Monday, May 16, 2011

Joan Baez - Where have All The Flowers Gone

This song may be the anthem for the anti-war movement in the sixties, and not an appropriate tribute to teachers, but for me, ultimately education is about promoting peace among fellow brethren on Earth.
"Amal ma'aruf, nahi mungkar" (Do good, not evil)
What is the purpose of teaching if it's for our children to learn the tools of exploitation, oppression, manipulation, hatred and genocide?
Is it justified to use our knowledge of mathematics, logic, science, astronomy and the arts to equip them with the drive to invade and impoverish other nations?
On a lighter, and less idealistic note, let me share with you the teachers who had, wittingly and unwittingly, shaped my life.
Like most kampong kids in the sixties, my parents didn't have the wherewithal to enroll me into a 'sekolah makan', a kindergarten, so I was like a 'rusa masuk kampung', a little lost doe in the unfamiliar terrain of the school compound.
Mak accompanied me on my first day to school (and way into the rest of the school year).  She had my hair cropped so close to my round face that I looked like a 'tomboy' in a girl's shirt and starched, orange pleated skirt. For the first time, I had white socks and Pelican-polished canvas shoes on.  She had bought me a brown plaid square hardboard bag with plain plastic guards at the corners from Pasar Geylang.  She handed me a few brown cover exercise books and a pencil case to put into the bag and showed me how snap the metal latch together.
By 11:30am, the 'apek becha' (trishaw man) was already ringing his bell to get us to board the side car attached to his bicycle. He cut through Chai Chee to join the rest of the traffic on Jalan Eunos, then stopped at the t-junction before cycling straight into Still Road, deftly turned left and right, and there we were in front of the side gate which led to the 'tuck shop', where many moms and kids congregated.
I clung to my mother's hand as we made our way to the cafetaria. I only released it to sit on the edge of a long bench, careful not to crease my new uniform or soil my new white shoes. I held on to my new school bag on my lap while Mak bought 'goreng-gorengan' (prawn fritters) and syrup water for lunch. The plump fritters were soaked in a pool of thin chilli sauce; I chewed a quarter of the fried fritter and gulped down the crimson syrup. My tummy was in a knot.  I waited anxiously for the bell to ring before I blended among the row of new found classmates who were assembled in double files under a placard written '1K'.  After the principal, Mrs Whissell, had given her welcome speech, we obediently followed our teacher, Miss Suppial, to our class on the left wing of the second floor.
I don't remember much about my class mates, except for Zainal, who was the class clown, and Nasir, the precocious boy that I was seated next to.  Zainal was a natural entertainer who seized every opportunity to 'perform' in front of the class whenever the class or subject teacher was away while Nasir looked like a street urchin who was 'straight jacketed' into crumpled shirt that was carelessly tucked into his short pants.  I was not comfortable seated next to the big-sized, hairy and crude 'Benggali' boy but never thought of requesting to be seated to a class mate with more refined manners.  For the rest of the school year, I just focused on my lessons, occasionally amused by Zainal's antics and persistently ignored Nasir's foul body odour and lewd body language.  And when my second brother knew about my predicament in class, he tried to humour me by singing a silly ditty about my supposed admirers - 'Aceh, Jenal, Yon' (Nasir, Zainal and Haron, who was the boy next door).      
I might have been a 'terror' at home, running around the yard and climbing the ubi and jambu trees, but I was on home ground with the neighbourhood kids whom I'd known for years. In that fenced and neatly demarcated compound, I felt awkward and hemmed in.  I don't remember having any close friends 'til my last day in 1965. For several months in my first year, Mak would wait for me at the canteen during recess and took me home in a 'beca' or 'teksi pak wan chah', a shared unregistered cab, after school. In between classes, I would excuse myself and peep through the louvres along the corridor to assure myself that Mak had not abandoned me.                
Fortunately, I was relegated into the 'back burner', the last or second last class of the Telok Kurau West Integrated Primary School 'freshies' of 1963. My class teacher was a sweetheart - good-natured and gentle, with soft soothing voice, floating from full lips which stretched into smiles or laughter, and with, oh, just a hint of lip gloss. She always had a black tear drop or red disc on her forehead - a 'nandek', a girl whispered to me.  Thick, dark brows framed her almond-shaped eyes which were expertly lined with kohl.  Her shiny, black hair was neatly coiled in a bun and rested snugly on her nape. Her dark slender arms, embellished with colourful glass bangles which shimmered as she turned into the corner which led into my class room, would be clutching some folders or text books pressed against her slim chest, sheathed in a short-sleeved 'choli', or blouse, and draped with yards and yards of satin with thin, gold borders which flowed dreamily over her back and cascaded into wave-like folds around her ankles.
Mastering the 3Rs - reading, writing, arithmetic - was a breeze for me.  I made it to the third of my class and, in a hall crammed with kids on the floor, I received my first glossy, hard-cover, full colour 'ABC' book with a blonde, blue-eyed, benevolent-looking Queen holding a wand with a gold star on its cover.
The following year - in January 1964 - I was promoted to 2I and had a tall, full-figured Chinese lady, Miss Ong, as my class teacher.  In her low-heeled, black stiletto shoes, dark full skirts and light-coloured blouses, complete with dark-framed eye glasses, she fit the image of the school marm more than the nymph-like Miss Suppial.  What I treasured most being in her class was the many walks that she took us on under Nature Study.  I made good grades and was placed second in class in the second term but my grades were pulled down by poor performance in mental arithmetic (2/5), which earned me a ninth placing.
In January 1965, I was promoted to 3I, had Miss Ong again, managed to pull my socks up and was placed sixth and fifth in class.  And the reward came in the form of a slim, glossy, hard-cover, fully-illustrated book on King Arthur of England, A Sword in the Stone, which I read over and over again while waiting for my placement at Sekolah Jalan Gurney in Kuala Lumpur.
I never really bid farewell to that orange brick school which shared a common compound with Telok Kurau Malay Girls' School and Telok Kurau East School (which was attended by LKY and Tun Hussein Onn) but I never returned either.

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