Tye Soh Sim was a woman of substance, of strong character and moral fibre, a woman with integrity. Soh Sim passed away in August 2009. She was my teacher and friend. If I had to use only one word to describe her, I would choose “teacher”. When she spoke, there was often a gem or two to pick up. She expressed herself accurately with impeccable pronunciation and usually spoke in a graceful, elegant and quiet manner. Then again, she could also shriek in loud delight. She had a great sense of humour. Shriek she sometimes did, when particularly annoyed with something.
Generally though, if displeased, she would become extremely soft-spoken and that could be devastating for the recipient. Those of us, on the receiving end, will remember being chastised in ever so soft a tone of voice. And yet, we loved her. It did not hurt that she had the best pair of legs of all our lady teachers.
She led her life quite simply and uncluttered, with ordinary necessities and very few luxuries. She was unpretentious, with restrained good taste. Her interests were wide – literature, music, history, the bible, Astro channels of the National Geographic and the like, CNN, BBC, comic strips, the sports page and even useless information.
Not being computer savvy, I remember her asking me to surf the Internet for her, sometimes looking for historical maps and studies to use in her bible classes and other times listening to how words should be pronounced, like “presentation” not “presentation”, “respite” in English and “respite” in American, or finding travel information like the Silk Road of China, the Passion Play that is performed once every 10 years in Oberammergau, Germany and places like the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru, or the Iguassu Falls at the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay – an incredible water-fall, larger than the Niagara or Victoria Falls that I did not know about. She made me travel on the Internet and she actually made it a point to visit most of those places herself.
She probably knew every hymn in the Methodist Hymnal. If a sermon was not particularly engaging, sitting with her in church, I would see her flip through the hymnal, pausing to marvel at the beauty of the verses. Even so, she could tell you exactly what the sermon was all about after the service, in succinct terms.
Soh Sim was also a good-finder. She recognised qualities and commended achievements and I think most of us, whose lives were touched by her, looked to her for approval. Her opinion mattered.
She was never self-seeking, nor did she boast of her achievements. She taught in ACS Ipoh after graduating in 1958 from University Malaya with a BA (Hons) and Diploma in Education. She was later awarded a Colombo Plan Scholarship to the University of British Columbia, Canada, for an additional degree of Bachelor of Education. She told me, like all other foreign students in Canada, she had to take a course in English. Obediently, she took the course. And, laughingly, she said they were so astonished by her standard of English, they promptly exempted her from the course, probably with a little embarrassment. She was then appointed tutor to the other foreign students in the university. That was Soh Sim – unassuming. She retired as headmistress of Methodist Girls’ School, Kuala Lumpur.
She loved Mozart and I think the hallmarks of his works would be a fair description of Soh Sim herself – clarity and balance, the light and graceful along with exceptional complexity and depth. She was all these things that I have said. Soh Sim touched the lives of many people. Her students, fellow teachers, friends and family will always remember her.