Tuesday, May 6, 2014

My Class teacher: Mr. Hong Eng Kooi

My school days were wonderful and I had many fantastic and dedicated teachers; both in the primary and secondary.
In std 1, Ms Wong was the class teacher while in Std 2, Mr. Perumal took charge of us. Mr. Hong was the class teacher in Std 4 while Mr. Chan oversaw us in Std 6.
            Mr. Hong was a wonderful and remarkable teacher. He was very innovative and his teaching was interesting and effective. He was also not the conservative type. As the class teacher, he taught most of the subjects so he made them lively and especially English.
            In those days, we had poetry, poems, singing, play or acting in addition to the usual reading, grammar and writing. Learning was an exciting affair.
            It all started with one play, ‘The three blind men and the elephant’. I was one of those chosen to act in front of the class. Mr. Hong had drawn a picture of an elephant on the blackboard. I was to act as the blind men holding the trunk of the elephant. One held the tail and another, the ear. One had to touch the belly and another, the leg.
            He explained to us and told us what to do and say. There were just a few lines so it was not difficult acting and reciting the dialogue.
            Other groups were called up to perform the act and everyone had a good time and enjoyed the session.
            The lines included, ‘This must be the trunk of a tree. It is round and long. The bark is rough and tough.’ ‘Oh, this is like a fan. It can move and I feel the breeze.’ ‘Hey, this is the rope to tie things. It can be bent and can be used to tie things.
            Of course we were referring to the different parts of the elephant’s body.
            Later, we were asked to improvise the dialogue by adding our own interpretation. We made jokes and laughed when it was really ridiculous. I was one of them. I added nonsense words and phrases and I think that impressed the teacher.
            So from that day onwards, I was always called or asked to create plays or sketches during the English classes. I enjoyed those lessons tremendously and I most definitely learnt a lot of useful tips from Mr. Hong. If my lines were wrong and not structured properly, Mr. Hong would point them out and corrected the. Then he would changed some of them to suit the class. Then we would have to reenact the whole play.
            There were plays involving the police catching thieves and other silly plays. Some plays involved running and climbing through the windows. It was fun compared to the boring grammar lessons. It was also a break to stay focus on hot afternoons.
            Mr. Hong was also innovative because he used nature or natural phenomenon in his stories. I really mean stories because he had a truck load of them.
            Whenever it was dark especially on rainy days or whenever we were bored, we would know that Mr. Hong would start a new story or continue with the unfinished tale. We would wait eagerly to listen to his tales. He was a wonderful story teller. In such weather conditions, paying attention to lessons was out of the question.
            Very often during thunderstorms or rainy days, there would be blackouts and disruption of power supply. Furthermore rain would splash and find its way into the classrooms through the open windows. You must knpw that the windows were just covered with iron mesh and technically we were exposed to the elements of weather. On such days we had to move all the desks and chairs to the centre of the classroom to avoid the rain.
            In all his stories he would add the elements of nature to make them thrilling and frightening. He would would wait for the sign of lightning and then jus as thunder struck he would clap his hands or hit the desk. The sudden sound and the clap of thunder nearby made all of us jump from our seats. We would be screaming and shouting as we were really frightened but we enjoyed ourselves and wanted more.
            After the special effect, we would whisper, talk and make a lot of noise. He would wait patiently for us to calm down and let the excitement subside. Only then would he continue his story.
            So you can see how creative and innovative Mr. Hong was in those days. I wish there are more of such teachers.
            For your information, I met Mr. Hong in 1996 in Sitiawan where we were attending a wedding of a close friend. At that time he was at the point of retirement. It was really nice to meet him. I introduced myself and told him of the mischievous little actor back in 1996 when he was my class teacher. He remembered the good times and the class he held.
            Thank you , Mr. Hong for being such a wonderful teacher who had inspired all of us. I sincerely hope that he will have a healthy and wonderful life after retirement.

My History Teacher – Mr. Manjit Singh in Form 2

History was an enjoyable subject since primary school. It was fun listening to the tales, stories and explanations by those teachers. We listened with awe to the wonderful tales around the world. In addition they added their opinions. That was what made History interesting. We knew the stories of Emperor Ching, Hitler, Napoleon, Rasputin and many other great people.

It was only in form 2 that my love for History faded. It all came about because of the teacher. We were in the afternoon; form 1 and 2 in the afternoon session, while the rest were in the morning.

Imagine the heat and the tiredness in the afternoon. Most of us hated the afternoon session and especially the history class. Our dislike for the History lesson will be understood after my explanation.

Mr. Manjit Singh had the usual method of teaching; dull and monotonous, and we knew what to expect when he entered the class. It was very regimented. He would enter the class and we would be ready with the textbooks and notebooks on the desks. If we were slow in doing this we would be scolded.

He would then ask us to turn to a certain page in the textbook. His instructions were: underline whatever he read with repetition, copy those important facts into the notebooks or exercise books, and read the copied facts quietly. If we do not do so, we would be punished.

I can still recall that particular afternoon; a warm and humid one which we hated. The two rickety, wobbly and old fans rattled and twirled slowly and had little effect on us. As usual we copied and read the notes quietly.

The sound emitted from the two rickety fans hynotised us and slowly we felt drowsy. Our eye lids closed slowly and we started to sway and our heads nodded and we found it hard to concentrate. We wanted to keep our eyes opened but it was terribly difficult.

Suddenly a voice boomed, “Mai Heng Wah, Leong Choy Foong, Visvanathan, Chen Yoon Heng, Balbir Singh, Megat …”

The list went on and we were wide awake. It was a terrible mistake to doze off in the class. He had practically called out half the class.

He commanded, “Come to the front of the class.”

One by one we slowly came out from our seats, shocked and not knowing what to expect.

“Line up,” he ordered. “I told you to read but you chose to sleep. So I have to punish you.”

We did not see him coming into the class with a cane or any long ruler. We did not know how he was going to punish us. We were expecting the worst.

“Come here,” he said.
Mai Heng Wah was the first. He stepped in front of the teacher. Heng Wah looked at him nervously. Our teacher held his knuckle and brought it down on his forehead.
Crack! It was loud and it sounded as if Heng Wah had knocked his head onto a lamp post.

He let out a scream and cried. I bet it was painful but how painful, I would only know when I received it. I was totally lost in fear and shocked. One by one we stepped forward and each of us received a blow on the forehead. I saw some of them supporting themselves by holding onto the desks near them.

My turn came and I was almost in tears even before receiving the punishment. The blow came and I reeled and cried out. It was like being hit by a stone. It was painful and I let out a scream.

The others got theirs and all of us wept; some openly and some quietly.

“Now, sit down and continue your reading. The next time I shall double the punishment.”

We sat down and tried to continue while the rest who escaped smiled and sniggered.

“Don’t laugh. Your turn may come. I’m paying special attention on you.” He warned.

Everyone stopped; crying, sobbing, weeping or sniggering. The whole class was silent except for the two rickety fans that wobbled and swayed emitting the awful sound. They must be laughing at us now. 


It is undeniable that children love water. The thrill of playing in the rain, in the river or even at the sea side conjures laughter and happiness.
            I did not have the luxury of swimming in a swimming pool in those days. This was shared with my other friends. Swimming pools were few too and to use or to enjoy one, you would have to be a member of some prestigious club.
            To swim or play in the sea was out of the question. The nearest beach was a two hour journey from home. Even with the newly completed highway, it would take an hour or more to reach the beach at Teluk Batik.
            So the only consolation was the many disused mining pools around the area. Most of the boys, being adventurous would sneak to the mining pools and have an enjoyable dip and splash there; without their parents’ permission.
            I was one of them. To avoid being detected or found out by our parents, we had an ingenious plan. We would sneak out or go out with an extra pair of shorts and shirt. These would be hidden in some corners of either an empty house or a secluded spot like a tree. Our plan was to return after the adventure and change into dry clothes before going home.
            One afternoon, a very hot afternoon and I remembered it was a Friday afternoon; we ‘disappeared’ from home and headed to a mining pool selected after a discussion. As usual I hid my clothes under the roof at the back of my friend’s house.
            We ran all the way happily chatting and pushing one another. As usual I went there with my four Indian friends; Gopal, Thayalan, Guna and Ravi. In no time we reached the selected spot.
            When we reached the bank of the pool we saw hoof prints and we knew that the cows had had their share of the water. It was deserted and quiet except for the occasional chirping of birds in some faraway trees. The pool was ours, all ours.
            Without a thought of danger, we ran and stripped and jumped into the cool water. We played, splashed and pushed one another. The laughter could have awoken even the sound snorer. It was chilly as the water was cool. That did not bother us.
            Any kid would have done the same. We swam or rather tried to swim and more often than not, we drank water in the process. Still it did not dampen our excitement; even though we knew that the cows had done their business there too.
            We became braver and waded out further from the bank. From knee depth we moved further until the water reached our waist. Then we stopped because we knew that we could not swim. We played there for a while. We then challenged one another to go further. Gopal took the lead and he swam a few meters and returned. The others followed. I also took up the challenge stepped further. Instantly I sank into the deep end. I was shocked. My feet touched soft ground and I struggled. I was petrified and tried my best to get my head above the surface. I gulped and swallowed a lot of water. I thought I was going to die. My hands kept splashing and waving around and I was hoping to get hold of something. I was totally terrified.
            Suddenly I touched some reeds or grass and I grabbed them with all my might. I pulled and I managed to get my head above the water. I kept at the pulling and I finally was able to step onto solid ground. Then I knew that I was on safe ground. I crawled and waded to the bank of the disused mining pool.
            My friends were there waiting for me. They were in tears because no one could do anything. They could not swim and so they could not help me. Even Gopal who was the best was terrified at the thought of going into the pool to save me. Furthermore to get help from passers-by was out of the question. By then it would be too late. So they just stood there with tears in their eyes and sobbing their hearts out.
            When they saw me, they quickly pulled me onto the bank of the pool. We sat down and wept out loudly. I was coughing and sneezing and blowing my nose to clear the water. I slowly regained my composure and we stopped chattering. We just sat there silently like a litter of wet kittens.
            Would you have done the same thing? Would you venture to a pool when you know that you cannot swim? Think hard and long.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013


I enjoyed watching television programmes since the day such programmes were made available. I was in the primary school then and not many people could afford to own a TV.

            At that time, those who could afford such a luxury were working with the English companies like MTD (Malayan Tin Dredging) or the Perak Hydro Electric that produced electricity by burning diesel to turn the turbines. There were a few families who owned TV sets and they allowed us to watch programmes from outside their windows.

            At night I would run off to the house nearby which had the TV. It belonged to an Indian family. They would switch it on at about 7.30 pm. The children enjoyed the programmes just as I did. I would stand outside their house and watched the programmes through the window. If they were not around, I would go to another house to do the same thing. Most of the time, I was alone but there were times when other kids joined me.

            There were programmes like ‘The Time Tunnel’, ‘Land of the Giants’, ‘Samurai’, and ‘Mission Impossible’. Sometimes other kids from nearby joined me but most of the time I was alone.
            Coming back to the first TV. I bought it in 1997. That was when I was working at United Engineers as a laboratory assistant. At that time I was getting RM350 which was considered quite a good sum.
            I felt that a TV was needed to provide some form of entertainment for the family. So I decided to get one. Even a black and white one was good enough. Of course the coloured ones were in the market but they cost a fortune.
            After getting my first pay envelope I went to Hock Soon Heng in Batu Gajah. I talked to the owner about getting a TV and that I was going to settle the payment in three installments. He agreed to my plan as my family had good relationship with the owner.
            The next day the technicians came and installed the TV antennae and set up the TV. It was the talk of the neighbourhood. My neighbours were curious and eager to watch the programmes.
            There were only two channels; TV1 and TV2, so we had a limited choice of programmes. On most days there were the regular English programmes. On Friday night there was the only Malay movie and on Wednesday there was the Chinese movie. The Tamil movie was screened on Saturday.

            So on Wednesday night, my Chinese neighbours would be seated in front of the TV after dinner. As kind hosts, we obliged to offer the front seats to them. Then on Saturday nights, my Indian neighbours would occupy the seats. We had to accompany them until the movie ended. Only then would we switch off the TV and go to bed. If the movie ended late, we would have to retire late too. At least I did not have to run to my neighbour’s house to enjoy my past time; watching TV programmes.
            I settled the payments in three installments as promised and I quit the job a few months after that to join the Teachers’ Training programme in 1978.


There are six of us (2 boys and four girls) and I am the eldest. The odd thing was I was the only one sent to study in an English medium school while the other siblings went to Chinese medium schools.

            In the primary school days I learnt a lot of nursery rhymes and children songs and heard a lot of stories from the teachers then. I learnt songs like Old McDonald, Row your boat, Sing a song of six pence, Mary had a little lamb and others. Of course they were part of the nursery rhymes.

            In those days the teachers were great because they had to teach, mould us, scold us, guide us and on top of that they were great story tellers and singers too.

            At home, dinner was simple and delicious yet nutritious. As we grew up, we took on chores like cleaning the house, clean the backyard, chopping firewood and dying them, feed the chicken, and even clean the chicken coop. We had to prepare rice so that my mother could have time to prepare the dishes and dinner would be ready in a jiffy.

            Every night we had dinner together; my grandparents, parents and the six of us. There was a great feeling of togetherness and laughter was part of it tool. We shared jokes and tales from parents about the farm and happenings from school.

            After dinner, we would gather in the small living room cum dining hall. We would listen to stories told by my grandmother and mother. They had so many tales to tell especially about the hardship and life in China. Incidentally, my grandparents and my father were from China. My father still has a brother and a sister there. Their stories really touched our hearts; especially the hard life as farmers. They slogged from dawn till dusk to get enough food for the table.

            Due to the desperation and the exodus of people to Malaya, my grandparents brought my dad, their eldest and youngest daughters here in the hope that they would earn enough for the folks back in China.

            There was one particular night when we gathered in the living room. My father had gone out as usual to meet his friends in town. My mum, grandma and the rest of us gathered and chatted. It was a Friday night so we could stay up late as we did not have to go to school the next day.

            As the eldest among the siblings, I had more experience especially about school. So to add some laugher and entertainment, I borrow an old towel and wrapped it around my waist. I sang the song ‘Old McDonald’ and walked slowly towards the front door. At the same time, I imitated the sounds of animals in the song; cockerel, cow, goat, pig and ducks. As I approached the front door, I purposely let loose and dropped the towel. Of course I had my shorts on. My sisters and brother laughed and howled aloud at my antic.  My mum and grandma also clapped and laughed . the roar was loud and I bet my neighbours would be wondering what the commotion was about.

            I repeated the action and each time I created a din. I knew that I had the knack to entertain others. 


My primary school days were filled with many interesting events and adventures. They are very memorable and unforgettable. I practically enjoyed every day in school.

            Our classroom was beside a little hill slope and beyond that was a piece of land filled with bushes, shrubs and trees. It was actually a secondary jungle and it provided us a place to play during the recess.

            There were two reasons why I did not have food in the canteen at that time. Firstly the canteen was small and sold very limited amount of food. Secondly I did not have the money to spend then, as my parents could not afford to give me pocket money. Often I would just drink cold water straight from the tap whenever hunger pangs were felt. I did not carry water bottles then as there were no such things as plastic tumblers. We had to slug glass bottles if we had to but they were bulky and could break easily.

            Anyway the changing of classes and time for recess were announced by the ringing if the school bell. Recess was the most awaited moment each day. Although it lasted twenty minutes we enjoyed every minute of it.

            Once the bell was rung, we rushed out of the class after the teacher had left. Then we would climb up the hill slope and dash into the bushes, we hid among the shrubs and bushes and waited for the others to enter.

            Usually my friends and I would be the first to hide there. We would pull and stretch the vines of the shrubs across the paths and waited for the ‘victims’. Whenever anyone rushed along the path, we would pull the vines stout and the poor guy would land or fall into the bushes. In all the incidences no one was actually seriously injured. There were scratches and cuts and bruises but being boys, we endured every bit of the pain.

            The other sign of the tumble was the stain on the school uniform. There were stains of mud, twigs and leaves. Our hair was a mess but all that were part of the thrills and spills. I also had the experience several times because I entered the ‘playground’ later than the others. They had already set the snare and I ran straight into it. I tripped and fell into the bushes. It was all part of the game.

            Of course you would expect that we would know the spots where the trap was set. The odd thing was we never set the traps at the same place. Often we set them at unexpected places.


Have you seen blood and brain tissue with your own eyes? I do not mean in movies or pictures. Many of us have seen these in movies or pictures. It can be gory. It is worse if you happen to see these in real.

            I was in the primary school; in standard 4 if I am not mistaken when I had the opportunity to witness such a scene. My friends and I would always walk along the railway track instead of the road that ran parallel to it.

            There were actually two reasons why we did that. One was to avoid the traffic on the road and the students who travelled by bus. They would shout and throw stuff at us from the bus. They disliked us and until today, I cannot understand them. The second reason was that by walking on the wooden beams or slippers along the railway track, our paces were faster as our steps were bigger. Hence we took a shorter time to reach the school or to reach home.

            On that fateful evening after school, we saw a big crowd of people on the railway track. We were curious as to the commotion there. Being curious as most kid were, we walked faster and faster and gathered with the crowd. We pushed and squeezed to the front of the crowd. In front of us were the body parts lying on the side of the railway track.

            We were put off by two other things. There was a lot of blood and bits and pieces of white tissue scattered on the track. The smell was strong and penetrated every cell of our noses. We immediately pinched our noses and ran away. We were choked and at the same time we shivered due to the gory and frightening sight. We heard from the bystanders that the white tissue was brain tissue.

            The stench lingered on our clothes. As we ran we practically vomited and belched whatever was in our guts. We were gasping for air, wheezing and breathing with great difficulty. At a distance we walked and whispered with difficulty and discussed the scene.

            The villagers from around came to know of the incident and the death of the little girl became the topic of discussion for a long time. Apparently, she was playing on the railway tracks. She slipped and fell on the tracks. The train could not stop in time and the huge iron wheels rolled over her and smashed her head. The body parts were thrown all over the tracks. Her brain tissue being white was thrown all over the track together with blood.

            That night I had a frightful nightmare. I cried my heart out and to this day the sight of blood would take me back to 1966 when I was in Standard 4.