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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Casr From The Herd Excerpt #24 One Up On My Teacher

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 24:  One Up On My Teacher

Thanks to the year of preschool in my mother’s class and the exercises with rubber seeds, I was far ahead in writing and arithmetic by the time I was enrolled in the English school. Anytime a kampung kid could show those town kids a thing or two especially in arithmetic, that was a great confidence booster. The next year I had “double promotion” and Mr. Ishak was my teacher. He was the one who demonstrated the sembah ritual to me related earlier. Mr. Ishak was Malay only in so far as his black curly hair and broad nose. He was fair-skinned, and with his penchant for shorts and long stockings neatly double-folded back just below the knee, he looked very much like a well-tanned Englishman. 

The following year I had Mrs. Paul, a dark plump Southern Indian. Her loose garish saree could not camouflage her plumpness or darkness. When she stood up, which was infrequent as she was glued to her chair, her bellowing upper tummy bulged out from underneath her tight blouse, like a flour sack through a wooden pellet. A chain smoker, as soon as the recess bell rang she lighted her Capstan cigarette and inhaled deep as if she had been suffocated while in class. 

Her son Peter was also in my class. One day she tried to explain the concept of squares, and why there were 12 inches to a foot but 144 square inches to a square foot. She had a package of one-square-inch pieces of paper and another a foot-square sheet. It was near the end of the day and she had Peter arrange those little inch-square pieces in neat rows on the foot-square sheet. After he had placed down a few, his hand accidentally slipped and all those small pieces were thrown off. The poor boy had to start all over again. 

After much laborious effort, Peter had just about completed filling in the foot-square sheet when a gust blew across the room. By the time Peter and the rest of the class finished retrieving the scattered pieces, the school day was over. 

At home that day I replicated what Mrs. Paul was trying to demonstrate, adding a twist of my own. I had a foot-square paper and then using my mother’s sewing machine but without the thread in the needle, I serrated the paper to create a sheet of 144 inch squares, postage stamp-like, but still attached to each other. I repeated that with different colored sheets. Then I would tear off a one inch-square piece, then two- inch square piece, three and right up to eleven, all of different colors.


My mother saw what I was doing and inquired as to my purpose. So I explained. The squaring of numbers is the equivalent of physical squares. My mother was impressed and asked me to make a second set so she could use it for her class. I was more than happy to oblige! 

The next day Mrs. Paul again asked Peter to repeat the previous day’s failed endeavor. It was morning and calm, no threatening gusts to undo his brilliant demonstration. With both consumed with their activity up front, I brought out my prepared sheets and proceeded to do my own demonstration on my desk. Soon those behind me were transfixed on what I was doing. Then those in the front rows turned away from Mrs. Paul. And that was how she found out what I was doing. 

She yelled at me to put away my papers. I must have been slow to respond for she grabbed my sheets and threw them into the wastepaper basket. For some weird reason I was not at all embarrassed, in fact I was thrilled by the attention. 

Mrs. Paul completed her demonstration and asked us whether we had understood her. We all replied yes. With that the exercise was over – finally and mercifully! When the recess bell rang she left, inhaling her Capstan cigarette with great satisfaction. Meanwhile the other kids rushed to the basket to retrieve my crumpled sheets and asked me to repeat my demonstration. 

Next:  Excerpt # 25:  The Bloody Devil Personified


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