The Perth chapter of VIOS has some thirty-five names on record and about 30 (including spouses) are regular participants at events. All of us being of Malaysian origin, the interest in food, good food, any food, is high and gatherings are centred around tasty nutrition.
We are very fortunate in that one of our staunchest members is Gan Kong Eng: everyone knows him, school vice-captain, great rugby player, class of B1 ’62. Less well-known may be the fact that his domicile straddles Singapore and Perth, and each year during one of his sojourns in Perth, he will organise a VIOS gathering. Despite the little time he spends here, he is very au fait with the dining scene and that is no mean feat as Perth is acknowledged to have more eating spots per capita than Sydney.
Someone who wears his devotion to the V.I. on his sleeve is Paul Nathan, a relative spring chicken of the class of ‘77. He is an able 2-IC in organising the gatherings as well as general keeper-in-touch of the local VIOS. Not far behind in providing underlying support is Ron Liew Kon Swee (class of ‘68), always faithfully upheld by charming wife, Hian (where would you men be without the little woman?).
Kong Eng has the genius of ferreting out intimate restaurants with tasty, beautifully presented food which doesn’t cost the earth (Perth restaurants also have the dubious distinction of being pricer than Sydney ones). This time he suggested a Japanese restaurant.
Marumo started quietly in an outer suburb but its light could not be hidden under a bushel and it recently relocated to the affluent western suburb of Nedlands (remember, Sydneysiders et al, out here the river, sea and beaches are to the west so that’s where the monied hang out). Its culinary reputation is based on the fact that it is not a run-of-the-mill sushi/sashimi joint. The passionate soul of the owner-chef Moe impels him to prepare only degustation meals and these change constantly according to seasonal produce and his inspiration of the day.
So on 3rd July, fifteen VIOS and nine spouses commandeered the tiny restaurant in anticipation of good food and good cheer. Victorians in attendance were Ron Liew Kon Swee, Chong Sze Foh, Susie Lim, Teh Pek Bee, Wong Yuen Kah, Paul Nathan, Joe Yap Chong Yee, Baljit Sambhi, David Gan Kong Eng, Martin Lee, Harcharan Singh, Chan Tak Kwong, Low Yew Loon, Ee Paik Lian and Raja Ahmad Raja Jallaludin.
We were deftly relieved of our money by Katherine Gan, Ron and Hian at the door and once all had been seated, Paul, the MC, handed out his special song sheets embellished with the school crest and image of the V.I. The school song rang out and we all felt an affinity to the additional verse by VIOS archivist Chee Min, himself a Victorian on a “distant shore”.
Kong Eng welcomed us and brought us up to date on VIOS news: the interaction with the present VIOBA; a reminder of how the Perth VIOS group was inaugurated five years ago with a potluck dinner at his home; the Melbourne VIOS dinner in October; and advance notice of the next international gathering which the Singapore chapter is organising to take place in their island paradise in September/October 2015. Watch that space.
What followed was a leisurely procession of delicate works of art wrought in food. Each offering was exclaimed over and cameras flashed. Sometimes it seemed a shame to eat such beauty. Raw meat is an acquired taste and unsurprisingly some VIOS opted out of sashimi. Thanks to painstaking organisation, preferences had been noted beforehand and the chef made allowances for the more squeamish palates.
Such a meal is not for coarse appetites to tear through and in between courses we had 3 persons recount their VI days:
Teh Pek Bee, 1962 Head Girl, felt very privileged to
have been able to go to the V.I. because selection was by an entrance examination and good O Levels.
The school had a culture of elitism which accounted for the quality of its alumni.
She found her time there stimulating and interesting. She was the only girl who drove to school
and therein had a tale to tell against herself. She learnt to drive at a driving school which
guaranteed her a licence. (You know what’s coming!) After six lessons she had passed her written
exam and was sent for the practical test. She did nearly everything wrong – knocking over the guide poles while reversing, rolling backwards on a slope – yet she passed. With a kopi-o-licence in hand,
she gamely drove all over town on behalf of the Historical-Geographical Society of which she was
the secretary. How trusting were those schoolmates who got into her little Nissan!
We have the honour of having in Perth V.I.’s first Head Girl, Ee Phaik Lian (née Teh),
who assumed her schoolmarm persona and addressed us as a bunch of unruly school kids. She also regarded going to the V.I. a privilege,
which was unusual in her case as she should have gone from MGS to MBS. In her year there were only 4 girls in the science stream. It was Dr Lewis who instituted the position of Head Girl in 1955/1956. She obtained a Colombo Plan scholarship and after finishing her degree in science and maths in NZ, she returned to teach in the V.I. This is how she described the division of students into the various classes: the best Science students were put in 5B, the best Arts students in 5A while 5C held the rest of the “jokers”. However, in her experience, many success stories in life came from the last group. In conclusion, she stated that the V.I. was not a school but an institution which moulded one’s being, and that the work ethic (which helped make so many distinguished careers) evolved from its competitive environment.
Paul Nathan came on to bewail the present state of the V.I. and did a comparison of its different stages. There have been the Ages of gold, silver, bronze. Is it now clay? Paul’s class enjoyed V.I.’s last year under a non-Malay HM, Mr Victor Gopal. He was followed by Enche Shukor, under whom much of the school tradition was still maintained. Paul remembered Daniel Chan, who taught him biology; and Chan Teck Heng, known to “slap first, talk later”, who was karate master and had a hard hand! Paul often laments that he was too young to have enjoyed VI’s golden era which he hears about from earlier generations or reads about in Chee Min’s books. However, he reassured us that in his time there was still strict discipline, much hatred of the blue-shirts, brass polishing, weekly cleanliness competitions, the school band, 8 As scholars, and house tent competitions. One year Harcharan’s house, LKY (formerly Hepponstall) House, erected a tepee complete with a live horse and won the competition hands down. Sadly, Club 21 was no more. To a general murmur of agreement, Paul stated that in the V.I. it was a case of students leading students – in the band, Red Cross, Scouts, for example – not teachers. As the Under-20 soccer captain, he remembered especially the interschool soccer competitions where the V.I. cheering was “greater than for the World Cup”. Under our urging he explained why he tasted three strokes of the rotan in Lower 6 – for going against a prefect.
We hope that more Victorians living in Perth will be drawn to join future events organised. VIOS from interstate or overseas will always be welcome. In fact we try to organise get-togethers specially for such visitors – any excuse to eat and have fellowship!
Left to right:
(1st row): Harcharan Singh, Chan Tak Kwong, Paul Nathan.
(2nd Row): David Gan Kong Eng, Ee Paik Lian, Teh Pak Bee, Susie Lim, Baljit Sambhi, Martin Lee, Maureen Lee.
(3rd Row): Chong Sze Foh, Yuet Mui, Raja Ahmad, Ron Liew Kon Swee, Joe Yap Chong Yee (partly hidden)
(Back row): Wong Yuen Kah, Low Yew Loon
Report by Susie Lim