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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Kirkby College: Random recollections of a summer vacation in 1959

Kirkby College: Random recollections of a summer vacation in1959

by Wan Chwee Seng

"Here's the folder," my wife said, as she handed me a folder she had finally found buried under a pile of old files. It was just a plain green folder, now frayed and coated with fine dust. It has no intrinsic value, but I felt as if she had unearthed a precious archaeological relic. The folder was one of the projects we did for our Art and Craft lessons at Kirkby College. What I treasure most are the papers within the folder.

A page from the folder
On the pages now mostly stained yellow with age and written in my cursive handwriting was an account of our 1959 summer vacation in Europe. As I flipped through the pages, memories of a summer vacation that had lain dormant all these years came flooding back. 

Some members of our tour group

I hope the account will bring back memories of those halcyon days when we hardly knew boredom and college life was not only confined to poring over books, but of time spent on planning for weekend's trips, mid- term breaks and the long summer vacations.

Here are excerpts of the trip as recorded in the faded pages of the folder.


“We sat on a long wooden bench in Ostend’s famous garden, the Leopold Park. We listened to the throbbing music of the Belgium Band, while the fragrance of flowers assailed our nostrils. Tourists in tight-fitting shorts and colourful summer dresses strolled passed us, occasionally throwing inquisitive glances at us. Out on the emerald, shimmering water, boats skimmed its surface. A peculiar warmth pervaded the atmosphere. The warmth, odour, and colour made a sensuous pattern in my mind into which memory weaved meaning. Memory of our journey from Dover to Ostend came flooding back.”


“We’re in Cologne!” shouted a voice closed to my ears. With drowsy eyes I slipped on my shoes and clambered hurriedly down the train with my luggage.
The clock on the wall registered the hour of three.
“Where’s my camera?” inquired my friend, Jin Eng.
It suddenly dawned on me that in the mad rush to get off the train, I had left the camera on the side table. We stood on the platform and watched helplessly as the train pulled out of the station and vanished into the pre-dawn darkness. Our voices drowned by the blare of ’Achtung! Achtung!’ we explained our predicament to the German station-master. He made a phone call to the station at Bonn and within hours we had the camera back in our hands. A railway officer than helped us to find accommodation at the nearby Railway Hotel.”


"It was on 16th August(Sunday) that we arrived in this wonderful place. A dark and gloomy weather greeted our arrival. We arrived at an impressive hotel, just before a downpour, with a Brinsford boy and two other girls from Rama's party. After the rain Jin Eng, Cheng Swee and I went for a walk to the city centre. We stopped at a self-service stall and helped ourselves to four sticks of skewered liver. As we stood there and savoured every single morsel with relish, they reminded me of our own pungent satay back home in Malaya."

18th August(Tuesday)

“Another gloomy day. A boy approached us and asked for money. We ignored him and walked away. We were coming down the steps of a railway station when a German lady attired in black stopped us. She looked like a poor farmer. She asked us something in German and as we could not understand her we just shook our heads. She took a purse from a basket and fished out ten marks which she offered to us. Using sign language we tried to tell her we did not want her money. However, after much persuasion we took the ten marks and thanked her. Suddenly, she held my hand and led me to a fruit stall where she bought grapes for each of us. Her unexpected action and generosity remained a mystery to this day. As we left Germany and headed for Italy we were full of admiration at the efficiency of the German administration and greatly touched by the friendliness and kindness of the people we met.”


St. Peter's Basilica

" We were deeply engrossed in marvelling at the artistic creation of Michelangelo that none of us noticed that Rosalind was not with us. We made a frantic search for her in the basilica, but all was in vain."

"After lunch we were in the midst of browsing through some postcards when we suddenly caught sight of Rosalind strolling calmly down the road. We were relieved to have found her."

Below is a video of the summer vacation

Writer's Notes:

All the photos in the above video are courtesy of our late friend, Jin Eng who was our cameraman during the trip, as he was the only one with a camera. If not for his kindness and generosity there would be no visual records of that trip. I lost contact of Jin Eng after our return to Malaya and was looking forward to meeting him at the Penang Kirkby Reunion. However, I was sad to learn he had passed away just before the Reunion. 

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