Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Jaques's Seven Ages of Man - My Fifth

Today I received a comment from Raden Rohaya, my former student who I last met in 1978. It's lovely to be remembered and so I feel a need to put down my remembrances before they get lost in the mist of time.

I came back from London University in Sept 1975 after completing my Academic Diploma in Education. I had planned another year to continue to do my M.Ed. but it was not to be because Abah passed away in Dec. 1974 and I had to get back home.
There is not much love lost between me and the Ministry of Education. In the education service, after 6 years of teaching you are eligible for 6 months sabbatical leave on half-pay. However, the bureaucrats made it very, very difficult for me to get my entitlement although I knew of many others who had an easy ride. I had to rope in the support of my MP, I was grilled by the legal dept of the Ministry and when they threatened(??) me that I must not expect any promotion after my studies I flatly told them I did not expect any! - and I was prepared to resign if I did not get this leave. So they played a nasty waiting game to see who would blink first. I got a phone call from the Ministry telling me that my leave had been approved 2-3 days before my flight. As to why my employers deemed it necessary to make my career and my life difficult - heaven only knows. I could delve into the realm of conspiracy theories but it's a futile exercise. In fact I should be grateful because if my employment in Singapore had been smooth and predictable, my life would not have been so enriched and meaningful. If and when life throws obstacles and disappointments in your path, I believe there's always a good reason behind them - you will know why, sooner or later. Just as I believe if you're mean and spiteful to your fellow beings, you will get punished, sooner or later.

And so, my good friend and colleague Sim Loo Lee and I began our journey - for our big walkabout and jalan-jalan - to broaden our minds and our spirits. We had sent off letters to umpteen universities in Australia, New Zealand, Canada , UK but strangely enough not the US. We wanted to be in the same city, if not in the same university and when we both got a place in London University we were over the moon. Loo went to SOAS to do her Masters in Geography. I landed at the School of Education; but despite an Honours degree from the University of Singapore and a Certificate-in-Education from the Singapore Teachers' Training College, I had to undergo a year of the Diploma before I could begin my Masters.

Years later, in the 80s when I finally managed to save enough money to do my Masters, I discovered that the entry requirements for post graduate studies in the UK was not as rigorous as in the 70s. But times have changed. Both the red brick universities and the new polytechnics-turned-universities had to make ends meet. Every and any foreign student they can rope in means a lifeline. In fact, every 'successful' foreign applicant had the "£" sign stamped on their form!

And where did I find myself after my studies? The Ministry had placed me right in the centre of US (Ulu Singapore), to Jurong Secondary School.
Jurong Secondary School is a sink school - no red bloooded middle class Singaporean parents would want to enrol their offsprings in the unhallowed halls of JSS. Located in the wilds of Jurong Industrial Estate, most if not all of its pupils come from the catchment area of factory workers, daily rated workers, the hoi polloi - what the English would describe as the 'great unwashed'. Mind you , that only refers to their own people, not the folks living in Jurong Town, Boon Lay Gardens and the surrounding areas. These kids are always well turned out and don't smell of greasy chips and fried sausages and bacon. AND these kids are the loveliest and the most imaginative students to teach.

But of course I did not fancy teaching in such a school. Some of my peers had been allocated salubrious schools to teach in. Hell !! I have spent a year studying in pukka London University, mostly at my own expense and my parents' sacrifice. They had to rent their bungalow in Johor Baru and rent a smaller accommodation at Alexandra Park, Singapore so that I could study abroad. My lovely father passed away in that tiny rented block on 21 December 1974. My mum and dad kept to their principles; that a good education is worth the sacrifice , even for their daughter of 30 !

When I reported for duty in September 1975, my mind and heart was still yearning for autumn in England, the cool wind on your face, the golden russet colours of the leaves and nostrils and hair impregnated with black dust from jumping in and out of the London Underground!
I was a disgusting snob, the kind that had just returned from the UK. It was raining on that first day and I had my mac from abroad draped on my arm. Oh, what an excruciatingly, stuck-up snooty prat I was. Today and many, many days since, I look back in shame on that Maznoor. Then my mother decided to wash that mac (without consulting me first, as mothers are wont to do), which cost me nearly 1 week's wages working at the London University Refectory; and turned it into mush because the waterproof coating had been eroded from all the soaking it received in her favourite Fab detergent. At that time, I almost cried when I saw the result of my mum's good deed. But I have to say I deserved it : for being the haughty cow I had become. Today, all that remains of it is a photograph. I hope to put it on the blog once I learn how to use a scanner, perhaps never at the rate I'm going.
Also today, I would not dream of wasting so much money on a mac like that. I now do my shopping at my favourite charity shop; Leicester Animal Rescue where I can pick up a similar garment for a quid or two. Call it wisdom with age or because the habits of my Scottish spouse have rubbed off on me. Tight, kedekut, stingy, tangkai jering !!!!!!! I'm proud to be one.

BUT, for all my 'snootiness' and follies I have never, never ever put on that patronising English accent. It was not me, it's almost like a betrayal of my people's dignity. Some people have asked me why despite living in Britain for 23 years, I had no English accent and could still 'remember' my Malay. I told them, "I am still a 'muka belacan' and I'm very happy to be so".

Have to stop now to go to Leicester Animal Rescue for ...........


Yati said...

Salam..the accent thing..can't help but admire your take on that. Here in Malaysia, there are are some who tried to speak with either UK or US accent but they sound so fake

My take is, as long as you speak the correct English and intelligible, you are ok...

Yati said...

Salam..the accent thing. I admire your stance on this coz here in M"sia sometimes you can hear people try to speak with either the British or the American accent but they sound so fake.

My take is that as long as you speak the correct English and intelligible, you are ok...

Kak Teh said...

Salam, this is going to be my 29th year in the UK and my kedah is more pekat than those back home.
Abt your mak and the mac, sorry - but cant help but laugh. When my mak was here, and yes without consulting the grandchildren, she took every tattered pair of jeans and patched and repaired them.
I did my MA at a very ripe age too - at SOAS - it was like a new lease of life. But i think a PhD would spell the end.
Take care Ms Hamid.

anak si-hamid said...

Dear Yati,
Do you remember that P. Ramlee movie "Labu Labi" - the conversation between the Tuan Magistrate and the Tuan Doctor?
P.Ramlee has hit the nail right on the head and yet this younger generation just doesn't learn. 50 years of Merdeka, of gaining degrees in western countries and yet they want to be like the Bounty Bar - brown on the outside and white on the inside!!!

anak si-hamid said...

Kak Teh, I'm glad you can see the humour in my pain and shame. I can just imagine your chidren's agony at their grandma's doings!
It's never too late to learn. My father told me years ago why he wanted his daughters to get the best possible education. The reason: he doesn't want his daughters to be at the mercy of any man!! My Abah is probably one of the very earliest male feminists.
Salam and Taraa me duck

Kak Teh said...

Salam again Ms Hamid,
After downing several cups of strong tea, I have now plucked enough courage to request that you write about your father. I would really like to read more about him, especially from his daughter.
I am sure it will make an interesting read. Thank you.