Sunday, 13 November 2011

The years I spent at St. Andrew's Secondary School, Muar, Johore.

 
View of  St. Andrew's Secondary School when one enters the compound of the school
SAS boasts in its possession with profound pride for owning a long and wide, near perfect sports field. The School has been known as one that churns out distingusihed sports men in the athletics.

I had close encounters with a few Irishmen during my six years of secondary education in the 60s; they were all Christian brothers of the Roman Catholic faith, sent to run as principals and teachers of a missionary school in Muar, Johore, namely The St. Andrew’s Secondary School (SAS). It remains strictly a boy’s school till this day.

The familiar long corridor where boys lined up before entering the class rooms, upon hearing the school bell rang.

One day in December 2001 I was shocked to read a report in The Star news print that Rev Brother Robert O’Sullivan had passed away in Malacca at the ripe age of 80. Immediately I called my buddy SP Chong who was residing in Malacca after his retirement on the phone, urging him to pay respect to the wake of the well-known educationist whose body laid in the 162 year old St. Francis Church. (Built in 1849)

SAS had been affiliated to St. Andrew's Church about one and a half kilometer away as it was founded by the Catholic diocese of Malacca-Johore in the '30s.

Rev Brother Robert was a strict disciplinarian who ran the school in military style. Not really popular among the teenage boys but greatly respected and feared; one could remember him clutching a thick cane under his armpit, going from one class to another in his white grown. He was our form master as well as English teacher for my last year with the school. Brother Robert made great effort in grooming us to speak and write proper English and was very particular with grammars. I felt that he had misgiving with us the boys who had gone through remove class as most of us had poor command of the English language and were foul mouthed. Therefore we were often targeted during his English lessons. I remembered vividly that I was asked to make a sentence with the word ‘optional’. I answered with a loud voice: “Sex education is optional in Malaysian secondary schools.” The class broke into an uncontrollable laughter and the principal was not pleased. Eventually I replaced the words ‘sex education’ with ‘co-education’ to avoid being caned. On issue of mixed marriage, Bro Robert stood to be against; he advised during one Moral Teaching period: Marry someone your kind, creed, and race.   Do not attract unnecessary glances. On taking away  human lives: During war times, yes.

The late Rev Brother O'Sullivan who ran SAS as the principal from 1954 to 1980, with his British aristocratic, military style.
His old faithful-The Mini Minor. It was the same model Mr Bean used.

I was rather angry with Brother Robert during most of my tenure at St. Andrew’s over some incidents. One day the bicycle I borrowed from my father was detained by the school together with others as it was declared unsafe with a faulty ringing chime. Later I realized that there was a safety campaign carried out in the school with regards to bicycles which were the commonest mode of transport during the 60s. This caused a hardship to my father as he needed to use it for work 4 miles away from our house. The straight faced principal was adamant about his way of rules; the bicycle was only released to me after being made good. Once I waited for two hours outside his office to see him, just to submit a medical chit as I was down with fever and was absent for two days. The school administrative clerk by the name of Peter Ng, a fatso, refused to accept my MC and told me to wait. On a few occasions when I dined out with some old boys, I made it clear if I were to meet Bro Robert face to face, I would lambaste him with scathing words, in few languages I know. I would make sure he would get an earful from me. Unfortunately I never had a chance to meet him since I left SAS.

                                   
SAS was famous for its scout acitivities. Many students of SAS achieved the Kings' Scout (Agong Scout) status by the time they left school.  This was their activities cum storage room for their paraphernalia.  The site together with the old canteen had been replaced by a striking new building. See the following picture:
This part of SAS (left side) used to be the site of the  the old canteen, Teachers' room, and Scout activity room, and a basketball court. Most Andrean Old Boys had contributed to the building fund follwing vigorous fund raising campaign initited by OBA of Andreans.

I would not had forgiven Bro Robert for his iron fisted administration during those years until Alex Eapen, a fellow old boy enlightened me. During an old boys’ meet, Alex told us that we had to understand the fact that the old patriarch was from a different era and background, whatever he did was for our own good anyway, albeit he had his own unique way of running the school that was hard to fathom and accept.

   The SAS Primary stands across the field opposite the SAS Secondary.


Another situation that irked me was that the head master of the St Andrew’s Primary School Benedict Tan was always present when the students were sent to Bro Robert’s office for questioning and punishment for minor misbehavior. The primary and the secondary schools shared the same sports field and each occupied one side of the large green field. This head master Tan sometimes took over as the ‘executioner’ to mete out the caning of the naughty students. In current time if he were to re-enact this, the parents would swear that he would lose his pension. Just like Bro Robert, this HM Tan of the primary school knew well all the boys who crossed over to the secondary when they finished their stint at the primary. It seemed that the two principals had an axe to grind with the boys who enrolled after their primary education from Chinese schools. The “remove” classes boys were always being marked and victimized for speaking profanity and possessed terrible standard of English language. Eventually, by the time we made it to ‘O’ level at Form 5, the boys from earlier “Remove” classes out shone those non-Mandarin speaking boys.

                           
These two senior gentlemen were going after each other's throat when they were young. From left: Alan Koo SK (Barber) and  Dr KS Gan. Pic taken somewhere in NYC in 2008. Both of them are comfortably settled in the US.

There were real bawdy, mischievous ‘gangster’ boys then. There were many groupings, I would say. Some sporting Elvis hair-do and were only interested in pop songs, some were into football, basketball games and hockey. Other sub-groups were the Christian church goings chaps and the real studious type, as well as the gang-fighting ‘triad’ boys. There were also activities of scouts movement and woodworks session after classes. The Chinese-Mandarin speaking boys of course tried to keep to themselves in the beginning until after Form 3, 4 and 5. During one gathering of old Andreans’ meet couple of years back, two senior gentlemen were talking about how one of them hid behind a pillar to ambush another with bamboo stick during the old days. Funny though both had found they way to the US; one is a very successful dentist in Denver, Colorado, and the one is a property tycoon based in Philadelphia, near NYC.


Rev Brother Cronan was seated in the middle of this picture as the acting principal.
William Gomez the science wonder teacher seen here among some of the science class students.

A much younger Rev Brother Peter arrived for a short stint as our English teacher during my early secondary days. Just like Brother Robert, Brother Peter was also an ex-serviceman who fought during the World War Two. Being mischievous in character and eloquent in speech, we were often mesmerized by his story telling. In his unmistakable British’s cockney accent, he told us one day during the war he was holed up in a trench, waiting to launch an offensive. While hurling a grenade to the direction of the enemy, a shot from a sniper pierced though the cold air; the bullet drilled a hole in the middle of his right palm at that instance. He was discharged from the army shortly as he was injured. Thank his lucky star he eventually regained the use of his right hand. To prove what he said was true Brother Peter showed us his right palm. We were aghast to see a twenty cent coin sized scar in the middle of it. He was rather proud about that.

Group picture of SAS OBA PJ/KL Chapter 2009-2011. The President of the Muar Andreans Association is Edmund Ng See Kam, the Secretary  is Lau Se Hian.

Rev Brother Cronan replaced Brother Robert for a year as principal when the later left for Ireland for his spiritual sabbatical when I was in Form 4. He was transferred from La Salle school from Petaling Jaya. Poised as a strong contrast to Bro Robert, Bro Cronan was a smiling, jovial and friendly person with a  pleasant disposition to mingle among students. I remember seeing him once being caught in a torrential downpour while out cycling. Knowing that we took delight in his embarrassment he pointed to the sky and shouted: 'Hujan mari' and swiftly disappeared into the school compound. Bro Cronan was also very insistent in ensuring proficiency in the English language among us. He too, carried a cane but rarely used it.

The charismatic former teacher of SAS Jesse van den Driesen gave a speech down memory lane during the 2003 SAS Class of '67 Old Boys Meet at Hilton PJ.

There were some forgettable teachers who spent their time in the school like the present day civil servants. Cikgu Rahmat and Cikgu Salleh were two of them. So was one Pereira who taught Health science and History (Thought these two subjects were far apart?) by reading from his notes. There was nothing on the blackboard and no further illustration from him. For two years, we meekly listened to his voice and he did not care whether we were paying attention or passing subjects he taught. For English literature we had Ng Thiam Lim to read us from the text of William Shakespeare. He might pause to explain a bit but was annoyed when we could not understand the 16th - 17th Century Bard’s writings. He kept telling us to ‘paraphrase, paraphrase’ the difficult lines which were Greek to us. Ng TL was also the school woodworks instructor. One afternoon the boys were distracted and rushed out to see some planes flew by with loud nosies. Ng was furious and ordered the woodworks session boys to line up. One by one he slapped them across their young cheeks with great force, with his bare hand. That would have rendered them with temporary deafness. I witnessed this incident from a short distance as I was nearby for some sports acitivities.

                              
           The SAS school emblems all these year since inception

For favorite teachers we had Jesse van den Driesen & Seah Kwang How to whom we still kept constant contact and we met during old boys’ gatherings. The late Maria Thong was one lady teacher most boys would not forget; Some of them were fascinated by her body movement. We chuckled and laughed when some old boys mentioned her body shape as she used to sit close to Bro Robert during school functions. The one unforgettable teacher was the late William Gomez; he was Frankenstein and Einstein being put into one. A very brilliant, diligent and capable scholar from India but found himself landed in Malaysia as a teacher. Gomez was responsible to teach Mathematics, additional Mathematics, and the pure science subjects of Biology, Chemistry and Physics, all under his charge for the senior secondary classes. He was a bit queer and was one who talked loudly; Gomez always lashed out his annoyance to boys who performed badly at term examinations, other than that he was generally friendly. With his teaching some of my classmates were groomed to become professors to NUS of Singapore in later life. We had doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers amongst us. The late Yeo Teck Moh was the Scout Master and our geography teacher. I quite liked his teaching but I discovered that some old Andrean boys harboured animosity against him.

Former teacher of SAS Helen Tan was invited to join us for the re-union during the SAS Class of '67 Old Boys'Meet in 2008; on her left was teacher Seah Kwang How.


Twenty year old (or younger) Helen Tan emerged gracefully into a world full of inquisitive and curious boys at St Andrew’s Secondary. She was teaching us English and geography as a temporary teacher whilst she awaited news of her enrolment with a teachers’ training college. The chubby lady was an instant hit with the boys as she was young and friendly. She probably was as curious towards us boys as we were curious about her. Her father was the headmaster of a primary school along Jalan Ismail, Muar; and her uncle, her father’s brother was none other that the scare-crow skinny Benedict Tan of SAS Primary. One day, Helen was teaching us English with her girly high pitched voice that some boys gathered courage to ask her if she could sing us a song. After some hesitation she obliged and rendered Lily Sharp’s “I will follow him” to a class of silent, listening boys. When she finished we broke into loud cheers of applause but were promptly stunned to see Bro Robert passing by with his white gown like a floating daylight ghost, (We could never see his shoes) with his ubiquitous cane tugged under his armpit. The principal must had hidden few steps away from the classroom when he heard the song sung. With a vigilante sense of alertness and with pairs of sharp eyes and ears of an owl, he must had witnessed what had transpired. Teacher Helen was quite scared and worried; fortunately the head of the school did not barge in. We were glad to meet Mdm Helen during one recent Old Boys' meet; she had then retired and was widowed few years back. Another goody staff of SAS was the ever smiling office assistant cum lab assistant Tang Zui Tong who had since retired. He remained our link we had in Muar to update us what was going on around the school and whatever happened to so and so etc.  
  
                                                    
                The more recent pictures are obtained from  
                       Andreanfellowships.blogspot.com
                   with great appreciation from the writer


Those years I spent at St. Andrew’s School was unforgettable with bitter, sweet and sour memories; after all it remained my alma mater. Once a while I do reminisce and recollect some interesting anecdotes happened 40 over years ago, like my interaction with those devoted Christian Brothers. Their unyielding zest in enlightening us, particularly in the filed of learning the English language, is something I always cherish and appreciate. Robert Graves, the British poet said in his book Goodbye To All That: “If I were to relive those lost years, I should probably behave again in very much the same way.” I would say that statement befitted me well.


Alan CY Kok           

13 comments:

  1. Hi Lau Chu Alan,

    You'll better watch your movement,80plus ex-SAS Primary HM Benedict Tan is coming to you with Bro Robert's cane!!Hoho, Take care! Anyway it's a good read.

    Old Bum Robert Kong

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Readers, some old friends chose to comment thru e-mails. I guess it'll be nice to share with you their their reminiscence together with their comments.
    Alan CY Kok


    CY:

    Thank you for sharing your days - 'journey' @ SAS from your heart on your blog. I enjoyed reading it and It sure bring back memories of our days @ SAS. That was our period of time and as for me, its history. I too was on the receiving end of the rattan and I guess it did me some good ???. Thanks for the mention on your blog. Ya, I found out that SK is in the US and I went to viist him and we had our little 'reunion' 3 years ago. Guys like Edmund, SK, Jo Kee are the 'tycoons', Me, a tooth mechanic, and my patients pay my pay check. An educated idiot and all I know is drill and fill. We all can be proud that some of our classmates. some are physicians (Boon Sin, Thian Hi), big shots (Mok) at TI, Oil Co. (James), U professor, engineer, lawyer to name a few.

    Keep up the great work as it keeps us, class of '67 connected and I am glad that I ' rubbed shoulder' with you and some other this passed years. I count you as my dear friend, a friendship that I will enjoy and cherish. Thanks. KS Gan




    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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  3. Alan Kok's frank account of his years spent at SAS Muar in the early '60s brings out the nostalgia which Alan still harbors in his deep feeling. It could subjective in certain accounts, but never mind his attempt to rekindle our love and memory of our years with SAS has achieved the purpose. His love and hate narration of some of the distinguished HMs - though none could excel Brother Robert and whose whelm at SAS is surely a legend in itself. And Alan had some sour encounters with this Disciplinarian par excellence worth our second thought on what should the current HMs behave when they have to face with more complicated students backed up by their protective parents and even Education ministry.


    Nothing beats Alan's proud mention of those distinguished old boys doing well by current standards, not forgetting he himself is also a role model to many aspiring young SAS students on in the face of difficulty, the brave also stand tall. Alan is now a qualified Tourist Guide at his age but still full of enthusiasm and valor to show the foreign tourists around the country, something that he learned from the late Mr. Yeoh Teck Moh who was the Geography teacher. Other teachers that he mentions like Mr. Gomez the outlandish science teacher and other teachers who still maintain close contact with us - shall be exemplified by many who shun ex-teachers.


    In conclusion, this down the memory nostalgia by Alan shall elicit brickbats and carrots after they have read the article, as they too have their own pent-up feelings to pour in. So, the comments from them with their own Years At SAS shall be a wonderful sesame to bring us closer in our twilight years.....


    Bravo to Alan as he's always today the front-runner to get us together in rain or in sunshine.




    From Jeremy Lim

    ReplyDelete
  4. Alan Kok's frank account of his years spent at SAS Muar in the early '60s brings out the nostalgia which Alan still harbors in his deep feeling. It could subjective in certain accounts, but never mind his attempt to rekindle our love and memory of our years with SAS has achieved the purpose. His love and hate narration of some of the distinguished HMs - though none could excel Brother Robert and whose whelm at SAS is surely a legend in itself. And Alan had some sour encounters with this Disciplinarian par excellence worth our second thought on what should the current HMs behave when they have to face with more complicated students backed up by their protective parents and even Education ministry.


    Nothing beats Alan's proud mention of those distinguished old boys doing well by current standards, not forgetting he himself is also a role model to many aspiring young SAS students on in the face of difficulty, the brave also stand tall. Alan is now a qualified Tourist Guide at his age but still full of enthusiasm and valor to show the foreign tourists around the country, something that he learned from the late Mr. Yeoh Teck Moh who was the Geography teacher. Other teachers that he mentions like Mr. Gomez the outlandish science teacher and other teachers who still maintain close contact with us - shall be exemplified by many who shun ex-teachers.


    In conclusion, this down the memory nostalgia by Alan shall elicit brickbats and carrots after they have read the article, as they too have their own pent-up feelings to pour in. So, the comments from them with their own Years At SAS shall be a wonderful sesame to bring us closer in our twilight years.....


    Bravo to Alan as he's always today the front-runner to get us together in rain or in sunshine.




    From Jeremy Lim

    ReplyDelete
  5. Dr KS Gan has more to say:


    CY:

    We crossed path when we were at SAS, you all (Removed Class chaps) were quiet and smart. I just thought that you guys were snobbish and look down upon us bums and would not want to associate with us. ha! Some of us were the sport jogs and trouble makers for sure. I can only speak for my self, till Teck Mor took an interest in me. What ever he saw in me, OGK (only god knows) he took me aside and gave me some fatherly advise. He made me the Form 3 class monitor, Red House captain and Troop leader in Form 5 (some of my troop comrades were not too happy). The last 2 years as I can recall, the 10th Bandahari Troop were tops. We won a least one National award as I can recalled, that is we beat out the other troops to represent the Muar District and State. We had a bunch of Agong scouts too. Some of us went to the 1st Malaysian Jamboree in Penang. May be KC Er in Canada can validate the above as he was my assistant troop leader. I remembered being the class monitor, I had to take attendants, collect school fee, class salutation to the teachers, etc and what do you know, the canning stopped too. On my last visit to Muar, Mr Goh gave me a 'grand tour' of the campus. Except for the new buildings, I was told the scholastic standard has dropped. What fond memories it brought back to me when I read your blog and see the pictures of our SAS.

    Keep up the great work. Like KH said, get the 'old boys' of '67 out of hibernation to write and spread the good news of what some of the alumni are doing or not doing. At our age, time is our enemy. You and your blog is like See Kam who got us together and connected for old time sake. You and See Kam have invited me into your homes and that I count it an honor and privilege. These are friendship that I hold on dearly. Through you, I got to meet Peng Hong and Nair, Yeoh Tian Cheong, Kong Seng Chee and thru James Er, I got to meet Woon Pek and Professor Soo-Jin Chua. Enjoying the moments and hope to meet new faces the next time our path cross. KS

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  6. Hi Alan,

    I want to thank you for walking me down memory lane. I really enjoyed reading your blog regarding SAS boys.

    You are indeed a good writer and also a humourous one. Keep up your good work.

    God Bless.

    Regards,
    Pastor Jeremy Choon-Hwee Tay
    North Sydney, NSW, Au.

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  7. Hi Alan,
    Reading your blog about SAS brings back fond memories. You did an excellent job summarizing our days in SAS.
    Thank You.
    The following are some of my thoughts.
    We were the first "remove class" students in SAS. If my memory serves me right, we attended our classes in the afternoon. Many of us were in the same boat at the beginning- struggling to understand what we were taught. We persevered and the first and subsequent "remove class" students from SAS. Many could stand tall and be proud of their accomplishments.
    You forgot to mention chubby Mr Quek - our English teacher who was driving a FIAT 600. How about Mr Koh, Mrs. Josephine Low( Mr Ng TL's wife).
    The class of '67 were very active. We have Chua Ling King, Alex Eapen, myself .....etc in the track and field. The Agong Scouts who represented Johore at National Scout Competitions were Dr. Gan KS, Tan Joo Kee, Ng Chee Kiong, Thomas Eapen, Chua Peng Mong, Larry Goh Pay Seng and I. My Scouting days were my best times at SAS.
    There were rivalries between the SAS boys & Convent School girls VS Muar High School boys & the girls at Sultan Abubakar School.

    I am grateful having the opportunity to get reacquainted with several of my '67 classmates during my last visit to KL. Many thanks to you for your warm hospitality in showing Sandra and I around KL area and arranging for me to meet up with Mok, See Kam, Seng Chee and Nair.

    I hope to have an opportunity to meet up with many more of our classmates in the near future.
    Until then.......



    God Bless you all.
    K.C.Er, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

    ReplyDelete
  8. CEO S'pore Refinery Ltd.
    James Er says:

    Hi Alan,

    Firstly, it was a rather long article as you were trying to recall every precious moment and individual! Unfortunately, I could not remember most of the names you mentioned as I did not have much associattion with them except Brother Robert, Benedict Tan, Gomez, Seah Kwong How. Yeo Teck Moh... However, I could vividly recall the huge school field and the long corridor outside the class rooms etc...You probably knew that my friends in SAS days were mostly folks from Bakri! Sadly, I have lost touch with most of them, even Eng Song Huat! I do not know what is Song Huat doing and where is he now and why he chose not to keep in touch with us despite my several phone calls to him several years a go!! I suppose we should still treasure what we still have, frieds like you who always make efforts to see each others.

    I admire and appreciate your great efforts to learn and acquire new skills/hobbies even at this age! You have certainly achieved quite a high level of writing skill, though there is still room for improvement. I cannot imagine how I could learn to acquire the same level of skills and hobbies as you! Most importantly, at our age and career, we must stay healthy and enjoy every precious moment we have, be it with our family or friends. Just enjoy doing what you like!

    James Er
    Singapore

    ReplyDelete
  9. Francis KH Lim wrote a heart felt mail as comment:

    Hi Alan,

    Thank you for your letter that help us to recollect our past in our early days
    in SAS. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Class of '67 for
    accepting me as part of the group although I left you all in Form Three to
    continue my study in St. Andrew's Continuation School along Jalan Salleh.


    SAS played a big part in my life in my student's years as I started off from Primary
    and continued into Secondary. I was also in the Scout's movement and the year
    I entered Form One, that was the same year that SAS accepted the students from
    Chinese Schools into Remove Class. Like many of us, I also tasted Brother Robert's
    wrath and being canned a number of time. During our Old Boys' get-together in
    PJ Hilton, he remembered me a mischievous kind. Whatever, I thank God that
    it was for our good that he disciplined us.


    In my student's years (between Std. 6 to Form 3), I was very rebellious and created
    many problems to my parents and teachers. By God's grace, He redirected my life
    and brought me into a company of good Christian friends. Most of these friends were
    from High School. Like our bunch of old school mates, we reconnected a few years
    back and since then, we had three get-together reunions. The first one was held in
    Muar followed by Kuala Trengganu/Kenya Lake/Pulau Redang. This year we went to
    Kota Kinabalu and held it in Mesilau Natural Resort. We plan to meet once every two years and the next reunion will be back to Muar in 2013.


    I value friends very much and treasure every opportunity to meet. Edmund did a good
    job in previous years but of late, he has given up on big gatherings except for smaller
    group when we have visitors from overseas.


    Your letter has inspired me to have a Christmas' Open House for our old classmates
    and would like to invite you or Edmund to co-ordinate this gathering. I would take care
    of the food catering and if any outstation friends are attending, I can easily house
    at least four of them.


    I will be away during the Christmas period attending a wedding and can I suggest Friday,
    30th December. And since this is a season of giving, maybe we can bring a present
    each for gift exchange.


    Please let me know your thought.


    May I take this opportunity of wishing you and your family a Blessed Christmas.


    Blessings,


    Francis Lim Kah Hon




    year 2013, we will meet.

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  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  11. Hi Alan,
    It was a good nostalgic reading. Brought back many good and bad memories! However please correct the following names :-
    It is Jesse van den Driesen and Seah Kwang How.
    Regards,
    Gerard D'Cruz (1968)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Gerard, Thank you for taking an interest in the article I post at my blog. Yes, those nostalgic years will always remain in our mind for a long time, some 40 over years has since flown by. Your name 'Gerard' rings a bell in me as I am certain I have heard or read the name during my stint at SAS. However I could not recollect your facial look during that time. Thanks very much for correcting the wrongly spelt names of the two respectable teachers. Regards, have many good years ahead ! Alan Kok

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  12. Would it be alright for me to use some of your pictures on my site - lasalleheritagemy.blogspot.com
    It serves to document the contributions of la sallian brothers in Malaysia. So many of them have landed on our shores, contributed their efforts and energy, touching lives and then they fade away. Without much fanfare, monetary rewards or recognition.

    ReplyDelete