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Monday, November 18, 2013

A remembered fragrance








A remembered fragrance    

                         By Wan Chwee Seng

Its fragrance reached us, long before he set foot in the house. Maybe, it was the night breeze that carried the fragrance from the playing field in front of the pre-war government house  to the sitting room where eight of us, kids, sat reading or playing on the hard wooden floorboards, while mother kept a watchful eye on us.


A picture of the playing field in front of the house in 2008






My brother and I  at our childhood home in Kuala Pilah. ( Photo: 30tn Dec. 2008 ) 



As soon as we heard the familiar cough and the sound of the soft footfalls on the concrete steps, one of us would rush to unlatch the door.  And the sight of our father, baba, standing  in the dim light like a huntsman just back from a hunt, filled us with joy and gratitude. But, instead of a spear and a game in his hands, baba held a billiard cue stick in one hand, while hooked to a finger of the other hand was a creamy white package.



Baba standing in the dim light


 While mother helped to carry the package, we all rushed for a seat at the two benches that were placed at each side of a long wooden table.
We waited in anticipation as mother’s deft fingers untied the dried reed string that secured the upeh  ( arecanut leaf sheath ).




An arecanut tree





Upeh ( arecanut leaf sheath )


As soon as she lifted a flap of the upeh, the tantalising aroma of fried kuih teow ( later we learned it was called sar hor fun ) wafted out from the upeh and assailed our nostrils. Ten pairs of chopsticks were soon ploughing through the flat noodles and picking at the choicest ingredients that suited our taste buds. Above the clicks of chopsticks, we listened in silence, as baba informed mother about the latest local news and his evening at the Ulu Muar Club. The Club was located just across the playing field in front our house and during most weekends baba would join his friends from the Residential Area, Kuala Pilah for a game of billiard and enjoy their usual stengah ( a mixed drink from half measure of whiskey and soda water, served over ice) at the club.

 Sometimes, through the tranquil night air we would hear baba's spontaneous laughter and, knowing he was safe and well, a look of relief would light up mother's anxious face.

Close to mid-night, the crunch of unsteady steps and incoherent voices would drift from the side lane of the house to the sitting room, as the few stragglers from the club made their way home. 
We would pause from our work or play to listen to baba's footsteps and cough. Then as the other footsteps receded into the distance and we did not hear the familiar sound, we tried to reason the worry away, telling ourselves that he was heading to town to 'tapau' some food for us. We would picture him plodding alone along the lonely stretch of road lit only by the glow of chequered lights from the row of government quarters, as he made his way to his favourite coffee shop in Kuala Pilah town.  



Government houses in the Residential Area, Kuala Pilah ( Photo: 2008 )

We knew baba would not come home from the club without bringing back some kind of takeaways: fried noodles, fried mee hoon and others that have since slipped my mind. But somehow, the sar hor fun has remained vivid in my mind. I often wonder what gave the sar hor fun its unique taste and fragrance. Was it the preparation: noodles fried in a sizzling wok over flaming wood fire; the ingredients;  the upeh wrapper; or perhaps just the imagination of a hungry kid?  

Then one morning at a family gathering at our ancestral home in  Melaka,  my siblings and I were reminiscing about our childhood days in Kuala Pilah in the 1950s  when one of my sisters said,

“Do you remember the late night when baba would come home from the club with fried ' kuih teow' ?"

"We could smell it from a distance."

"I have not come across any that smell and taste that good," she added. 

As a murmur of assent ran round the room, all lingering doubts about the fragrance of the sar hor fun was put to rest.I knew then it was not the imagination of a hungry kid. 

  

  


My siblings and I at our ancestral home in Melaka


 Today, whenever I think of the ‘kuih teow’ of my childhood days,  my nose still tingles with  its remembered fragrance_  a fragrance that evokes the memories of  caring and loving parents and the joy of sharing meals with loved ones.

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

St. David's High School, Melaka: A teacher's recollection







St. David’s High School, Melaka: A teacher’s 
recollections

By Wan Chwee Seng






As the car glides to a halt at the gentle gradient, I peer through the car’s windscreen at the building to my right.


Pupils milling about in the canteen



Above a locked school gates, the words: ‘Sekolah Menengah Tinggi St. David’ are prominently displayed on  a  walkway awning that leads to a canteen where boys and girls can be seen milling about in happy confusion.

We are here, my wife and I, to look at the school where I used to teach in the mid-1960s. The school looks different_ nostalgically different. Back then, it was a boys’ school and was known as St. David’s High School, as English was then the medium of instruction.


The half-obscured building


Behind the canteen, half-obscured by a thick foliage of Golden Shower trees and a row of parked cars, I can make out a brick building with russet roofs and glass louvre windows.


Remove Class


 As I look at the building, which used to house three Remove Classes,ten years of teaching in the old building flashes before my eyes.  It was then a single storey, semi-brick building with wire mesh for windows and the classrooms were partitioned off with plain soft-boards. Such an inconsequential item as a soft-board would have slipped clean from my memory, had it not been for an incident in the classroom.

One morning we were in the midst of an English lesson, when the class was startled into silence by a loud crash from the back of the classroom. All eyes gravitated toward the direction of the sound and were greeted by a clenched fist that protruded from a freshly- punched hole in the soft-board. I strode gingerly to the back of the class and waited expectantly. A few minutes later, a clenched fist ripped through another hole. I caught hold of the wrist and  sent the class monitor to identify the owner of the hand. The culprit was identified and marched off to the principal’s office. I found out the class teacher had gone to the office for some official duty and the culprit had taken the opportunity to vent his frustration on the soft-board or was trying to show off his karate skill.

Barring the morning’s incident, the pupils were generally well- behaved and hard- working.  All the pupils in the Remove Classes were from the non-English primary schools with the majority coming from SRJK ( C) Ping Ming and SRJK ( C) Keh Seng  while the rest were from SRJK (C ) Bukit Beruang,   Durian Tunggal, and Batang Melaka and we also had a few pupils from   Sekolah Rendah Kebangsaan.


With the Remove Class students


 The pupils English Language proficiency level varied from school to school with pupils from the urban schools, generally, having a better grasp of the language than those from the rural schools.  While some of the new pupils could converse reasonably well in English, there were many whose English was limited to “Good morning, sir!” or “May I go to the toilet?”

Loud chorus of voices would soon reverberate through the classrooms as the new pupils were put through the various language drills or participated in choral reading.

 After a year of intensive course with the bulk of the time allocated to the teaching of English most of the pupils had acquired sufficient English to enable them to continue their study in Form One.


Bahasa Malaysia; Art and Craft

I remember, besides teaching English in the Remove Class, I had to teach Bahasa Malayia in the lower forms, and Art and Craft in the upper forms. For both English and Bahasa Malaysia, other than providing grammar and comprehension exercises, the language teachers had to assign at least one composition per month and hence the  teachers’ tables were usually stacked high with the various exercise books. I would often eye dejectedly at the pile of composition books as marking the compositions and karangan not only required deciphering some of the pupil's  handwriting , but when compelled to write a composition, the pupils kindly obliged by filling the pages with ' cryptic messages’ for us to unravel.

After hours of conducting language drills and choral reading, until the voice was hoarse and dry, the Art lesson provided a welcome change and relief. The pupils too, after being confined  to their seats, relished the freedom of being able stand up and move  around the room.



With some of my students in the Upper Forms




With the school prefects


 I enjoyed going from table to table to see that the pupils were able to apply the concepts they had learned and also provide individual’s advice and assistance. Sometimes, I would take the pupils to the nearby village at Paya Ikan for outdoor sketches or paintings. Then there were weekends when we would climb the nearby hill at Taman Sentosa and scour the area for burnt-out roots to be used as material for wood sculpture.



 Open Day:Explaining the art of sculpting a burnt-out root to a distinguished guest



Principal and teachers

The car hums its way up the slope and we stop briefly at the main entrance to take a snapshot of the school from the main entrance.




The school main entrance



 I remember the school’s office was located just after the main entrance and next to it was the principal’s office.

The teachers would usually use the side gates and park their cars under the trees beside the canteen, but for the late comers they were forced to park their cars on the road shoulder and use the main entrance, as the side gates would be locked.

The sight of the main entrance, reminds me of an incident that an ex-colleague, Joe (not his real name ) related to me. One morning Joe happened to be late and as he walked through the main entrance, he saw the principal waiting on the steps in front of his office. As he walked past him, the principal slowly raised his hand, stared at his watch and without uttering a word, strode into his office. The silence spoke louder than words.

Then one morning Joe arrived rather early and decided to wait in front of the principal’s office. Coincidentally, the principal who lived a stone’s throw away from the school was late that morning. When he saw the principal walking through the gates, he waited until he was within hearing distance, then he slowly lifted his hand and peered closely at his watch. As he turned and headed towards the staff room,  he noticed the smile that flitted at the corner of the lips.

Although the school was well known for its discipline system, the spontaneous laughter that emanated from the staff room was clear testimony that it was not all work in the school. Pockets of conversations could often be heard from the various tables: the Industrial Arts teachers (Mah, Michael, Lee, Gan and others ) talking and discussing their projects; the lady teachers ( Nellie, Mrs. Oh, Nancy,  Gan, Magdalene, Wee Neo and others ) talking in low whispers; the other subject teachers ( Peter,John, Chandran, Alex and others) filling the room with their more animated conversations. 

Besides our daily teaching routine, we had to take charge of at least one co-curricular activity and there were always other school events such as Sports Day, Annual Concert, Open Day and fund-raising activities like Walkathon and Fun Fair that kept us occupied.


School Sports Day (Lto R) Mr,.Jesudasan, the writer, Mr. Oh Kim Hin




Open Day: The teachers lining up to welcome our guest of honour, Tun Tan Siew Sin  


When I reflect on my teaching days in the school, my fondest memories are  the few precious moments that we shared after school hours:

 

_working with my colleagues and students until mid-night to finish a project for a Fun Fair or a backdrop for the school concert

- playing tennis with Ng, Peter, Michael, Neelakandan, Lee and others at the tennis court behind the Ramsay Pavilion. A game that began when the sun was still high in the afternoon sky and only ended when the balls became a blur in the gathering darkness.

_the late night game of scrabble with David and John which sometimes extended into the wee hour of the morning


Today, more than thirty years on, although I have lost contact with most of my colleagues, I will always remember and cherish the friendship and the happy moments we shared together.

SDHS Staff Photos 1960s / 1970s






From Left to Right:
Sitting: Mrs. Nancy Dossan, Mrs. Nellie Khoo, Ms. Magdalene Lim, Mrs. Oh, Mr. P. V. Jacob ( principal)
Mr. David Gunaratnam ( V. P.), Ms. Annie Tan, (             ), Mrs. Chong
Middle Row: Mr. Chandran, Mr. Ong, Mr. Patrick Chen, Mr. Alex Ho, Mr. Jesudasan, Mr. Neelakandan,
Mr. Sakhtianathan, Mr. Ang Chui Beng, Mr. Oh Kim Hin, En. Osman Ahmad
Back Row: Mr. Wan Chwee Seng, Mr. Lai Yoon Sen, Mr. Lee Kam Whye, Mr. Michael Rodrigues, Mr. Chua Ah Lek.
En. Aziz





Photo courtesy of Jee Kim Joon



The below video ( courtesy of Li Chowan Hock and Chong Song Choi) is certain to evoke nostalgic memories  for former teachers and students of St. David's High School, Melaka.









 







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Thursday, October 17, 2013

A youngster's lifeline

A youngster’s lifeline






Shalina (L) and her sister, Shanita (R)



Can you imagine, right now, a world without the Internet? Gasp, you say, the horror! I know, right?

Being a “youngster” myself — as my grandparents like to say — I can understand what you mean. My everyday morning schedule is: wake up, go to school, learn, and come back home. My everyday afternoon schedule is: eat, take a bath, and use the Internet (not necessarily in that order!). So you see, it’s kind of hard to imagine a world without the Internet.
So now I’m going to list down a few of the things that make the Internet such an attraction to us “young folk”. Here we go.
Facebook is convenient (being able to use it on your iPhone, iPad, etc. etc.), user-friendly, and, well, just fun. Apart from keeping in touch with old friends, making new friends, and discovering pages of your favourite celebrities, Facebook also offers a wide variety of fun games to play, and it’s free. 

Twitter is also widely known mainly for the same reasons as Facebook. It’s a website where you can post the goings-on in your life within the limit of 140 characters. It’s a good way to keep track of what your favourite celebrities are up to, too, once you follow them.

 Blogs! Blogs are everywhere. Crazy names, normal names, wacky names; you have to try all these names if you intend to start up a blog because almost all of the names you planned to use have already been taken. Here’s where creativity hops in to get your blog a spot on the humongous 
World Wide Web. Blogs can be used for any purpose.
 Personally, my favourite thing about the Internet is the freebies. With a mere click of a button (and a downloading process… what? Nothing’s perfect), you can download free movies and free eBooks from certain websites. The only risk is, of course, viruses and such, but if you’re confident in your choice of website, go ahead. If you’re not particularly fond of downloading things, just go to 

YouTube and key in the movie you want to watch. Unfortunately, only some movies are available on YouTube as it depends on whether people recorded and uploaded it or not. Also, a word of caution: this usually counts as copyright infringement so don’t count on those movies being up there for very long (unless you’re really lucky). As for books, you can just go to my favourite website,

 Wattpad (wattpad.com). Hundreds and thousands of eBooks ONLINE for FREE. Yeah. Awesome, isn’t it?

 Finally (phew), the Internet provides an endless wealth of knowledge right at your fingertips. One of the most popular websites to get information on people, places, music, books, movies and anything else you want to know, is the famous Wikipedia. 

Anyway! That concludes my article on the fabulousness of the amazing Internet! You see, we couldn’t possibly live without it. Now, time for yours truly to get back to that video I was watching.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Taman Sentosa, Melaka: As I remember it



Taman Sentosa, Melaka: As I remember it
by C. S. Wan


 As soon as I open my eyes, the sounds assail my ears:  the   incessant drone of cars, the intermittent roar of motorcycles and the sudden, shrill scream of a siren. Above the din, the call of the adzan, from a nearby mosque, reverberates across the Taman. 


Cars and motorcycles along Lebuh Ayer Keroh

I remember, in the early 1970s, when we first moved into the Taman, all we could hear during the pre-dawn hour was the chirps of the early birds and the wail of the wind that swept from the open ground.
Back then, the highway leading to the Ayer Keroh toll had not been constructed and we had to use the narrow, dimly-lit Padang Jambu Road or the Penghulu Abbas Road from Bukit Baru.


Map of Taman Sentosa, Melaka  (1970)
 At night we could take a leisurely drive along the sinuous Padang Jambu Road without encountering a single car and we were often reminded not to stop for anyone who might flag us down along the lonely stretch of road.


Padang Jambu Road which has been widened
One night while driving home from town, the car’s headlights revealed a long, murky form making its way slowly from a hill overlooking the Taman to the other side of the road. Thinking it was a python, I pulled over to the road shoulder and was pleasantly surprised to see a mother civet with five cubs on tow. I watched enthralled at the slow-moving procession until it melted into the darkness.
The nearby hill was clad in verdant foliage, but sometimes, either by accident or design, part of the hill would be razed by fire and laid bare and hence it came to known as Bukit Gondol or Bare Hill. The hill  was not only home for the civets, but a haven for other denizens of the wild. Monitor lizards could be seen waddling languidly across the road and I even spotted tortoises and a pangolin in the Taman.
 Now, much of the hill is occupied by stark brick buildings and the wild inhabitants have been displaced from their natural habitats and forced to seek sanctuary in nearby woodlots or in human homes.



Buildings on the hill



Buildings at the foot of the hill


At the first light of dawn, I peer through the half-open window. Just beyond the garden wall, a stately tree with spreading branches and thick umbrella-like canopy, at one corner of the playing field, looms large before my eyes. Silhouetted against a hazy, but brightening sky, a tower crane and a condominium, still shrouded in green netting, rise behind a distinct line of tree tops.







In the 1970s, the present playground was just an uneven, vacant ground fringed with head-tall elephant grass. There were no tall trees to obscure our view and from the front balcony we could have an unimpeded view of the distant hills in Batu Berendam and even make out the white tombstones that stippled their slopes.




The playground in 2013


There were only about fifty double storey bungalow houses in the Taman then, as the present Taman Sentosa Dua had not been developed.


.
Road leading to Taman Sentosa Dua


 The present well- lit and paved road which leads from Taman Sentosa Dua to  Bukit Beruang Road was just a  narrow dirt track flanked by tall grass and shrubs and inaccessible to cars. 



Road leading to Bukit Beruang


  
 Before we moved into the Taman only about five houses in the Taman were occupied by the owners while most of the others were rented to army officers from the 28th Commonwealth Infantry Brigade who were based in Terendak Camp, Melaka.
When the Brigade withdrew from Malaysia in 1970s, the rented houses were put up for sale with prices ranging from RM20,000 to RM30,000. The bungalows were of standard design and their mostly bare gardens were enclosed with chain link fences which were fitted with manually operated metal gates.



A house with the original design


Today,except for a few houses with original design, most of the original buildings have been replaced by individually designed houses to suit the owner’s lifestyle.  High brick walls equipped with auto gates and some with CCTV cameras conceal well manicured lawn or wholly paved garden where children play within its confines. 




Some of the old and new houses in the Taman






























































I remember at the back of our house was a vacant land, covered with a tangled thicket of undergrowth and greenery, that stretched from the Taman's approach road to the low hills at Padang Jambu. Wild rhododendrons, noni, and kamunting grew in abundance and we could even pick the edible kamunting berries through the chain fencing. Women, their heads laden with firewood, could be seen making their way along a hard- beaten dirt track that ran from the nearby villages to Bukit Gondol. 
 We used to keep two geese at the back of the house and their raucous  honking would warn us of trespassers and  keep the snakes at bay. The geese have ceased honking a long time ago. Their loud honking have been replaced by the  honking of cars. 

In the mid 1970s when more families moved into the Taman, a few residents decided that it was time to form a Residents' Association to look after the interest and welfare of the residents. Our first meeting was held at No. C-53, which was then owned by Brig. Gen Mustapha who was also elected as the Chairman while Mr. Oh Bah Chee was elected as Secretary. Once the Association was registered, the committee began the task of improving and upgrading the existing facilities in the Taman.
The Committee got the developer to donate the vacant land in the Taman for a children playground and once the approval was given they  set about clearing the land. 

In the late 1970s, there was a spate of break-ins and attempted break-ins and the residents decided to engage  two security guards from a security firm to patrol the Taman during the night. With donations from the residents, a pondok was erected at one corner of the playground as a base for the guards. 
One night, the Chairman was passing by the pondok when he noticed it was dark and quiet. When he peered inside the pondok he found both guards were fast asleep. He quietly wheeled one of their bicycles to his house and the next morning a coy and apologetic guard appeared at the house to claim his 'missing' bicycle. Their service was terminated prematurely.

Successive committees played a significant role in enhancing the living environment of the residents.


The existing facilities were further improved:


the playground was leveled and equipped with swings, slides, see-saws, and monkey bars;












a tennis court was built at one corner of the playground, but had to be removed a few years later, as tree roots had damaged its asphalt surface;





Participating in a game at the tennis court


the pondok was given a face-lift and fitted with awnings




The pondok at one corner of the playground




the road was upgraded and road humps were placed at strategic locations;




Roadwork  in progress



Road humps with signboards


 more street lights were installed;




The well-lit road

a signboard with a map of the Taman and fitted with CCTV camera 
was erected at the entrance to the Taman.







Neighbourhood events, such as get-together for festive occasions, pot-luck party, and children's games were also organised to bring the residents closer together


Registering for games

     


Words of encouragement




"You can do it
 Taman Sentosa has seen a lot of transformation both socially and physically. Some of the original residents have moved to other states or countries while others have passed on. The children whose shouts and laughter once rang and resonated round the Taman are now grown- ups and have children of their own. Many of the original houses are now beyond recognition as they  have been converted  into  massive mansions.
 As my friends, John and Nancy, who came back from Australia to look at their former house, remarked, "We can hardly recognise our own house".  
To the new residents  I hope this article  will give an insight of how the Taman was like  in the early days, while for the old and  ex-residents of Taman Sentosa,  I hope it will help bring back many fond   memories of your stay in the Taman. 

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