Monday, October 15, 2007

Letter from Sam

Sam came for a visit (2008) Photo with Dr. Abeng Lim (KB Brunei) at his lovely home.

In May this year, quite unexpectedly, I was "discovered" by a long lost friend Sam Teo from my school days.

Since then we have exchanged news, stories and revisited each other through an ex-student google forum. I was delighted to find out that he now resides in Missouri, USA, even though he did try his best to come back to work in Shell Sarawak. Qualified as any one for Shell, he was rejected probably by a small man sitting behind a Shell desk with heaps of application letters which he could not bother to reply and within months Sam had to return to the USA, unable to serve his beloved country. He speaks and writes Arabic besides Chinese, English and Bahasa Malaysia, is extremely good in photography (since 1962) and is a genius in computer science.

I have asked my friend if I could borrow his letter to Mr. Ruthe, one of our Headmasters for inclusion in my blog. I just hope that even more people would read articles which are written from our hearts. Thanks Sam for sharing.

May our passion for our old school Tanjong Lobang School, Miri, live on!!

========== Letter to Mr. A. D. Ruthe ===========

Dear Mr. Ruthe,

I should have written this letter 45 years ago, but I always thought procrastination was (is?) a virtue. Anyway, late though it is, here goes my note.

During my relatively short time at TLS, I had had a few Headmasters before you, and one after. None of those Headmasters impressed me as you had. Permit me to express my personal views and feelings toward you, Mr. A.D . Ruthe, my Headmaster, Teacher and Mentor.

A.D Ruthe - my Headmaster

I never knew what "A.D." stood for, and never had the urge to find out. It was quite enough to know you as Mr. A.D. Ruthe. We weren't supposed to know your first name anyway, for after all, it would have been impolite to address you by your first name. I did finally learn what the "A" was - from Linda, your lovely daughter and my former classmate. Now I know " A.D. Ruthe" was "Alan D. Ruthe". But what was the "D"? Oh well, it doesn't matter.

The most memorable encounter I had with you, as Headmaster, was when you and I had a very lively shouting match. You may have forgotten that episode, but I have not. It was that verbal battle I had with you, and the outcome thereafter that brought admiration from me for you - my Headmaster.

You knew I played basketball for TLS, and was a very good player.

There were several school team players from the then Fourth Division (Bintulu, Sebauh area) who could not stand the sight of me. Most of them were upset with me for having won the heart of a young lady from their "neighborhood". Consequently, during basketball team practice, they had deliberately excluded me from any play. I decided that if I wasn't wanted, then I should leave the team. I subsequently asked the coach and was given permission to leave TLS team and play for Miri Machinda Club.

TLS team played Machinda Club, and lost. I contributed over 30 points in that match. The coach was furious, and his fire was fed more fuel by the TLS players. I was summoned to your office, supposedly for a good beating - by you.

You, and certainly the coach, were probably expecting me to just apologize and walk out with my "tail between my legs". I started to defend my action. The coach, with his selective memory, declared that he never gave me permission to leave the TLS team, let alone play for an outside team. I lost my cool, and raised my voice. The coach responded in kind. You showed irritation, and, being a good executive, proceeded to side with the coach. At that point, all three of us were having an intense verbal battle. What happened afterward did (not?) surprise me.

You permitted me to continue to play for Machinda.

Mr. Ruthe, you never told me this, but I suspect your decision was probably based on your belief that although I was a rebel, I was not a stupid person - at least not stupid enough to blatantly break TLS school rule: leaving TLS team to play for an outside team without permission.

Whatever your reason, I thank you and I admire you for your fair mindedness.

A.D. Ruthe - my Teacher and Mentor

You knew I could write, with some degree of clarity in delivery. You graded my papers with decent but not the best marks. Your one and constant comment was: "Write on something familiar to you, for only when you do that can you express yourself with the needed passion."
I wanted to go into medicine, and surgery no less. Consequently, I often wrote about medicine - good writing but lacking in substance. After your comment and guidance, I began to write about something that I knew. You were somewhat surprised, yet pleased, when I wrote about romance in secondary school. You gave me a very good mark in that paper.

Thank you for your help, I got a very good grade in English in my School Certificate.

Mr. Ruthe, I don't know if you were a great man in New Zealand or not, or how you compared with your compatriots - socially and professionally. All I know about you is from our relationship at TLS. In my mind, you, Mr. A.D Ruthe, are greater than all the TLS headmasters combined. You had reinforced my belief that it is OK to stand one's ground, as long as one is in the right. I did that during our "battle", and you did not shut me up, kick my butt and send me packing the next morning. I doubt if many other Headmasters would have tolerated my behavior under that same circumstance.

I hope you are successful in reading this e-mail. I am certain some of your internet-savvy friends at " " will help you - in case you have any trouble with GMAIL.

Sincerely, Sam TeoFormer student at TLS (1961-64)

Miss Rose Chin - Extraordinary English Teacher

Miss Rose Chin with her brother David Chin and other family members in New Zealand. Photo courtesy of David.
1968 was the last year of my school at Tanjong Lobang School. I had been in the school for NINE years. It has been a loving home, a training ground and Mr. McCormick was right. It was like heaven.

Now that I am 61 I have the privileges of sharing my memories with friends while my mind is still good. It is not fair just to remember Mr. Robert Nicholl only. Like the Beatles song, "In My Life", I remember them all.

And today, one of the teachers I would like to remember is Miss Chin.When the newly graduated

Miss Rose Chin walked into our English class that particular moment, we being only just a few years younger than her, knew that she was nervous. She kicked the rattan waste paper basket and we waited patiently,respectfully and knowingly for her to start her lesson.

Only Reggie Tersan laughed softly and said,"She's nervous!" She did not flinch at all but continued with her business of teaching.

Reggie went on to become her favourite and best English student.

But for me,in just that moment I knew that she was all business and that she would get on with her teaching to the best of her ability and we would benefit a lot from her refreshing approach.

Physically, she was a strong woman, one that was used to changkul-ing soils and hard farm work. She had the sun burnt skin of a farmer's daughter. So we as the native students of the class, immediately felt that we could relate to this new teacher who had just come back from Australia.

Mentally, she was really intelligent and she had an admirable command of the English languange. I am proud to say that I was in her class long enough to learn all the important tenets of the English language that year. All my fellow classmates benefitted from her teaching as well. None of us dare to upset her, while most understood her intent and purpose completely. She was clever and she could impart knowledge to us. So for that we were willing and respectful students. Her mental strength challenged us to be disciplined language learners.

One thing which really impressed me as the weeks became months and the months became a year. She was able to talk non stop on a topic she was teaching. Sometimes I thought that she was not breathing at all, even at the commas and the fullstops. Was she really able to speak like a train? In later years when I met her, she was still the same. I really believe that it was listening to her fast talking that I developed a very good listening skill and long concentration span.

In terms of opinions , I had the feeling then that Miss Chin always had her mind strongly made up. Even though I did not make a really good impression on her (as I was always saying "but ....." and disagreeing with her) and I was not that goody goody kind of student, I felt that she was able to be objective towards me. She gave me a good evaluation without showing she was biased, like so many other teachers would do. She kept a very good poker face when it came to students who were not paying attention or pulling their weight.

I would say that during her time in our school she was one of the most dedicated teachers. She worked hard and we could all see that very very clearly. She meant business and would not tolerate any nonsense in class. And she came across to us then in every thing she did, she was just so proper and such a perfect Chinese woman with all the classical ethics and moral values. In later years when I became a Principal, I had wished that all English teachers should be like her and as many students as possible would have excellent results in English.

We should have more English teachers like Miss Rose Chin.

Remembering Mr. Martin Wilson of New Zealand

Although I did not come to know Mr. Wilson as well as Mr. Nicholl I had the privilege of being associated with him on several occasions when I was in Lower Sixth 1966. But I will always be grateful to him because he helped me realised what I could do to help myself become an adult. Besides,he made a remarkable impression on me on what it was like to be a knowledgeable person. And in 1966 because of him I felt I became a taller Iban.

Mr. Wilson was a very intelligent and knowledgeable man who was interested in many things. He was interested in archaeology, history,natural studies,photography and the sciences. So I thought, here we had a Renaissance man from New Zealand.

Besides he had a lot of sympathies for the Maoris. This had impressed me greatly as I am of Iban descent.

Mr. Wilson taught us General Paper in Lower Sixth. We had one interesting class with him which inspired me to be even more interested in writing. This lesson also taught all of us that learning was a happy event.

One day Mr. Wilson asked us to write an essay on "The Eating Habits of People of Sarawak ", Deep in thought, I really wanted to be different in my approach of writing. So off I went and wrote .

the next day, Mr. Wilson abruptly told us that he would read aloud one piece of writing. He read aloud the following lines with some drama :"The manner in which the respective community in Sarawak eat reflects their culture and to a certain extent their values...." I still remember that I specifically wrote this ".when it comes to eating, the Chinese eat very fast and that it is in a matter of minutes they could consume a bowl of rice with chopsticks.." And to my surprise after he read that he laughed melodiously . He had really enjoyed this particular piece of writing he said. Much to my embarrassment it was my essay and that particular part was a little exaggerated by him. In hindsight I cannot now say whether my approach was mature or not. But perhaps he also knew that I would not be annoyed by him for reading aloud my work.

Alec Kaboy turned to me and said, "Uchak, that sounds like you!" I kept a very straight face at that remark. To this day, no one knew that it was me who wrote that essay.

I never let any one know who was the writer. Neither did Mr. Wilson. For keeping that confidence I started to learn to trust a teacher like Mr.Wilson and I knew that he was a man who would never betray a friend. That was an important lesson in life for me: a good person would and should not betray his friend.

Later, during the school mid year break, he wanted to give us poor ulu boys a chance to earn extra money. Probably he liked Robert Madang and I more than the others. He took us to do archeological diggings for the Sarawak Museum in Bakong. We got to know him better as we experienced digging into tombs and deep caves.Besides Robert Madang, and I he took Ali Junaidi , and Borhan Tahir..

It was perhaps another twist of fate that I had again a chance to prove myself to him. Our boat driver Pak Cik Daud was suddenly taken sick, I volunteered to be the driver in his place for the last week of our stay at Bakong. Dispersing all the doubts of the others in the team I managed to negotiate the narrow Bakong River. When a huge motor launch was ahead of us, making difficult waves, our long boat almost sank and every one was fearful that death was eminent. But even though I thought I was not going to handle the outboard well, I managed to triumph against the odds and saved the boat from sinking. It was a very proud moment for me and Mr. Wilson gave me a pat on the back.

Later in the year, Mr. Wilson chose Robert Madang and I for the Kinabalu climb. I was a complete pauper and could not even afford a towel. But being a very perceptive man, he saw to it that I had the finances to go on the adventure of my life. My heart was in my mouth from the moment we set off for the trip from Miri to Kota Kinabalu by plane.When we reached KK or Jesselton we were joined by Mr. Voon and Mr. Yong.

Both these Chinese teachers gave us, which to me, was my first great Chinese dinner in one of the restaurants called Nam Chong.

You could not find a happier native boy on the plane at that time. Wind on my face, a few cents in my pocket and a whole adventure ahead of me. And this was because a white teacher was able to find a way to finance my trip.

Every one could see that I gave my all for the trip: I carried half a tin of kerosene on my bare back up the mountains, I did everything with an eager heart. And with great determination I made myself truly useful and a member of the team. I would not let any one of them down.

Even though I felt the terrible cold at 8000 feet I kept my enthusiasm high.. Robert and I had tried to keep our feet together. On the second night at 11 ,000 feet level, I had great difficulties in attending to the call of nature. Mr.Wilson came later into the next cubicle remarked rather loudly," I have the same problem." And a while later, I heard him say, "Oh Mother I did it." Before he left the cubicle, he humourously wished me luck. Many years later Jeliang Mersat would tease me,"Oh Mother I did it."

We left the last camp at 4:30 in the morning.

When the sun came up and lit up the whole sky as we reached the top of the mountains, I knew I could climb more moutains in my life in the future. And nothing was impossible.We had reached the top without one of Mr.Wilson's son, Mark. It was the third day of our climb.

We did have a good time taking photographs, and I still have a copy of the photo after all these years. The journey back, descending the mountains was more painful on my knees. And when we reached the base camp, which was just a little hut,we were given a certificate to certify our ascent, which I consequently lost. We stayed the night there, sharing the hut with two Japanese men. One of the Japanese men shared with me a bottle of sake, along with it he tried to teach me a Japanese song.

The cold on the mountain was inspiring and awesome.I realized that I really like the cold. It was that which spurred me to be determined to make it overseas one day.I really have to thank Mr. Wilson for helping me to realise my potentials and that I could be some body some day.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Thomas Sia,Wilson Sakan and Bicycles in Tanjong Lobang

A batch of ulu boys, bicycles and a wonderful hill. These are good materials for a great Travel and Living Documentary.

But video recording was not even invented in 1960! All that one could see at that time was recorded in the mind.

My great memory of Thomas Sia was that he was a big boy with a big heart. He kept his hair well groomed like Elvis,he rolled his sleeves up to the shoulders to show his great muslces, as was the style of the day.

And then, he had the luxury of a beautiful bike - high saddled, low handlebars. He was akin the Michael Schaumaker, the Grand Prix driver of today. You know the feeling when Thomas passed by with his bike. He had speed, he had style, he had everything an ulu boy would wish for.

The Tanjong Lobang hill slope, going down to Teman Selera was indeed a steep slope and most students would run all the way down the slope but dread going back up hill. It would be a real drudge.

One day Thomas being the good hearted boy he was he offered Wilson Sakan a joy ride on his bicyle. Thomas put Wilson to seat on the bar and the two giggle as they rode around, Wilson in front and Thomas on his saddle. It was good to see two boys (Form Three, about 16 years old) on a bicyle having a fun time out.

Then without really realising what Thomas was about to do, Wilson found himself floating down the slope. It was a truly free wheeling experience.

When they reached the bottom of the hill, Thomas casually said," That's it. Good ride wasn't it?"

By then Wilson had crumpled into a nervous ball of human tensed up muscles and was weeping away.

"Thomas why did you do that? I almost died of fright!" was all Sakan could say. He had almost stopped breathing by then. He had held his breath when Thomas skillfully steered the bike down the slope at top speed.

Sakan had never been on a bicycle before in his life.

That ride helped him see life and death flashing in front of his eyes. We believed that he must have closed his eyes during the ride too.

One memory that would always flash through my mind was the way the late Taba bin Besar cycled down the hill at tremendous speed and almost killed himself. He flipped over the bike and fell into the drain. His face was very very damaged and that was a traumatic occasion for me because any physical harm was very painful to me.

Bicycles continued to be an important part of our lives. Most of us Ulu boys did not own one as we made do with walking all the way to town, which was about 5 kilometers, hitching rides from our teachers and taking the slow bus.