ACS IPOH: Of Cabbages, Captains & Kings
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness”. (“A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens).
I commenced my primary schooling in 1959. School started at 7.30 am. Mrs Gordon Seow was my Std. 1 class teacher. Classroom was on the ground floor of the historic two storey wooden building which still exists. It had thick wire meshed windows all round. In those days, cars could drive up to the quadrangle fronting this building. Occasionally, a boy would be traumatised during the first few days of school and so his parent or minder would come along with him. I remember Mrs Seow as a well dressed, graceful lady. Throughout my primary school days the average class size was 40 or more students.
The Headmaster was Mr Low Chooi Beng, who was often portrayed in his Police Volunteer Reserve Officer’s uniform. He was of stern disposition. His older sons and daughters were of my elder siblings’ vintage. A younger daughter, Beng Imm, worked for the Wesley Church. The Senior Assistant was Mr Foo Choy Wan, who was also a relief teacher. He meted out discipline in a humane fashion, and had his office under a flight of stairs. Mr Foo was always held in fond regard, even in his retirement. The Primary School clerk was Mrs Lee Chun Wah. Her husband worked in the Secondary School office. Mr Lee was an avid badminton player.
The Primary School published its own annual magazine: “The Dawn”.
There was an afternoon session. I was in the afternoon school for Stds. 2, 3 and 4. The afternoon Senior Assistant was a Mr Au-Yeong Kok Cheong. He communicated in grunts and growls and was the Primary School equivalent of Mr Moreira. Both were discipline masters and both rode Honda Cubs. I have always credited the ACS Ipoh as the impetus for the advertisement slogan: You meet the nicest people on a Honda.
My class teacher in Std 2 was a vivacious Ms Chong Kheng Sim (Mrs Wong). Her family had strong connections to the school. She was the eldest. Her three brothers, KL Chong (the horse trainer), Kheng Boon (of ABJ Cakehouse fame) and Kheng Ho were ACS, and so was her sister, Kheng Mee in the 6th form. To date I still call her “Cikgu”. She retired with her family to Adelaide, South Australia, where we are, and Cikgu continues to enjoy life with her Mahjong “kakis”.
Before fate determined that Mr Wong come along, Ms Chong with another teacher, a demure and petite Ms Lee (later Mrs Tham) in short cheong sam, would set many a young man’s heart a-flutter. A flick of the eyelid would have sent any number of potential suitors scrambling up and down Menglembu Hill in record time! Those were the days of the figure hugging sarong kebaya, the sleeveless cheong sam, the alluring sari with more than just a glimpse of midriff, and when scarves or shawls were meant to enhance, not shroud.
There was a Mr Duray, a kindly elder gentleman, who taught English. He made us memorise the ‘Essential Spelling List” and would make the class chant aloud complete sentences, akin to some sort of Orwellian sloganeering like in “Four legs good; two legs bad” etc.
The Secondary School had an electric bell to start and end school, and for the recess periods. The Primary School had ours as an iron bar hanging between two pillars of the historic wooden building which was struck to emit a clanging sound. A student was tasked to be the “bell-ringer”. It was an era when a tumbler of iced tea at the Tuckshop costs 5c, a serving of noodles or rice at 20c, “kacang puteh” of all varieties at 5c per paper cone. So true was this saying “5c was the size of a bullock cart wheel”.
One of the highlights was the opening of the school’s dental clinic staffed by a dental nurse and assistant. Before this became available, a van would come to pick up rostered students who would be conveyed to the government dental clinic just off the Kidd Road roundabout. The other significant event was related to the swimming pool. I was in the Primary School’s choir performing at the opening ceremony.
For Std 3, the class teacher was Mrs Chai whose husband was Mr Chai Ah Chee, the Secondary School clerk and Wesley Church treasurer. Mr Chai was already working for the School before my arrival and was still there when I finished Upper 6th form. Their son, Chai Lai Mun, also of ACS, was an accomplished dancer, UK trained and performed with an international troupe. I think he ended up as a choreographer. Lai Mun was also active on the ACS stage.
In Std 4, my class teacher was Mrs Cheah Mee Liang, of resolute character, but who always treated her students with the devotion of a mother. She is the revered mother of our Olympian, Cheah Tong Kim, whose 2 brothers and sister were also in ACS. I had occasion to visit Mrs Cheah in her retirement, and she continued to provide her delicious tapioca (cassava) cake.
It was back to the morning session in Std 5 with Mr Lim Jeow Ngiam as class teacher. He coached volleyball for the primary and secondary school teams. This was the year when we had our first involvement in the School’s fun fair. We used our classroom to run a game stall. I was also on the dish washing detail at the Tuckshop for the food stalls.
For a couple of years, I commuted in the school’s buses which were operated jointly with the MGS. The buses were painted either in ACS or MGS colours and badges and conveyed students from both schools. For those of us from Canning Gardens, there was a bus changeover at the MGS. All the bus drivers were male but the attendants were female and they always had a tough time keeping order. We had to sit at the back, with the girls in front. For some of us ACS boys, this was the first experience at close encounter with the girls in red skirts. We engaged in shooting “paper bullets” at each other. These were tightly rolled up pieces of paper, bent and launched from rubber bands stretched between the thumb and index finger. Sometimes, when available, we used cut pieces of a tough pliant creeper vine. Spot on targets at close range produced a stinging pain. Many a girl sitting in front suffered pot shots. The more vicious assailants’ had this objective of making them cry. Admittedly, I too partook the shooting at the girls but my aim was never that good. There was also the thrill of tossing a wad of chewing gum to see if it stuck to some unfortunate girl’s head.
Std 6 came along with the Government implementing free education, exempting payment of school fees. My Std 6 class was the Primary School library. The already renowned Mr Lee Kwok Koon aka “The Kanda Stick Man” was class teacher. Mr Lee was an accomplished snorkelling diver and spear fisher. At one time he held the record for landing a 100 plus katty “Garouper”. He had a wry sense of humour, and would address some of his pupils “Mr”. He rode a vintage motor cycle which, years later, was to be inherited by one of his sons. Mr Lee was a firm believer in collective punishment to instil group responsibility. Everyone endured the “kanda” stick ritual, which was actually a well preserved part of a coconut tree frond getting acquainted with one’s posterior. We sat in groups at each table. My table companions were Lee Fook Wong, Wong Chee Woh, Moo Hean Chong (my cousin) and Lam Weng Choong.
With the exception of Lam Weng Choong, we were the band of few who were in ACS for the full 13 years of primary and secondary schooling. Weng Choong, John Lam as he was later known, qualified for entrance to the Royal Military College after Form 3, and was eventually trained at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, UK where he received his Officer’s Commission. Our individual exploits will be canvassed in later episodes of this saga.
PE lessons were conducted bare foot, and shirts were discarded. The field at the rear of the school was the usual venue. The old gymnasium was at one end, and there was a red seed (saga) tree where we picked its droppings from the ground. Horley Hall was on the other side, and the school toilet was an outhouse building at the corner of the field. The toilets were a permanent source of stench. On reflection, one could say that perhaps it was an ACS establishment practice to expose students early to this experience to fortify their tolerance for the demands of later life and to build up a resistance to infectious diseases.
Other Primary school teachers I remembered were:-
Mrs Lee Hoo Keat, her family had strong connections to the school, her husband, aka “King Lee”, taught maths in the Secondary School, and he indulged in cross country runs with on obsession. He was a Hash House Harrier all his life. Their son, Hock Siang, too was from ACS.
Mr Voon, who tragically lost part of a leg to cancer, and he wore a wooden prosthetic.
Mr and Mrs Robert Leong, their sons were ACS. Mr Leong promoted sales of his brother Leong Fu, the Wrestler’s self defence manuals.
Chin Yoong Fee
(Cohort: 1971 Form 6 Upper Arts A)
29 March 2012.