The long-awaited Part 6 of Ipohbornkid’s series! Happy Reading 😉

Wan Hwa copy

The Schools that Chong Soon Fan Built – by IpohBornKid

(The picture above shows the generous donors for Wan Hwa Public Schools)

Many Chinese schools were built after World War II during the tin boom in the Kinta Valley, especially in Ipoh and surrounds in the early 1950s.   The establishment of these schools was driven by the tin miners’ desire to maintain the Chinese language and culture in their newly adopted homeland of Malaya.  However, there is one particular school that comes in mind that will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2014, ie. the Wan Hwa Primary Public School (萬華小學) in Menglembu.  The author wishes to congratulate the Chairman Mr Chong Yong Fook and his Board member, the donors, the Principal Mr Ong Yah, , teachers and pupils in their forthcoming  celebration, the 100th Anniversary of their Founding of the  School.

Many Chinese schools in Ipoh began to bloom in the 1950s and they include the Wan Hwa Primary School, the Yuk Choy Primary & High Schools, the Peraks Girls Primary and High Schools, Poi Lam High School, Sam Tet High Schools, Ave Maria School and the newest Sam Jai School.  Most of the X generation who went to the Chinese schools in Ipoh/Menglembu, will have gone through one of these schools.

In this article, the author will concentrate on the late Chong Soon Fan, JP, and his role in building the Wan Hwa Primary School (萬華小學) in Menglembu (萬裡望), which is currently located opposite his family home.  It is obvious that the school derives its name from the township by using its first character (萬) & Chinese (華) language school.

As far as the author can remember, Wan Hwa Primary had its humble beginning in the location where the Grace Lutheran Church is now situated.  It is at the southern end of Menglemgu’s Main Road (Jalan Lahat) where the road bends to the left.  A mountain stream runs along the boundary of the old school building.  This building, from memory, had a class room, a large blackboard facing south and with windows (facing east) opening to Jalan Lahat and the Tamil settlement across the field.  Below the window of this building was a small mountain stream that runs through Menglembu.

After the church bought the old school property, the Wan Hwa Primary School, in 1954, was relocated at the Assembly Hall Road and its entrance facing the western type bungalow of Mr Chong Soon Fan and the Nayang Picture Theatre.  On the western side of the school was the famous Kledang Hills of Menglembu.

The author remembered being in the original attap roof classrooms as a child of 6 years old in the afternoon school, after finishing morning school in ACS Ipoh.  However that arrangement did not last long and the author remained in ACS.  As the old school huts made way for the construction of the school hall, other developments were also taking place.  A U-shaped, single-storey building was built adjacent to the new school hall and the bottom of the U facing north.  At the far north end of the school was the Teacher’s quarters and the Principal and his family also lived there.

The old library building and the tuck shop were directly opposite the Nanyang Picture Theatre.  The old bicycle park was adjacent to the library wall.  All these structures including the Picture Theatre no longer exist.

Each Chinese New Year, the school grounds were decorated with paper banners hanging from a rope and on each paper, was written the name of the donor and the amount donated.  There were many donors in Menglembu (see picture) and Ipoh and most of them were tin miners and business people.  Many Clans denoted money to the school and in particular, the author remembered the Hakka Clan well as they were mainly tin miners, pawn shop owners and bankers.  Knowledge of the history of Hakka Clan in China will reveal their inborn determination for education and their participation as Generals and Scholars in Hennan Province for 2,000 years, before coming down to South China as Song Dynasty refugees.  Chong Soon Fan is of Hakka origin (Tai Poo, Quangdong Province) and had a strong urge to ensure the Chinese immigrants in Malaya can have a good Chinese education to maintain their language and culture.

As Chairman of the Board of Wan Hwa Primary School, he had to lead the donation and each year, whilst as Chairman, his donation amounts to $10,000 annually.  As Chairman, he was also able to encourage his business colleagues to contribute to the worthwhile cause, and they did.  Wan Hwa Primary School could not have existed without the generosity of the business and private donors.   Menglembu residents, having benefited from the school, should always remember the pioneering work of many philanthropists who readily gave their money for the building of the school and particularly the leadership shown by its Chairman, the late Mr Chong Soon Fan, who was also the “Penghulu of Menglembu”.

Chong Soon Fan passed away in 1969 and the Chairmanship of the school also went to his son the late Mr Chong Hong Chew, PJK, and later his grandson, Mr Chong Yong Fook.  The author congratulates Yong Fook in following a good tradition set up by the Patriarch.  One of the former Chairman Mr Chan Chak Yung was an old friend of the author for more than 50 years.

The author has visited the school recently and many changes have occurred.  The author would like to remind the people of Menglembu to remember the dedication and commitment of the pioneers who gave so much for the public education of their fellow immigrants in Menglembu and Ipoh.  I am sure that the current Chairman, Mr Chong Yong Fook could provide an aerial photograph of the present school to Ipoh World.

It is interesting to note that the late Mr Chong Soon Fan was at one time, the Chairman of the Board of 6 other Chinese schools including Yuk Choy, Perak Girl, Sam Jai and Wan Hwa.  The author heard a comment by one of his grandsons who said “the old man can afford many Mercedes Benz in his life time and yet he never bought one for this family.  He was contented with the old red Vauxhall Cresta (AA9788) who took his grandchildren to schools in Ipoh.  All the Mercedes went to the schools of course!” (Note- at that time each Merc costs $10,000 or more).   I believe that, he and his fellow philanthropists have accumulated enough good Karma for all their descendants to be blessed.

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