Yin Ee Kiong

Will The Real ACS Please Stand Up?

There was a time when one could tell an ACS boy from a Michaelian or Andersonian a mile off, whether one can these days I am not sure. The school has been homogenised and neutered like so many others to fit a common mould that the powers-that-be had decreed (especially for mission schools). The school badge today is not the school badge we wore with pride and “Anglo Chinese School” appears only in parenthesis like an afterthought.

For this we have the wankers to thank for not putting up a fight for their school. By this I mean the School Board, the Church and those Old Boys who held political office.

The above begs the question whether new old salts have as much pride or allegiance to the school as the old old salts. Do we share the same ethos and culture? Does the same blue and gold course through all our veins?

But what is the culture of ACS?

I am sure every old salt has his version of what makes a true blue ACS boy. And this probably varies with different generation.

I can only give mine:

“Multatuli”.

Rings a bell? Probably not unless you paid close attention in Tye Soh Sim’s history class. Multatuli was the pseudonym used by a Dutch official working in the then Dutch East Indies (in newspapers and in his novel “Max Havelaar”) to attack the Dutch Colonial Government and business establishment for their ill treatment  and exploitation of the natives in the colony in the early C19th. Knowing about Multatuli would not get you more marks as it never came up in any exam questions. It was one of those ‘by the way’ throwaway line that Miss Tye cast out every now and then. But if one were to read between the lines one would get the unspoken message Miss Tye was subtly passing on – “we have to fight for the underdogs.” The underlying subtext being “it’s alright to be anti establishment”. In her own way she encouraged independent thinking. She was accepting of contrarians and those who dared challenge the established order. Where some teachers saw rebellious students as misfits she saw them as people who dared to be different and who dared challenge the orthodoxy of the time.

Independent thinking and the courage to challenge the established order if we think we are right, is then one trademark of ACS boys (and girls). Does not part of the school song go  “ACS, ACS to do the right we’re not afraid.”

In my not so illustrious career in ACS I have never known or heard of anyone being sent to ‘Low Mow’ for punishment by Miss Tye. Her tongue lashing was worse than anything Moreira’s  rotan could inflict. On the other hand I have seen her defend her class against other less sympathetic teachers.

Another teacher who is etched in the minds of many students of that era (late fifties early sixties) is Low Kum Wai aka the Mad Professor.

He would come to school in his open top British Racing Green MG; hair dishevelled, horn rimmed glasses skewed; his standard attire would be white shirt and trousers patched many times over. His clothes always looked slept in.

Everyone looked forward to Mr Low’s daily dose of wit and wisdom disguised as science lessons. To the Clever Dicks’ ‘show-off’ questions his standard response would be “That’s a very good question . . . but I am afraid I don’t know the answer.” Or to someone who has done well he would say “ . . . don’t let the centre of gravity shift from your chest to your head.” He knew how to put these guys down a peg or three. And to those who asked questions which were seemingly stupid and which elicited guffaws from the Clever Dicks he would stop their laughter by seriously answering the question. He knew how to encourage the less academic among us and not make them look silly. And when angry he would puff his cheeks like a blow fish and ask you if you have ever seen stars in the daytime. But I have never known him to slap anyone or even physically punish anyone, his putdowns were enough.

And what did I take from Mr Low Kum Wai? That clothes do not a man make. That one need not be a slave to fashion or bow down to the establishment in how one dresses or behaves. All that is superficial stuff. He was after the real thing – the substance without the frills.

His whole being shouted out “Do Not Be Afraid To Be Yourself!” And that it’s okay to be eccentric.

(Mr Low was transferred to Raub as principal of a school there – obviously being eccentric did not hurt his career).

I can go on and on about the many colourful characters who made up the ACS faculty at that time . . . Mr Charlie “why are we waiting” Quah Guan Teik, Mr “Mad Dog” Durai , Miss “Big Mangoes” Lee, “Rocky” Yee Sze Onn, Floyd “Ellow Fever” Barnaby, James “Obese” Appaduray, “Botak” Lam Tuck Wah (baldness was not in fashion then), “Nose shit eater” Oh Yeoh Kok Cheong, “Low Mow” Moreira, Ng Ah Fook the tuckshop czar and football master.

In 13 years from primary one to upper six I have seen them all.

Hand to heart I don’t bear any grudge against them nothwithstanding the zillions of canings. A few I will always remember fondly. Teaching was more a vocation then and teachers had their wards’ welfare uppermost in their mind. I guess different teachers touch each of us in different ways. The point is that at that time ACS had its own unique character (like St Michaels or Anderson) because many teachers were old boys and principals were once old boys who became teachers in the school and so there is continuity and a tradition is established.

How diminished is this tradition today I will not venture to guess.

But I don’t really think that an ‘outsider’ principal can understand what it really means to be ACS.

If you are true blue ACS you will know what “see you behind the gymn” means.

The empty ground behind the gymn up to the railway line is where boys settled their differences. You don’t gripe or whine or stab someone behind his back. You settle it like gentlemen at ‘ten paces’ with your second in your corner . . . just like in the movies. Then you walk away the slate wiped clean until the next time.

This is ACS tradition! Stand up for yourself, your beliefs and face the enemy squarely not weasel and squirm and compromise what cannot be compromised.

Unfortunately I must say, if the few political ‘leaders’ we had from our school is anything to go by this tradition is lost. I often think they must be from St Michael’s or Anderson . . . no apologies for taking a dig at them. That is another tradition, you never ‘give chance’ to a Michaelian or Andersonian. Unfortunately one does not see this fierce but friendly rivalry between the schools any more. The government has done well in homogenising and neutering the schools.

That brings me back to where I started . . . do we share the same culture, ethos, traditions? What is the common thread that binds the different generations of old salts? Does the same blue and gold course through all our veins?

I must commend the ‘Gang of Four’ for their brave attempt to revive the moribund ACS OBA. And to those whingers it’s either put up or shut up. Let’s hear from you.

Yin Ee Kiong

(Cohort: 1964 Form 6 Upper Arts)

Notes on the writer:

Yin was born and bred in Ipoh but presently lives in Indonesia. He was in ACS from 1953 to 1964.

Activist, writer and general malcontent, he has authored two books: “Postcards from a Foreign Country” and “Tin Man” and also co-edited “Out of the Tempurung” with Fong Chin Wei.

He wrote for the ‘Ipoh Watch’ Column in the Sun and also was a regular contributor to the Shenzhen Daily, China.

Yin was the founding President of the NGO – Ipoh City Watch and founding life member of The Malaysian Karst Society.

Email: smalllonjo@gmail.com

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3 Responses to Yin Ee Kiong

  1. Hi Yin, such a brilliant write up on the true spirit of ACS of an era long gone (before I was even born, actually). I said “long gone” because by the time I got there in the early 1980s, I could not see this spirit anymore in the boys and girls of my generation. We are no longer that brave like those before us.

    “Do not be afraid to be yourself” or “Dare to be different” gave way to expectations to tow the line or else one risk being label as misfits or rebels.

    I guess we should not just pinpoint ACS alone. Other schools are equally victimised. Homogenised and neutered. Today, schools are busy standing up for the “One this and One that” slogans. How can we expect students to stand with their heads high under the present climate?

  2. Dr Anthony (Swee Leong) Pun says:

    I am sure you are the Yin Ee Kiong I went to school with and had an aka “Bobby Yin”.One of the songs we used to sing was “Bobby Shaftoe went to sea” and I had tie this song with the memory of you. You were bright kid in those days and more like a teacher’s pet, but you did have my respect of your academic performance at school and a gentleman. You went to the Art stream whilst I stayed n the Science stream.
    Like many baby boomers, we were born in a different era where affluent parents are not the norm. Neither were “English” educated parents. Most ACS boys were put there by their parents who believed that an English education can make a better living under the rule of the British and this went against the grain of Chinese culture and tradition.
    Were the cultural moulding of ACS students a by product of the times characterized by post WWII? The return of British rule created a new era for baby boomers to absorbe as much education, and venture forward to make a living so different from the parents who mostly were immigrants from China. One could say that part of the British school system was grafted into ACS Ipoh, despite being a de facto “American” missionary school. Albeit much Anglo influence, ACS culutre and tradition became a new mixture of 2 cultures, the Chinese and the Anglos, with the advance of industry, commerce & language of the Anglos and the patience and determination of the Chinese,. Under the wonderful opportunities provided by post war boom, ACS floourished as a successful fininishing school for boys to venture into the adulthood and opportunity to explore the world, which was very much “pink” (British Empire) The religious input by the Methodist Church played an important role in provided a strong moral fiber for the students to enter the brave new world.

    Were the Michaeleans or Andersonians very much different than us? I think not however, there were certain ingredients in ACS that gave rise to it uniqueness. This blended characteristics came from the interaction between the teachers and the students, and when old boys became teaches, it re-enforced the bonding of ACS boys to their school. I hesitate to judge that ACS was better than our 2 rivals, but it has a distinctive flavour that would always remain in our hearts. It is only natural to be bias under the circumstances.

    The next and subsequent generation went to school under different circumstances and hence we observed the differences. Whether we old baby boomers like it or not, better or not, it will not be the same. Even in western countries, the University students made of the baby boomers then have observed the changes in the political activities of the later generation students.

    I suppose it is the world we live in and like an old Chinese saying “The back waves will push the front waves”.

    Despite the philosophy, we old timers are entitled to believe that our era was the best.

  3. L T Fok says:

    Dear Yin Ee Kiong
    We were classmates at Pre University. I remember your name quite well as my late mother was related to some of your long-lost cousins. As I recall, the Yins are pretty talented.

    I must say you write very well, thanks to the ACS Ipoh teachers who had taught us to think and some like yourself, to write. If you ever come to Singapore, drop me a line. A few of the former ACS Ipoh girls and myself do meet up more often than you would expect and we always make sure that visiting old classmates, schoolmates and former teachers from Ipoh are given a VIP welcome.

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