Wednesday, 16 May 2012

ACJC - The Finale

In this last episode of my shortest teaching stint, I want to begin with what is perhaps my biggest regret - before I pick up the thread of my tale of "culture shock" at ACJC.

My sojourn at ACJC lasted for the duration of my one month's notice of resignation to the Singapore Ministry of Education ( MOE ).

On my last day, 2 February 1978, I was presented with a  'Thank You' card, signed by about a dozen students who wanted to let me know that they appreciated my understanding and support for their situation as outsiders at ACJC.  They were all non-ACSians - 'imports from other schools'.  Alas I have lost or misplaced that precious card.  I have searched for it, high and low, in Leicester and Kuala Lumpur but to no avail.

However there was just one ACSian - a sweet, timid Chinese lass who assured me that she would see me before I left.  A week before, she plucked up the courage to confide in me about how she had been regularly abused and raped by her businessman stepfather since she was 13.  She could not talk to any one, not even her mother,  and at 17 she wanted to expose and perhaps cauterize the pain.

I listened to nearly 2 hours of tears and pain and anger from this gentle, fragile child as she relived all over again her years of agony and trauma.  It was heartbreaking and all the more so because I could not do more to help - I had just about a week to be at hand for her and I was leaving Singapore almost immediately.  I had no choice but to convey the case to the Senior Teacher or Class Tutor, just which one I could not remember.  It seemed a breach of trust on  my part, but she needed urgent professional help.  I looked for her just before I left but she had been recorded as absent for a couple of days.

As a retired teacher, I have had ( and still have ) misgivings and regrets about some of my students whose lives I have touched.  My inability to minister to this tortured child, however,  was my biggest frustration and failing.

Now back to my finale.  In a previous posting I had mentioned  my experience of the the Lord's Prayer every morning during the flag-raising ceremony.  See  

Other than the 'secular' flag-raising ceremony, it was normal for every school to conduct a weekly Assembly to inform and to publicise various activities in the school's calendar.  In ACJC this took place on Monday mornings and I duly attended.  I cannot remember the precise order of events.  But I recall how all members of Staff stood in a row on the stage behind the Principal.

Then each of us was given a book, and so were all the students in the Hall.  I glanced at it and noted it was a book of Hymns and Prayers.  Such a thing had never happened in all of my previous schools.  I held my breath and waited.  Then the Principal or the College's Chaplain gave a little religious homily.  We were then instructed to turn the page to a particular Hymn.  The Hall was filled with the sound of a Christian choir singing Christian Hymns.  This was a Church Service, there can be no other explanation!!  Those of us who were not pedigree ACSians and non-Christians were taken aback.  I felt we had been ambushed.  Again, no one from the MOE had informed the teachers and new students about this extra duty in this top-drawer Junior College.

I closed the Hymn book and simply stood still.  I glanced at my colleagues left and right.  They were all singing away, including the Malay language teacher who I reckoned  was employed by the College's Board of Governors.  There was Amin, another teacher seconded to the College like me.  We looked at each other.  He was also doing what I was doing.

Well, I attended Assembly the following week just in case it took on a different tone.  It was exactly the same as the previous week.  I did what I had done then and looked straight ahead across the rows of students standing and singing in that vast Hall.  Suddenly, my eyes caught the eyes of an Indian sixth-form student - located almost in the middle of that 'Choir' -  singing and holding the open Hymn book in his hands.  Our eyes locked, almost transfixed in an odd empathy of our plight.  A communion, you might say in Christian parlance.  It was quite 'electric'. as people would describe it in today's electronic language.

The student stopped singing, closed his Hymn book, and like me, he just stood still in attentive respect.

It was uncanny, it was like magic!!  I can feel goosepimples on my arms whenever I recall that spellbinding moment.  Very, very unforgettable.

And so I saw no point in attending Assembly/Services at all.  I decided to stay in the Teachers' Room to do my marking.  I was later called up by the Principal about the date of my departure and also to enquire about my lack of 'participation'  during  Assembly.  He expressed concern about how this would affect discipline in the College.  I simply told him that non-Christian students should not be subjected to Christian rituals especially as most of the new students were from government secular schools.  I further added  that such dispensation should include members of Staff too.  He was glad to see the back of me and the feelings were mutual.

The moral is clear and this I emphasise with another little story.

I wore a baju kurung on my first day at ACJC, and for most days I would be garbed in this or the baju kebaya.  In the Common Room, a sweet Chinese lady teacher welcomed me and said,  " You must be our new Malay language teacher."
I told her I wasn't.  I was the new Geography and General Paper teacher.
She looked shocked and uttered, "You're a graduate?"
"From Singapore University, 1967,"  I replied.
She then made a sweet, quick retreat.

It's like that in Singapore.  If, as a Malay, your presence is above the usual  level of gardener, driver, peon, ( or Malay language teacher in the case of ACJC and other secondary schools) it can cause a bit of consternation.  Maybe things have changed now but old habits die hard.  How can Malays be at par with those people who  are inheritors of '3,000 years of culture' ?  (That cultural description of the Chinese was made by Mr LKY )

My late brother Akim was an accounts clerk at NOL ( Neptune Orient Lines) in the 1970s.  He was not only the sole Malay in the Accounts Department but he was also good at his work.

"Hey Akim, you must have Chinese blood in you aah?"  said one of his colleagues who was attempting to pour scorn on Akim's ability to solve an accounting problem that he himself could not.

My sharp-tongued brother retorted,  "You are 100% Chinese, how come you cannot do what I can?"

Just another AnaksiHamid!  We go for the jugular.  We don't take prisoners.


BaitiBadarudin said...

Happy Teacher's Day, Kak Maznoor!

anak si-hamid said...

Thank you Baiti,

I was shunted, unwillingly by the authorities into teaching, but for the most parts, it was stimulating and worthwhile.

And a Happy Teacher's Day to all worthy Teachers.