Schooling in Ipoh – Episode 2
Here’s the 2nd Episode from UV-Valiant Knight.
The Central Mental Hospital, TR. This picture was taken in 1952; the Writer’s mother is seated next to the Matron (an English Lady).
Aerial view of the ACS School, Ipoh
Mr. Samuel Welch later joined the newly formed Royal Malaysian Air Force and became a very high ranking officer before retiring. He married a woman police officer, Blossom Wong, who became famous when she was the bodyguard of Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Malaysia.
I remembered the time when Mr. Welch was teaching us English and we were reading from the reader a story about Red Riding Hood and he wanted to dramatize the story. He got some of us to act out the various parts. Unfortunately, I was given the role of Red Riding Hood and had a handkerchief for a headscarf and rosy cheeks plastered on by using a red chalk! From that day, my classmates always teased me and being new and quiet, I was nicknamed a sissy! I only managed to rid myself of this ‘title’ in Standard Four when I took on the class bully in a fist fight!
This class bully was much taller and of a bigger size than most of us and he would pick a fight with anyone at any time. I decided to put a stop to this and decided that the only way to get him out of my back was to fight back. Fist fight was common in boys schools then. Disputes would be settled with a fist fight that eventually would end up as a wrestling match. Usually the weaker boys would be beaten up, have their shirt and pants dirtied or torn, sometimes they would end up with a black eye or two black eyes, a bloodied nose and swollen cauliflower ears. I was lucky to end up with a dirtied shirt and had to answer to my parents as to why it was so.
Fights in school were not tolerated and if we were to be caught, we could be caned by the Supervisor or the Discipline Teacher. Mr. Aw Boon Jin was the Junior Primary Supervisor (as he was called then) and he has a thin cane that would land smack on your open palm. It was a real sting and one would carry the cane mark for at least a day. One has to hide this from one’s parents or else one would get another caning at home!
I was saved by the bell that ended our recess (a short break for pupils to ease themselves and have a bite to eat). Pupils in primary schools usually bring along some packed food from home with a bottle of drink. Most students then would use a tomato sauce bottle that would contain a pint (we were using the British Measuring System then) of drink. I love coffee and this was the drink of the family. Real black coffee from ground fresh coffee beans would go into the brewing of the drink. I suppose that’s how Ipoh White Coffee became so famous today. Most Ipoh folks were great drinkers of coffee. We never had Tupperware then and we make do with containers made of metal that once contained sweets or biscuits. They were of all shapes and sizes and displayed colourful pictures of people or scenery.
Big bullies would demand a share of one’s food or drink. Many pupils would rush to the canteen (also known as the ‘tuckshop’ in ACS Ipoh) to buy some food and a drink. One could easily get a bowl or plate of noodles/rice for ten cents and a drink for five cents. In ACS Ipoh then, we had to line up to exchange our coins for tokens (made of metal) and use these tokens to buy food from the various hawkers. The ‘contractor’ (one who runs the cateen) was the late Mrs. Ng Ah Fook, the wife of a teacher in the school. Mr. Ng Ah Fook later became the Headmaster of the ACS Primary School.
There were various stalls in the canteen. Since recess was short and there were hundreds of us from each session (Lower Primary would have their recess first, followed by Junior Primary and then Lower Secondary and Upper Secondary), the bowls and plates of food would all be dished out and neatly arranged on the counter of each stall and all we had to do was take one and pay with our metal token and go to the side for the soup to be added if it is a soup noodle bowl we took. There were hardly any changes in menu! Day in and day out we ate the same stuff. Next we would queue up for a drink and this was when we had to be very careful not to spill our drinks. If it should spill on someone, a fight may result there and then and we would not get to eat or drink that day. Worse still, we would be hauled up for caning.
To avoid all the hazels, most meek and mild pupils will bring their own food. After all, home cooked food is always the best and you can sit anywhere to eat. There was no rules to say one has to go to the canteen to eat. One could bring any kind of food, too. There was no such thing as ‘halal’ or ‘haram’ food.
Most pupils will also use the interval time to ease themselves. ACS was and still is, notorious for poor toilet facilities. At my time, there was only a toilet way behind next to the Horley Hall (hostel for outstation pupils) and it was so far away that one had to run there and back if one wanted to eat as well during the break. Then, it was so small that not all can use it at once and a long queue would result. Inside was an open system where all the boys would line up on two sides of the building and pee into a drain that runs the length of the building. Sporadically, water would sprinkle from a lead pipe that runs about 4 feet from the floor and if you are unlucky, water might splash onto your shoes or pants while you are peeing! The stench was overwhelming. If you have to do the ‘big one’ you have to wait even longer for your turn and you wouldn’t want to eat after you have finished. The flush system would not work so regularly for each user! So the excreta of the previous user would remain while you add yours and so forth.
Yes, life in the Primary School has lots of interesting events. These are common, I suppose in all schools during the early Fifties. We only had a few teachers and they taught us various subjects. Specialization was not common. Our class teacher would normally teach us the important subjects like English, Mathematics, Geography and History. For Art we would have a different teacher as this subject needed talent on the teacher’s part. During my time, there was this old teacher, Mr. Wong Hean Lin who would remain in his Art Room and we would all move to his room to learn drawing and painting.
Most of the time he would give us a topic for imaginative composition and we spend about two periods producing something on a large piece of art paper. We had to bring our own pencils, water colour, brushes and water containers (usually a small glass bottle [Brands Essence of Chicken bottles were the first choice then]. After each lesson we had to wash our brushes, palettes and containers and this would be the time for some bullies or cheeky characters to flick their brushes still wet with colours on someone’s shirt or pants. Here again a fight would start!
Serious fights might at times occur. If such a fight was scheduled, it would usually be arranged for the fighters to meet after school behind the famous gymnasium of ACS Ipoh. This way out corner of the school was selected because it was secluded and out of the way from the school’s office and Principal’s house. All those with news of the fight would gather and it would be a real show then. Very often, it would only be stopped when one of the fighters plea for mercy! It could be rather bloody at times, being fought with bare fists!