TEACHERS I CANNOT FORGET
It is my hope that this article would act as a catalyst for other old salts to build a more comprehensive story about their beloved Ipoh ACS teachers. My memory is slowly fading and so I am appealing to readers to help me uplift the legacy of these teachers. I dedicate this article to all our teachers whose commitment had given us such fortitude in our adulthood to meet the many of life’s challenges.
1) Mad Scientist Low
I am unable to recall his name in full and would thus rely on any other old salt to help me complete this gap. He lived in Falim and drove his MG convertible which he parked at the southern side of the main building (1955). My classmates, Chan Sak Hoi or Lam Kok Wah, who also lived in Falim might remember him better. Mr Low had this talent for explaining physical laws in a readily understandable way as he was totally immersed in the subject. He made a serious subject interesting and was able to grab the attention of his students. Mad Scientist was probably an eccentric but we respect him for bringing science to our attention at a very early age. For example when we were taught the physics of metal expansion, he would illustrate it with the metal railway where there is a gap between the two long ends of the line. Some of us were mad enough to take different measurements, one in the early morning to compare it with the other measurement taken in the hot afternoon sun. He was right!
2) Mr. Wong Chong Choon
Mr Wong was my Std IV history teacher (1955). There were two events that left indelible prints in my mind. The first was when he committed the whole class to write 100 lines about the definition of bronze. This punishment was imposed because no one paid too much attention to the history about the Bronze Age and thus he decided that this was a good way to ensure no one would forget what bronze is. The second was corporal punishment. He was the only teacher that I know of who applied the ruler on your bare bum. Luckily there were no girls in the class.
3) Mr Wong Hean Lin
Mr Wong was an arts teacher probably when I was in Form I (1958). He was an affectionate gentleman, elderly then, and he taught us painting (using water based pigments). He was liberal in approach and encouraged freedom of expression in art painting. There were also lessons in painting vase full of flowers and other traditional arts.
4) Mr Chan Tuck Wah
Mr Chan was well known for his carpentry classes. In the old days, a new carpentry wing was built near the school entrance. There we were taught the basic skills of planing wood, making joints and, for the more handy students, the building of furniture. Boys were taught how to sharpen tools such as the chisel and the plane blade and how to use the lathe forfashioning wooden legs for chairs or cupboards. The skills that I learnt from him served me well in my adult life. I became the handyman at home. Mr. Chan seldom raised his voice at the students. He had a special liking for “meranti” wood.
5) Mr Aw Boon Jin (aka Lo Chai)
I remembered when I was moved from the lower campus to the main building in Std IV (1955) I was curious about a teacher who had his office under the staircase. Later I found out that he was Mr Aw Boon Jin, the then discipline master. Mr Aw was a kind gentleman; I was never caned by him. Mr Aw once told me that he knew my father, an old boy of ACS Ipoh, so perhaps that was the reason why he was soft on me in those days. PE equipment was stored in his office and I sometimes volunteered to pick them up for use by the class. Mr Aw spoke Hokkien to Mrs Lee Ho Keat and can someone confirm that they are father and daughter?
6) Ms Wong Suet Lan
Miss Wong was my class teacher in Form IB (1958). She was the daughter of Mr Wong Wei Lam, the Principal of MAS, which shared the same campus with Ipoh ACS. She was an attractive young teacher from Brinsford Lodge(?) and was well-presented, a gifted piano/organ player, soft spoken, of fair complexion and she drove a Ford Anglia. Most boys had a crush on her. I joined the church choir just to get close to her because it was possibly the only way that I knew how. I was 11 years old then so all my thoughts were clean. It was good to be a teacher’s pet. I also remembered that year I was put in detention by standing outside the lady’s room, next to the book shop. I cannot remember what I did wrong but I became an instant hero.
7) Mr Na Nagara
Mr Nagara was my chemistry teacher in Form V (1962) and he was an imaginative teacher who taught chemistry well. He was an effective no nonsense teacher; and also came across as someone able to inspire his students to delve deeply into the subject. His most celebrated demonstration on carbon dioxide (CO2) and its chemical properties were performed in the laboratory for all to see. As there was no carbon dioxide cylinder available then, he would instead rely on the contents of an F&N bottled drink as a source for carbon dioxide. Because of him, I developed a strong base in chemistry which included physical, organic, inorganic and analytical chemistry. One of the most memorable school activities was the Science Fair and I was part of the team demonstrating to the public how soap is made through the process of “saponification”. That was when I started to understand how our old maid at home was able to make laundry soap using coconut oil and caustic soda (NaOH)
8) Mr AE Glover
Mr Glover was a bachelor and he taught us English in the lower forms (late 1950’s) where the Ridout English textbook was used. He drove a Vauxhall Velox to school. He probably kept his wardrobe at his car boot. He had an unusual sense of humour and, only later in life, when you start to move in English social circles, you would begin to understand his jokes (dry British humour as opposed to the Benny Hill type). The most famous quotation was “the pop-pop-pop is faster than the dig-dig-dig” which meant the birth rate is moving faster than the mortality rate. This was followed by another quotation “apply one two” and, to this day, I do not know what it means. It is sort of “fix him/her” but what does “fix” mean?
9) Mr K Balagopal
Mr Balagopal was a maths teacher who was somewhat eccentric. He would pace up and down the class room and whilst we would be paying attention to activities upfront, all too suddenly there would be a loud whack coming from the back followed by the words “take care, you rascals”. I believe those who got whacked on the back by his open palm were not paying attention in class. He rode a bicycle to school and he was a very thrifty person and perhaps remitted most of his income to his family in India. He was to be seen cycling past Ipoh Hospital every day as he lived in Greentown. Many boys imitated his actions and words.
10) Mr Samuel Welch
Mr Welch was a young teacher in the late 1950’s and was a flying enthusiast together with Mr Choy. He taught us poetry and we had to memorize his favourite poems, particularly “Ozymandis” and “the Daffodils”, because anyone of us could be called upon anytime to recite them. He had a particular dislike for untidy dressers. In those days some of the boys wore short pants with metal fasteners on both sides instead of a belt. When the fasteners were not done the boy would be called up to the front of the class and Mr. Welch would cut them off with a razor blade. One day mine too were cut off. Despite his idiosyncrasies, he could tell wonderful stories of fighter pilots in WWII and how they landed safely on the aircraft carrier in spite of being shot up and wounded. He finally got his wish to become a pilot.
11) Mr Foong Ah Yoong
Mr Foong was our biology teacher. During our first ever encounter, he walked into our classroom and was greeted by the boys with a hearty “good morning sir”. He introduced himself, then picked up a chalk and wrote his name and qualification on the blackboard. It read: “Mr Foong Ah Yoong, MSc (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)”, an impressive qualification in those days. Mr Foong brought an American influence to the teaching of biology which was considered a dull subject, except for the birds and the bees. Sometime in the early 1970’s, I returned to ACS Ipoh to say hello to him and when told that I was pursuing a doctoral degree he remarked “What for?”, and I still do not understand those words to this day. Of course I now know what all these letters stand for – BSc (bullshit and crap) MSc (more of the same crap) and PhD (piling high and deep).
12) Mr Quah Guan Teik
Mr Quah was everybody’s favourite Geography teacher in the lower forms. He parked his blue Honda 125 motorbike under the big tree on the way to the loo. His name is synonymous with his memorable role as the School’s tour organizer leading excursions to Penang, Pangkor & Emerald Islands, Cameron Highlands, etc. He was soft in temperament, and so was easily bullied by the students. But then he countered it with a highly effective defence mechanism, a set of much used tear ducts. Rather than sending errant boys to Lo Mo he would try his own brand of reverse psychology. He would plead with the boys to behave – and, often, he would succeed. I suppose most boys were familiar with Lo Mo and his harsher methods and that was why Mr Quah’s gentle approach mostly won their hearts, even of the naughtiest (the kwai chai, a group which I belong to). His kind mannerism, soft-spoken ways, forgiving and loving attitude would melt the heart of any ACS “gangster”.
13) Mr Yee Sze Onn
Mr Yee, whom I came to know in the beginning of 1960s, was an extremely good Geography teacher and those distinctions I scored in an overseas high school was based on the strong foundation that Mr. Yee helped build. His teaching notes ought to be bound in leather and declared a national treasure. His name, like Mr Quah’s, is now etched into the annals of Ipoh ACS history. He was the most sought after scout leader and also the most active teacher in geographical survey excursions. These field trips were intended to reinforce his teaching of land forms in Geography.
A few years ago, I paid him a visit in Singapore and took him out to dinner. I thanked him in person and expressed my sincere appreciation for the way he had taught and guided us and that some part of my academic achievements stemmed from all those efforts. Mr Yee said “I am proud to see that you have done well in getting a Ph D, and you have given me a warm feeling of satisfaction that my teaching in Ipoh ACS was put to good use”. It was a win-win outcome for both teacher and student.
14) Mr Ng Ah Fook
Mr Ng Ah Fook was a crazy soccer fan and he infected the whole class with football fever. I played football because of him. Mr Ng drove his old jalopy often to KL to watch football at Merdeka Stadium. He told us about his experiences driving at night. One time a car with its high beam on blinded him momentarily through the rear vision mirror. He countered it by adjusting his rear vision mirror to reflect the strong beam of light back to the driver behind him. One might think this is a trivial story, but it was practical. I later used this technique to ward off tailgaters with their high beams on when driving at night. And, of course, there was Mrs Ng Ah Fook and her Curry See Hum Fun at the tuckshop – unbeatable anywhere in Ipoh.
15) Mr Robert Leong
Mr Robert Leong was the son of ASP Leong Boon Swee, a senior police officer in Ipoh. His brother was the famous Leong Fu, a wrestler. His youngest brother was my classmate. Mr Leong taught us singing in the mid-50’s and we used to march to the gym to have our singing lessons clutching a yellow cover Golden Song Book. I remembered a gangster like class mate was punished for his bullying ways. Mr Leong confined him under a high metal chair for the entire 45 mins period. Mr Leong was very entertaining and credible when he told us stories of the peoples and cultures of the US. His son Merrill (named after a British general in Burma) told me recently that his father had never been to the US. It did not matter to me because whatever he said was true. He was also a fanatical comic fan. I shall always remember his crew cut hair style, and his words “I will gang him to jail” was very reassuring to us.
16) Mr Ng Park Hing
Mr Ng was my class teacher and maths teacher whilst I was in Std V B. He often wore shorts, carried his own metal tea mug and clutched a cane under his arm pit. When he taught geometry – about angles and how to measure them with a protractor – he would put in front of us a piece of paper with a drawing of a two line intersection and then he would ask us to measure the angle. Failure to do so incurred one cut. In his mind, we should be scoring 100/100 for any class test and he accepted nothing less. His maths class was not enjoyable because of his use of fear as a teaching tool.
17) Mr ME Moreira (aka Lo Mo)
To some, Mr Moreira (Lo Mo) was a controversial figure in Ipoh ACS. But, unfortunately for the boys, parents normally stood by him thus reinforcing the principle of loco parentis. He fared well, though, when compared to St Michael’s discipline master “Bor Chee Tao – Brother Paul”. Lo Mo claimed to be of Yorkshire descent and spoke with a Pommy accent.
In my school life in Ipoh ACS, I had the distinction of having 2 full pages of records in Lo Mo’s Discipline Book. When I entered his office, he would say “not you again” and he would turn to the correct page where my name was. I recognised his canes well, all of which were hung on the wall of his office. They were a mix of six different types, applied appropriately by age and bum size. “Put your hands up boy” he would say, and the whack swiftly followed. A line of red skin rose up where the cane left. One cut was usual two cuts were for a more serious offence. As I recall the nature of the visits: 50% for academic reasons; 30% disobedience; 10% late arrival; and 10% fighting in class. And all these were accumulated during my secondary school years. Yes, one penalty cut was added if you moved your hand to avoid the down stroke of the cane.
In 1961, a group of 8 boys, including yours truly, were taught public speaking and appeared on stage to promise our voters what we would do upon election to office. We wanted to inject humour and caucused to deliver the same message: “I will sack the Principal if elected”. Bad mistake though, it backfired. We, the apparent “rebels”, were rounded up and given a stern pep talk about the danger of speaking up against authority. It was our first taste of democratic action which went wrong. We might have been dealt with two strokes on the back for being so boldly “anti-establishment”. We took the punishment like a man.