THE FIRST YEAR IN ACS IPOH
1953 was an auspicious year for the British Empire when Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne of England. It was also a memorable year for me as I went to school for the first time, at ACS Ipoh as a Std I pupil at the tender age of 6. I was admitted to ACS as a son of an old boy and my mother showed Mr Kesselring with pride a photo of my father in the class of ‘32.
Like most children, I was anxious and apprehensive about being away from home for the first time. A few days later, after having made some friends, I began to like going to school.
Ms Ling was my class teacher in Std I B and she always wore “samfoo”, a typical Chinese attire of dress and pants. Mrs Tong was the supervisor of the Primary School. There were 4 classrooms in the old 2 storey wooden building, with Std IA upstairs on the south side and Std 1B downstairs on the north side. Mrs Chin, Chin Yin Keong’s mother, was the class teacher of Std IA and her car, a Ford Consul, bore the number plate AA 5522.
My recollection of the surroundings is still vivid in my mind. In front of the wooden building was a slip dip, the top part of the structure was located on the field with the end of the slip at roadside level of the building. In those days, there was no school uniform and a black patch on the pants did not look so bad when you wore dark coloured shorts whilst doing the slip dip.
At the back of the building was the assembly area for primary school pupils. On its southern side was the monkey bar. A great game was played each time when 2 boys move from the opposite ends and meet at the centre; whilst dangling, one attempts to pull the other down by using legs as a pincer. Horley Hall was on the northern side of the building and it was located at the lower padang, which is essentially a football field bordered by the railway line and the gymnasium. The primary classrooms were sited next to Horley Hall.
The tuckshop located nearby was an open eating place with rows of benches and tables. At the back of the tuckshop hung the “school bell”, a meter long piece of steel which once served as part of the railway line. At the appointed time, the Indian gardener would sound the bell by beating it with another piece of metal (taken from steel rod used for making concrete columns). It sounded like “tong, tong…” and it announced the recess for the primary school at 10:30 am.
At the tuckshop I remember Mrs Ng Ah Fook selling noodles and soft drinks. My next favourite stall was the kajang puteh sold by an Indian. You can buy his kachang for anji kasi (5c) or pate kasi (10c) and the beans were handed to you in a cone made from newspaper.
Before you can buy anything, money had to be exchanged for coupons. These were 1 inch diameter aluminium disks stamped with denominations of 5c, 10c or 20c. All purchases in the tuckshop used coupons. There were, however, a few of the young boys who had “amahs” attending to them at lunch and they ate home cooked food.
Mrs Tong’s office was in a little alcove under the staircase in the new building. I remembered being put there in her office after having visited the optometrist (our eyes were dilated) or the dentist (opposite Kidd Road bus station). Mrs Tong was a gentle lady and she lived in Cowan Street. She was always clad in cheongsam.
In my first year, I was driven to school in a “pirate” taxi which sat about 8 or 9 of us little kids. The Morris Minor had a wooden plank across the back seat saddled on two wheel hubs. It cost my parents about 3 or 4 dollars per month.
During the coronation of QE II, the school was filled with festive air. In my classroom, the ceiling was criss-crossed with strings of paper Union Jacks. We were taught to sing the British anthem “God Save The Queen”.
I remembered one arithmetic book we had that was printed in a funny manner. Half the book was printed on the right side up and the other half was printed up-side down. Ms Ling taught us to add and subtract using a large wooden frame which housed cotton thread wooden bobbins as counters – 10 bobbins per row and a total of 10 rows.
I had 2 notables as classmates: Yee Voon Chee (Prof of Medicine, Singapore) and Lim Yit Ting (Engineer, NZ). Voon Chee and I came joint second in class and we were amongst the top 10 throughout Std I. For our achievement, we each received a book prize.
At the end of Std I, about 10 of us from the A and B classes were given double promotion to Std III D, the class teacher was Mr Ng York Hing. Our class room was located in Horley Hall just under the dormitory. From where we sat in that classroom the cemetery across the railway line was clearly visible. The trees there appear to change colour and we frightened ourselves by talking about it and by imagining eerie things.
Although privileged to be elevated to Std III at the tender age of 7, we now had for company boys who were averaging 2 years older, taller and physically stronger. It was a tough environment to survive but I learned to fight well and to defend myself. I survived. To this day, I continue to doubt the wisdom of a double promotion where age difference is significant. I remained in ACS and spent the next 9-10 years growing up with my classmates. Those were some of the happier days of my life, carefree and with neither stress nor worry.
It is sad to see the old wooden building demolished to make way for a new building. As I am in my 60s, most of my primary school teachers would be in their 80s or may have passed on. I still have fond memories of them. In particular, the voices of Ms Ling and Mrs Grace Tong still echo in my ears. I do miss them in many ways.
In the 2 photographs taken in 1954 Std III D, I remember some of my classmates who were double promoted, namely, Wong Peng Yan, Chin Yin Keong, Vijian, Yee Voon Chee, Oh Hock Phing (monitor aka AwBurn) Lam Kok Wah, Chin Kim Chen, Leong Hoi Siew, Tripti Kumar and Chin Lee Tai. (Both photographs are found below – Editor)
Fond memories of Mrs Grace Tong (L2) and Ms Ling Siok Ting (L4)
Pun Swee Leong (Cohort: 1962 Form 5 Science B)
Dr Anthony Pun OAM, JP, currently President, Chinese Community Council of Australia first arrived in Sydney in 1964. He obtained a PhD in Molecular Biology from the University of New South Wales. Starting his carrier with St Vincent Hospital he left as Chief Medical Scientist, Haematology. Anthony switched to an administrative law career in 1994 and served 8 years in tribunals dealing mainly with immigration and equal opportunities. He also works as a financial consultant. It is, however, in the area of community service that has brought him distinction, in particular for service contribution to the Australian Chinese community. Distinguished service that has been recognized through a number of awards, namely the NSW Premier’s Awards for Community Service (1991 and 1996) and the Medal Of The Order of Australia (1997). In 2010, he received another NSW Premier’s award “the Jack Wong Sue Award for services beyond the Chinese community in the field of anti-racism and multiculturalism”. He has also been actively involved in helping to promote China-Australia relations for over 20 years; visiting China frequently to help promote trade and to lecture. Such efforts were recognized by the Shanghai City Government who appointed him the Overseas Director of Australia for the Shanghai International Culture Association. Anthony is also adviser to, and committee member of, a number of local cultural and social organizations. Early in January, 2011, he was appointed the Grenfell’s Australia Day Ambassador.