My V.I. years

by Chan Kum Hei
(born 1918 and still, by the grace of God, going strong )


t is exactly 77 years since I joined the Victoria Institution at High Street. I remember with much affection the many teachers who have been such a great help to me in my eight years as a student at the V.I. from 1927 -1934. Prior to my joining the V.I., I had spent two years at a co-ed private school run by the Brethren Assembly (Gospel Hall) from 1925 to 1926. This private school later became the Bukit Bintang Girls School.

High Street was a very busy area during my school days at the Old V.I. Students in those days usually walked to school. Others would come by rickshaw or cycle. Very few could afford to come in cars. Mr. G.C. Davies was the Headmaster of the High Street V.I. when I was there. During the monsoon season, the Klang River, which was less than 50 yards away, would overflow its bank and flood our classrooms. We would wade through ankle-deep waters, without our socks and shoes, of course, to attend classes like it was normal. But we would not be allowed in if the flood waters were more than ankle deep. Sometimes crocodiles would stray into the flooded area and whenever one was sighted near the school, the Headmaster would take his rifle to shoot at them to scare them away.

In 1930, as soon as the brand new Batu Road School was ready, we all moved over there where Mr. Wheatley, a former V.I. teacher, was the Headmaster. So we V.I. boys became BRS boys and we would become V.I. boys again from 1931 to 1934 at the new V.I. at Shaw Road. In those days pupils from Batu Road School, Pasar Road School and the Maxwell Road School had to sit for a competitive entrance exam to be selected to the Victoria Institution.

Some of the V.I. teachers I remember include:

Mr Choon Wing Hong, a gifted teacher who made studying pleasant, enjoyable and interesting.

Mr. A. L. Foenander was one of my teachers at the Batu Road School, who later became the headmaster of the same school. Many years later he invited me to serve on the Board of Governors especially I was a former student as well as my son, Daniel Weng Khuen, who was a student there. The Board was then under the chairmanship of Dr. Tan Chee Khoon, another Old Boy.

Mr Lim Eng Thye, Mr. E. H. Bromley and Mr. F. Daniel were my science teachers at the new V.I. Mr. F. Daniel later became Head of Science and wrote many science text books which were used throughout the country. The V.I. Biological Garden was the brainchild of Mr. F. Daniel and played a great part for science education at VI. During the recess it attracted many interested pupils who wandered around it. There were paths for them to walk about in the beds. The trees and plants were all labelled with their botanical, English and vernacular names. We were the second batch of students to complete a four-year course in General Science. Maybe because of this I was accepted to join the Rubber Research Institute in Sungai Buluh and later transfered to the headquarters at Ampang Road.

Mr. S. Thambiah was my teacher in Standard 6B. He was a real academician and also taught us Latin for a few years. Mr. S. Thambiah became the Chief Education Officer in Seremban.

Mr L.F. Koch was our English Literature teacher while Mr. Leong Fook Yen taught us Geography. Mr. Chan Hung Chin was the teacher in charge of the Book Shop. He was also responsible for the allocation of textbooks and other stationery to scholarship holders. These teachers were highly dedicated and helpful.

Mr. Karthigasu and Mr. H. V. Ponniah were my teachers in Standard 7. I have fond memories of my history teacher, Mr. Ng Seo Buck from my Junior Cambridge (Standard 8) year. Through Mr. Seo Buck's kind advice and recommendation I was granted the Queen Victoria scholarship which covered the school fees for my Junior and Senior Cambridge studies. I was also fortunate to win the 1933 Nugent Walsh Scholarship which paid for the textbooks and exercise books used during my Junior and Senior Cambridge Exams.

Every student at the V.I. at Shaw Road had to participate in a couple of activities. I chose to join the Debating Society. I believe my name is mentioned in the Victorian from those days. It was fun to be able to develop the skills and having the right words to press home a point in a debate. I also joined the V.I. Cadet Corps which was good for discipline as we had to do drills and lots of marching. The Cadet Corps band consisted of bugles and drums and they played their parts very well on Empire Day celebrations every year.

On certain days, we were permitted to have table tennis and badminton practices after school hours in the school hall. It was a great privilege to be selected to play for the School's badminton second team under the captaincy of Lee Kong Soon.


Some of the events that we enjoyed at the V.I. were Speech Day and the Annual School Sports Day. I was with Yap Kwan Seng House and there was healthy competition between members of the different Houses. The annual interschool relays between the V.I., MBSKL and St. Johns Institution were very thrilling ones because of the keen rivalry amongst those schools. The School had many good athletes and fine sportsmen in the many games. I am glad that my two sons, Daniel and Peter, became V.I. students as well. They played together in the School Hockey First IX. Daniel later became a V.I. teacher and then Senior Assistant before being promoted to the Federal Territory Education Office. He later became the Principal of the ACS, Ipoh. Peter received his F.R.I.C.S. in the United Kingdom and was the Property Manager of the Hongkong Shanghai Bank before he retired last year.

Mr. F.L. Shaw was a principal of the V.I. and he was a kind and fair minded H.M. He was greatly admired by the staff and students of the school. In his time latecomers to school were sent to detention class and the boys had to polish hinges and help keep the classrooms clean.

One of my illustrious classmates in 1934 was Dr Lee Siew Choh who received his M.B.B.S. from Singapore and practised there for many years. He joined the P.A.P. for some years and later became the leader of the opposition in Singapore. Another classmate was Tun Ismail Mohd. Ali who studied in U.K. and returned to serve in Malaysia. He became the first Governor of Bank Negara.

I left the V.I. after completing the Senior Cambridge Exams. As I had received a credit in the four-year General Science course, I applied and was accepted for a position of a lab assistant with the RRI at Ampang Road. I was posted to the RRI Experimental Station at Sungai Buloh and received training there for one and a half years, after which I was transferred to serve in the Botanical Division. Many years later I was made a Senior Research Assistant to supervise the lab assistants at the RRI. I was also put in charge of the clone inspectors and to arrange for their visits to the rubber estates that required their services.

The prewar years saw quite a good number of VI boys joining the various branches of government service to become clerks in the postal, railway, administration and the like. They were attracted to the life pension benefits after 25 years service. The brighter student joined schools or colleges like Raffles in Singapore, and obtained a diploma or a degree as a trained teacher, a doctor or a dentist. Still others joined commercial firms and banks as clerks or bookkeepers. Very few were able to venture into self-employment or businesses of their own because, at that time, one lacked the knowhow and capital (lots of it).

When war was about to break out in late 1941, I was recruited to serve in the Medical Auxilliary Service. We were taught first aid by a Dr. Chong, a medical officer from the General Hospital. Our headquarters was the Chinese Assembly Hall in Birch Road and we were stationed there for three months until the British surrendered.

My colleagues and I were fortunate to be recalled to serve in the RRI for the whole period of the three and a half years of Japanese rule. We were taught to read and write the Japanese language (Nippon Go) during office hours to enable us to communicate with our superiors. However, there was not much research being done at the Institute. This was because there was little tapping of rubber since nobody wanted to be hanging around in the rubber plantations for fear of being mistakenly killed by either the Japanese or the anti-Japanese forces. So it was a very relaxing time at the RRI. The day began with physical exercises like Taisho, physical drills and callisthenics. The rest of the day was spent playing ping pong or growing potatoes for staff consumption. We were, indeed, a privileged lot as each of us wore a badge indicating that we were employed by the Japanese government and that gave us protection whenever we encountered Japanese soldiers.

Still, during the occupation years there was a great national shortage of food. However, because I worked at the RRI, I was fortunate to procur monthly rations of rice, palm oil and cigarettes from my Japanese superiors. I decided to get married during this time. On 29th April 1943 my fiancee, Ng Chin Ken, and I were married at the Presbyterian Church at Weld Road by Rev. Paranjothy, a Methodist pastor.

In September 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allied Forces. Later, when the British had returned to administer the country, each prewar volunteer in the local Defence Corps and the other Auxilliary Services, including myself, received four medals from the King's representative in Malaya.

As a member of the VIOBA, it was a joy to return to the school to participate in the annual friendly games for the Daniel Shield against the present boys. The most difficult game I ever played in table tennis was against Lim Chooi Tee who represented the present boys. In the V.I.'s sporting history, Chooi Tee is the only sportsman who represented the school in every game. He was also an excellent student and was the 1962 School Captain. When we were warming up for the match, Chooi Tee was smashing every ball that I could send over. I could not match his speed nor his smashes. I strategized that the only way out was to slow down his game with very soft returns. When I did this, Chooi Tee was so surprised that he lost his rhythmn and equilibrium and the entire match in straight sets to me!

During the last five years of my service at the RRI, I had the privilege to represent the staff on matters of the Provident Fund Savings of the staff. We discussed investments, dividends. I also served as a President of the RRI Staff Union. All this came about due to the all-round training I had as a student in the Victoria Institution.




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Created: August 31, 2004.
Last update: August 31, 2004.

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