A trip down memory lane.

 

Recollections of Kirkbyite Michael Shum, batch 1959/60

 

Start of the journey

 

My journey to the Kirkby experience began on a beautiful sunny day in 1959 at the old airport before Subang and the present KLIA were even on the drawing board. I was sent off by my beloved father who was ever so supportive on hearing that I was selected to join 149 other young and dynamic gentlemen & ladies by the Malayan Government for a course of teacher training at The Malayan Teachers Training College at Kirkby, Liverpool, UK.

At that time going overseas for study was the sole domain of the rich and been awarded a full scholarship by the government to receive teacher training at the one and only Kirkby College was the mother of all dreams for Cambridge School leavers. Of course there was another sister college at Brindford Lodge where a similar number of Malayan students were sent there for the same cause.

So there I was at the old airport dressed in my new woolen lounge suit specially made at Kooi Cheong – an established tailor located at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman ( Batu Road in those days). I looked around and saw many groups of young Chinese, Malays , Sikhs and a few Eurasians with their parents & friends, all waiting anxiously for the great journey into the unknown. After a period of last minute advice from my dad on the principle and practice in leading an honest way of life, the announcement to board the plane was heard loud and clear and soon with teary eyes I bade farewell to my dad and joined the regiment of the future educators of the country to embark the 4 propeller-driven BOAC plane that would fly us to the land of Shakespear and the kingdom that is still supposed to be united ( United Kingdom).

Once seated in the plane, I surveyed the new environment. There were strangers to the left of me, strangers to the right, strangers in front and strangers behind me. All I did was to put up the best smile I could muster to make new friends and true to the Kirkby spirit very soon most of us were chatting and laughing as if we had known one another from eternity. We were well fed and taken good care of by those white skin air hostesses whom some cheeky Romeos were trying to get acquainted with. After hours of floating in the air we landed at Calcutta, India for an over night stop before continuing the journey the next day. We were accommodated in one of the posh hotels and served by hotel staff all dressed up as if they were members of the Taj Mahal. The food was indeed fantastic, that evening we took the liberty to ‘rounding-rounding’ the city and found to our amazement the cows & bulls had the right of ways throughout the city and nobody dared to raise a finger at them – so there were cows on the streets, cows on the five-foot way and cows everywhere. Calcutta at that time was indeed a very dirty and crowded  city and many of us did not have the urge to explore much and so it was an early night at the hotel before we boarded the plane the next day heading straight for the capital city of UKLONDON

 

 

 

Onward to Liverpool ( We never walk alone)

 

After our touch down at London we were soon taken on board the famous English train which prided itself of never arriving or departing late ( English punctuality is indeed a well treasured and greatly admired trait of civilization invented by the ‘mat sallehs ‘and for that we Malaysians have much to learn) During the train journey we began to experience the sudden change in temperature from the tropical sunny atmosphere to the cold windy and unpredictable English weather. The trains in those days were powered by coal and of course the noise made by the ‘fire car’ was very special to say the least. After endless hours of toot toot and hoot hoot on the British train from London we soon found ourselves in Liverpool and then transferred to the Malayan Teachers Training College in Kirkby which was going to be our home away from home for the next two years. What greeted us on arrival at the college campus  were blocks of old army barracks which were to be our living quarters and the faint hearted would have had a heart attack looking from the outside but once inside the atmosphere was much more bearable. We were allotted a room each equipped with a single bed with layers of warm blankets, a metal wardrobe, a writing desk with a chair and all round the walls were hot water pipes to keep us from freezing during the winter months – so what more would we expect?

 

The first night at Kampong Kirkby

 

On arrival at the college we were greeted by our seniors and were very impressed by their efficiency in getting our luggage sorted out and delivered to our respective blocks and rooms. I immediately got organized once I was left alone in my room and soon put on my long johns and whatever warm clothing I brought along and tugged myself to sleep in the cold cold night of the English motherland. It snowed that evening and we all had our sight of snow flakes outside our rooms and of course the excitement was unbelievable – to see and touch snow for the first time in our lives! The next morning we were all assembled and taken to the great hall to be introduced especially to the ‘most honourable senior sirs’ and from that moment of time for a short period our lives were never the same again.

 

And now the ‘fun’ or ‘horror ‘had just begun

 

Ragging which comes from the word ‘to rag’ means – to scold, torment, tease, play rough jokes on’ and that was what we were all subjected to by those ‘barbaric’ so called senior sirs who took the opportunity to literally break our spirit and tolerance to the lowest level of resistance with their shouting and ordering us around as if we were their slaves and owing them a living. I must confess that at one point in time I wanted to retaliate with a Mike Tyson knock-out blow to some who were in their elements in their teasing and character assassination. Luckily, ‘suicide bombing’ was never heard of in those days or else I would have tried it and died a ‘martyr’ for what cause?. Anyway all good things must come to an end and soon the whole ‘fun thing’ of ragging came to a conclusion with the crowning of the ‘freshie Queen’ and from that moment onwards we saw the true colours of our ‘beloved’ seniors who hugged and embraced us in welcoming us to the reality of college life at Kirkby. The ragging had done us a world of good in looking at life from a new perspective and the following year we had our chance with our ‘freshie juniors’ and so the cycle continued and that is perhaps one of the many reasons why we Kirkbyites are so different from myriads of other students who have graduated from their respective hall of college and university education. We are forever humble and seem to be binding with some unknown force in our comradeship as we travel on in this fascinating journey of life. Many of us have reached the apex of our hierarchy of human needs in attaining positions as professors, lawyers, educators, remaisers, entrepreneurs and even as members of the judiciary and many more.  Nevertheless, when we have the opportunity to meet, we are as if we were in good old Kampong Kirkby.

 

And now for the hard part- studying and teaching practice

 

We were all divided into study groups of A, B, C etc and I found myself in group C in the company of a turbaned chap called Sukhdev Singh, a loving couple – Dr Tuan Haji Azhar  Simin& Haijah Maimunah and an Arab guy Ahmad Omar – all are still my closest of friends and a few other Malay scholars and other Chinese & Indian academicians. Our favourite lecturer papa Walker was our literature professor and his discourse and interpretation of “ A passage to India’ opened my mental faculty in appreciating good novel writing and of course there were the usual poetry appreciation involving the ever green ‘golden daffodils’ and other such learned phrases and verses and not forgetting the great Shakespear’s Anthony & Cleopatra. Poetry appreciation was a mental torture and the class had to thank Maimunah who saved our lives by engaging with such sounding discussion with our professor who at the end of the day could hardly find time to direct soul searching questions at me and a few comrades who had had no idea of what poetry in motion was all about. There was another lecturer of the female gender – Miss Newman who taught us phonetics and speech therapy. My good friend Sukhdev Singh and I used to be sitting at the back of the class admiring the red flushes on her smooth whitish cheeks as she tried desperately to instill some form of comprehension on speech training in our innocent minds. Another expert on phonetics – Mr Naylor also did his best to test our knowledge on English diphthongs and consonants etc and as usual when it came to do our written tests I had to resolve to copying wholesale from my Arab friend Ahmad Omar and in order to escape been caught for plagiarism of the highest order, I deliberately made a couple of mistakes here and there and so it worked. When the grades were given out, Ahmad used to score A and I ended with a A-. Another memorable lecturer was Mr Wooly who was supposed to have taught us health education but normally ended with discussion on photography which suited us well until exam time came when we panicked as to what we were supposed to study. Anyway with a little bit of luck and some divine help from above we managed to sail through. Apart from the usual lectures in education, literature, history, Malay studies, psychology etc we had to do a practical option subject like sewing, art, music, physical education, SEA study and woodwork. As usual my adventurous spirit directed me to join the woodwork option after seeing those cutely designed coffee tables, book racks etc. The lecturer in charge of molding butter fingers like mine to semi craftsman in woodworking was a perfectionist Mr Calder. The first thing I learned in producing any work of art be they in wood, ice, clay or metal, the tools must be in perfect working condition and in the case of woodwork the cutting edge of saws, planes, chisels etc must be as sharp as the razor blade. We always stared in bewilderment at the way Mr Calder honed and sharpened the blade of the plane and demonstrated its sharpness by running it over his hairy arm and we saw some of his hair chipped off just like we shaved off our beard, moustache etc. My first attempt in molding a wooden boat out of a piece of raw wood was a joke because I chiseled the front portion with a blunt tool and the result was a boat with a crooked starboard and that of course got me a ticking off from Mr Calder and from that time onwards I took extreme care to ensure all the cuts and joints and whatnots in my project which was a coffee table cum magazine rack were used in the most accurate manner. After much tear, sweat and toil, I finally completed my masterpiece with layers of wax polishing to make it shine alongside with other equally impressive works of art made by my fellow ‘craftsmen’ in the woodworking department. Till today my work of art is still being used as a base for my TV set in the master bedroom – a perpetual reminder of my training in woodworking craftsmanship if at all there is such a term for it.

 

Teaching Practice

 

It has been acknowledged that if one could graduate teaching students in and around the Liverpool district, one could survive teaching in any part of the planet and that is not empty boosting. Some of us were posted to do our teaching practices in some very tough secondary schools where you had students who looked just like those who appeared in the epic film – To Sir with love – starring Sidney Poitter. No wonder teaching practice was the most dreaded part of  the training we received. We had to get up early in order to catch the train to our schools where we had the chance to meet up with the conservative but usually very helpful English school masters / teachers who shared with us the joys and misery in the teaching profession. Students surprisingly,at least in my experience, were very attentive and curious to learn from people with colour of skin so alien to theirs and of course they were astounded to have to learn how to speak, read and write the Queen’s English from us. If only the present schools in Malaysia still have such well trained teachers ( kudos to all Kirkbyites) to implement the teaching of English, parents will have no fear that their siblings will not be able to master the English language. Lots of preparations had to be done ( making audio-visual aids, etc) plus writing lesson notes with classroom exercises, perfecting pronunciation of English vowels, consonants, reading up of teaching materials before we dared to present ourselves in front of a class of inquisitive young minds some of which must be wondering if we had just landed from outer space especially those turbaned colleagues.

 

Fun and frolic

 

Of course college life is not and should not be confined to just learning and sweating it out within the four walls of a classroom. We had our share of fun during the physical education program in which we were given a pair of track suits to be attired in when we went to do our physical training and the first time I put on the track suit I imagined that I was an incarnated Jessie Owen ( one of the greatest athletics of all time ) but when it came down to running and jumping especially over the vaulting horse, the fear of breaking some parts of the anatomy was very stressful and there was one smart bloke ( no name mentioned ) who instead of vaulting over the wooden horse cleverly directed his physical mass round it without making a fool of himself landing on the horse instead of over it. Playing soccer outdoors in the field was fun except when we met with some friendly teams comprising of thoroughbred local English lads whose tackles could literally break bones of the Asian kind.

During weekends we had our popular informal dancing in the great hall and it was in that place where many romances started to the tunes of Victor Silvester ( the mega of ballroom dancing). Lecturers like the lovable Mr. Structhers ( nick name the Polar bear) also joined in the fun with a new version of folk and Scottish dancing and so round and round we took our pretty partners swinging and perhaps some swearing as we danced till we almost dropped with exhaustion, There were also the formal dinner & dance affairs when we had to book our partners for such occasions when everybody would come all dressed up like those famous film stars attending the Oscar Presentation in Hlollywood – the dainty pretty lasses in their evening gowns and the lads like me in buttons & bows. The gentleness with which we moved our charming partners around the dance floor was indeed a sight to behold  - not like the wild and uncivilized modern dancing we see these days on dance floors no bigger than an office work station. Then there were some enterprising ones who made their weekly visits to a famous underground coffee cum dance hall frequented by students all dancing to the beats of West Indies drums and this place was none other than ‘Jacaranda’ – the in place to meet and chat up pretty English girls. It was so easy to find a date and after the dance some lucky or ‘unlucky’ blokes got the chance to send those pretty damsels home and what prevailed after that is best left to your fertile imagination ( censored ). Talking about romances, the daring and sentimental kinds got themselves started in their sweet-nothing talks in the library, reading room, in front of the warm fire place in the hall and not forgetting taking walks holding hands in Kirkby woods and if only those old oak tress could speak – what fantastic episodes of love & romance would have been recorded for posterity. Well many of those romantic escapades had blossomed into happy marriages and congratulations to all of them.

 

Summer holidays

 

After all the agony and mental torture attending lectures and teaching practice, the most refreshing activity was going away for our summer vacations and depending on where one was heading for and also on one’s financial position, the mode of traveling varied. Some preferred to go on group tours and a few less financially endowed ( yours truly included ) took up hitch-hiking with knapsacks on backs and standing by the roadside thumbing lifts from place to place and staying at youth hostels to rest our weary legs after a hard day’s journey traveling in whatever forms of internal combustion engines that stopped by to transport us along the journey into the great unknown and at times even of impending dangers. On one of the hitch-hiking trips to central Europe covering Belgium, Luxumbourgh, Holland, France, Germany, Switzerland & Italy, I had Ahmad Omar for my partner. We started off fantastically well until the time I tried to take advantage by not doing my part in asking for water or directions and my good friend also did not butch but stood his ground – and so for some time we just looked stupid without getting anywhere. .However, in the end common sense prevailed and somehow we continued with our cooperation to just get moving. We survived mainly on bread and sardine and fruits. On one occasion we befriended a young man who even offered us accommodation in the East End of London but on arriving at his place he got a note which we had no idea what it was about. He immediately told us to leave him with a very worried look on his face and so we did. Subsequently, we had no news of him as we had no idea what might have happened to him and all we could do was to pray that nothing dreadful had fallen on him. We were equally thankful to God Almighty for our being still alive. Hitch –hiking was considered safe and economical for those who wished to be adventurous and thus got to see and experience more than the usual conducted tours. It was fun but could be very exhausting and frustrating at times when after long hours of waiting no one bothered to stop and those were the motorists whom we let fly whatever holy words that came to mind. Those were the days when hippies and flower people were non-existence and there were no drug problems or other such negative and harmful indulgences. So we always returned to college unscathed and ready to continue our training except one year when one of our juniors was involved in a car accident and was called to the Lord. It was indeed a very sad day for all of us on hearing the news. Whatever will be will be.

 

Friendly bashings

 

Living together in our barrack style of domicile had its ups and downs. As we were allotted each an individual room, privacy was no problem but at times a few of us would like to gather in one room to hone our debating skills on whatever topics of interest and needless to say top on the agenda were the techniques of courting the fairer sex and in particular the more passionate ones would drool over the prospect of having some ‘fun’ with the local lassies @ the naughty teddy girls who usually came round the other side of the fencing to tease us and of course some lucky blokes would end up dating them after lecture hours at great risks for the cardinal rule was that no ‘unnecessary accident’ should occur during those passionate affairs under the hot atmosphere of the English summer. We were often reminded of a particular senior who got sent home on dishonorable discharge because he unwittingly fathered a child  from one of his passionate encounters with those local damsels.

On one of those gatherings in my room, 3 Taiping chaps – Chong Ah Teng, Liew Pek Siew & Choo Ewe Kiat were in the midst of some heated debate and since I was the host I tried to intervene by calling the meeting to order but instead Chong Ah Teng let go a super duper upper cut which caught squarely on my chin and that was the first time in my born years I saw myriads of stars floating in my vision and at the same time I could or seemed to have heard some tweety little birdies tweeting that they saw a pussy cat. Immediately after the knock-out blow, thousands of apologies and back slapping& body hugging were showered on me. When I finally recovered Chong Ah Teng looked very miserable but as  a true Kirkbyite I extended my hand for a hand shake. From then on I developed a very strong bond of friendship with that Taiping gentleman who today is still my best of friend though he has migrated to the land down under. After that incident I took up boxing lessons to insulate myself from further attacks and so I found myself facing an opponent of almost the same physic and he is none other than one of the Pillay brothers from Negri Sembilan. We had our bouts in the block 9 recreation room in front of a few spectators. After putting on the over-sized boxing gloves I tried a few fancy steps and instead of ‘floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee’ ( famous Mohd Ali’s boxing technique ) I ended up floating like a bee and stinging like a butterfly. Fortunately my worthy opponent was no better. There were a couple of body punches and a little bit of head butting but no ear biting ( Mike Tyson was not born yet at that time ). In the end a fair draw was the result.

From boxing I then proceeded to ping-pong diplomacy. It happened in the great hall in front of most students who had gathered there for their cups of tea, billiards, and watching ITV black & white programs after their meals. There I was facing my formidable opponent – none other than my good turbaned friend Sukhdev Singh in his fiery red turban. How in the world  a sikh gentleman could have graduated to the level of ping-pongship whereby he could take on a Chinaman like me in a ping-pong match is still a very hot topic of discussion in the sporting arena. Anyway the match started with the usual white ball been hit across the net, broken up with some occasional spinning of the ball and smashing forehand and backhand strokes plus lots of picking up the ball from the floor when those crucial strokes were not properly executed. To say that the match was very competitive is the mother of all understatements. We stared with killer instincts at each other across the table as we served and returned smashes after smashes and in the process of which we lost count of the actual score. It was then the flare up erupted. My opponent insisted that he was leading and being a thoroughbred Chinaman I had to disagree and soon a great shouting match began and fortunately there was the table length to prevent us from using our weapons of mini destruction ( WmD). Had the ex- president of the US - Nixon been there to watch the game, he would have thought a thousand times before venturing to China to establish US-SINO relationship through ping-pong diplomacy. Anyway, after all the hoha, both of us soon forgot about the incident and to this day our friendship has developed to almost brotherhood status. The Chinese have  a saying: no fight no acquintanceship ( butt da butt seong sik )

 

Shopping & eating out

 

Our first shopping expedition to the city of Liverpool was a conducted affair under the close supervision of our seniors who had to remind us that there was no such thing as bargaining over prices. It was also the first time that many of us who had hailed from ‘ulu’ or ‘kampong’ places back home in Malaysia had our maiden ride in a double decker bus which at the beginning kept us wondering where the driver  was sitting when we were on the upper deck. On reaching the city proper we were bewildered by the typical English departmental stores, the Salvation Army, the Burtons tailor, the fish & chips eateries and of course a number of Hongkie restaurants selling typical Hong Kong food and one of our favorite was the Bluebird special fried noodles ( Cantonese style ). Needless to say we had to foot the bill for whatever food consumed by the seniors who accompanied us. As our pocket money given by the courtesy of the home government amounted to only 10 pound stirling ( rate of exchange at that time was 1 pound equaled to Rm8.5 ) we had no interest in any form of shopping except window shopping, more at gazing the pretty salesgirls than the merchandise on display.

 

 

 

Spunik curry, fried salt fish & belachan

 

As full fledged government scholars we were provided with all the meals starting with breakfast, tea/coffee break, dinner, high tea & supper each day. Breakfast  was very tolerable with bacon/sausages & eggs, tea with biscuits, dinner (midday meal) with the usual rice, meat and occasional fried mee ( English style) ending with pudding and then supper which sometime came with the most dreaded spunik curry ( a concoction of curry with hard boiled eggs ) and on such occasions more than half of the dining area would be empty. So we made a beeline back to our residential blocks and out came the treasured salt fish and belachan from our steel cabinets ( such items were specially flown to us by our beloved parents back home). The delightful aroma from the cooked salt fish & sambal belachan were like heavenly delicacies but when the smell of such cooking reached the nostrils of the residential ‘mat salleh lecturers’ all hell broke loose as they were so uncivilized not to recognize a good thing when they came across one – such is the great divide in the cultures between the East & West. Those who were deprived of such food received from home had no choice but to make a trip to a nearby fish & chips store to survive another day. The drinkers would proceed to the pubs not so far away and had their sing song sessions ( karokee was not invented yet) with the locals downing mugs after mugs of beer/bitter, apple cider and that was how we became so endeared with the locals who were ever so friendly and calling us ‘love’ in their typical dialect.

 

Dining out –Western Style

 

One of the great things about living and studying overseas is that we get the opportunity to put into practice the doctrine ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’. And so it came to past that one day I was invited along with other students by a well known shipping company called the Blue Funnel Line to have a first class western dinner aboard the majestic liner . Of course before we set out for the grand dining experience, we received valuable advice from our seniors on the art of using the array of eating utensils which are nicely laid out on the table and that we should use them starting from the outside and they usually come in the order of the little butter knife, followed by the soup spoon, fish knife, knife for meat, spoon for desert etc. We arrived punctually to show that we had mastered the most treasured trait of British culture and then we sat down in the most sophisticated manner in our best evening attire for the occasion and waited for the cuisine to arrive. There were the usual serving of  red /white wine to vet the appetite. We started off with the soup ( not the bak kat teh or shark fins soup kind ) and then we were shown a list of the main course dishes which ranged from fish, beef steak, chicken to lamb chops etc. I of course chose the fish after checking the cutlery that was still left after the soup spoon was taken away. The fish preparation was indeed out of this world and as I was extremely hungry I polished off the whole lot ( no bones – clever western way of cooking fish ) in record time and then the well mannered waiter came and asked me discretely if I had enough and of course being a very frank & honest guy, I shook my head and then pointed to the item marked ‘beef steak’ on the menu and the waiter gave me one kind of funny look which I can still visualize some time. By the time most of the rest had finished their fish, my sizzling beef steak arrived and of course a few colleagues followed my initiative to place the next order of chops to prolong the consumption of a near perfect dinner. Then only did I see that I was doing justice to the array of cutlery which was diminishing in number as we finally arrived to the cup of tea/coffee to end the mother of all dinners.

My next encounter of dining out was a more private affair when together with another student we were invited to spend a day & night with an English couple with a pretty daughter for Christmas. We were warmly welcomed by the whole family and the lovely daughter was indeed a sight to behold but we were sensible not to misbehave even though our hot Malaysian blood was being pumped up at a tremendous fast rate by our young energetic hearts every time we had a chance to communicate with her with the usual love struck eye and other body language always mindful that the parents were watching us like hawks lest their beautiful daughter was taken away by 2 Eastern Princes from afar. Dinner was served and that was the first time I saw a huge roasted turkey with all the tantalizing smell placed in front of us. After the usual pleasantry, eating started and the host carved out a piece of the turkey after asking how much we wanted. Of course I asked for a small portion on the understanding that I might be able to ask for a second helping and that was a mistake. To this day, I still give the benefit of doubt to our host for putting away the turkey after the first serving because he thought we were not accustomed to eating turkey when we asked for that miserable small helping at the start and so what an opportunity came and went off, leaving us no choice to survive on potatoes, over cooked vegetables, salad and of course pudding. If only I dared to practice the American way of fingers licking good in eating that turkey, I could easily finish at  least a quarter of the feathered friend!