Sunday, January 07, 2007

My Alma Mater

Straits Times carried a report that my alma mater, Victoria School, won a prize for a competition recently.

Not that Victoria School does not get enough awards, being one of the best schools in the country, but I noticed how nice this team was, it had a Malay, a Chinese and an Indian boy together.
How politically picture perfect.
And knowing what Victoria was like, it was, and I am proud to observe, it still is, a racially diverse school.
When I went for a visit recently I browsed the lists of student names, and was gratified to discover that it has a healthy proportion of Muslim names, many more than when I was there.
Masjid Kampong Siglap is across the road, and if you go up to the school hall where the assemblies are held facing the nation's flag, the minaret of the mosque is quietly in the background behind the flag.
When I went to Victoria School in the 1970s it was still the elite school for the kids from the working class who walked or took buses mixing with aristocrat kids, and I am proud to see that it still remains that way today.
Victoria School never had to deal with the accusations thrown at the other premier schools of this country, of exclusivism, elitism and snobbery.
This is probably because of the school's motto - "Nil sine labore" - there can be no product without labour - is the most meritocratic of all the elite schools', and we were drummed with the idea that regardless of who you are or where you come from, a man is worth only as much as what he has done.

Fortunately, in the frenzy of educational competition that has gripped so many of the other top schools, forcing them to become more and more blue-blooded in their intakes, Victoria has managed to remain one of the top 10 schools every year without much fanfare, without hardsell, and keeping to its root values of being the school for the everyman's son.

The school song goes, "Victoria, thy triumphs see and victories we share yet.".
Oh, the tears it brings to my eyes...

I can almost remember my days at that school, still in the old granite colonial building at Tyrwhitt Road.
Our class monitor was a skinny but brilliant boy named Anup Gupta who was sent to study there directly from India.
He later went to the Indian Institute of Technology.
The boy next to me was Yew Luen, who I met a few years ago when he popped his head in my wife's delivery room at the hsopital as its head gynaecologist and obstetrician.
One boy Shahul Hameed is now a dental surgeon.
One other boy later became a commanding officer of the First Commando Battalion, and one boy later became a woman (!).
We had some fearsome teachers who would assault and batter us without hesitation in ways which would put them out of a job today, if not in prison.
One Indian Physics teacher, had a large stick that he used to beat boys with if he was not satisfied with their performance (he called it his magic stick - "it makes lazy boys become hardworking").
I had a Dutch Geography teacher who insisted that all deskes are in perfect straight rows and would used a long string to see whos desk was out of line.
There was a Chinese Biology teacher who insisted that we all had as far as possible the same handwriting.
My Malay language teacher more than once beat me with a broom until it broke in two for not noticing and standing up to attention quickly enough when he came into the room.
Most of all, we all feared the man called the Discipline Master - whom we all knew of hushedly as "Mr Bulldog" - whose canine hypocorism was enough to deter us from finding out whether his bite was possibly worse than his bark.

It sounds terrible doesnt it?
When we were there we all could not wait to get out - but memories being what they are, all my old classmates remember those days fondly.

I guess those were the days of our lives.

No comments: