School Days #1

I received an email today from an old friend and it made me want to write about my school days. 

I don’t know about now but in those days in order to get accepted into the boarding school that I (eventually) went into, you need to sit for a 5-paper examination. 3 of the papers were the combination of various subjects that you learn in primary  school, one was on problem-solving (modelled a lot after the Mensa IQ test) and another was a writing test to see your mastery of both BM and English.

My 2-day exam took place in Sek Men Gunung Rapat in Ipoh. There were hundreds of other kids taking the exams on those 2 days. After the second day, we stopped at the mamak restaurant in Batu Gajah for roti canai and teh tarik. My father asked me, how did you do in the exams? I said it was ok. Then he asked me to give a percentage. I thought about it and said 80%. Oh, he said, that means we would have to do up a budget for your boarding school expenses.

So we went home and I wrote on a piece of paper the things that I would need to buy, and worked out how much monthly allowance that I should get. It came up to about RM70 for books and stationeries;  RM200 for bed sheets, pail, toiletteries, detergent etc; and RM30 monthly allowance. For the next 5 years, from 1987-1991, I existed solely on that RM30 a month. It was tight, but it was enough to buy the bare necessities, to quote The Jungle Book. Throughout the entire time I did not ask for additional money to buy any extra review books except for those in the mandatory list given to us at the start of each semester.

As a result, I relied heavily on the library, or Pusat Sumber Pembelajaran (PSP), and read almost everything I could get my hands on. I think I was also the first, if not the only person, who utilized the computer assisted learning programme (I have never seen anyone else using it).  If I need to, I would borrow  review books from friends and worked out a personal schedule which I pasted on my desk, so that I could borrow those books on the days when they were not using them. So, when everyone was studying for Geography, I would be studying for Commerce; when they were cramming Physics, I would be doing Chemistry. One of the boys in school actually noticed this peculiar habit of mine after repeatedly catching me having different notes than everyone else.  Long after we have left school, he asked me about it. Was there a method? he asked. I told him, no, it was just out of necessity.  I think til today he could not figure out what I meant.

On the first day of boarding school, my father drove me to Penang, but opted to wait by the car while I queued to complete the registration. While I was in line, I chatted with the parent who was standing behind me. Her daughter glared at me resentfully. She told me later, when we became friends, that she thought I was a stuck-up little miss know-it-all.  Tunjuk pandai (show off), she said. What she didn’t know is that when I was 6 years old, my father did the same thing. He gave me my birth certificate and school fees, and then promptly left me in the sea of wailing children and stressed out parents to register myself on the first day of school. I was not even a full 6-year old yet, I am a November baby so I has just turned 5 two months earlier when he did that (I was enrolled in school a year earlier than everyone else, so I repeated standard one twice. Instead of sending me to kindegarten, my father somehow managed to get the school to accept me at 6.) So, at 13 (or 12, if you want to be precise about it), doing things on my own was not a foreign concept and I didn’t see anything odd about it. But I know how strange that must have been to the other 13-year olds.

I wore a two-piece color co-ordinated green blouse and skirt. My wardrobe consisted of 4 uniforms: blue baju kurung, brown baju kurung, blue shirt + skirt + tie and brown shirt + skirt + tie; a few baju kurung for daily wear, an assortment of shirt and shorts to wear at the dormitory, sports attire, undies, 3 tudungs that were color co-ordinated to match my uniforms and a couple of dresses for any casual outings and the quitenssential kain batik. It struck me as odd when the girls at the dormitory looked at me like I was mad when I walked around in my t-shirt and shorts. I found out a few days later, via an earful of lecture from concerned seniors who were bent on setting me on the right path, that such attire was lewd and inappropriate. I was from a place called Changkat Tin, a dot in the middle of nowhere in Perak and here I was in metropolitan Penang and they had hang ups when they see me  in a t-shirt and shorts? 

I can’t recall what kind of person I was in school. I relay the stories above because it reminds me of how similar the 13-year old Ijah is to the 35-year old one. What I mean is, I have always lived this way, like in the present, that I don’t remember any differences between the Ijah then and the Ijah now. All these emails from old friends seem to corroborate that suspicion. I must have been a pain in the behind then. 

I have not been back to the school since 1992 when I popped by to collect my SPM results. Til today I still don’t have the urge to do so. I have not attended a single reunion. I have not dropped by for a casual visit. I have been to Penang many times. Not even once I feel compelled to visit the alma mater. The truth is, while there are many stories that I remember and can write about, school was not a fun experience for me. The structured learning system, the mindless copying of notes, the mandatory prep classes, the people – I miss none of those. But that’s a story for another sleepless night. 

Below are some pictures, courtesy of frossonice.

 

The foyer where the registration took place

The foyer where the registration took place

 

The Grand Hall. I was told a picture of me hang in its hallowed walls. What? And more importantly, WHY?

The Grand Hall. I was told a picture of me hang in its hallowed walls. What? And more importantly, WHY?

 

The road leading up to the foyer. Once we had to line up along this road and waved flags to welcome the (then) Minister of Education who is now the President of a certain political coalition.

The road leading up to the foyer. Once we had to line up along this road and wave flags to welcome the (then) Minister of Education who is now the President of a certain political coalition.

 

The hockey field. Yes, this was where I broke my wrist but it was at the other end of the goal post, not at this end.

The hockey field. I broke my wrist at the other end of the goal post, not at this end.

 

THE broken wrist.

THE broken wrist.

 

The stage inside the Grand Hall. I did a whole bunch of stuff here. Once I stomped on it and screamed curses at a boy. On stage. Yes. Everything I do must be dramatic and on a grand scale, even back then.

The stage inside the Grand Hall. I did a whole bunch of stuff here. Once I stomped on it and screamed curses at a boy. On stage. Yes. Everything I do must be dramatic and on a grand scale, even back then.

The corridor leading up to the classroom areas. These are called the SS room, SS stood for social science. So, all our social science subjects took place here. We had a floating classroom systems, so you didn't have a fixed desk or room. It changed with every single subject.

The corridor leading up to the classroom areas. These are called the SS rooms, SS stood for social science. So, all our social science subjects took place there. We had a floating classroom system, so we didn't have a fixed desk or room. It changed with every single subject.

 

The Lecture Hall. This was also where I found out during orientation week that I had a stalker. My first ever. It has shaped the story of my life since.

The Lecture Hall. This was also where I found out during orientation week that I had a stalker. My first ever. It has shaped the story of my (love) life since.

 

The Math Department. You see that notice board? When I was 14, there was this particulat teacher who liked to put up puzzles there. Anyone was welcomed to solve it. I solved a few but my name never appeared in the list of people who cracked them. I think the teacher didn't think I did it and it was just a prank.

The Math Department. You see that notice board? When I was 14, there was this particular teacher who liked to put up puzzles there. Anyone was welcomed to solve them and when you did, your name would go up beside it. I solved a few, in fact I solved some before everyone else, but my name never appeared. I suspect the teacher thought it was just a prank. The same happened during Science week. Though I solved the rocket puzzle in front of the exhibitors, they still thought I was pranking them. As a result, I consistently downgraded myself to ensure that I remained in the middle of the pack, something that I regret and still angry about (at myself) til this day. The few times I broke out, furore ensued. One teacher even called me to see her after I scored an improbable 100 in what was (then) considered a tough paper and said "I heard you became a genius now,", insinuating that I cheated. Do you see now why I despise my time in boarding school?

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