Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Emulating Singapore - Part 1

I'm an ex-Singaporean who grew up and lived in Singapore  from 1945 to 1978.  I had the 'benefit' of an English language colonial education - and got as far as the pukka University of Singapore. I went through historical events like being in and out of Malaysia, the race riots of the early 1960s,  Singapore's Independence and living under the 'aegis' of that master Sifu Mr Lee Kuan Yew.  I also had the privilege of teaching in both the Malay and English mediums and for just a month I discovered the intricacies of teaching in a top-notch Christian Junior College.  After 1978, I hopped between Singapore, Brunei and England. Each time I left that island  for Brunei and England, I felt so relieved that I did not have to spend the rest of my life there.  Knowing what I went through as an educated Malay, I vowed that my brother and his family should have the same chance I had - the chance for a better life in Malaysia.  But we had no intention of taking any handouts or freebies from Malaysia , even though we could.  My brother left behind his wife and son in Singapore while he pursued his degree in Hull.  When he finally made the move to Malaysia, he did not come empty-handed - he had something to give to his father's and grandfather's Tanah Air.

He misses - I miss - our childhood places where we grew up  while living and schooling in Pasir Panjang.  Tempat jatuh lagi dikenang, inikan lagi tempat bermain.

In 2011, we made a sentimental journey to our primary school,  Pasir Panjang English School.  It is now a rehab centre run by evangelical Christians.
Seperti sirih pulang ke gagang - we finally carried out what Abah wanted us to do many years ago: but we had to leave our father and youngest brother in their final resting place at Pusara Abadi, Jalan Bahar.

Back in our father's homeland, my brother's family had a chance - to work hard and study diligently to  make full use of the opportunities available.  Malaysia helped him and his wife to bring up an engineer, a doctor and a lawyer.  Don't ever think they were fed with a silver spoon by the Government.  My brother and wife sacrificed and committed their resources to educating their children to enable them to compete for their places in the University.  I am so proud that my engineer-nephew who had been head-hunted for a job in Toyota, Frankfurt made a decision, albeit a heart-wrenching one, to go home and serve out his bond in his country instead.
And so, this ex-Singaporean finds  it very amusing when Malaysians, especially the Malays, wax lyrical about the achievements and development of the Republic of Temasek.  And when they go on and on about how Malaysia  should follow in the footsteps of the Mandarins and Sifus  of Singapore, I can't help thinking of an  image of a gibbon crushing a flower in its hands.

If these clever and articulate Malay-Malaysians had to live and study and work in Singapore they wouldn't like it one bit - for the sake of their children and their future, they would move heaven and earth to escape to Malaysia, as they did in the 1960s and 1970s.     Later these Malays became more adventurous and migrated to Perth, Vancouver, Washington, Auckland - they were the pioneers of the Malay Diaspora!

So what is wrong with Malaysia - in comparison to Singapore ?

Here's an insight from the writing of Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, as reported by The Malay Mail 26 March 2014.

To quote the MM : The policy of mollycoddling the Malays will only get in the way of efforts to keep up with rapid globalisation, industrialisation and modernization.  There are two issues here.  Firstly, in what ways has Malaysia failed to "keep up" with globalisation etc?  And who has benefited the most from Globalization, Industrialisation, and Modernization - this Holy Trinity of  "Progress"?  Most certainly they would be the inhabitants of the urban areas.  That certainly leaves the non-urban Malays and the Indians out of the picture.  Albeit there would be a smattering of  'globalized' Malays;  the elites who benefited from the NEP  ( the vehicle of 'mollycoddling' ) and the elites from the old feudal and colonial days.  

Secondly, when did 'mollycoddling'  begin ?  That choice of word is an unfortunate and deliberate snipe at the policy of affirmative action for the bumiputeras.  

If we look back at the history of the Peninsula from the period of Portuguese conquest and British "intervention" there is no doubt at all that the urban non-bumis in Malaya especially were the main beneficiaries of Imperial rule.  One could say they never had it so good  in the Peninsula and Straits Settlements during the reign of  Imperial Britain, compared to Chinese immigrants in Indonesia, the Philippines, the USA and in South Africa during the same period.  I shall leave the details and statistics to the experts.  One only has to look at this item from a 1957 school textbook  (Bahasa Kita by D.R. Hughes - an introduction to the Malay Language for non-Malay pupils in Lower Secondary Schools in Malaya ) to understand who got the bigger slice of' 'modernization'  in British Malaya.

BUT, nowhere in Datuk Zaid's  Zaidgeist did he use the word 'mollycoddle' - it was the choice-word of the Malay Mail entirely.  The closest reference to that boo word is Datuk Zaid's  "Our Malay leaders, whether from Barisan Nasional or the Pakatan Rakyat, are very protective of Malays".

One mollycoddles or spoils someone who doesn't need or deserve the special treatment.  Malay privileges and the NEP , especially after the trauma of 13 May  represented the importance of bridging the yawning gap of wealth and development between the (rural) Malays and the (urban) mainly Chinese immigrants.  This was the toxic 'heritage' that the British gave to the Malays.

How did Semenanjung Tanah Melayu turn into "a plural society"?  Were the Malays sleepwalking into this demographic time-bomb created by the British?  Read this and compare the concern and awareness of the Malays then with the "modernized, globalized, industrialised" Malays today.

And despite such Malay voices of concern (in 1948 and from 30 years before that), the 1957 population data recorded the Malays making up less than half of the population with the Chinese making up the largest immigrant population at 37 per cent.  Do read Item 11 in the above footnote - I like the sense of humour in this Reader from 1955.

Just in case the above sounds like a load of unwarranted whingeing from the Malays,  let's look at the misfortunes suffered by the natives in other parts of the British Empire as a result of "British Development"..  This is from my father's book on :

This was the way the British dealt with the problem of mixed peoples in their Empire after the Second World War.

For Canada, there is no mention or recognition of the people of the First Nation - the Indians from the north of the North American Continent - only the immigrant Europeans.  As for the natives of the southern part of the African Continent there are far too many of them. My word!  They outnumber the immigrant whites!!  How the whites fear about being swamped.  But who cares about the protests of the natives in the Peninsula who faced the same fear as the immigrant whites (as noted in the Majlis of 1948)?  But Australia and New Zealand take the first prize for 'mollycoddling'(?) their kind. Just keep out the Asiatics like Chinese, Indians, Malays, Indonesians, etc. etc.  Oh, how protective of their "purity" are those immigrant whites, when they want to keep a country they have colonised just  for themselves!

   But what of the Semenanjung?    The British coined the term 'Malaya' (as in the "Malayan Union") in 1946 - mainly for administrative purposes and  to accommodate the immigrant Chinese and Indians within the motley collection of colonies, protectorates, Unfederated Malay States and independent Johor.   The inclusion of the word "Malay" in 'Malaya' would keep the Malays quiet and dull their feelings of displacement and discrimination in their Tanah Air.   It was just window dressing, as was the formation of the Malayan Union in 1946.   However, this time the (Malay) worms decided to turn.   After some adjustments the Federation of Malaya was created in 1948.   I suppose we should be grateful that they did not rename the Peninsula Victoriana after Queen Victoria, like the Philippines after King Philip of Spain!

I salute those brave voices from over 75 years ago.  But now their modern, globalised, and highly educated grandchildren and great-grandchildren have a strange desire to emulate that golden child of British imperialism from down south.    Or at the very least take their Singdollars?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Notes from a Bookworm

It has been some time since my last posting.  I've been caught up with a big kemas-kemas of my collection of books.  March and April have been ingrained into my psyche - for embarking on a spring cleaning of  whatever looks the messiest and this time I have targeted my most favourite hobby -   my hoard of books.

It started with this - plonking the books from the shelves on to the floor .....

....... of course I had some help from Comot, my 4-legged helper.

Between the two of us, we managed to empty some of  the bookworm's shelves.

After nearly two weeks of slogging, this was the result.

There's method in the madness seen above.  Top of the bill were the old geography, history, and language school textbooks - in both Malay and English - a fascinating insight into how we were taught  or brainwashed (?)  from the 1930s to the 1960s.  Next come the Annual Reports and Yearbooks.

Annual Reports and Yearbooks

The spouse (especially) and I scoured the bookshops in Singapore, Muar, Batu Pahat, Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Kangsar, Johor Baru, and England to put together this humble collection - a mix from the late 19th century  to the 1970s.  They are a fascinating source of information on what made Singapore and Malaya/Malaysia tick.

However I am most pleased with this little collection.  It's not much to holler about  but I didn't realise I had more than one book on Hang Tuah.

However I have to be be put against the wall for overlooking this particular book version of Hang Tuah.

I have looked after this book ever since we left our kampung house in 1967 and I didn't know until just a few years back - until after I turned over the front cover - that this was Abah's book.   It was published by MPH in 1938 when he was still a bachelor of 28!  Shame on AnaksiHamid for her carelessness.

My best and quite precious books are these two JMBRAS publications - which I pinched from the spouse's bookshelf.  When he complained about this and other pilferings from his library, I claimed that this was part of the dowry he had to pay when he married me!  

But a magpie like me, especially a geriatric one cannot resist looking out for books that bring back the flavour of happy childhood days.  Children today have their electronic toys to occupy them.  My generation used our fingers and thumbs to  leaf through books and to turn the pages - and of course we saved our parents a hefty electricity bill.  Comics and story books were our daily diet and even today,  I get no end of joy in touching and reading some remnants from days gone by.

My Dandy, Beano, Topper and Beezer Annuals.  Below this shelf is my coolection ( not a spelling error)  of Asterix, Iznogoud, Tin Tin, Lucky Luke, Oom Pa Pa, Peanuts , Snoopy and Lat - an addiction which has also infected CucusiHamid  and CicitsiHamid.
  But my interests are not totally prehistoric.  I do enjoy some of the modern Children's Books, especially the pop-up books .....

 ...... and the ones with a wicked sense of humour.

Right at the bottom of the book shelves I store the books that indicate the eclectic parts of me and the vinyls that keep my spirit in constant song.

I  must stop here and end  in a sonnet.  In 1977 at Jurong Secondary School, I wrote this sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning on the blackboard for my Sec. 4F English language students to read and analyze. Most language and literature teachers would think I was off my rocker to present them with this beautiful sonnet -  the kids from this industrial estate will just get bored and vexatious, I was told.
However these teenagers from Jurong and Boon Lay enjoyed it tremendously - the look in their eyes when they read it told me so.

Hence with this sonnet I express my love for Books.  Just change the word 'thee'  to 'my books'.  For this, I thank my father and my teachers.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Living up to my indolent ancestors

Amongst other things, Frank Swettenham wrote  " His ( the Malay) main characteristic is an objection to continuous hard work ; the climate and the soil encourage him in the belief that life can be supported with little effort, and he accepts the facts".  ( Peoples of all Nations - Volume II : British Empire to Dahomey, edited by J.A. Hammerton, circa 1930 ).

It's wonderful to be back home in KL  despite the haze, the heat and the water rationing.  It's sunny and breezy, no chilblains, no cold bed and loads of betik and buah semangka.  But the brain  has been quite reluctant to get going and so I resorted to my usual escapade - rustling my cache of old books.  I thought it would be good  fun to  display some of  these illustrations from the 1930s about my ancestors'    "objection to work".

"Malay girl workers on a rubber estate in Singapore"

" Beauty and Utility in Perfection : Champion Coconut Trees"
And here's another beautiful palm tree - but one not so useful to "more civilized peoples" :

"Labour in a Lovely Setting :  A Betel Nut Palm Plantation".

These two palm trees bring me to this poem  about the Coconut tree and the Betel/Areca Nut tree from the "MPH Malayan Primer", 1932.

Although that poem was written for children, its message would do well for adults as well,  for politicians, academics, the clergy and all purveyors of  human rights.  For certain that will prevent hypocrisy and self-righteousness.

As for that beautiful material for our traditional furniture - the rattan :

"Preparing Rattans under over-arching palms,  nature's kindly gifts to man in tropic regions.  Bundles of canes are distributed among the factory hands, who pull them round posts to crack and peel off the outer skin to render them more supple, even rubbing them with sand with the same object.  The canes are then ready for splitting into halves, quarters,  and so on according to the use to which they are to be put..... "

My ancestors also got to work on cooking this - a sweet delight for all Malaysians and Singaporeans.

"Common Cookhouse in a Malay Up-Country Village ....... the cauldrons used by Malay women to make..... jaggery, - a sugar obtained ....... from the sap of the palm trees that grow around".

 In India it's called jaggery  while the Malays name it as gula melaka or gula kabong.  It has a better flavour than processed white sugar and it's healthier too.   Wow, my ancestors were quite clever eh?

Malays were not involved in the "heavy duty" and highly remunerative economic activities like rubber plantations and tin mines and of course commerce.  But  they did participate in other occupations - the ones that were not as profitable.

"Malays Converting Poisonous Roots Into Nutritious Food.  In the factory the manioc roots are peeled and passed through a cylindrical machine in order to extract by pressure the bitter , highly poisonous juice.  The roots are reduced to powder which is placed in vats and mixed with water.  A plentiful supply of water  is an important requisite in the preparation of tapioca, for much depends upon its being thoroughly clean."    Note the white Tuan supervising the natives.

For the benefit of modern  Malays who are more familiar with French fries and pizza and bread rolls, tapioca flour is used  for cakes and cookies,  as a thickening agent for food products and as a binder for pharmaceutical tablets.  It is also gluten-free.  For our ancestors and for some of us today, manioc or tapioca or ubi kayu gives us local delicacies like tapai and krepek.  For me, nothing beats boiled ubi kayu with sambal blacan  or gula melaka syrup for a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack!!

Here's a little example of  Malays putting their toes into a bit of commerce.

" Fresh Nuts for Sale in Kajang".

If all the above indicate indolence, then commentators like Swettenham are as good as the monkey's uncle!

But this one image takes the cake.  Rice farming -  the Malays' traditional occupation  till today : which is also the most exhausting and backbreaking  livelihood -  was described as an indication of Malay sluggishness.

"Lazy Malays Take Much Pains in Tilling The Soil".  And this is said in the last sentence,  "..... for they heartily dislike toil and their indolent, pleasure-loving nature would always borrow rather than earn money."

That's rich!   Isn't the global economy today creaking and collapsing because of the credit crunch and the banking crisis -  too much borrowing, not enough conservation and savings, and too much greed?  Why toil when you can make loadsofmoney by speculating and  gambling with other people's money?  Better still, unlike those  'indolent Malays', today's  "more industrious and more civilized people" can expect the government and the taxpayers to bail them out.

This is my favourite picture of my ancestors.

"Rich Cargoes of Tropical Fruits On Their Way To The Malay Market."

I particularly love the caption :

"The more insignificant of the trading craft are employed for this purpose, and on market days a perfect fleet of small vessels may be seen plying up the river bound for some convenient centre where they may discharge their ripe cargoes.  The craft used are chiefly dugouts, or light fishing boats - things so small and crazy that only an amphibious creature like the Malay would trust himself in them."   

If our ancestors - like one of those entrepreneurs in the above picture - should turn up today and look at the condition of their descendants, they would probably shake their heads in despair.  They will see so much gain and achievement, but the semangat Melayu  has been ground into the dust.  An amphibious creature can survive on both water and land - that is why we call our homeland  Tanah Air.  A people who originate from such disparate environment should be able to straddle (with humility and dignity) the modern and traditional, the spiritual and material without shooting themselves in the foot and stabbing each other in the back.

Baju baharu kain bertekat,
Baju belah pakai kerosang;
Bersatu padu kuat sa-ikat,
Kalau berpechah di-makan orang.  (From Kalong Bunga Buku 1 oleh Za'ba)

A lovely song from another true blue anak Malaysia.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The problem with AsH's Blog

Dear All,

I have had a couple of e-mails from my readers who were asking if their comments have been received.

I have to state this :  that no comments have been recorded in my Dashboard!  The last one was received on 23 Feb regarding the posting of 30 January "What's in a Word? - The Context of the "Allah Controversy" - The Final Part".

I recorded just one on 20 February for the last posting of  "Two of Us - On Our Way Home".

As to why, I am as much in the dark as they are.

My apologies and thank you for those who tried.

3 x 20 = 60 + 10 = 70

Three Score Years and Ten - that's the traditional span of life  and Syukur Alhamdulillah I've reached  that magic number.  Considering that my side of the family has a history of premature deaths through two generations (there was Khamis my mother's brother who died  in his mid-30s, and my youngest brother Mustakim who passed away at 33 - both died very suddenly),  my elder sister Maznah and my younger brother Mustapha and of course AsH have managed to get through to their late 60s.

Observers of the cycles of human life - from foetus to old age - have various ways of allocating the times of our life. The 12 Stage Cycle places me at Mature Adulthood (50-80) where one is supposed to be well established and contributing to the betterment of society.  I may sound precocious but I think I did most of that by the time I was  35.  

According to the BBC KS2 scheme, there are only six cycles of life -  foetus, baby, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age.  Notice that half of those cycles take up only the first 12 years of life.  The 8-Stage Cycle places me at the bottom, with the Ageing Adult, those from 60 onwards.

My favourite observer  is William Shakespeare.   In the play "As You Like It" (Act II, Scene VII), he defines the "Seven Ages of Man":

The world's a stage, 
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and entrances.
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.  At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking ..........
.........................   Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

I suppose Shakespeare could not see into the 20th and 21st centuries, where the last scene of all  starts from a much younger age, where humankind have become childish, peevish and oblivious of their selfishness and arrogance - even though they still have their teeth, good eyesight and voracious appetite for everything! 

And that brings me to a very revealing sighting of our humankind, particularly our Malay-Muslims.  We were in transit at Abu Dhabi bound for Kuala Lumpur.  There were many pilgrims returning home to Malaysia after their Umrah.  As usual, we all had to be strictly checked for security before getting to our boarding gates.  I had almost finished plonking my hand luggage, handbag, coat, laptop into the trays when this Malay lady dressed in a white telekung pushed herself in front of me to grab the tray that was meant for my laptop. I was taken aback and even more so when the Security Officer, an Arab, ticked her off and told her to "Sabar!".   Well that stopped her in her tracks but this was hardly good for the reputation of Malay-Muslims ( and a woman at that!) in the eyes of the Arabs,  a  people that our Malays are working so hard to imitate and emulate!

Alas, it did not end there.  As the spouse was walking towards the electronic security door, another pilgrim in her telekung stepped in front of him, and snapped  "Excuse me!" with an inflection and intonation that said "Move over " and not "Would you mind if I ...?"  This was no kampung macik/kakak from some small town like Parit Botak in Johor.  This was one helluva street-savvy, educated Malay who knows how to get what she wants (especially now that she's done her Umrah).  And both of these Malay-Muslim women were younger than us!

But we live and learn even though we're now way past our live-by date.

On a happy note we got home to Setiawangsa and caught up with our family, neighbours, our crazy cats and the resident mosquitoes as well.  But this was the crowning glory.  In our garden, waiting for us were  ...

.......  our banana tree and .......

......  our papaya tree laden with Allah's bounty.

Talking about age is mostly a game of number crunching - more relevant is what we do with our lives while we're still alive and kicking.  After I lost my beloved brother Akim in 1982, each morning when I wake up to the sky, be it grey in Leicester or sunny in Malaysia, I thank the Supreme Being for giving me this pleasure.   Each new day is a bonus ... and that's how I perceive life - and old age.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Two of Us - On Our Way Home.

Our good friend Jack has been over on most recent Saturday evenings to watch a very interesting TV programme on "Wild China".  We would share a small supper and after the programme, Jack and spouse would  depart to the latter's study where the two of them would go surfing YouTube for Opera songs,  not the fluffy modern singers like  Katherine Jenkins and Il Divo but the ones from the 30s, 40s and 50s like Amelita Galli-Curci and  a younger Maria Callas.     In the process they discovered a fabulous young tenor from the US called Lawrence Brownlee - Jack, an expert on classical singing, reckons he's the best singer around at the moment.....better than Luciano Pavarotti.

At about 11 pm we would walk Jack back to his house which is just 5-10 minutes away.  Before the three of us became old and decrepit it would have taken us just short of 5 minutes !!

Last Saturday, on our way home from Jack's, we bumped into our former neighbour and friend Doug.  He was walking home alone from Barry's house (about 20 minutes distance from his own house).   The time was nearly a quarter to midnight!   He was just as shocked as we were to meet up so late.  We told him of our trip back to KL and there was a hint of disappointment in his voice when he expressed his regret that we had shared only one get-together since we got back to Leicester.  You see, we had arranged for Doug to pop over for dinner five weeks ago.  But we, especially AsH, had a nasty infection for three weeks and everything had to be put on the back burner including our planned  return at the end of  January.

We got back home, we pondered and we agreed that despite our imminent journey we must have Doug over for a meal.  And we did just that two days ago.  And Doug was so pleased to share the meal and the time.  And we walked him home as well !

Douglas Holly and we went back a long way, since the mid 1980s.  He was then a lecturer at the University of Leicester School of Education.  I had applied to do my Masters at the School of Ed in 1983 when I was about to end my teaching contract in Brunei.  I waited and waited in vain for a reply from them.  Finally I had to call upon my former Geography Tutor who was teaching in Leicester University to make an inquiry.  He got in touch with his 'mature student' Frank Moule who knew a lecturer from the School of Education.  That lecturer was Doug Holly.

Now one could describe  Doug as an old-fashioned liberal - his political stand  would be very much to the left of centre.  He went to see the lecturer-in-charge of Admissions to find out what had happened to my application.  It seemed that this lecturer Dr RK  had chucked my application to the bottom of the pile, simply because it had come from Brunei!  Doug then called upon Morag Carsch who was in charge of one of the courses I was applying for.  They both looked through my 'suitability' and they both advised Dr RK that I should be given a 'yes' reply soon - before I  'relocated' to another University.  I did Doug and Morag proud because I became one out of two students to gain a Distinction in the M.Ed course.  And I did enjoy bumping into Dr. RK whenever  I could - just to gloat.

After the spouse and I got married we visited Doug at his little terrace house at Oxford Avenue.  We liked the cosiness of the Avenue  (and Doug!).   So sometime during late 1986 we bought No 10 Oxford Avenue and we moved in.    I could not think of a better and happier place to live in - our neighbours and the neighbourhood  were just perfect.  Today, sadly, as with most things, it has all changed - for the worse.

We were neighbours for 19 years.  We got on because on many political and social issues we had a lot in common.  However at the height of the protest over Salman Rushdie's  "Satanic Verses" in 1989, we discovered a chink in our relationship.  We could hear on that summer's day in 1989 loud protests against "Satanic Verses" and Salman Rushdie coming over from nearby Victoria Park.  In summer, most of us kept our front doors open.  From Doug's door we heard him shouting angrily against the protests from the Park.  His one sentence  "After all we've done for them!" shocked us.  "Them" referred to the Muslims!  And this came from someone who saw himself as a broad-minded liberal and a vocal supporter of multi-culturalism.

This made me realise that the white man's liberalism, anti-racism  and broadmindedness are really skin-deep. When it comes to Islam and Muslims, that entrenched hostility and insecurity which fills their religion, literature, history and  culture floats up to the surface - even for someone like Doug who sees himself as an atheist.

We decided we had to square this circle with Doug.  We went over to his house and had a civilized discussion about freedom of expression, about the pathological phobia of the West against Islam and Muslims and what we thought of Salman Rushdie the Wog, the darling of British culture and of the literati. It did not break our friendship - we were sensible, thinking adults and were willing to listen to each other.

That incident - and what I saw and heard in later years - pushed me to read and learn even more, especially about Christianity and Western history and culture.

Just after we got married, my father-in-law Professor  K.M. Buchanan posted me a little pamphlet ( from Wales where he was staying)  about what the West owed to the Arabs - in the field of mathematics,  philosophy, architecture, medicine etc. etc.   It was an eye-opener for me.  It only told me how ignorant I had been about the world , about my Muslim world.  I began my own journey into this world and the western Christian world starting with books by Edward Said , Noam Chomsky - and  V.G. Kiernan's "European Empires from Conquest to Collapse (1815-1960)."  For these discoveries I have to thank my father-in-law Keith and his son.

After that little fracas with Doug I articulated my frustration in a long essay about the context of the  "Satanic Verses" issue which I still store in my files.  I wrote a letter of protest to The Independent which was of course heavily edited.

From then until today,  my inquiry and my learning have not ended  The maverick and rebel in me became even more consolidated and tenacious.

As for Doug and us, our friendship grew stronger with the years.  We have a lot of respect for him.  He remains committed to CND, Friends of the Earth and the local Community Committee.  He has lived alone for as long as we've known him.  He has his family who keep in touch with him especially for Birthdays and Christmas but he leaves them very much to themselves and makes sure that he doesn't become a burden to them.  He is a keen solo traveller, has been round the world sans the frills and luxury, goes to the gym and takes a long walk in the English countryside  ( usually ending at the local Pub) every week - and he loves my cooking!

And Doug is 84 years old.

This has turned out to be a long posting when all I wanted to write was about our trip back to KL - arriving InsyaAllah on Friday 21 February - just a day short of my 70th birthday.

"You and I have memories - longer than the road that stretches out ahead."

 Anak si Hamid and Son of Buchanan have travelled a long way - physically and metaphorically - together,  and with people like Doug Holly and Jack Marlowe as inspiration we hope to do a lot more, InsyaAllah.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Y I S S - The Way They Were

The last posting I did on Sekolah Menengah Yusof Ishak or Yusof Ishak Secondary School was on  5 November 2013.
Read :

Here's the next part - belated - but better late than never.

It began with how I was trained  - to be an accredited teacher - notwithstanding the advice given to me by the Che'Gu in the Ministry of Education!  There was no Institute of Education then.  It was just the Teachers' Training College - where they produced Primary School teachers ( with O Levels),  Lower Secondary School teachers ( with A Levels) for all the language streams.  Graduates were given a one-year, part-time, in-service training  - with one difference. There was no provision for Malay Stream Graduate teachers.  One can understand why by checking - for instance -   the number of Singapore Malays who were bonded by the Special Malay Teaching Bursary in this Convocation Programme of 1967.  There were only three of us.

So I embarked on my professional training as a teacher  from May 1967 to April 1968.  This Certificate ensured that I could be let loose in YISS or any school in the Republic of Singapore.

But for me, there was one problem.  For Group V (Classroom Teaching) nobody came to supervise me in the classroom until just before the Professional Examination.  Why?  As there was no provision for training graduates to teach in the Malay medium, I did my training in the English medium.  Of course no lecturer could supervise my classroom teaching because I was teaching in Malay!  So I was left on my own, dutifully writing and preparing my Lesson Notes waiting for a Supervisor.  I attended my lectures in the afternoon (after teaching in the morning), wrote my essays, did my Examination - albeit with a bit of ponteng now and then to Orchard Road and the Lido Cinema.  Then someone must have noticed that Maznoor binte Abdul Hamid had not been supervised for her teaching practice - at all!!  So towards the end of the school term, the Director of Teacher Training (Malay Section) at the TTC came to 'supervise' me.  Well, there was nowt to supervise because the school examination was just over and we were just minding the kids with quizzes and games.  Nevertheless, I had to make a 'show' of teaching  my students who were puzzled at what was going on.  He  checked my Lesson Notes of the last few months and then he left.

That was how I cleared the Group V - Classroom Teaching for my Certificate-in Education.  No wonder  the Che'Gu at the Ministry showed me the "Rokok".

As for the part of teaching in Malay,  I shall try to summarise my agony and grief in teaching Ilmu Hisab, Ilmu Alam, Tawarikh and Karangan during my first year of teaching.  I was given Menengah Satu to teach -  children from the Southern Islands.  Normally Menengah Satu classes would be in the afternoon but they were given a concession because of where they lived.

Here they are - my unforgettable first class.

I reckoned they had a lot more to teach me than I could teach them.

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I think I now have to clarify my situation about teaching in Malay.  Firstly, I'm an anak Melayu through and through.  I have not deigned or  'forgotten' how to speak my mother-tongue.  But that does not mean I am automatically qualified to teach various academic school subjects in a Malay secondary school.  As teachers, we know that it is more difficult to teach young children.  You need the right technique and to choose the right words to put across simple terminologies like suhu, tekanan udara, sistem pentadbiran, tamaddun, angka pecahan (fraction), segitiga, segitiga tepat, segitiga duasama etc. etc - especially for my Menengah Satu charges.

How did I survive ( if I did ) my first year?  Well, every weekend my Abah and I would spend hours translating and preparing my Geography, History and Mathematics lesson for the week.  We would have at our disposal the English-Malay Dictionaries prepared by DBP.  We had to look for the right terms to use as well as construct the right sentences to frame the lesson.  I guess I really earned and deserved that $700 salary!.

But one little faux pas I have to mention.  Our Senior Teacher for the Malay medium was Che'Gu Shukur - a gentle hardworking teacher of the old school.  He was passing my class one morning.  He then called me over to the door.  He corrected me - ever so gently and kindly and quietly that the word 'river' was spelled as sungai and not sungei.  I did feel stupid and I thanked Che'Gu Shukur for putting me right.  You see, my English language textbooks spelled it with and  'e'  and not an  'a'.  The colonials spelled it  the way they pronounced it.  I wonder if that Che'Gu in the Ministry knew about that problem before he suggested the word  "Rokok" to me.  Compared to our refined Che'Gu Shukur, this bureaucrat was too clever by half!

Just for laughs:  This was how my use of Malay - as my mother tongue, my medium of teaching and a requirement for confirmation in the Civil Service - became slightly entangled.  Even though I was considered 'good' enough to teach in Malay in a secondary school I still had to be certificated with this piece of paper.

What level does this certificate identify with?

Standard One  ' approximates that of Primary Six in Government Malay Primary School'.

All in all, my qualification for teaching academic subjects in Malay in a Malay Secondary School ranged from P7 ( for my 'O' Levels)  and  a pass at the level of Primary Six in a Malay Government School !!

I now think I will really need that "Rokok" from the Ministry's CheGu !

There are so many stories and experiences I could recall  in my seven years at Sekolah Menengah Yusof  Ishak.  But we old people have to be careful not to natter on too much about the past.  But bear with me these few samples.  I have a higher estimation of Che'Gu Shukur - an older generation of Malay teachers- than I have of those of my peer group and those a little younger than him.  Because I was a woman and (I will not hesitate to state this) because of my qualification,  many of the male (and female) Che'Gurus did not regard me as their 'cup of tea'.  I was almost an anathema to them.

It's ironic that the non-Malay English medium teachers in YISS did not harbour such a hang-up over their younger male and female graduate teachers.

In those days, schools were not provided with Overhead Projectors.  Maps had to be drawn on the blackboards - especially special maps that were not available in the Malay textbooks.  In the Geography Room, I drew a map of  the Industrial Region of the Ruhr Valley  (for my Menengah Empat students), which took up less than a quarter of the board.  I left a courteous note asking that the map remained on the board as I had four classes of Geography to teach.  The very next day, I discovered it had been erased by someone, a colleague from the afternoon session!

 Examination questions which had been discussed and chosen by a panel of teachers were leaked to students - so that the teachers concerned would look good when their classes gained top marks and many passes.

I embarrassed my poor Abah when I asked him the meaning of a word that my colleagues were bandying about during recess time in the Canteen. Each time they said this word, they looked at me!  This word was part of another teacher's name.  Abah bit his lower lip and said , "That word refers to a man's private part."

From then on, I would sit away from these Malay male colleagues in the School Canteen whenever I could.

One Saturday, during an  ECA  period, I went across to this Malay girl who was crying by the staircase.  She told me her father was ill in Malacca and she had no money to pay for her fare.  So I gave her $30 to help her out.  (I was then earning about $23 a day.)   In another instance, I offered a monthly allowance of $20  for two years, to my  student, Ang S.C. ( from Pulau Semakau ) when he started his 'A'Levels at National Junior College.  I had taught him for 4 years in YISS and he came from a needy family.  I thought my little contribution could at least subsidise his bus fare from Old Jurong Road where he lived to the NJC at Bukit Timah.

I found out later from my students that the crying 15 year-old had actually used the $30 to run away with her boyfriend!  Ang S.C. did write once or twice to thank me for the monthly Money Order.  I heard later that he had joined a Christian Group in NJC.

All these sound very much like "Meludah ke Langit".  But there were also wonderful people like Che'Gu Ayesha Bevee and Sim Loo Lee.  Ayesha is seated to the extreme left, front row, Loo Lee is fifth from the right and  Che'Gu Syukur is seated eighth from left.

In 1972, after 5 years,  I cleared my bond with the Singapore Government's Public Service Commission.  With my dear good friend Loo Lee we headed west for London to further our studies.  But that took some doing for me - that's another story which will only bring up too much bile.