(function() { (function(){function b(g){this.t={};this.tick=function(h,m,f){var n=f!=void 0?f:(new Date).getTime();this.t[h]=[n,m];if(f==void 0)try{window.console.timeStamp("CSI/"+h)}catch(q){}};this.getStartTickTime=function(){return this.t.start[0]};this.tick("start",null,g)}var a;if(window.performance)var e=(a=window.performance.timing)&&a.responseStart;var p=e>0?new b(e):new b;window.jstiming={Timer:b,load:p};if(a){var c=a.navigationStart;c>0&&e>=c&&(window.jstiming.srt=e-c)}if(a){var d=window.jstiming.load; c>0&&e>=c&&(d.tick("_wtsrt",void 0,c),d.tick("wtsrt_","_wtsrt",e),d.tick("tbsd_","wtsrt_"))}try{a=null,window.chrome&&window.chrome.csi&&(a=Math.floor(window.chrome.csi().pageT),d&&c>0&&(d.tick("_tbnd",void 0,window.chrome.csi().startE),d.tick("tbnd_","_tbnd",c))),a==null&&window.gtbExternal&&(a=window.gtbExternal.pageT()),a==null&&window.external&&(a=window.external.pageT,d&&c>0&&(d.tick("_tbnd",void 0,window.external.startE),d.tick("tbnd_","_tbnd",c))),a&&(window.jstiming.pt=a)}catch(g){}})();window.tickAboveFold=function(b){var a=0;if(b.offsetParent){do a+=b.offsetTop;while(b=b.offsetParent)}b=a;b<=750&&window.jstiming.load.tick("aft")};var k=!1;function l(){k||(k=!0,window.jstiming.load.tick("firstScrollTime"))}window.addEventListener?window.addEventListener("scroll",l,!1):window.attachEvent("onscroll",l); })();

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 06, 2022

Cast From The Herd Excerpt #23: The Privileged Few In An Englsih school

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 23:  The Privileged Few In An English School

Even as a youngster I was very much aware that I was among the privileged few to be attending an English school. Tuanku Muhammad School, or TMS to its students, is in the small town of Kuala Pilah, only seven miles from my village but nearly an hour away by bus, longer on some days. Dr. Lewis in his memoir Out East in the Malay Peninsula fondly called Kuala Pilah a “rural paradise,” and an assignment there “much coveted.” I did not see what he saw. 

The main two-story brick building was built in 1930 at the height of colonial rule and in the depth of the Depression. Bless the British for fulfilling their social obligation even during those tight economic times! 

TMS may be located in a small remote town, nonetheless my school has produced more than its share of national luminaries. Through the non-language-dependent IQ tests that he had developed for his doctoral research, Dr. Lewis was able to select many of those bright village kids to enter the school, and then provided them with great teachers. Consider that my teachers Mr. Simmons and Mr. McCumiskey were both Oxford graduates; while Lewis and Rawcliffe, London University PhDs. Not many schools anywhere could match that caliber of teachers.

My school’s curriculum, textbooks, and many of its teachers were transplanted wholesale from ye olde England. Even my workbooks had to be imported. Prior to being named after the ruler in 1934, my school had the rather bland name of Government English School. TMS celebrated its centenary in 2014. 

My school bus originated at Sri Menanti, the state’s royal town. By the time it arrived at my village two miles away there was standing room only. Often I ended up standing on the steps with the conductor bracing me. It did not matter as those buses were so old and at best could manage only “30 MPH” with the motor fully gunned. In fact that was how I knew the bus was coming, by the thundering protest of its ageing engine. 

On that first day at school I entered a room of quiet kids, like stuffed toys plumped on chairs. The quietness restrained me and I chose an empty desk in the middle row. I needed that protective barrier of the first few front seats. 

I did not see any face like mine, meaning, a fellow Malay. Next to me was a scrawny Indian boy. I tried to strike up a conversation in the only language I knew – Malay – but received a blank look. Then a Chinese kid who was sitting a few desks away came up to me and started speaking Malay. Not only that, it was in my village dialect. I bonded with him right away. My new friend was Lim Boon Wah. It was amazing what a new friend could do to a frightened boy. Now my small area was transformed from being severe and intimidating to a warm and cheerful playground for the two of us. The other kids were still zombies.

Soon an Indian lady in a flowing colorful saree breezed in. With a shrill voice and her hands gesturing, she made us all stand. “Repeat after me, class!” she yelled. “Good morning, Miss Devi.” 

After a few trials we got it. Before I knew it we were all seated on the cold cement floor by her feet, listening to her reading from a book. She wore sandals and her toenails were painted flaming red. I would see that only on Malay brides. Her toenails played peek-a-boo from beneath the edge of her saree whenever she jiggled her ankle. Soon her nails and saree were fiercely competing for visual supremacy. The saree won when I saw a patch of frayed edges. 

With the excitement of a new experience, the morning went fast. At recess I followed the crowd to the tuck shop located near the main school. Unlike the hawker stall at my mother’s school, this one was a real canteen, in a separate building, with tables and benches. It was also very clean. 

At the end of the day Miss Devi made us all stand and said, “Repeat after me. ‘Good afternoon, Miss Devi’” We did, and then left the room one by one, by row. 

Thus ended my first day at school; it was unbelievably fun. I was away from home and made a new friend. I could not wait to relate my experience to my old village friends. Theirs was no different than what it was yesterday, or would be tomorrow. They were curious, wondering whether I was lost since I could not speak a word of English, or scared to be in a school in town. Most of all they wanted to know about my teacher and how it felt to be in a sekolah orang Putih (white man school). 

Next:  Excerpt # 24:  One Up On My Teacher


Post a Comment

<< Home