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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lessons for life

The Star Lifestyle
Monday June 30, 2008

Lessons for life 
By Wan Chwee Seng

Life’s first experiences offer lessons that stand us in good stead in later years.

“WALK faster, freshies! This is England, not Malaya!” The raucous shouts reverberated across the dark, narrow corridor that led to the recreation hall. Disorientated and shivering from the bitterly cold English winter, we huddled together and jostled past the seemingly endless lines of “Our most honourable senior sirs and ladies”.
I remember that cold December morning in 1958, when 120 excited and high-spirited young Malayans landed in London airport on a BOAC Jet-Prop Britannia.

BOAC Jet-Prop Britannia

For most, if not all, it was our first trip overseas, our first plane ride and our first experience of snow. We boarded a waiting coach and made the long night journey to Kirkby Teachers’ Training College, on the outskirts of Liverpool, which would be our home for the next two years.

Malayan Teachers' Training College, Kirkby, Liverpool

As we pushed past the lines of shouting seniors, I felt like a sheep being led to the slaughter-house. Soon I found myself in the brightly-lit recreation hall and I sensed more trouble. Through the corner of my eyes, I saw other seniors prowling round the hall like vultures that were about to pounce on some unsuspecting prey.
I tried to slip away to a secluded corner of the room. Then above the muffled shouts from outside the hall, a feminine voice close to my ears drawled: “Freshiee! Where’re you going? Sit here.” I soon found myself sandwiched between two charming girls.
“Freshie, did you study Malayan history in Form V?”
“Er, yes,” I replied hesitatingly.
“Tell us what you know about the Treaty of Pangkor.”
I must have done reasonably well as I was told to report to them the next day.
Ensconced on the sofa between two ladies, I was about to relax when a dark figure loomed over me. I looked up. A huge, bearded senior glared down at me with steely eyes.
“Come here, freshie!” a voice boomed above the din. A crooked index finger beckoned me.
“Can’t you see he’s engaged,” a voice snapped back.
The figure stalked away. A smile flitted at the corner of his lips.
I heaved a sigh of relief. It was a welcome reprieve. Lunch was another welcome break. As we dug into the white rice and Sputnik curry (hard-boiled eggs cooked in curry), the morning incidents were soon forgotten. The clock in the dining hall was ticking extra fast and it was time again to report at the recreation hall. With our heads lowered and eyes fixed on the floor, we tried to sneak past the seniors who were pacing the corridor.
“Freshie!” a voice barked. A junior bolt upright.
“Where are your manners?”
“Er, er ? Good ... good morning, my ... my most honourable senior sir,” he stammered.
“Your ribbon is withering, freshie! Make sure you water and iron it.” A slight smile played on his lips.
“Zip that smile freshie!” Two firmly pressed fingers glided across clamped lips as the owner tried to suppress a dimpled smile.
We finally made it to the recreation hall. The moment we stepped into the hall, all eyes gravitated towards our direction. Above the blare of television could be heard a cacophony of voices.
“Let us hear you croak, freshie!”
A quavering voice belted out a song which was clearly out of tune.
“Do you know how to go on a bombing raid, freshie?” A senior was soon giving a detailed explanation on the proper use of the toilet.
In one corner of the hall, a loquacious senior was busy telling jokes to a group of solemn-faced juniors who were the butt of his jokes.
“Hey! Listen to this. This freshie boarded a double-decker bus to Liverpool. He clambered excitedly to the top deck. He was about to take his seat when he noticed the bus was moving without a driver. He ran down screaming with fright.”
There were many more jokes that day and each was followed by boisterous laughter from the seniors, while the juniors joined in with forced laughter.
One morning a senior approached me and inquired whether I had been to Liverpool.
“No,” I replied.
“Follow me then. I’ll show you around.”
A group of juniors was soon following doggedly behind his confident steps. Our ungloved hands were numb from the cold. As we made our way to the nearby bus stop, he pointed to us the makeshift night stall where we could buy fish and chips or spring rolls for our supper, and the pub at the corner where we could join the locals for a pint or two.

One of the pubs outside Kirkby College

Through the thick, low-hanging fog, we could make out the indistinct outline of an approaching bus. We peered intently through the fog to make a mental note of the bus number. Was it 922 or 92? We were not sure. The number was fogged and our vision blurred.
The bus screeched to a halt at the bus stop. We quickly clambered on board and were soon on our way to the small town of Blackbull. Our senior showed us the bank where we could withdraw our monthly allowance of £10 (about RM80 then).

We popped into a grocery store where a smiling face behind the counter greeted us with, “Hello luv. What can I do for you, luv?” They were words which would soon become familiar to our ears.

Kirkby Store

The next day, I had a fever and landed in Sick Bay. There were many juniors to keep me company. Gradually they were discharged and I was all alone.
As I rested on the bed and gazed at the spotlessly white ceiling, I had plenty of time to reflect on the Orientation. I realised that the taunts, jokes and embarrassing activities we had to endure at the hands of our seniors were all done in good faith. They were meant to teach us social skills and etiquettes, and inculcate in us the norms and values of society. All would prove invaluable during our two years’ stay in England and stand us in good stead in our later years.
That night as I lay awake in bed and listened to the wintry wind howling outside, a desire to be among my newly-found friends stirred within me.
I woke up the next morning to find a transistor radio and a bottle of orange juice at the bedside table. I knew they were placed there out of care and kindness.
One morning I was awakened by the sound of approaching footsteps and Sister’s cheery voice called out: “Wakey, wakey. It’s time to leave.”
As I stepped out into the sunlight, I was greeted by a shower of snowflakes. The air was filled with a strange silence.
I looked around me. Not a soul in sight. The students were already in their classes. The Orientation had ended, but my journey had just begun.

Fifty years later, a group of silver-haired men with thick dark glasses, men with receding hairlines, and women with fine lines etched on their faces, are sitting around a table in the comfort of a coffee lounge.
They are reminiscing about the exploits of their youths with child-like exuberance. They are oblivious to the customers at the next table who listened with amused smiles on their young faces. They smile knowingly.

MTTC Kirkby closed down after its last intake (1960-1961).
Readers who want to know what became of the College can view the below interesting and informative video, courtesy of Datuk Zainal Arshad.


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1 comment:

  1. Most of the photos in this artcle have been downloaded from the Kirkby Reunion Penang 2010 souvenir magazine. My sincere thanks to all the committee members.