07 November 2005

Vanishing Scenes of Singapore - Part 6 (My Secondary School Days)

After writing about my primary school days, it is only natural to proceed to write about my secondary school days. I attended Victoria School from Sec 1 to Pre-U 2 (1969 - 1974).

The school building is more than a century old - you can tell from its architecture from the above photo which was also taken on 9 Sep 05 (Fri). There are at least 8 (2-leave) wooden doors to each classroom (4 on each side). When all the doors are opened, the classroom is very airy even on a hot day. Each leave of door has 8 square pieces of green-coloured glass in the top half of the door.

I remembered a few of the staff, in particular the Discipline Master Mr Mok Khoon Yam. He could often be seen pacing the corridors of the building with a cane behind his back. Coupled with his stern look which was enhanced by his moustache, it was surely more than enough to make us behave ourselves. A few years ago, I saw his obituary in the newspapers. Somehow, he didn't look that stern in that photo.

Then there was the Maths teacher Mr Wee. Because of his somewhat drooping cheeks and stern look, the students nicknamed him 'bulldog'. (Come to think of it, the students can be quite creative in this respect.) Mr Wee himself probably didn't know that he had such a terrible nickname.

The field in the foreground was where we had our PE lessons during fine weather. During bad weather, we used the hall. One of the most unforgetable incidents for me happened in one of the PE lessons when we played football. During the game, I did a very bad tackle on a friend, Mr Lee L C. He fell and broke his wrist. To make matters worse, this incident happened very near the period of a very important examination (I think it was the A levels). A blessing in disguise, if I could call it that, was that Mr Lee's left wrist was broken and he was right-handed. I remembered that he sat through the exam with his left arm in a sling. I was wrecked with guilt for a long time after that. That incident was probably the reason why I never played any contact sport after that.

Chun See, my new-found friend, might be glad to know this - after getting my results for the Sec 4 preliminary exam in 1972, a group of my friends applied to NJC (National Junior College) to continue their Pre-U studies. I didn't get very good results, I think about 13 points aggregate for the best 5 subjects in my prelim exam but nevertheless I followed suit. At that time, NJC was the premier junior college. Only the creme de la creme could gain admission (that's a compliment to Chun See). I was shortlisted for an interview. When I turned up for the interview, I was quite shocked to find that there was a panel of 4 interviewers waiting to assess me. I remembered a few questions which the interviewers asked that stumped me:

Interviewer A: What is the reason for your application to this college?

Me: Because most of my friends also applied to this college.

Interviewer A: So if your friends didn't apply to this college, you won't too?

Me (Stumped): ???

Interviewer B: Do you know where is our PM now? (At that time the PM was visiting the European Community.)

Me (who didn't have a habit of following the news then but yet always willing to risk an intelligent guess): Er... overseas?

Interviewer B (saying to himself, 'This one we definitely will not take.'): Ok, we will inform you of the results soon. Thank you.

With all due respect to NJC and Chun See, considering that such a selection process was in place, it was little wonder that they had all the brightest students.

When my 'O' level results were released, I got an aggregate of 8 points. I received another letter from NJC inviting me to apply again. But once beaten twice shy, I guess my ego was bruised. I went back to Victoria School. The principal Mr Naidu asked 'Why so late? Applied for NJC is it?'. I replied sheepishly, 'No lah, not quite decided whether want to continue study or not mah.'

So that was why I was stuck in Victoria for 6 years. When I visited the school a few years ago, it was occupied by Christchurch Secondary School. But when I visited the school on 9 Sep 05, coincidentally the situation was exactly the same as that of my primary school - the school was deserted and an Indian watchman stood guard. I asked him if I could take some photos. He said 'No, but outside can.' He then said that I should not be in the school compound and asked me to leave. That's why the above photo was taken from the 2nd storey of Jalan Besar Stadium where during my Victoria school days, I attended several football matches played between my school team and SJI, RI and I am sure NJC as well.


Lam Chun See said...

Wah you make me very pai-seh man. Actually my results very mediocre only. Just that first batch, the whole JC thing is very new so many top students maybe afraid to try. Then people like us got chance.

Chris Sim said...

Are you sure you've sworn off "contact" sports altogether, my dear friend? You better think again. How else do you explain the fruits of your loin (or groin)? Oops...

Jokes aside Victor, that was quite impressive. Not just your "O" level result; but also in the way you so vividly described your school buildings, your teachers, and of course your interview with the penile, I mean panel of interviewers.

Made to carry the weight of your guilt for having injured your friend in a football match, you went on to ace your "O" level. What kind of a monster are you, Victor?? But I'm bugged by something, Victor. Since your result is so brilliant, how come we ended up working in the same "hell hole" hah? Sometimes, life can be stranger then fiction, hor?

Chun See - if you're reading this, rest assured that Vic and I are best of pals. We like to "horse" around and I really get a kick out of taking a "dig" at him, much as Vic takes joy in "digging" me, I'm sure. LOL.

Victor said...

Chun See, we all can see that you are just being humble. Proof that you are very capable is that you went on to be very successful in life, quite unlike Chris and I who are both stuck in the 'hell hole' as Chris puts it.

Chris, first I would like to thank you for the rare compliment. Rest assured that my delay in responding to your comments is not because I am angry at the harsh words that you have used. If you read my post properly, you would have known that the accident happened around 'A' levels and not 'O' levels. I didn't do very well in 'A' levels and now I know why - it must because I was wrecked with guilt.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your advice about spam.

In those days every student was afraid of Mr Mok Khoon Yam and Mr Wee Keng Chin.

Mr Mok was the only one teaching Additional Maths which was only offered to the one or two science classes. I think this was quite a pity as I felt many Victorians would be able handle the subject and benefit from it.

I think you do remember and enjoyed the times when the whole pm session moved over to the Jalan Stadium to support the school soccer and hockey teams in the semi-final and final matches. The am supporters would come with drums and banners.

Victor said...

Oh Frannxis, I didn't know you are a fellow Victorian too. What a coincidence and a pleasant surprise too! So far there are no ex-classmates that commented on my blog but I am glad that I found 1 schoolmate. And if you also know Mr Mok and Mr Wee (even his full name which I can't recall), then you should be in Victoria around the same time as me, maybe a few years my senior, like Chun See.

Sometimes we don't realise that we have much more in common than it seems, do we?

Anonymous said...

You are mistaken Victor. I am not an old Victorian but I know quite a number of them. My nephew is a Victorian.

Mr Mok happened to be an uncle of a good friend of mine. Mr Wee was the maths teacher of the son of one of my former neighbours. Mr Retnam Pierre (former VS soccer coach and teacher) taught my sister in primary school.

Victor said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Victor said...

Oh, I am so sorry Frannxis about the mistaken identity (very red face). But you really got me there. You must have known your family, friends and neighbours really well to be able to know who their teachers were. It makes me feel ashamed to admit that I don't even know my next door neighbour's surname. We only know each other by sight. However we do acknowledge each other with a smile everytime we meet each other.

It is ironical that I seem to know Chun See and you better than my next door neighbour. Well I guess it takes 2 hands to clap. Perhaps this personal quote from me could have described this situation better - Proximity does not mean closeness.

How fortunate it was that I did not say anything (really) bad about the teachers or the school. If not, I would probably face some disciplinary action by the new disciplinary master, hee.

Lam Chun See said...

I don't have strong impressions about games we played as kids. Food is more my thing. Why not you write a blog about the games of yesteryears; maybe it will trigger some memories for me.

Chris Sim said...

Ya, I agree with Chun See. Why don't you blog about games you played? We delight in giving you pleasure I mean pressure. Hahaha...

Anonymous said...

Wow, I didn't think any old victorian from the Jln Besar years would be blogging about those days. We came a few years later, and used to be obsessed with playing plastic ball in the basketball court behind the tuckshop. I think every VS boy played, even some of the geeky ones.

Anonymous said...

Hi Victor,
I enjoy reading your blog too. I was from Victoria School and from the batch 1978 (sec. 4).

During that period, Mr. Looi took over Naidu as Principal. Yep, bulldog and Mr.Mok, etc... all lovely memories.

BTW, Mrs. Lee - the only teacher that is still in the now Victoria School. She is now the Larger HOD. My son now also in VS but just Sec.1.

Victor said...

Hi Chris Yew (hey, my best friend and colleague is also Chris), thanks for visiting my blog and commenting. Good to know that there are my former schoolmates reading my blog and enjoying it too. :)

Anonymous said...

Hiya, I just found this blog after doing a search for VS. read today about VJC thinknig of doing a secondary co-ed school. if this happens it means splitting from VS, which I think is a big mistake. in fact, such talks in the public arena makes the VS family a laughing stock in the community which I think is very sad. I graduated from VS in 1981 after spending 7 wonderful years there from sec 1 - pre-u 3. At that time VJC was not up yet. reading thro your blog also reminds me of the great times. yes remember Mr wee, Mr naidu, Mr Looi, Mr Mok etc etc.really lost touch with the school since I left for overseas University. Since back in 89, was sad to see the old building in Jalan Besar run down. still remember the times we rushed to the corridor every time a goal was scored, and how the teachers gave up on lessons cos we would not listen anyway! :p good old days!

I'll continue to read this blog to reminecse and hope to hear from ex school mates too

Victor said...

Yue Wen - Thanks for visiting my blog. A few years ago, there was also talk of making VS a co-ed school, much to the unhappiness of ex-boys. Somehow, that plan was shelved.

Have you visited our old school lately, I think there are plans to turn it into PA HQ or something like that.

Anonymous said...

hi there

i chanced upon this blog while doing research on singapore history. im also an old victorian, from 1977 onwards. I remember Mr. Mok and also remembered feeling a bit of resentment at not being able to learn Additional math. Only S one and T one classes were privileged to take it. I was in s3. It affected my chance to take up Math B in njc, later on. But i managed to study on my own and scored an A for the A level math. So mr. mok was wrong, haha. S3 students could also do addditional math.

Anyway, i remembered the pe teacher - this tall guy who was also my form teacher. funny guy.

i work as a television script writer now and am about to write a period drama, something like growing up, but around 1968.

so..if anyone can tell me, what was hot in 1968? was bruce lee popular? where were the kampungs?

and was kite flying popular in 68?

my mind is a total blur.

need the help of other oldies but goodies folks here....


Victor said...

Thanks Andrew for that Victorian snippet. Let go of the past - what matters is now and the future.

Yes, kite-flying was popular in the 1960s. You can read one of my posts on kite-flying here.

If you are doing research on Singapore nostalgia, you may visit this website for some inspiration.

Anonymous said...

hi victor

thank you so much for replying.
i still have the old year book. Proudest moment in victoria was helping the school win an interschool chess tournament. Yes, i was a geek. President of chess club and what not.

I want to ask if you caught spiders back then??


my memories are very vague.

Victor said...

Hi Andrew, I have never played with or caught any spider in my childhood before but I have seen my neighbour kids play with them before. I can give you a brief description of a typical spider fight here.

They house a lone spider in an Elastoplast box. It was a rather flat (about 1 cm thick) rectangular metal box that was red in colour. (Elastoplast, as you probably know, was a brand of plaster or self-adhesive bandage as you would call it now. This brand may still be available today but the packaging is probably different.)

They put a leave or two in the box, probably to make the spider feel "at home". It also gave the spider some places to hide.

When it was fighting time, the outside surface of the box would be the fighting arena. Another spider belonging to another kid would be placed on the same box and when the 2 spiders saw each other, they would face each other and start their "fighting dance" routine. Both would hold out their arms and move from side to side. They would make contact every now and then.

After a few minutes, the loser would run round the box with the winner chasing close behind it. That was when you know that the game ended.

There were usually no fatalities. Don't know about injuries though as a spider is too small to examine and it doesn't bleed red blood.

Fighting spiders are usually male. If a male one meets a female one, they will probably not fight but do the other "f" thing. Quite naturally. Haha.

Victor said...

Andrew, I just spoke to a good friend and colleague who is about 8 years younger than me. He used to be very crazy about fighting spiders when he was a kid. If you could leave your email address here, I will try to arrange for you to interview him.

Anonymous said...

hi victor

this is most useful!
my email address is writer@pacific.net.sg

if your friend, the spider fighting expert, wants to relive old memories and be spider fighting consultant, do let me know!

does he know where were the best places to find fighting spiders?
and what were the names of the spiders?

once again, my email add is writer@pacific.net.sg

do u remember what kind of home cooked simple meals your mother cooked when you were a kid?

my memories were - porridge with luncheon meat, but i lived in hdb flat, not kampung.

the time period of my tv series is set in the post 65 period. i guess spider fighting should still be prevalent back then.

do u remember what sports u played back then?

and who were the matinee idols back in 1968? and who were the kungfu idols, if any? bruce lee came later, so who was the equivalent of bruce lee, back in 1968?

Anonymous said...

do you remember when you were a boy, and talking to your guy friends? when you were 14 to 15, what were the topics you talked about? girls? sex? life? ambition? and what kind of stories or escapades did your friends make up?

Victor said...

Hi Andrew, just in case you don't know it, I have written a post on fighting spiders.

As you are asking for quite a lot of information on other topics and details, may I suggest we take this discussion offline. Maybe a phone interview is more appropriate. I will be contacting you shortly.

Jeremy Lee said...

Ahh spiders,

Used to keep many during my primary school days.

Had so many that I did not have time to feed all of them. So i ended housing them on my father's orchid plants. One male per pot. I stapled the leaves together so that it made instant HDB housing for the spiders, and they would most probably not run away.

The better males I will feed, the rest probably find their own food if I am too busy.

Most spider experts would also at some time or other see their best males go down the drain after too much exposure to the opposite sex. They actually mistake a male for a female! While attempting to court her (errr him!) he might just get badly bitten too.

Best time to catch them sometimes after light rain when they come out for a drink, but the water also makes the leaves stick together and you end up parting a lot of leaves but no spiders in sight.

On dry days, using a thin stick or pencil to prod leaves that looked stuck together is the fastest and safest way to check for nests. When you confirm the leaves are stuck then you take out a plastic bag and put around the leaves and cut the leaves off nicely. Then you go to a flat pavement to check your catch.

Can picture myself in the 70s'as a skinny boy of age 6-7 squatting down and staring up the vegetation hoping to see the shadow of spiders hiding in their nests.

Some more people use more crude capture tactics like using clumsy fingers to try and pry open the nest far enough to see if anything is at home. Other just use two hands and cup and grab the nest (sometimes ending up squashing the spider instead and scaring away several others nearby).

Good large male spiders tend to be at the bottom of cluster of vegetation. Due to their alertness, they are also quick in jumping out of the nest on the first sign of threat. Hence going to pavements to check the catch. Newly caught males are very jumpy and you can easily lose it. Hence the nostalgic images of boys running quickly from the vegetation of the school fence with their hands cupped together trailing bits of vegetation, and then squatting on the pavements nearby or basketball court checking their catch.

Spiders also have the knack of being able to return to their nests after you missed it the first time. So we often go back to the same spot and check the next day. Often a knotted stem serves as a marker for missed catches.

The crudest method of catching spider i have ever witnessed was watching a guy use a panel from a cardboard box and shove it at the base of a bunch of long lallag like plants and just grab the whole bunch and thrash it against the cardboard....dislodging spiders from their nests and onto the cardboard.

Pandan clusters also tend to have lots of spiders (and mosquitoes).

Newly caught spiders are very jumpy and can easily be lost when they make quick jumps from your hand. One trick is to blow a gust of wind at them. They will instinctively crouch and stop moving. After a few minutes of handling, you can already see the difference. The spider becomes less weary and will just walk among your fingers.

Sometimes if you are alone and trying to spar you spiders, one might just walk too fast for your liking and end up near your neck or head. Best put the other one down and take the stray one away from your head area. Not a very nice experience to have one run into your ear. The loud sound, the itch sends chills down your spine. Very tempting to just squish the bugger but the mess afterwards might not be a good idea. Just have to find a friend and used a thin stem to chase it back out. But the ordeal during those few minutes will make you more vigilant about not letting one get anywhere near your ear.

It was totally embarrassing the other day when i could not find even one spider to show my kids. I think the pesticides really do their damage. i cannot even find a fighting spider among the type of plants that i used to find them.

Ended up in the car park of pierce reservoir determined to show my 5year old daughter what fighting spider is and met another middle aged man trying to do the same. His son was a bit shy when I asked if he wanted to pit his spider against mine......and us two old timers ended up fighting spiders.

What took the cake was when a Nparks official came up and told us to release the spiders back. Gave a half cocked lecture about preserving our heritage.

So remember not to bring back the ants too when you go for picnics in the nature reserves ya!

Lam Chun See said...

Wow Jeremy. You really can remember a lot of details which I have forgotten. That last part about the 2 old timers fighting their spiders is really funny. Wish I could be there to witness it. Too bad that Nparks official was so over-enthusiatic. He shd go and look for litter bugs instead. Heck, how many spiders are lost to nostalgic baby-boomers a year in Spore anyway?
Incidentally, I have seen quite a few spiders in my garden. Maybe its becos we don't use pesticides.

BTW, you shd have posted your comments in another article that Victor posted purely on this topic.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I was in VS from 71 to 74. I mentioned Mr Mok, and a few others in my blog: http://straightfromtheshoulder.wordpress.com/2009/01/31/teacher-teacher/

Anonymous said...

Sorry got the year wrong - it should have been 70 to 73. I spent a few months in 74 for Pre-U One but was booted out when the results were released.

Victor said...

Thank you for your comments, Toon Seng. I read your very interesting article but was not able to put a comment there.

You mentioned Mrs Mary Toh. She was my form teacher for Sec 4, I think. Several years ago, I even met her when we attended the same course at the Civil Service Institute in North Buona Vista Road. And she still could remember me!

Anonymous said...

Victor, on the rare occasions I accompany my wife to church (Covenant Community Methodist Church) I would see Mrs Mary Toh and she would remember me.

She's still healthy and strong and her glasses are just as thick!

Anonymous said...

I like Toon Seng's description of each individual teacher in School - very factual.

I thought what Toon Seng described also took place in my school. he mentioned peeping at teacher's undies - Yes there were 2 I remembered BUT not my class. One was a VSO teacher from England and the other, O Boy, can't find the right words to describe her. She wore those short pregnant one-piece dress that the boys wish the wind was a bit more powerful to lift the dress up.

There was one teacher (Wee Kiat might know this fellow teacher) who was perpetually tanned, slim, permed hair like a bob and wore sun-glasses. I think she also drives - a Hillman Imp model. She told the class she always wear bikini and go topless at Changi Beach.

Victor said...

Toon Seng and Peter, our two schools seem to have very similar curriculum. Tell me what else did you learn in school. Haha.

Anonymous said...

Of course I remember 1970 when we had school assembly in the Bras Basah Road school field. As usual we started singing the national anthem whilst the national flag went up.

Then we sang the school anthem and when the school flag went up the pole, a string of fire crackers (real ones mind you) went off from the building which housed the school hall and directly opposite the flag poles. At the end of cracker firing, down rolled a string of bras and panties (green, black and white representing the school colours). Philip Liau the school principal was in mood to laugh. Mr. Lee Fong Seng (later RJC principal now retired) went hunting for the culprits including a reward leading to information. The school assembly had girls (first time after 1965).

We all could not control our laughter. Till this day the culprits could not be found BUT I know who they are. One in fact is now the head of a polytechnic department (cannot tell u which one).

Anonymous said...

So for Vicotr sake, if your son in RI tells you about the cheer song Green-Black-White, Raffles fight fight fight, you know the humble origins.

Unknown said...

Peter, how come assembly had girls?

Anonymous said...

Our school was always a boys' school since its inception except interrupted in the mid-60s and from 1970 onwards till this very day. the girls came @A levels for 2 years. So secondary students who a) never seen girls @close-up or b) never know what is a "girl" due to 4 years of monkhood, become excited even girls might be older than them.

Now I remember another thing school boys did in our time. The challenge was to make the form-teacher "give up" teaching the class. Again in 1970 (I shall not mention which are the classes) threw a challenge that a certain teacher would not survive another day teaching the class. When the teacher asked the class to keep quite, they continue teaching. The teacher threatedn to throw any student of the classroom if talking continued. One brave student stood up and told the teacher, "it's u or me who will stay in the class". Promptly the teacher left the class in tears. After that, many teachers came and went through those classes. The student who spoke confidently today to that teacher is one of Singapore's richest man - he is in mid-50s today and a graduate who topped his university course.

Icemoon said...

Peter's account is, as usual, interesting. I didn't know The Elite school had such naughty students. Maybe he can compare notes with yg, who's his senior .. haha

What happened to Peter's punishment regime? Throw duster and stuff chalk in mouth .. or were those in primary school only.

Anonymous said...

I am sure things have quietened down a lot today. Don't forgot those were the 60s and early 70s.But for many of us who have become parents or grandparents, we went through that period experiencing and learning each life lesson. Will that make us better people? Time will tell. I sure wish we need not learn life that way - maybe learn about life from books and speeches.

Anonymous said...

Ha!!! Ha!!! Ha!!!
Wonderful reading...
All of em, including the link to the vivid details of each and every teachers, but guess, since Senior Vic, Toon Seng, did not take up Malay as a second language, you're not familiar with a certain Chikgu Ali, who gave me a tight... i mean really tight slap, by using his left hand to hold my cheeks and WHAM!!! the right hit my left!!!
Thought, i was the only one who kena, until recently, most of the younger Victorians that plays soccer with us every Sunday at VS, told me that they also got the same privileged treatment from the same Chikgu!!!
Yue Wen, i'm also from 78 cohort!
was in 4C...
best regards to all

Victor said...

Hi Zan, thanks for you interesting comments. I don't think I was ever taught by Chikgu Ali before in VS. From the way you've described him, I think that it's quite fortunate that I was not his student. Haha.

Zan, you may be able to meet more fellow Victorians or even classmates of your primary school by joining yearbook as a member. (I have just joined.)

Singapore School said...

Great school, in fact I can recollect happenings in this school better than those at my secondary school, especially the the strict principal.

Dohartua said...

Victor you brought memories.one phrase Bulldog Wee told me when he saw my final prelim results 5 6 passes
He told me you are going to sweep the
roadside. His Wakeup call does wanders I score 7 0s with 3 ujects at 1 and continnue my PreU1& 2 till 1976
I will always remember you Bulldog Wee Dohartua

Jeffrey said...

Reading all this comments brought back some fond memories. I was in Victoria Pre-U for just 2 months and then reluctantly left for Polytechnic. BUT I had a wonderful class (I thinks it was 1976 back then)who just love to talk and joke with each other. Really can't remembers any names now. I remember the GP teacher who sounded girly..does anybody here remember his name? I remember once he spoke during assembly and everybody laughed at him.