The Reminiscences of
Dato' Siew Nim Chee
Siew Nim Chee was born in China on August 2, 1925. He came over to Malaya in 1934 and joined the V.I. in 1939. His studies were interrupted by the war and he rejoined the V.I. in 1945. He was an outstanding pupil in his studies and was also active in extra-curricular activities. Among other things, he was a Scout, a School Prefect and represented the V.I. in badminton. He was a scorer for the School Cricket XI.
After leaving the V.I. he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Malaya in Singapore in 1950 and his Bachelor of Economics degree with Honours from the same institution in 1951. He read for his Master of Science degree in Industrial Labour Relations at Cornell University in 1953.
In 1953, he became an Assistant Lecturer at the Department of Economics, University of Malaya, Singapore, rising to be the Head of Department in 1957. Returning to Kuala Lumpur in 1959, he was an Economist and later Head of the Department of Economics Research at Bank Negara Malaysia. He was a founder of the Persatuan Ekonomi Malaysia and has held various positions in it, including that of Vice-President and President, from 1962 to 1987.
His involvement in the corporate sector began with his appointment as a treasurer with Esso Malaysia in 1965. Between 1969 and 1977 he held the positions of Advisor, Consultant and Managing Director in Magnum Corporation. He then served as Advisor/Consultant to Genting Corporation until 1985. Nim Chee continues to be active in the corporate sector and is director or chairman of more than fifty companies in Malaysia, the United States, Britain, Australia, Japan, Taiwan and France encompassing the rubber, tin-mining, chemical and construction industries.
His love for and gratitude to the V.I. know no bounds. He was the President of the VIOBA from 1989 to 1993. He is now the Patron of the Association. Over the years he has magnanimously donated his services, scholarships, cash and kind to the Alma Mater at every possible occasion. His familiar visage graces just about every recent School function. For the V.I. Centenary celebrations in 1993 he underwrote the publication of the commemorative book Victoria Institution, The First Century, 1893-1993.
On August 17, 2002, at a fund raising dinner at the Shangrila Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, the VIOBA named Siew Nim Chee the Victorian of the Year. Five hundred Old Boys and Girls and their spouses gave a standing ovation as 77-year-old Nim Chee accepted this inaugural annual award.
Nim Chee is a dedicated and loving father who leads a fulfilled life with his wife, Lim Cheng Yoke, and children Dato' Siew Kah Wei, Siew Foong Khwan and Siew Ka Keong and his two grand children. In recognition of his contributions to society and country, Nim Chee was conferred the honour of Darjah Yang Mulia Pangkuan Negeri, which carries the title Dato’, by Yang Di Pertua Pulau Penang.
In 1990 Nim Chee penned his reminiscences of his school days for the Victorian. These are reproduced below with some slight editing and corrections of names. Photos of various personalities have been added to illustrate his story.
A STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE
irst I would like to thank The Victorian for inviting me to contribute an article to our illustrious School magazine. This task of filling the pages is not an easy one as I myself experienced as Assistant Editor cum Business Manager of The Victorian in 1946 just after the devastations of World War II. I had to bicycle all over Kuala Lumpur to conduct interviews including one with Mr. H. A. R. Cheeseman, the then Director of Education for the Silver Jubilee Edition. And, of course, to persuade advertisers to fork out money wasn’t easy either even though it was only a matter of a few dollars.
However, rather than limit myself purely to reminiscences of my happy and exciting days at the V.I., I would like to broaden and lengthen my scope to cover all my experiences as a student since 1932. This is because I feel some of my comments will prove beneficial to students, teachers and parents.
My first piece of advice to schoolboys (and girls too) at the VI is not to follow my youthful exploits. For some unknown reason, I was a born gambler at the tender age of six when I was in a Chinese Primary School in a village in the outskirts of Canton, China in 1932! I was skilled and adept at almost all the gambling games indulged in by my late mother and other elderly women relatives in my home and sometimes even participated as a spare tyre! It, therefore, automatically followed that my school fees and text book money were spent gambling with street urchins and I played truant, failing miserably in my exams. When this mischievous misspending came to light, my mother unwillingly and reluctantly "deported me", even though I was the "pet" of the family, to Seremban, Malaysia, under the strict guardianship of my late Uncle, Siew Khai Wye, who was a martinet.
The transformation was indeed unbelievable! I was enrolled at the ACS, Seremban, and my first English teacher was a Miss Van Gazel, who I will always remember with the fondest affection as the most beautiful and most dedicated teacher I ever had. I was the oldest, biggest and clumsiest student in Primary One in June, 1934, and the butt of jokes of my classmates as I couldn’t count, speak, or write the alphabet. She personally sacrificed her interval periods to give me free private tuition, so much so that I completed the Primary One and Two course in six months instead of two years and came out top of the class!
I was promoted to Standard I in 1935 and was first again in the First Term. So I was promoted to Standard II for the Second and Third Terms. My teacher was Mr. Ponnapalam, and, again, I came out top! In 1936, I was promoted to Standard III and was again at the top of the class. My teacher then was Mr. Gurdial Singh, who was a famous cricketer and bowler. In late 1936, my guardian was transferred to Kuala Lumpur. Mr. Gurdial Singh and even the Headmaster, Mr. Keene, an American, liked me so much that they even offered me free board and lodging at their homes and even suggested adopting me so as to keep me in the ACS. That’s the kind of dedicated teachers the ACS Seremban and also our schools in Kuala Lumpur had. The guidance, inspiration and care between pupils and teachers are no longer the same nowadays. Teachers are as important as parents.
During my stay in Seremban, upstairs at No. 1, Lemon Street, there was a toddy shop directly on the opposite side of the road behind which was the town’s hilly burial ground. Looking out of the window every evening, I saw poor scantily clad tappers, weeders, road workers – all Indians – drinking toddy out of little tin cans or cups. It greatly saddened me, even as a child, to observe a husband offering to sell his daughter and even his wife for a few extra cents for an extra drink. The wailing and tears tore at my heart strings but I could do nothing to help out, except to curse silently at the extreme poverty that brought drunken men to the status of wild beasts.
It has obviously affected my biological system ever since because I am utterly allergic to any form of alcohol – even shandy, beer or punch can kill me in an instant if I am forced to consume such mild mixtures.
The other important experience, a much happier one, which I treasure, was my friendship with the Malay Scouts who lived in a hostel two doors away. They were all very good sportsman especially in athletics, hockey and football. We played badminton, my favourite game, and they lent me their History, Geography and Poetry and Literature textbooks which I devoured with great enjoyment. The poems were like beautiful music and at one time I knew by heart half of all the poems in Palgrave’s Golden Treasury of Songs and Lyrics, Book IV! They gave me free private tuition in Mathematics and shared their Malay kueh and fruit with me. Through their kindness, I was always a year ahead in my academic development and this accounted for my excellent exam results.
In Kuala Lumpur, as it was my last term, I could only get admission to the Methodist Afternoon School (MAS) - not to be confused with our national airline. The MBS, Kuala Lumpur, was one of the more caring schools which ran an MAS for all those failures in the morning MBS to give them a second and last chance for educational opportunities. The class consisted of the biggest, toughest and most difficult boys and our teacher, Mrs. Tan, had to be really dedicated to handle such a class. She was a very good teacher but I could only come out third because of the new curriculum. Whether you like to believe or not, the MAS Old Boys’ Association is one of the most successful, better organised Old Boys' Associations, more active than the MBSOBA or even our very own VIOBA!
What is the lesson we need to learn from this? To me, it clearly shows that pure scholastic excellence is NO guarantee of success in careers or life itself. The MAS had the best sportsmen and, of course, rebellious but independent souls.
For 1937, I applied to join the Pasar Road School but was refused admission because of my implied intellectual shortcoming as a MAS product! I only made it with an IQ test and was put into Standard IV C, the class for the worst academic performers. My Form Teacher, the late Mr. Wong Kong Fook, was overjoyed when at the First Term examination, I came out first, not only for IV C, but also over the IV A and IV B classes as well. The other two Form Teachers insisted there was an adding error of 100 marks but after checking and re-checking they admitted defeat and I was moved into IV A class for the remaining two terms. I repeated my success in the Second Term but finished third in the Final Term. Mr. Foo Chong Choon, my form teacher, was amazed and so was my bewildered guardian.
The reason for this was simple. I had become complacent and overconfident. Worse still, I was up to my old tricks again, gambling every afternoon instead of revising my school homework. My strict guardian had taken the extreme precaution of not giving me a single cent as pocket money since 1934 to prevent me from gambling but my youthful initiative was to concentrate on "playing marbles" in which I became expert and champion. I went around the neighbourhood and other schools and won marbles which I then converted or exchanged for cigarette boxes which had later become the vogue for gambling with playing cards. Rough Rider, Torch Light, Double Ace, Gold Flake, etc. – had exchange values of 5, 10, 20, but exotic cigarettes like Great Wall of China had values of 50 or even 100 boxes.
The poor greenhorns around town lost to me and I had rattan cases full of cigarette boxes hidden, I thought, safely away from home. On discovering my pranks, my guardian found my hidden ill-gotten loot and burned them all, to my utter dismay. They were worth quite a few dollars. The lesson here is that parents and teachers who are also parents or guardians cannot afford any slacking of strict supervision over their wards. Young children must be kept away from bad company.
In 1938, I topped the Standard V exams in all three terms and won all the prizes. The Headmaster, Mr. Thomas Abraham, a short, stout Indian gentleman called me to his office and told me that, in addition to the General Proficiency Book Prize, I could select ONE of the other Books as a second prize. This was a signal honour and only the second time the HM had spoken to me. The first time he called me to his office in 1937 was to tell me "Young man, you can’t come to school dressed in Kuomintang uniform", as I was still wearing the long sleeved shirt and long pants I had brought from China in 1934!
As for my Maths teacher, Mr. S. Murugesu, and English teacher, Mr. T. Magasu, they were both very good, strict dedicated teachers. Mr. Magasu was also the boxing coach and, believe me, he was very good at it. One of my classmates, Lam was so poor at English he was had to wear a Merlin type topi with a big D on it or else be severely slapped. This punishment was eventually stopped when no improvement proved possible. I guess I was the one student who was slapped almost every time I made one single mistake. When I daringly questioned Mr. Magasu as to why I was being slapped for just one mistake when Lam escaped punishment in spite of many errors, he slapped me again for questioning him because, as the top student, I was not supposed to make any mistakes! I must thank Mr. Magesu for teaching me to seek perfection in whatever I do. This was an invaluable lesson from which I greatly benefited in my future career.
In January 1939, I joined Standard VI A in the V.I. Mr. Lai Nyen Foo was my Form Teacher. The top boy from Batu Road was Lye Fah Yew and from the Maxwell School was Mahalingam. Fah Yew’s father, Lye Chin Loy, was a millionaire contractor and Mahalingam’s father was a station master in Sentul. Throughout my first three years, Mahalingam was top, Fah Yew second and I could only managed third place. The reason was that in mathematics, geometry, algebra and science where one could score 100 full marks, Mahalingam was the best, Fah Yew second and myself third; whereas in geography, history, literature and English, I was the best, with Fah Yew second and Mahalingam third. Unfortunately, one can’t get full 100 marks in the arts subjects!
As the only one of the three who showed interest in extra curricular activities, I was the class monitor throughout 1939-1941 and 1945-46. I was a Scout, a librarian, badminton champion in junior and senior competition and Y.K.S. House athletics captain, badminton captain, prefect, assistant editor and business manager of the Victorian editorial board. After the war, during my senior year, I went round town to make appeals and succeeded in getting ALL the trophies lost or stolen during the war, replaced by the original donors or their children. In addition I managed to get donations for all the athletics and sports equipment, all the prizes for the first post-war Sports Day and even two electric lawn movers to put our School field back into proper shape. The proudest moment for me was when Mr. F Daniel, our first post-war HM publicly thanked me for my efforts during his speech at the Prize Giving of the Sports Day in 1947.
During my time in the V.I., our school always won the Swimming Competition against all other schools as our best swimmers in 1945-46 were also the Champion Weight Lifters of Malaysia like Leong Ah Ting, Chow Swee Chiang, Loong Ah Bik, and Chew Swee Leong. Also, in sports, we always won the Inter-School Relays, and the attendance was fantastic compared to the poor turnout of supporters nowadays.
I would like to suggest the re-institution of the Inter-School 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 Relays for our Sports Day. I would be most happy to donate suitable trophies for these TWO events which had the greatest crowd appeal in earlier years. Our athletes who run in these should be fresh and this can be ensured by arranging our own Sports finals to be run the day before.
As this article is for the Victorians, allow me to say something more about our teachers in my days. My Form Master in Standard VII A was the late Mr. Ganga Singh who was a martinet and a perfectionist and a very good English teacher. Mr. R. R. Samuel was our maths teacher and he was good too. My Standard VIII A Form Teacher was Mr. S. Thambiah who was a historian and an English teacher as well. Our Geography teacher was Mr. Leong Fook Yen who made me read out his prepared notes during the whole year while he attended to his duties as football secretary. I had to borrow his notes for revision one week before the final examinations. There was a Mr. H. D. Grundy, who taught us English Literature and who died as prisoner of war. Our textbook for Standard VIII was Macbeth. One of the wonders to the class was that Mr. Grundy would and could turn to any page and start a quote and I would stand up and continue – strange as it may seem, I had memorized the whole play from A to Z.
In my senior year, 1945-46, the Form Master was the late Mr. Ng Seo Buck, who looked and spoke like an Englishman. He was the best History master I ever had. Mr. M. Vallipuram was our junior and senior teacher in maths, algebra and geometry. He was a most dear dedicated teacher. He looked very fierce with his moustache which trembled when he was angry and he had a gap in his front teeth so that when he became excited, a little saliva would shoot out between the teeth! In fact, he was a very kind-hearted soul.
Of course, we had Mr. F Daniel, the strictest of all science teachers and who was also post-war HM in 1946. He tolerated no nonsense and was in charge of our VI Cadet Corps. No wonder our Cadet Corps and the School Band were the best in the country and was and still is the pride and joy of our Alma Mater. Daniel’s assistant was the huge six foot plus Mr. Lim Eng Thye, who was equally fierce and an equally good science teacher. Our school was the first to have its own Science Lab. Eng Thye was also our Scout Master, helped by the small short dimunitive Mr. Goh Keng Kwee – we called them Laurel and Hardy, but both were very good Scouts.
Eng Thye used to hold a long wooden pole to emphasize points on the black board and anyone who didn’t pay attention or answer his questions would receive a knock on his head. He was, for some reason, very, very particular about well-combed hair in his class. Anyone who was dishevelled would be knocked hard on the head. I still remember one day when, by accident, I entered his class with unkempt hair and he, at once, gave me a hard knock. From that day, being foolishly stubborn, I deliberately messed up my hair every time I entered his class until he finally gave up knocking my head. Fortunately, I had sufficient hair then not to suffer any permanent cerebral damage. Had I been as bald as I am now, I might have become mentally retarded – but then if I had been bald, he would have had no excuse to knock my head in the first place!
But Eng Thye had a kind heart. He gave me free tuition for one whole week nightly to prepare me for the mechanics paper in the Senior Cambridge exam when I appealed for his help at the last minute.
Our pre-war HM was Mr. C E Gates, a cricket fanatic. He loved cricket and the Cricket Team whose members were the Prima Donnas of our School. Anyone who walked on his perfectly conditioned cricket field would be sent to detention class. The VI was famous with players like Hera Singh, Dato Aziz Ali and others who, while in school, represented not only Selangor but also the FMS/Malaya.
For those V.I. teachers, students and their parents who may be amazed at the treatment meted out by teachers to truculent students, let me say it was customary and accepted by all and sundry that teachers could discipline and beat students for their own good. From press reports I believe that today’s students and their parents do not acknowledge the salutary effects.
However, I guess I had the last laugh in that I beat all the teachers in the Pasar Road School as well in the V.I. – whenever they challenged me – but only at the Chinese Chess Board! The V.I., in pre-war days, had the most and best qualified teachers and the cream of Old Boys came back to teach in the Alma Mater. We also had the best group of students both in the classrooms and the playing field. I hope and pray someday our Alma Mater will re-establish its pre-eminence.
Our Alma Mater has a heart and this tradition has been maintained. I applied for financial assistance to the VIOBA in January, 1939, and was given $2 every month for two years and, later on, $2.50 every month for the next two years to pay my monthly School Fees. Also, I was given $10 every year to buy second or third hand text books.
In my Senior Cambridge exams in 1946, I was the student with most As, 6As and 3 Cs but only came out third as the first two students who had only 5As and 2Cs had scored higher marks because they had expensive private tuition in additional maths, higher algebra and physics or mechanics – subjects not taught in the School - which gave them both much higher marks.
However, I was compensated for that. Out of the six scholarships awarded by the Federal Government to study for the 3-year Arts course at Raffles College in Singapore, our School Captain, Mr. Geoffrey Leembruggen, and I won two of them; the VI was very proud of us. Later, Geoffrey became Secretary, then President of the Raffles College Students Union, and I became triple champion and captain of both the Raffles College badminton team and later University Captain as well, besides being a committee member of the Athletics Union and president of the Economics Association. The V.I., through its dedicated teaching staff, had made us good all-rounders.
The VIOBA or, rather, the Queen Victoria scholarship committee of the VIOBA again came to my rescue in 1950-51. I had been one of the first 24 students to obtain a B.A. general degree from the University of Malaya (which was in Singapore then) and had won a $300 cash prize as the second Best Graduate from Malaysia, the first was Dato' Lew Sip Hon from the Penang Free School. The Federal Government had not yet finalized the scholarships grants for the first ever Honours graduate candidates. The Queen Victoria scholarship committee, under the Chairmanship of the late Mr. Wong Fook Yew, awarded it to me and it was worth $3,000 a year (a King’s ransom at that time) as the best graduating V.I. candidate.
However, shortly after, I was notified that Federal Government had also awarded me a $2,000 per year scholarship to pursue my Honours degree. I felt it would not be appropriate for me to hold TWO scholarships for the same one year and wrote to Mr. Wong to seek his views as I preferred to give up the smaller award. Mr. Wong told me not to surrender the Federal Award even though it was only $2,000 because the second best V.I. candidate who needed help would not get it. Instead, he appealed to me to share half, that is $1,500, with Dato Thuraisingam which I readily acceded to as this gave me a total of $3,500. I guess selflessness has its own reward but I guess that’s what the V.I. spirit is about even though I could have kept the whole $5,000.
To me, the V.I. was a sort of second home. We spent more time in school than at home, especially if we participated in the many extra-curricular activities. Our teachers were like foster parents, especially if both our parents were working. Our classmates were like brothers or cousins and the friendships formed in our school days have lasted a life-time.
For these reasons, I have a special place for our Alma Mater in my heart and hope to do as much as I can to contribute, in whatever meaningful way, to help the V.I. and the students and the VIOBA.
Last update on 23 November 2003.
Contributed by: Chung Chee Min