Sunday 29 March 2009

The Next Exciting Episode - The Last School in Singapore, 1975-1977

Just 8 of the many lovely kids I taught at JSS.
From the Left: Din, Yuwrajh, Lely, Ben, Oi Bek, Rojiah.
Front: Rohayah, Irene

There were no class photographs for Jurong Secondary School's School Magazine. Instead individual photographs of the students were used for each class. It was a relief for the teachers too because you do get weary of having your mug shots taken with tetchy teenagers.

I decided to post the above photograph for two reasons. That lot above were/are such a fitting example of what Singaporeans and Malaysians should be - just like my schooldays of many years ago. They are made up of 2 Peranakans, 2 Chinese, 2 Malays, 1 Indian and one of Bangla Deshi origin. Amongst themselves they speak and curse and swear in English, Malay, Hokkien and smatterings of Mandarin. They tease each other using terms which we would describe today as racist. They are frequently in and out of each other's homes - which are made up of flats in Jurong Town. So you do not really need a kampung atmosphere to bond in a relationship and friendship that can be found only in Singapore and Malaysia. And as I mentioned in a previous posting, JSS is a Chinese medium and English medium school and such a medley of kids could only come from the English stream. I use the word 'medley' because when kids of different hues get together they make very good music. Secondly, I chose this photograph just to annoy them with memories of their wild and woolly days.

Si jeunesse savoit; si vieillesse pouvoit.
If youth knew: if age could.

Henri Estienne 1531-1598

What made JSS special? Because I had spent a year away from teaching, I did not feel so jaded and depressed about getting back to work. But that trip abroad also gave me a different perspective about kids and teaching kids. They need room to express themselves and they want us to trust them, albeit a little in the first instance. But I still keep faith to the old adage: start by being firm and loosen the leash later.

It was sometime during my first week in the school when this 'rejuvenated ' teacher met her first challenge. I was on my way to the Teachers' Common Room (isn't that an old-fashioned term) when I saw a little commotion in one of the classrooms. There was a bunch of 14 year old boys pushing something into the class cupboard. I put my head in and asked them if there was a problem. They were startled and as a result several boys 'fell' out of the cupboard, the littlest of them was the first one to descend and I still remember his name : Suhaimi. The puzzled (not angry) look on my face made one of them explain : "We are trying to find out how many (boys) can be stored in the cupboard." This rascal and his accomplice are in the photograph above.

What did I do? The normal thing is to round them up and call in the Discipline Teacher. I just told them, " Be careful". When I got back to the TCR, I broke out in laughter at the antics of these scallawags. They've got spirit I said. But some of the teachers frowned and said I should have sent them to the Principal's Office. Only one teacher shared my glee. She's KT Lim who became my special friend and colleague in that school. I found it strange that the ones who disapproved were younger than KT and I !!

This was a foreboding of times to come.

Monday 23 March 2009

It's Not Over

This is an Israeli Army T-shirt showing a pregnant Palestinian woman "caught in the crosshairs of a rifle"
Picture by courtesy of Yana Yechiel

This one shows a Palestinian woman (please note all the women are dressed in 'hijab')
weeping over her dead baby and the message on the T-shirt reads "Better Use Durex"
Picture by courtesy of Haaretz weekend magazine

You can see more on

However the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) were allowed room for a disclaimer : that the T-shirts were made "as a private initiative of soldiers" (free enterprise should be lauded - my words) and not in "accordance with IDF values and simply tasteless." How many times did Muslims have to apologise and recant for acts of "terrorism" and to no avail?


This is from The Independent March 21, 2009 by Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem.
Many Israeli troops had the sense of fighting a "religious war" against Gentiles during the 22-day offensive in Gaza according to a soldier who has highlighted the martial role of military rabbis during the operation.
The soldier testified that the "clear" message of literature distributed to troops by the rabbinate was "We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the Gentiles who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land."
N.B. A Gentile is someone who is not Jewish.

Now think of this scenario. If Muslims respond with equally distasteful T-shirts about Israelis or Jews or Judaism, the world's printed and electronic media would come down on the Muslims and Islam like a ton of bricks. .It's Anti-Semitism!!!! But we shall not do any such puerile acts. We should just look on them with pity for stooping to such craven and contemptible tactics.


Picture by Courtesy of AFP/Getty Images

An Image of Daud and two Goliaths

This Palestinian youth was 'stopped' by two burly Israeli policeman for wearing a T-shirt to mark Jerusalem's designation as the 2009 "capital of Arab culture" in Jerusalem on March
21. This is what William Shakespeare wrote in "Henry IV, Part 1."

A plague of all cowards, still say I.

With thanks to Imj22

Saturday 21 March 2009

Dearest Dorothy

The Three Witches of Leicester
Yours Truly, Ann and Dot

When shall we three meet again,
In thunder, lightning or in rain?

Dearest Dorothy. You were there for me after my operation. I so regret I could not do the same for you to reciprocate your kindness and care. You and Frank are the two bestest friends I have in Leicester. I shall always remember the first time we met. You two arrived with a bag full of winter clothes for Iain's 'tropical flower' and from that day on I was never wanting for anything - from jumpers to loving friendship.

From quiet homes and first beginning,
Out to the undiscovered ends,
There's nothing worth the wear of winning,
But laughter and the love of friends.

Belloc (1870 - 1953)

This posting will have to do until we see you in late April. Be a good girl, so you can heal quickly - for we have not tasted your chicken chasseur for ages AND I can promise you loads of lemon layer puddings. In the meantime :

Thursday 19 March 2009

The Last School in Singapore - 1975-1977 (CsH)

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.

Wednesday 18 March 2009

Here's to an old boy of JSS

Here's the boy grown into .......... but still a Jendol.
and here's a song to say you are still remembered. Found this photo while rummaging through old photo albums - plus more very interesting ones - you have been warned.

Wednesday 11 March 2009

From Pusara Aman to Pusara Abadi (CsH) - The other Much-Beloved Man

My sister and brother , because of health reasons and bureaucracy, could not be present at the exhumation and re-internment - and my heart feels for them and the grief they were going through.
I have a special visa in my Passport : SWS (settled with Spouse), Given leave to enter the United Kingdom for an indefinite period.

This is for my spouse. He was a pillar of strength on the 9th and 10th of March. Often couples feel no need to articulate their appreciation of their partners but this time I shall.
He never met Akim. In fact a few days before Akim passed away, he asked Rojiah 'Who is this Iain Buchanan? I would really want to meet him.' But it was not to be. My father had met him many years ago, but the old man did not figure on this character becoming his son-in-law.

The word 'abang' took on a very endearing meaning for us when Khamis, the man who was in charge of exhuming Akim's grave put out his hand to Iain and said "Saya minta izin, abang" which means "I ask for permission, brother" Somehow the word brother is not an apt
translation for 'abang'. Muslims, especially in the West, call each other, of all races, brother and sister - to indicate a sense of brotherhood and unity. 'Abang' however has different connotations in the Malay world - it carries with it shades of respect for the older person and also a sense of affection.
What Khamis conveyed to Iain was very touching and kind - it helped us tremendously on that difficult day.
But it was not only Khamis who showed such warm-hearted sensitivity. In the office, there was Saridah and Azizah. Johan, the young man in charge of the whole procedure was admirably efficient, cool and patient while facing outbursts of anger, and very much the man of the moment. I reckon he could run big corporations and even a government efficiently without losing the human touch. And dear Encik Hamid who had to work for two days on my father's grave because of the torrential rain on the first day, worked his guts out with water up to his chest without any complaint or impatience and above all, very respectfully removed my dad's remains under a scorching hot sun on the second day.
Then there was Zainal, a complete stranger who offered us a lift to the new gravesite at Pusara Abadi for the re-burial, about a kilometre away. All the way , he was caring and solicitious to 'kakak' and 'abang' and when the day was done he made sure he got us to the MRT Station of our choice. We both cannot get over this immense generosity of spirit from these Malays from Singapore. They are sometimes criticised for being brisk and efficient 'robots', but on those 2 days, they showed a mighty big heart. In the winter of my years - I feel relieved. There is hope for our people to integrate modernity and the Malay ways and purpose.

Finally for my sun-burnt spouse, ( from nearly 2 hours of standing under the midday sun by my father's grave ), Hamid's chidren and grandchildren thank you. The two departed could not have asked for a better son-in-law and brother-in law. You may have wilted under the sun but not your heart and your spouse says it all in George Harrison's "What is Life". You know I can't play the guitar and you would not be able to cope with me singing.
Thank you, me duck!

From Pusara Aman to Pusara Abadi [1[ (CsH)

Thank you for the days,
Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me.
I'm thinking of the days,
I won't forget a single day, believe me.

I bless the light,
I bless the light that shines on you, believe me.
And though you're gone,
You're with me every single day, believe me.

Days I'll remember all my life.
Days when you can't see wrong from right.
You took my life,
But then I knew that very soon you'd leave me,
But it's alright
Now I'm not frightened of this world, believe me.

On the 9th of March my father's and youngest brother's graves at Pusara Aman were exhumed and re-interned at Pusara Abadi.

All the time I thought I could not face this day but I did. In my blog of December 20th, 2008 I wrote :"I told my Abah not to worry for I will be there when they move him and I also said to Akim that all will be well..."

All went well, except for when the heavens came down and Abah's exhumation had to be done the next day. But despite that blip I came back happy; not only because the task was successfully completed but because these two much-beloved men were by my side, giving me their strength. I FELT AND KNEW THEY WERE THERE. ALLAH HU AKBAR.

Nothing will frighten me now.

Saturday 7 March 2009

Mahzan - Our Leap Year Lert (CsH)

Hisham and Mahzan - many moons ago

Got back from 5 days in Penang two days ago and now off to Singapore tomorrow to undertake a task that is too painful even to contemplate - for the exhumation and reburial of my father Abdul Hamid and his son Mustakim because their grave plots are to be recycled for the next 'generation'. 

And so I have to pick on you 'Zan to give me a little levity and levitation of my spirit. You, after all, were the one who nagged me into starting this blog and pushing us into the latter end of the 20th century. I know I have arrived into the 21st century when I can stop calling the thumbdrive a thumbprint, when I can remember how to create electronic folders and 'roaming' is not a great big walkabout by adventurous folks. And I have done a lot of roaming without the company of a mobile phone.

Why the Leap Year Lert? Years ago, in Leicester, when Unc and I were returning from the shops, we saw a sticker on this car : BE ALERT. BRITAIN NEEDS MORE LERTS ! As you are our favourite lert, you deserve this posting, or pasting? You were born on the 29th of February and each year you try to remind us about your birthday but for 3 out of 4 wistful attempts we just ignored you.

Last year, I wrote this for you.
Today the 29th of February is Mahzan's birthday - and he is reminded of his increasing age only once in 4 years. I find it hard at times to see him as a father of three, because he somehow remains the little (horrible) boy who loves to collect stones and pebbles to store under his pillow, away from his mother's eagle eyes. He collects broken down clocks or clocks broken by him, mostly from my mother's collection, which he then strips down to the barest wire and springs.

But he was also the one who sat with me in the taxi from Batu Pahat to Singapore , after picking him up at SDAR in Seremban to attend his Ucu's funeral on 21 Sept 1982. In a calm and composed way he asked, "What did Ucu die of?" I said 'asthma' and from my agonised and grief- stricken self, I added. "Zan, I hope one day you will be a doctor and be of help to people like Ucu."

This I said to to the little boy who loved fiddling with anything mechanical, who wanted to be an engineer. He was only 14 then, I was 38 and his Ucu died at 33. Today, he's a doctor and a helluva good one too, very caring and with wonderful bedside manners.

He has Akim's dry and ironic sense of humour. When he is expected to do jobs he doesn't want to do he "make don't know" - only Mahzan can construct mangled translation from "buat ta' tahu". He enjoys playing games with his kids and his nephews and nieces. I last heard of him giving riddles to the kids like "What is the biggest 'jam' (clock in Malay) in the world? After a few seconds of puzzled silence ; he answered "jamban" (toilet). Of course he was pelted with furious attacks by tiny hands, but that's Mahzan. Silly Boy, I say.

This lertish tendency I can see in his son, Muhammad Adam aged 4. We were on our way to dinner some time ago when we were staying with his family in Johor Bharu. I made some remarks about the moon; like blue moon, full moon and half moon. Then Adam chipped in and yelled "timun!". Another SILLY BOY, third generation !!!
Thanks for the memories 'Zan and have a happy birthday in 2012.

PS The budding Lert is the one on the right.