In the light of the recent brouhaha about the "Christian threat" Seminar in Johor, I recall some instances of my encounters with Christians and Christianity.
Like the merchant houses and various types of carpet baggers, missionaries and Christianity came to our part of the world on the coat-tails of Portuguese, Dutch and British invasions and imperialism. One very potent vehicle for lubricating the colonial system and for conversion of the natives was the setting up of schools - for both boys and girls. The missionaries undoubtedly contributed a great service to education in the far corners of the British Empire but it was a very successful enterprise which brought in bountiful dividends, both financially and spiritually.
One very, very successful story is that of the Anglo-Chinese School in Singapore. It could even be regarded as the Eton of Singapore.
I can claim two very peculiar flings in my education in Singapore. The first - which also marked the beginning of my education - was my one-day sojourn at Pasir Panjang Malay School - that beautiful school by the sea at 6 milestone Pasir Panjang Road. The last was at Anglo-Chinese Junior College, better known as ACJC. That was just for one month, for January 1978. That year also marked my final break from teaching in Singapore and the beginning of a new, wonderfully weird and wandering life. Like my ancient ancestors who were maritime nomads, I became a terrestial one.
The background goes like this. When I came back from my study leave at London University in 1975, I was posted to what the likes of the wealthy well-scrubbed boys in ACS would describe as a sink school. Jurong Secondary School was initially a Chinese medium school tucked away in the 'jungle' of Jurong. It expanded when Jurong became the hub of Singapore's industrial revolution. It had to take in the English medium teachers and students but the reins of 'power' were held - or should I say, monopolised - by the Chinese stream Nanyang University graduates. After a year spent in JSS, I dubbed them the Nanyang Mafia and sometimes the "Gang of Four" (as in Chairman Mao's PRC at that time).
The English stream students were treated like second class citizens. They were constantly picked upon by the Disciplinary Teachers, mainly Nanyangians. Those from the Chinese stream were treated with kid gloves.
My best friend KT was a brilliant English Literature teacher but she was relegated to teaching English as a Second Language in the Chinese Stream. As she was not a Graduate she had to give way to someone who was . KT and I will never forget this Graduate's excuse for not wanting to teach Shakespeare's "As You Like It". She did not study that particular play while she was in University!!!! Do they still make graduate teachers like that today?
So KT went to her first ESL lesson in Secondary Two Chinese Stream . When she greeted them with the usual "Good Morning Class" , they responded with grumpy mutterings - almost hostile. Then one of the girls stood up and haughtily asked KT, "You are Chinese, why do you teach English?" For a moment, KT was stunned. She simply told them, "I am here because I was given this duty by your Principal. Whether you like it or not, English is an important language for you to learn."
A few days later as KT was walking past these Chinese stream classes the students had prepared another greeting for her. They snapped shut very loudly one by one, a series of louvred windows as KT walked past every classroom on that floor. She was assailed by the sound of snap, snap, snap from the louvres of each window frame as she walked along the corridor. There was no one to be seen - just that serial clattering of snaps. KT kept calm and when she got to the Teachers' Common Room, she broke down. How cruel, these snaps of bigotry from such young souls. All said and done, the Principal attempted to assuage KT's anger and explained to her why these Chinese stream students did what they did blah, blah, blah and all they had to do was to make a curt apology to their "Sen Sen".
Hats off to you Malaysia - in making Malay the National Language and the medium of education. Fifty-five years on and I can still hear those snapping louvres!!
By my second year in JSS, I was promoted to Senior Teacher for the English Stream. I made it my duty to 'correct various anomalies' in the administration of the school. For instance, the winners of the oratorical and story writing competition were usually given prizes of Mandarin Dictionaries. I put a stop to that practice.
There was "a problem", they said, of getting the right prizes. I offered to get it done, to select the most suitable English language books for each level . That would be too costly, they said. I asked them how much they allocated for the Chinese stream. On that basis, I had no problem getting the kids the right books. It took me several trips from Jurong in the west to MPH and other bookstores in the city centre, but they loved what they got. That did not win me any hearts from the Nanyang Mafia.
When the school was organising a trip to West Malaysia for the students who had done well, I stood my ground and made sure the English stream students were duly represented. And on the first lunch break of that 'holiday' in Malacca, I blew my top when the non-Chinese students were told to have their meal in a Chinese restaurant with the rest of the entourage. The Organising Committee lumped everybody's diet to be the same as theirs. I remembered one statement I made which made them turn purple with fury. "Is it that difficult to get Muslim and non-Chinese food for us in West Malaysia? This country has more Malays and Muslims than Singapore!" So I bundled my non-Chinese ( not just Muslim) students off to a suitable place to eat. And I did that for every meal at every stop. The expense came from my own pocket. The Committee expressed no sympathy or culpability. I made no claim because it was all too dingy and sickening.
I reckon that was the last nail for the coffin the Nanyang Mafia had prepared for me, for Miss Hamid. As a Senior Teacher, my next step was to move up - to a Principalship. I had all the qualifications, the experience and my CV was immaculate. But they had other plans.
The link with Christians and Christianity? Wait for the next instalment.