I remember very well that I joined Sam Tet School on 2nd May 1974 after finishing my Form Five in Yuk Kwan School, Batu Gajah. I made attempts to transfer to Sam Tet after my Form Three but failed, may be God wanted me to join Sam Tet after my Form Five. Sam Tet is always my dream school, at that time they were many top scholars like Lai Choy Heng, Wong Teck Fah… just to name a few.
Although I was a new comer at that time, I was absorbed into school very fast. Teaching staff and classmates were very friendly. I never have any difficulty to be integrated into Sam Tet. I remember the very first day I reported in Sam Tet, Chee Tai Kong brought me to his house in Satin Park. What make Sam Tet different from others? I think I will elaborate more on this from the view point of an educator.
Firstly, the school culture is conducive for study, the number of good students out number the rest. Problem students are every where as long as they are not the majority then the school environment will be good for study. Once the school culture is established then thing will go on as tradition, the juniors will be lead by seniors. This can be seen in many societies in Sam Tet, like the scout movement, Sam Tet’s scouts has done wonderful things, they can organize big scale activities. I had visited Sam Tet’s scouts recently to witness some of their activities, the comment that I can say is “job well done”. When I join Sam Tet I discovered that Sam Tet boys are responsible and dedicated group, why? I was especially attracted by the way library system. It was managed by student librarians. The service extended to 10 pm. This is on par with all the university libraries. Their dedication should be recorded. Apart from good service, the collections in the library are rich and up-to-date. This makes a different as students can do a lot of referencing on their own. This will definitely enrich and enhance their classroom experience.
Secondly, the staff and the administration were very supportive to student activities. They encourage and participate together to make all activities a success. I salute the dedication shown by the staff. I remember very well that I had a Physics and Applied Maths teacher who had worked all the past year questions on his own before showing to us. The administration is full of love although some time you may think that they are soft. One incident that I always remember is that during my Upper Six year, I lost my bicycle; Brother John Moh offered a bicycle to me as a replacement. It was so touching.
Finally, the community around was supportive to Sam Tet. This includes the PTA, the Old Boys Association and the community at large. At that time Sam Tet Hall and her Science Lab were two well known buildings. The community around Ipoh had helped Sam Tet to progress, so as Sam Tet never failed them in producing good students to serve the community.
When the Remove Class text books finally landed on my laps, I began to realize that the secondary school life was not going to be easy.
It was an absolute invasion of English language into almost all my subjects. It was a sheer reality that my English foundation was undeniably weak. It was like the whole History book being rewritten in another language where every single line in the text book, by default, was tagged with my own Chinese translation.
With no coincidence, I joined the Chinese Chess Club in Form 1 with a tall order. I was aspired to play for my school in the inter-school championship. My dream finally came true. I was selected to be part of the highly motivated school team and we had since won for the school much glory in the Chinese Chess competition scene. This once-in-a-lifetime experience had indeed left my other schoolmates much to envy, I must say.
Form 2 was a year of misery and anxiety. My acute asthma attacks had brought all my school sports and outdoor activities to a stand still. I started to lose my momentum and focus on my study. While I did manage to scrape through all my class tests, I didn’t really perform well in my term examinations.
I became stronger both mentally and physically in Form 3. My strong desire to excel in the upcoming L.C.E. government examination had fueled the intensity of hard work and no play. Each day passed by with the routine of commuting between home and school library. It was the year that I called the library as my second home. But the hard work did pay off.
Form 4 was probably my most mischievous year of all. Together with some of the more playful classmates, we enjoyed the endless thrill in keeping our sideburns and yet not being easily caught in school. We played trick skipping the morning drill by attending the bible study class which we had no interest in. Some of us had even given “dental appointment” as the regular excuse to go home earlier, until the teacher realized that one guy among us had no teeth left to be extracted.
My so-called honeymoon year in Form 4 was a year of no-sweat, sweet memories. It really took me quite a pain to switch my mindset moving into Form 5. In Form 5, there were a whopping 9 subjects to prepare for the M.C.E. government examination. The peer pressure was highly intense as everyone was pushing his own envelope beyond the normal limit. Constantly I told myself that both diligence and determination were the key elements to succeed. And I did.
Then came the year of female invasion. It was a norm for the school to turn co-educational at Lower 6, and Upper 6 level for that matter. It was also the year when I took my first free lesson in dancing from my female classmates. Sounds exciting? Oh well, I was no born dancer. Shortly into the term 1, I was selected as a prefect – thanks to the nomination from my ex-Mathematics teacher. This new assignment came as a surprise to me as I was under the impression that a prefect must meet a certain height and size expectation. I was just a 5.4-footer with a small frame then.
The Sam Tet school spirit remained pretty much in my blood even after I left the school to pursue my higher education in Australia. I became an active member of STOBA (Sam Tet Old Boys Association). It was a surpassing feeling to be able to catch up with all my ex-schoolmates in a foreign land.
More often than not, when I now try to recollect these bits and pieces of the past, I can’t help to feel that life is like a dream – both sweet and sour.
I was asked to reminisce my later years at Sam Tet School, particularly the secondary school years. However being a Sam Tet boy right through from primary to secondary school, it was difficult not to write a little bit about the primary years. I started school at Sam Tet at the age of 7 and I recalled the first day at school well. My mum walked me to the school and I was quickly put into a rather hot and jammed classroom with many parents peering through the many windows making sure their love ones are behaving themselves. One of the first questions was “did you brush your teeth and wash you face this morning?” Many of us, including me, shacked our heads, but I saw my mum nod emphatically, so I quickly followed. The primary years were pretty uneventful except I recalled some excellent female teachers helping me in Chinese language and mathematics. I recalled being smacked in the hand by teachers using wooden rulers for misbehaving, which was rather painful and I soon learned to only misbehave when the teachers are not looking. The primary years were fun as I was oblivious to the academic competition but somehow I managed to remain in second top classes right through.
We have to do a “Remove Class” year after the primary school before we could formally start secondary school since the medium at primary was Mandarin and secondary school was English. For some reason I was placed in afternoon class so my class did not start until after lunch. I remember I have to struggle to stay awake because the classroom was rather hot and the lunch before the school did not help either. The Indian class teacher was excellent in teaching English and a big Chinese guy who taught Malay was comical. Trying to learn two new languages was impossible for me and I have, like many of my classmates, unconsciously “ignored” the Malay language to our detriment until the senior years when I have to frantically “catch up”. Sports on Saturday were in the morning and it was difficult for me to get up early on Saturday since I am used to going to school in the afternoon!
The first three “junior” secondary school years were enjoyable as I learned photography from Mr Cheah and spend a lot of time in the school dark room, experimenting different ways of processing pictures. Together with the some teaching from a family photographer and learning from other professional photographers who came to take school photos, photography has remained an important hobby for me. The dark room was very hot as it faced West and if it weren’t for the air-conditioner, I would not have survived. I saved up enough money to buy my very first “single lens reflex” camera and soon I was taking pictures for the school as school photographer, together with my colleague, Mr Foong Thai Kwong. The other good things I learned and enjoyed were history, baseball, chess and working as a librarian volunteer. For boredom I sat in at Religious classes every morning after assembly with Mr Wong. He was a very religious teacher who could recite Bible stories with great emotion. Despite his best effort, I was not converted to Christianity, nor to any religion for that matter. It was not until the year of “Lower Certificate Examination” that I realised the importance of “working hard to get good marks”. I was made aware that the “bright kids” will go to science classed (S1 or S2) and the not so bright ones will go to “Art classes”. Somehow I managed to do reasonably well to get into S1 for Form 4 & 5.
The senior secondary school classes were quite different to the junior classes. I appreciated the need to perform and the intense competition to do well at the next hurtle, which was the MCE. Mr Chee was an excellent math teacher who I admired and respected from junior years who continued into senior math classes. He enlightened my understanding of mathematics to a very high level. I believe his teaching was part of the reason for me to top the Mathematics at Matriculation in Victoria HSC in Melbourne High School. Mr Lim, physics teacher and School Prefect Boss was quite dry in his teaching technique and humour. He demonstrated high personal integrity, upheld rules and regulations and was admired, respected but at the same time scared by many students. I learned a little bit about Adelaide from him, as he was an Adelaide Uni graduate. It was incidental that I eventually studied and worked in Adelaide, and enjoyed the many aspects of the wonderful environment and culture that I heard from Mr Lim so many years ago. There were many different religious brothers but the most respected was Brother John Moore, the schoolmaster. Through many boring Civic classes, I somehow got the message of the principles of Sam Tet – always have FAITH, never loose HOPE, and always try to be CHARITABLE! The indoctrination to these principles was strong and to these days I still cherish. One thing I hate was the Civic exam, where I was told Brother John allocated marks according to the length of your essay! Mr Koo, the English teacher should have been in politics as he constantly spoke about anything and every thing in English in an attempt to get us used to speaking in English. By this stage most of us would understand English but we were generally poor in spoken English. Mr Koo regular remarks to me were “if you fail English, you can’t go overseas!” The “crime” of ignoring the Malay language caught up with me in Form 4. I suddenly realised I have to pass Malay in order to go to local uni and that placed enormous pressure on me. I overcompensated by studying the Malay dictionary and literature and was eventually very comfortable with the Malay language. I worked pretty hard for the MCE and I did very well at the exam, including a surprising Distinction for Malay, which was a complete shock!
The Form 6 classes were “Pre-U” i.e. pre-university years. For the first time Sam Tet was invaded not only by male students from other schools, but also female students. I did not know how to cope as we never have female students in my class for all these years and suddenly we have to be careful not to upset the opposite sex with the female jokes and crude remarks. I did not have time for romance as I have my eyes to leave Ipoh to study in Melbourne. Nonetheless interacting with the females was not as hard as dealing with the new group of “macho males” from another school. For the first time I realised the important of “playing politics” and saw the ugliness of it. My ambition to study in Melbourne and to do the Victorian HSC exam was a priority. A few of us in the class tried to study at Taylor’s College in KL but I absolutely hated it. I came back to Sam Tet after two months and applied directly to Victorian schools for year 12 entry whilst studying Lower 6. Quite a few of us were successful in being accepted to study in Melbourne. I eventually study Medicine at Flinders University in Adelaide and the rest, as they say, is history!