I came back to Singapore in September 1975 after completing the Academic Diploma in Education from London University. I had planned to stay another year to complete my Masters in Education but it was not to be because my father passed away in December 1974 and I had to come home. There is not much love lost between the Ministry of Education and I. They had, with great reluctance and after much cussedness on my part, given me leave to study abroad, albeit at my own expense except for the 6 months half-pay leave that all teachers who go on sabbatical are entitled to. I had hoped that after showing such 'enterprise' and ' initiative' in improving myself in the profession I might be posted to a challenging school to teach in like my alma mater Crescent Girls' School or any of the other upmarket schools.
After a few days of rest at home I received a letter from the Ministry stating that I will report for duty at Jurong Secondary School on such and such a date. Jurong Secondary School????
Where and what is that?? I have heard of Jurong Industrial Estate but a school?
Jurong Secondary School, to most of my teaching peers was a sink school. No red-blooded, middle-class parents would like to have their offsprings taught in its unhallowed halls. Located somewhat at the fringe of Jurong Industrial Estate, amidst the factory fumes and pollution ,( my asthmatic brother was granted special permission to have an air-conditioner attached to his room so as to reduce the frequency of his asthma attacks because Boon Lay where we stayed was also located in the same industrial estate), most, if not all of its pupils came from the catchment area of factory workers, daily rated workers, people who are considered the hoi polloi - what the English would describe as 'The Great Unwashed'. That of course referred to their own people, not the folks living in Jurong Town and Boon Lay. These kids who attend JSS are always well turned out and don't smell of greasy chips and fried sausage and bacon.
So, poor me I sighed. Stuck in the centre of Ulu Singapore. JSS is an "Integrated School" - one that has two mediums of instruction; this one being Mandarin and English. Before I left to further my studies I was teaching at another Integrated School, Yusof Ishak Secondary School - using Malay and English. By the way Yusof Ishak was Singapore's first President and you can see his face on Singapore's Currency.
JSS was initially a Chinese school located in a rural Jurong before it became designated as an industrial estate, and before the large housing estates of Jurong Town and Boon Lay Gardens were constructed. The school expanded to take in the English medium because of the growing numbers of people who wanted an English medium education. The top hierarchy in the school were understandably Mandarin educated and graduates of Nanyang University. Less than half of the students were in the English stream. I reckoned there were only 2-3 graduate teachers in the English stream.
The Principal was a far-sighted man who, despite his strongly Mandarin/Chinese proclivity realised the oncoming onslaught of the English language and was intent to gear the school in that direction without jeopardising the supremacy of the Chinese stream. He lauded my enrolment into the school, especially as firstly, I am a Malay; secondly, I'm a graduate and thirdly my gender, and hence Miss Hamid was launched into that world. He was a clever man - he knew how to deploy his staff to his advantage. There was a middle-aged Indian Malaysian teacher who was trying to become a Singapore citizen. That man was exploited to work on all kinds of tedious tasks that involved the use of English, like being landed with the chore of writing the Minutes of Meetings in English, of writing reports and notices - a kind of English language general factotum. He believed or rather was made to believe that this 'co-operation' would lubricate his application. When I left JSS in 1977, he was still there, still a Malaysian as far as I can tell.
My family, consisting of my mother and my late brother Mustakim lived in a flat in Boon Lay Gardens (don't be fooled by the word 'Gardens' - it's a misnomer for a concrete forest), in the same vicinity of the school. Abah in his wisdom, blessed my wish to study abroad on my own steam, on condition that I register for a flat in Jurong. As a single person I was not eligible for an HDB (Housing Development Board) flat. I could opt for the Executive flats but I was short of dosh. Only the JTC (Jurong Town Corporation) flats were available to me because the JTC was trying to woo residents into that wild of beyond, the sticks in the eyes of Singaporeans, especially my peers who chose to live in Marine Parade, Katong and other middle class enclaves.
So, I find myself living in the same patch as my place of work. I find myself jostling with my students at the supermarket, the carpark, the (wet) market. In fact at Market No.1 I bumped into my former pupil from Yusof Ishak Secondary School. Tan Lai Seng was now selling fish at the market. Now, Tan Lai Seng is unique. Because he came from one of the Southern Islands, he went to the island's local Malay Primary School. At Yusof Ishak Secondary School he was one of 4 Chinese students (at the same level) in the Malay medium. A bright athletic student, he excelled in Malay Language and Islamic Religious Studies and was streaks ahead of his Malay classmates in his other subjects. Would his future been more promising if he had been in the Chinese or English Stream? I don't really know because another one of his peers, Ang Song Chua got as far as the National Junior College. Song Chua was another bright but poor boy. For his two years in NJC, I would post him a money order of $20 every month to give a little help. The last I heard of him was that he had been 'adopted' by the Christian evangelist students in his College. But as for Tan Lai Seng, he was happy with his life and never forgot his Cikgu. I met him last at Boon Lay Hawker centre about 20 years ago - he was happily married to the Haji's daughter who was selling nasi lemak and all sorts of Malay food. He must be a grand-dad by now.
But back to JSS. When they see me, my students from the English stream would give a shy greeting of 'Good Morning' or ' Good Afternoon Miss Hamid' Some would just give an embarrassed smile, a few would ignore me but most of them would run or skulk away in fright. The students from the Chinese stream would bow their heads and greet me with 'Sen-sen chou ann' and I would respond with a smile and a bow in return. So, I couldn't get away from them and they could not escape my presence. And I said to myself, 'Hey, I think I'm going to like it here.'
It has always been my pattern. I get thrown into an unsatisfactory plight and sooner rather than later the whole situation grows on me and I learn to almost revel in it and derive a great deal of pride and affection in what I do - sometimes too much as I will discover later.
Wait for the next exciting episode.