comprising the essentials; a mattress, a pillow, a single size white bed sheet, a pillow case and other personal things, to the school hostel. A fork-and-spoon was a must as eating with fingers was not allowed, especially for dinner. I had to take a trishaw ride from my previous rented home, shared with my cousins and friends at Lorong Pak Nik Man, not very far from the hostel. The bundle of kapok mattress wrapped in a reed mat was too big for a small me to carry and hence there was a need for the conveyance.
The hostel was located within the school fenced-up compound just next to the school field and adjacent to the school buildings. It was a light blue painted single-storey wooden building. It was equipped with thirty plus double decker Vono steel spring beds arranged in two rows in a hall making a dormitory. Each of us was assigned a cabinet or a smaller locker placed above the cabinet. Being a newbie with very little possessions, I got a small locker.
The same hostel catered for both the primary and the secondary schools. As such, there was a mix of students, the smallest being from Primary 1 and the biggest being from Form 5 of the secondary school. Either big or small, we were all given the same treatment including doing toilet cleaning and watering the hostel landscape plants on a rotational basis. We had a mix of various ethnicity with Malays being the majority, a few Chinese, an Indian and a Thai, all living harmoniously.
In 1963, Lee Eh Hock, who was both the school and hostel Head Boy, his brothers Lee Eh Hong and Lee Boon Lai and another Chinese boy from Tanah Merah (whose name I could not remember), were the Chinese residents at that time. G. Palanivel, the younger brother of Mr. G. Thanda whom he had brought along to study at the school and little Nik Chanon made up the sole Indian and Thai resident representative, respectively.
Living in the hostel was the most memorable part of my life. Food, though some complained of not being tasty, was in abundance and we had four square meals daily. This was something I could only dream of outside the hostel or even in my own home in the village. Meals consisted of breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. Table manners, especially at dinner time, were strictly observed. Loud talking and sharp clacking of forks and spoons against the plates resulted in sharp rebukes from the Prefect’s table and pin drop silence ensued. For the first time in my life too, I learnt that burping in the presence of others was bad manners.
Till this day, I vividly remember the life we lived in the hostel. Life in the hostel was bliss. It was the life of brotherhood, irrespective of your skin color or religion.There was not much bullying from the seniors and we the small kids were left much to ourselves provided we do not break any rules.
Regular night study hours, or preparatory class or better known as prep time, started from 8.00 pm to 10.00 pm. Several school classes were expended as prep classes. Lights were switched off as we readied for bedtime at 11.00 pm.However, those who were in major examination year were allowed to stay up to study for as long as they wish.
Making up bed was the most important ritual in the morning. An inspection by the hostel prefect on duty with everyone standing by their beds ensured that all beds were made before residents were allowed to go for breakfast. Bed sheet must be unruffled and the sides firmly tucked under the mattress. Dirty bed sheets will not be tolerated. The blankets must also be neatly folded and placed at the feet end of the bed. Anybody who failed to make up their beds will be punished. Normally they were made to clean the toilets the next day, much to the delight of the persons on roster duty assigned to do the job. The toilets were also inspected too, to ensure that those on roster duty did it properly. Failure means having to repeat the cleaning before being allowed to go for breakfast. The prefect may also announce locker inspection and everyone were to stand by their lockers for the purposes of checking. This ensured that lockers were neatly kept at all times.
The harshest physical punishment meted out by the hostel prefect was for those punished to crawl under the steel double decker bed. With just about a one and a half feet clearance from the floor and having to crawl under 15 beds from end to end, any knocks of the head against the steel frame can be very painful. The agony of the crawling was not as bad as the bruise to your pride as you were being watched by the rest of the residents including the small urchins from the primary school. Such punishment was meted for the most severe breach of the hostel rules, such as being caught smoking cigarettes.
The Hostel Master could mete out and even worse punishment like expelling residents from the hostel. Once a senior resident returning from a night out for a dikir barat performance outside the school compound, found his bedding missing. To his dismay, at daybreak, he found his bedding at the foot of the hostel steps. He had been unceremoniously expelled from the hostel and had to find accommodation elsewhere.
Such were the regulations in the hostel. The hostel prefects were the enforcer and not many dared to break them.That was how we were disciplined in those days.
Those who were on roster for the day must also water the hostel landscape plants using either watering cans or water hoses. The older students usually get to use the hoses and the smaller kids had to use the watering cans or pails. Those who were not on roster duty were free to play games or practice for the sports events.Those on roster duty must complete their chores before they can indulge in any games.
Very few of us could afford to send our clothes to be washed by the cleaners.We washed our own clothes and weekends were washing days for most of us.
Friendly Quarrels and Mischief
My most unforgettable incident that year was when I set a ‘booby trap’ to catch the person(s) who had been lying on my bed when I went for class in the morning. The bed was not remade after I returned from class.The primary school was a single session morning school. Due to the shortage of classrooms in the secondary school, students of the lower forms had to attend the afternoon session class. It was twice that somebody from the afternoon session had been sleeping on my bed after I left for school. Upon the advice of a friend, Abdul Halim Abbas, I planted a pin in my kapok mattress with the sharp end barely protruding from the mattress. Abdul Halim even lent me the pin. If anybody were to sleep on that bed after that, he would have a painful prick on his back. True enough when I returned from school in the afternoon my bed sheet was disheveled and the pin was roughly pulled out from the mattress leaving a small torn hole. The trap worked! I know I now had to face the wrath of the person involved. I was in fear but there was nothing much I could do about it.
When the afternoon session students returned, I was confronted by the student who had been my victim. My victim turned out to be the person who had been treating me very well all these while. He was Wan Hussin Wan Ali! I was expecting a whacking from him but when told that somebody had been messing my bed, he felt guilty himself and the matter was laid to rest. I was so relieved that I slept well that night.
Later in life, when I met Wan Hussin and relating to him about the incident, he could not even remember it. I guess the pain was not bad enough to merit a space in his memory.
Though the camaraderie and brotherhood were evident among the residents, some serious quarrels did occur among the residents. Later things were amicably settled.
I would consider raiding the teachers’ left over dinner as mischief by some seniors. The hostel kitchen did provide food for the resident teachers. Every day the workers from the kitchen would deliver food for the teachers and set them up on a table in the teachers’ side of the hostel. The food were slightly of better quality than those provided for us. The teachers’ room was accessible from the dorm. It was via this door that some seniors would sneak in to take the food. It would be alright should these raids happened after the teachers already had their meals and only leftovers were taken but sometimes they were late for their dinner. After such a raid, those teachers who have yet to take their meal, had to walk to town to have their dinner. On one occasion, the teachers set a trap to catch the raiders but the raiders were usually on the alert and avoided being caught; those naughty boys.
Sometime in the middle of the year, Mr. Vijaya left the school and the hostel to further his studies at University Malaya. Mr. Thanda Govindasamy, another hostel resident teacher, was appointed as the Hostel Master filling the vacancy left by Mr. Vijaya.
A 1963 picture of the hostel dwellers with Mr. Thanda (Hostel Master) and Mr. Peters (a Peace Corp Volunteer) flanking Lee Eh Hock the School-cum-Hostel Headboy. The primary school students sat cross legged in the front row with yours truly seated directly in front of Mr. Peters.
I left the hostel after the Standard Six examination and at the commencement of the end of year school holidays. My reason for leaving was because I could no longer afford the RM15 monthly hostel fee as my brother who had been supporting me was getting married.Even though RM15 was dirt cheap as it covered all the meals and the roof we were under, but for poor families like mine, it was a small fortune to be paid out on a monthly basis. I went to stay with my sister who was studying in the same school but renting a house with her friends.
Hostel residents at their leisure time. Behind them were the cabinets and lockers lined along the corridor where the residents belongings were kept.
Life in the Hostel in 1967
My second stay in the hostel was in 1967. I could afford to stay there because by then I was awarded a Federal Minor scholarship worth RM20 a month, a big amount back then. My classmate Ashaari Amin was instrumental in getting me to return to 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 passion then compared to preparing for my examinations. Since the Overseas School Certificate (OSC)/Malaysian School Certificate(MCE) examination was only due in 1968, I thought preparing for the examination can be done during the examination year itself. During a Biology discussion, Ashaari asked me to describe the alimentary system. He was horrified to know that I could not describe it. The alimentary system was elementary to students of a science class who were due to sit for the OSC/MCE examination in slightly less than a year's time. He immediately asked me to move into the hostel and promised to talk to the hostel master for a place for me. I definitely was qualified to stay in the hostel with my home located 10 miles away, compared to Ashaari whose home was just a mile away from the school gate. 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 cannot recall the exact date of my return to the hostel.
Some of the hostel boys in 1967
Squatting L – R Awang Che Seman, Suhaimi Jaafar, Unknown, Aziz Ahmad, Noorudin Ramli, Unknown.
Standing L – R Ghani Senik, Muhamad Jusoh, Mahmood Awang Kechik (Dato’ Dr.) Abbas Akbar(deceased), Bong Lot (deceased), Unknown, Rahim Jusoh (deceased), Che Ahmad Che Daud.
A 1967 picture of the hostel residents on one of their free days. Only three persons can be identified, Wan Kassim(Dato’), Abbas Akbar (deceased)and Ariffin Ibrahim.
The hostelresidents having lunch. Being photographed was truly exciting and everybody wanted to be in frame.
Nearest to camera: Che Ahmad Che Daud.
Standing: Nasir Che Mat(deceased), Wan Ali Wan Mat, Wan Kassim (Dato’)
Being a school prefect, I was automatically appointed as the hostel prefect. A prefect had slightly more privileges. Life changed for the better for me since now I will no longer be going to class with an empty stomach. Meals will be regular. There will also be games in the evenings and prep after dinner till 11 pm for the seniors. Those who were in Form 5 and preparingfor the OSC/MCE examination will continue studying until the wee hours. A more regimented study hours and studying with my peers helped improve my grades.
Mr. G. Thanda demonstrated how to be an effective Hostel Master. We rarely see him around the hostel except during his occasional walk around the dorm. One night during prep class, Abdul Rahman Hassan Koya (deceased)was fooling around by going out of the prep class and was making some silly dance moves. The next minute, we saw Mr. Thanda walked over to him and in the sight of everyone gave Rahman several tight slaps on both cheeks. Rahman felled down and Mr. Thanda helped him up to his feet and the slapping continued. That was the one and only time that we saw Mr. Thanda punished any one of us but the impact was long lasting. That served as a strong reminder to all of us that though unseen, Mr. Thanda could be somewhere in the darkness watching us.
Another memorable incident in my hostel life that year was when one night I got drenched while in deep slumber. I must have been boastful after prepand somebody thought that I needed to be taught a lesson. The way it was usually done was to place a container full of water on your mosquito net while you were sound asleep. The weight of the container filled with water will gradually lower itself until it finally reached a certain level whereby any body movement will cause the container to spill its content on you. It was more like a time bomb that will drench your body,the blanket and the mattress. I got mine on the night when Pasir Mas was at the height of the monsoon season and flood water was close to overflowing the Kelantan river bank.
I was so frustrated that I took my revenge on the most innocent of persons who happened to be sleeping 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, 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 did not point me out. Snitching was not our way of life in the hostel.
Later I found out from Ashaari Amin that it was Suhaimi Jaafar who set the water bomb on me. When I met Suhaimi in London in June 2009 and related him the incident, he could not recall it at all. Suhaimi had migrated to England and he must have left behind all memories of Malaysia.
Meeting Suhaimi Jaafar again (beside me in dark suit) after 41 years. If you are curious about the persons in front of me, they are of Wan Hulaimi aka Awang Goneng the famous Malaysian reporter- cum-writer based in London and his spouse Kak Teh, another famous correspondent.
The Teachers Went On Strike
There was not really much to recall for the year 1967.The Teachers Union went on strike over some dissatisfaction over the teachers’ terms of service. The teachers carried placards and hangout outside the school compound. However,classeswere conducted as usual and there was no disruption to our studies. However, the teachers boycotted all extracurricular activities and we were left very much on our own as far as these activities were concerned.There was no Sports Day and even, Sempana, the school magazine was not published.
The end of year school holidays gave us all a chance to return to our families. I went back to my village to help my parent plant tobacco, the main cash crop in Kelantan then. Tobacco planting was a lucrative industry then and the crop was planted on a large scale with a ready market ensured by Malayan Tobacco Company.
Life in the Hostel in 1968
The year 1968 was my final year of stay in the hostel. I consider it as the most memorable part of my hostel life.
The 1968 hostel residents. In blazers, from left, Aziz Ahmad, Mahmud AwangKechik (Dato’ Dr.), Mr. Loo Hock Guan, Che Ahmad Che Daud, Mr. Thanda (Hostel Master), Ismail Yusoff (Dato’, deceased;the School Headboy-cum-HostelHeadboy), Mr. Yussof Ghouse (deceased; the school Headmaster), Abbas Akbar (deceased), Mr. Maniam. Mohamad Zawawi Ahmad and Mr. Pang Chok Chu (deceased).
Some of us were being cheeky. Whenever a group of girls were to walk along the road in front of the hostel on their way to class, they will be taunted with marching chants from the hostel residents of ‘left, right, left, right, left, right’ making it most uncomfortable for them to walk. Most of them ended up running to the school or avoiding that route in front of the hostel altogether.
The teachers had ceased their boycott of the extracurricular activities after theirUnion dispute with the government was resolved.Everybody seemed to be making up for lost times with the school calendar full of activities. All school societies were moving at full speed. Every weekend were slated for at least one activity, sometimes two. So much so that we were hard up to find a place to hold our activities. Even the hostel dining hallbecame an activity venue.
Most of the hostelresidents were active in sports and were represented in almost everysport. An obvious sportsman was the late Abbas Akbar. He was an icon of a sportsman and excelled in almost every sport, be it athletics or team events.
The Bachang Tree
Once a week, we had a free night where we were free to do our own things and could opt not to attend prep. One particular free night we had nothing better to do and we were hungry. Some of us decided to collect unripe bachang(Mangifera foetida)fruits,a poor cousin of the mango. The tree was located at the fringe of the school field on the side of the primary school and almost immediately in front of the semi-detached quarters occupied by both the primary and secondary school Headmasters.
Mr. Ahmad Rahman, the primary school Headmaster, was the first to notice our group of raiders and he informed our Headmaster of what we were doing. The late Mr. Yusoff Ghouse, our Headmaster, came towards us and told us to go back to the hostel. He told us that there were ghosts on the bachang tree which of course we didnot believe. Out of respect, we backed off carrying with us the few fruits plucked by the climbers. Everything would have gone off peacefully if not for the realization that one of the three climbers was thought to be still on the tree. He was Ibrahim Hussein.
Some of us decided to go back and to look for him. Instead of just a few, almost all of the 60 hostel boys followed makinga real dinthat Mr. Yusoff thought we were defying his orders to leave the fruit tree alone. By then, Mr. Yusoff was already running after us. Pandemonium broke loose and we ran helter skelter in every directions. He angrily chased after us but we were too fast for an old man of his age. Further, the school compound was our home and even in the darkness of the night we easily outran himto hide behind the many school buildings. He finally went back to the hostel building, and surprise of all surprises, he managed to catch hold of Nik Hassan Nik Mat. Nik Hassan could have easily escaped from the Headmaster’s hold had he wanted to but out of respect Nik Hassan apologized and followed him. Later in life, Nik Hassan’s last post prior to his retirement was the Officer-in-Charge (OCPD) of Shah Alam Police Contingent!
With Nik Hassan in his hold, the Headmaster called the hostel master Mr. G. Thanda and asked us to gather in the teachers’staff room. Prior to the gathering, Mr. Thanda asked us to meet in the hostel's dining hall as he wanted to know the reason for the commotion. He called on me to speak up. I told him that 'it was sheer panic' that we ran away when the Headmaster came after us when we were actually on a mission to rescue Ibrahim Hussein from the tree. He gave us his fatherly smile and we know that he wasnot angry with us. After all, we were just a bunch of hungry young boys on a free night and not meaning any harm. The noticeable absence in the meeting with the Hostel Master was a hostel prefect who chose to escape by climbing over the school fence to avoid being caught. There and then, Mr. Thanda stripped him of the hostel's prefect-ship.
We were made to gather in the teachers’staff room. It was almost midnight. One by one we were made to bend over and had our butt caned by Mr. Thanda. The number of strokes depended on the age and size of the boy,and at the command from the Headmaster. The smallest and youngest from the primary school received one stroke. The bigger ones received five strokes. When it came to Abbas Akbar's turn, the Headmaster said "that boy is a big bull, give him five". We know Mr. Thanda was pulling the punches because he was using the middle of the cane instead of the tip of it and the blow was not at full strength. The Headmaster seemed to realizeit and wanted to take over the caning. "If you don’t know how to cane, let me cane them myself", he snapped angrily. Of course, Mr. Thanda would not let him but instead made it appear that he was hitting us a little bit harder.
Should the Malaysian Guinness Book of records be already in existence then, this could have easily be entered as a record as the largest number of pupils (more than 50) being caned in one session for the same offense.I dare say that this record will never ever be bettered anywhere anytime.
At the school assembly the next Sunday, the Headmaster announced what happened but he obviously omitted telling the real cause of the pandemonium. He told the assembly that he had never been made to run that hard in his life. Other than the hostel residents, the rest of the assembly were very vague as to what really happened that night.
That was the most memorable event in my entire hostel life. I would like to put this as a record for those who were involved, to cherish and maybe relive the event with their children or even the grandchildren.
The Night of a Thousand Stars
The highlight of the year was Malam Seribu Bintang(The Night of a Thousand Stars), a two-night stage show where students’talents were showcased. The hostel students were allotted a slot to perform and we chose to perform a dance drama entitled “A Gang Fight in Golden Sand”. It was based on the dance style of West Side Story and without any dialogues.
The dance drama was performed with the sound tracks from the film The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Since the idea was mine, I took on one of the main roles. The story revolved around two gamblers one of whom cheated the other leading to a gangfight. The gang leaders were played by Mahmud Awang Kechil(Datuk Dr.) and Ashaari Amin. The original line was supposed to end with Ashaari being killed by a stab of the knife. We were using a really sharp knife and it nicked Ashaari’sthigh and blood oozed out from the wound, dripping to the floor. The audience was unaware that real knife was used until Mahmud dropped the knife and the knife stuck upright with the tip embedded on the wooden stage floor. Fortunately, the performers kept their cool and the show went on unimpeded.Ashaari was rushed to the clinic to have his wound sutured.
We were given permission to perform on the second night with the expressed condition that no real knife was to be used. We bought a realistic looking plastic knife as a replacement. The late Abbas Akbar took over Ashaari’srole for the second night’s performance. The audience had a good laugh when the knife bounced off instead of sticking to the floor when dropped during the gang fight.
This was the year my class of fifth formers was facing the OSC/MCE examination. Two certificates were awarded for one examination sitting. It was the second last year that the OSC was awarded as it was discontinued after 1969.The MCE was also replaced with the equivalent Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM).
Due to peer pressure among the hostelresidents, we studied hard for the examination. Most of us studied late into the night. Towards the end of the year, we could discern each other’s sunken eyes due to lack of sleep. Particularly noticeable was Ghani Senik's skin which became so loose that it could be pulled against the flesh. That was really hard work. I took a much less strenuous approach and did not burn much of the midnight oil until very near the examination itself. I was too busy with my extra-curricular activities.
The exam came at the end of the year. We had to sit for the exam at Sekolah Sultan Abdul Hamid in town. When the result was announced in the early part of 1969, 13 of us from the hostel passed the exam with a grade one in at least one or both to be awarded the OSC/MCE certificates. Quite an achievement for students who were very active in sports and other extracurricular activities. The hostel provided us with a very conducive environment to develop ourselves and the best of atmosphere to study.
Armed with our exam results, we went our separate ways in pursuit of our education and careers in life. Many did very well later in their lives.
The old wooden hostel was later demolished and replaced with a new double-storey building. To many of us and former hostel teachers, the old hostel building was home for some years of our life. Camaraderie and brotherhood was instilled among us as a family away from home. Memories of our life then will forever be cherished.
A 1968 Picture. From left to right;
Front Row: Shafie, Mohamad Zawawi Ahmad, Che Ahmad Che Daud
Middle Row: Natpi (deceased), Aziz Ahmad, Abbas Akbar (deceased)
Back row: Bong Lok(deceased), Mohd Nor Hassan.
In February 2017, about 70 of us who stayed at the old hostel from 1966 to 1970 were reunited at a gathering held at a hotel in Kota Bharu. Present as our guests of honour were teachers: Mr. Abdul Rahman Ali, Dato Dr. Toh Kin Woon, Mr. G. Thanda, Mr. Loo Hock Guan and Mrs. Foo (formerly Miss Wong An Yu). It was great to reconnect and see each other again after a span of almost 50 years.
Reunion of the SIS Hostel residents (1966 -1970) on 20.02.2017 at Grand Riverview Hotel Kota Bharu.
Among the teachers present: Dato’ Dr. Toh Kin Woon, Puan Wong An Yu, Mr. Abdul Rahman Ali, Mr. G. Thanda and Mr. Loo Hock Guan.
The door-gift to commemorate thereunion of 1966-1970 SIS hostel residents