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Saturday, October 26, 2013

St. David's High School, Melaka: A teacher's recollection

St. David’s High School, Melaka: A teacher’s 

By Wan Chwee Seng

As the car glides to a halt at the gentle gradient, I peer through the car’s windscreen at the building to my right.

Pupils milling about in the canteen

Above a locked school gates, the words: ‘Sekolah Menengah Tinggi St. David’ are prominently displayed on  a  walkway awning that leads to a canteen where boys and girls can be seen milling about in happy confusion.

We are here, my wife and I, to look at the school where I used to teach in the mid-1960s. The school looks different_ nostalgically different. Back then, it was a boys’ school and was known as St. David’s High School, as English was then the medium of instruction.

The half-obscured building

Behind the canteen, half-obscured by a thick foliage of Golden Shower trees and a row of parked cars, I can make out a brick building with russet roofs and glass louvre windows.

Remove Class

 As I look at the building, which used to house three Remove Classes,ten years of teaching in the old building flashes before my eyes.  It was then a single storey, semi-brick building with wire mesh for windows and the classrooms were partitioned off with plain soft-boards. Such an inconsequential item as a soft-board would have slipped clean from my memory, had it not been for an incident in the classroom.

One morning we were in the midst of an English lesson, when the class was startled into silence by a loud crash from the back of the classroom. All eyes gravitated toward the direction of the sound and were greeted by a clenched fist that protruded from a freshly- punched hole in the soft-board. I strode gingerly to the back of the class and waited expectantly. A few minutes later, a clenched fist ripped through another hole. I caught hold of the wrist and  sent the class monitor to identify the owner of the hand. The culprit was identified and marched off to the principal’s office. I found out the class teacher had gone to the office for some official duty and the culprit had taken the opportunity to vent his frustration on the soft-board or was trying to show off his karate skill.

Barring the morning’s incident, the pupils were generally well- behaved and hard- working.  All the pupils in the Remove Classes were from the non-English primary schools with the majority coming from SRJK ( C) Ping Ming and SRJK ( C) Keh Seng  while the rest were from SRJK (C ) Bukit Beruang,   Durian Tunggal, and Batang Melaka and we also had a few pupils from   Sekolah Rendah Kebangsaan.

With the Remove Class students

 The pupils English Language proficiency level varied from school to school with pupils from the urban schools, generally, having a better grasp of the language than those from the rural schools.  While some of the new pupils could converse reasonably well in English, there were many whose English was limited to “Good morning, sir!” or “May I go to the toilet?”

Loud chorus of voices would soon reverberate through the classrooms as the new pupils were put through the various language drills or participated in choral reading.

 After a year of intensive course with the bulk of the time allocated to the teaching of English most of the pupils had acquired sufficient English to enable them to continue their study in Form One.

Bahasa Malaysia; Art and Craft

I remember, besides teaching English in the Remove Class, I had to teach Bahasa Malayia in the lower forms, and Art and Craft in the upper forms. For both English and Bahasa Malaysia, other than providing grammar and comprehension exercises, the language teachers had to assign at least one composition per month and hence the  teachers’ tables were usually stacked high with the various exercise books. I would often eye dejectedly at the pile of composition books as marking the compositions and karangan not only required deciphering some of the pupil's  handwriting , but when compelled to write a composition, the pupils kindly obliged by filling the pages with ' cryptic messages’ for us to unravel.

After hours of conducting language drills and choral reading, until the voice was hoarse and dry, the Art lesson provided a welcome change and relief. The pupils too, after being confined  to their seats, relished the freedom of being able stand up and move  around the room.

With some of my students in the Upper Forms

With the school prefects

 I enjoyed going from table to table to see that the pupils were able to apply the concepts they had learned and also provide individual’s advice and assistance. Sometimes, I would take the pupils to the nearby village at Paya Ikan for outdoor sketches or paintings. Then there were weekends when we would climb the nearby hill at Taman Sentosa and scour the area for burnt-out roots to be used as material for wood sculpture.

 Open Day:Explaining the art of sculpting a burnt-out root to a distinguished guest

Principal and teachers

The car hums its way up the slope and we stop briefly at the main entrance to take a snapshot of the school from the main entrance.

The school main entrance

 I remember the school’s office was located just after the main entrance and next to it was the principal’s office.

The teachers would usually use the side gates and park their cars under the trees beside the canteen, but for the late comers they were forced to park their cars on the road shoulder and use the main entrance, as the side gates would be locked.

The sight of the main entrance, reminds me of an incident that an ex-colleague, Joe (not his real name ) related to me. One morning Joe happened to be late and as he walked through the main entrance, he saw the principal waiting on the steps in front of his office. As he walked past him, the principal slowly raised his hand, stared at his watch and without uttering a word, strode into his office. The silence spoke louder than words.

Then one morning Joe arrived rather early and decided to wait in front of the principal’s office. Coincidentally, the principal who lived a stone’s throw away from the school was late that morning. When he saw the principal walking through the gates, he waited until he was within hearing distance, then he slowly lifted his hand and peered closely at his watch. As he turned and headed towards the staff room,  he noticed the smile that flitted at the corner of the lips.

Although the school was well known for its discipline system, the spontaneous laughter that emanated from the staff room was clear testimony that it was not all work in the school. Pockets of conversations could often be heard from the various tables: the Industrial Arts teachers (Mah, Michael, Lee, Gan and others ) talking and discussing their projects; the lady teachers ( Nellie, Mrs. Oh, Nancy,  Gan, Magdalene, Wee Neo and others ) talking in low whispers; the other subject teachers ( Peter,John, Chandran, Alex and others) filling the room with their more animated conversations. 

Besides our daily teaching routine, we had to take charge of at least one co-curricular activity and there were always other school events such as Sports Day, Annual Concert, Open Day and fund-raising activities like Walkathon and Fun Fair that kept us occupied.

School Sports Day (Lto R) Mr,.Jesudasan, the writer, Mr. Oh Kim Hin

Open Day: The teachers lining up to welcome our guest of honour, Tun Tan Siew Sin  

When I reflect on my teaching days in the school, my fondest memories are  the few precious moments that we shared after school hours:


_working with my colleagues and students until mid-night to finish a project for a Fun Fair or a backdrop for the school concert

- playing tennis with Ng, Peter, Michael, Neelakandan, Lee and others at the tennis court behind the Ramsay Pavilion. A game that began when the sun was still high in the afternoon sky and only ended when the balls became a blur in the gathering darkness.

_the late night game of scrabble with David and John which sometimes extended into the wee hour of the morning

Today, more than thirty years on, although I have lost contact with most of my colleagues, I will always remember and cherish the friendship and the happy moments we shared together.

SDHS Staff Photos 1960s / 1970s

From Left to Right:
Sitting: Mrs. Nancy Dossan, Mrs. Nellie Khoo, Ms. Magdalene Lim, Mrs. Oh, Mr. P. V. Jacob ( principal)
Mr. David Gunaratnam ( V. P.), Ms. Annie Tan, (             ), Mrs. Chong
Middle Row: Mr. Chandran, Mr. Ong, Mr. Patrick Chen, Mr. Alex Ho, Mr. Jesudasan, Mr. Neelakandan,
Mr. Sakhtianathan, Mr. Ang Chui Beng, Mr. Oh Kim Hin, En. Osman Ahmad
Back Row: Mr. Wan Chwee Seng, Mr. Lai Yoon Sen, Mr. Lee Kam Whye, Mr. Michael Rodrigues, Mr. Chua Ah Lek.
En. Aziz

Photo courtesy of Jee Kim Joon

The below video ( courtesy of Li Chowan Hock and Chong Song Choi) is certain to evoke nostalgic memories  for former teachers and students of St. David's High School, Melaka.


Related article:
Click below link and scroll down.

 SDHS: A Yam Cha Rendezvous

Melaka to Muar: A culinary trip down memory lane

Two dollars and fifty cents   


Thursday, October 17, 2013

A youngster's lifeline

A youngster’s lifeline

Shalina (L) and her sister, Shanita (R)

Can you imagine, right now, a world without the Internet? Gasp, you say, the horror! I know, right?

Being a “youngster” myself — as my grandparents like to say — I can understand what you mean. My everyday morning schedule is: wake up, go to school, learn, and come back home. My everyday afternoon schedule is: eat, take a bath, and use the Internet (not necessarily in that order!). So you see, it’s kind of hard to imagine a world without the Internet.
So now I’m going to list down a few of the things that make the Internet such an attraction to us “young folk”. Here we go.
Facebook is convenient (being able to use it on your iPhone, iPad, etc. etc.), user-friendly, and, well, just fun. Apart from keeping in touch with old friends, making new friends, and discovering pages of your favourite celebrities, Facebook also offers a wide variety of fun games to play, and it’s free. 

Twitter is also widely known mainly for the same reasons as Facebook. It’s a website where you can post the goings-on in your life within the limit of 140 characters. It’s a good way to keep track of what your favourite celebrities are up to, too, once you follow them.

 Blogs! Blogs are everywhere. Crazy names, normal names, wacky names; you have to try all these names if you intend to start up a blog because almost all of the names you planned to use have already been taken. Here’s where creativity hops in to get your blog a spot on the humongous 
World Wide Web. Blogs can be used for any purpose.
 Personally, my favourite thing about the Internet is the freebies. With a mere click of a button (and a downloading process… what? Nothing’s perfect), you can download free movies and free eBooks from certain websites. The only risk is, of course, viruses and such, but if you’re confident in your choice of website, go ahead. If you’re not particularly fond of downloading things, just go to 

YouTube and key in the movie you want to watch. Unfortunately, only some movies are available on YouTube as it depends on whether people recorded and uploaded it or not. Also, a word of caution: this usually counts as copyright infringement so don’t count on those movies being up there for very long (unless you’re really lucky). As for books, you can just go to my favourite website,

 Wattpad (wattpad.com). Hundreds and thousands of eBooks ONLINE for FREE. Yeah. Awesome, isn’t it?

 Finally (phew), the Internet provides an endless wealth of knowledge right at your fingertips. One of the most popular websites to get information on people, places, music, books, movies and anything else you want to know, is the famous Wikipedia. 

Anyway! That concludes my article on the fabulousness of the amazing Internet! You see, we couldn’t possibly live without it. Now, time for yours truly to get back to that video I was watching.