The school is located in Short Street. Despite its name, this street is longer than the street where I lived. It is the street behind the building in the above photo which was taken on 9 Sep 05. The most memorable stall in Short Street for me as a primary school kid was a roadside aquarium which started me on the hobby of tropical fish rearing. The road in the foreground of the photo is Selegie Road.
When the building was constructed in the late 1950s, it was touted as the 'tallest primary school' in Singapore as it was 10-storey tall. In fact, I think it might be still holding that honour today. A glimpse of the school could be seen in one of the old trailers about Singapore's development which was shown frequently on TV around National Day each year. The school was so big (vertically) that it had 2 canteens - one on the ground floor and another on the seventh. Students had a choice of which canteen they wanted patronise. I liked the dry chilli yellow mee on the seventh floor which was selling for 10 cents a bowl.
The school had 2 huge lifts (the size of today's cargo lifts in shopping centres). The whole class of 40 primary school students together with the teacher could squeeze into one of those lifts. (Of course, in those days obesity among children was not yet a prevalent problem.) After PE (Physical Education) class, the whole class of perspiring pupils would take the same lift to the one of the upper floors of the building. No prize for guessing why we always had to hold our breaths even for the 30-second ride up.
My form teacher's name in Pr 6J (1968) was Mr Teo Keng Koon, I think. Anyone of you out there who is reading this thinks that you were in the same class with me? If so, please drop me a comment. Don't laugh, I did actually bump into one of my Pr 6 classmates, Mr Lam Chow Min in Hong Lim Food Centre 1 or 2 years ago. I couldn't recognise him but he could recognise me. I really marvel at this guy's memory - it was like an elephant's. He could even remember my full name and my trademark black plastic spectacles that I wore in Pr 6. (I had my cataract operation done on both eyes some 7 years ago and was without specs when I met him.) He updated me on what (bad things) happened to some of our classmates - one died of cancer, another died of a traffic accident and yet another broker classmate died by commiting suicide just after a financial crisis. I didn't mean to respond dispassionately but when he related the stories, they just sounded like statistics to me. Maybe it's because I have lost touch with these classmates for far too long - almost four decades now. I had wanted to ask him in jest if he knew how many of our classmates were still alive today but I stopped short in case the answer came back as 'just two'.
I could remember only one Pr 6 classmate's name, i.e. Mr Ong Eng Kiat, for one thing - he always taunted me whenever I returned from one of my numerous trips to the in-house dentist for tooth extraction. (Yes, the school was so self-contained that it even had a permanent in-house dental clinic, much to the chagrin of pupils who had poor oral hygiene like yours truly.) Every few months or so, the dental nurse would come personally to the class with a stack of appointment cards. That's when our hearts sank. I would start praying silently that my name won't be called but no matter how hard I prayed, invariably my name always seemed to be in the stack of cards that the nurse carried.
After I had met with my fate and returned to class, Eng Kiat would always torment me with 'Wah, you eat fishball again ah?' because after an extraction, the dentist would make me bite on a big piece of cotton dressing to stop the bleeding. To Eng Kiat whom I envied for having especially good teeth, the cotton wool certainly looked like a fishball. He was of much bigger build than me. If not, I would probably have knocked his good set of teeth out for saying something so hurtful. It was funny to him but certainly not to me. That's why I remembered his name till this day.
My school was located only five streets away from where I lived. (If I had walked to school, I would have to cross Queen St, Waterloo St, Bencoolen St and Prinsep St to arrive at Short St. It would have taken only about 15 minutes at most.) My mother found out that our Malay neighbour drove his son to the same school everyday. So for a low monthly token fee of $5, my mother requested him to fetch me to and from school as well. The neighbour was working as an usher in Cathay Cinema. (He was proof that in the olden days, you could afford a car, a wife and 3 kids on an usher's salary. Today, we don't even have any job for an usher, not to mention about paying him a salary.)
The neighbour's car was a Ford Anglia. Yes, it was the very same model used by Harry Potter which was reported stolen last week. Little did I know then that the car that I rode to school everyday would be made famous by a blockbuster movie some 40 years later! For those who haven't seen the movie, the car looked like this (and it could fly):
Don't you find that the car had a very human face to it? To me, it had eyelids, big round eyes, luscious lips and was always smiling ear-to-ear. Cute isn't it? No wonder it was targetted by thieves. The car had only 2 doors. This meant that the children had to climb in by lifting the front passenger seat. The back windows could not be wound down but could be opened slightly (about 2 inches gap) by straightening the locking clasp located at the rear. Although the car had no air-conditioning, I didn't complain - it shortened my journey to and from school to under 5 minutes.
When I visited the school on 9 Sep 05 (Friday, a school day) the gates were locked and the school was deserted. There was no sign to say what the school building is used for now. I remembered that not too long ago, the school was used as a campus for the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. I peered in and saw a lone Indian watchman guarding the school. He looked at me suspiciously, not knowing that I was a friendly old boy who was back only for some nostalgia.
I only hope that this magnificent building, which holds so much pleasant memories for me, will not be torn down in the name of development like so many others before it.