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Imaginary Letter to a childhood teacher - to Sir with Love!

Mr Vincent de Paul Dicom Dear Sir, This is Cheok Hong Chuan, the elder of the Cheok twins writing to you in your absentia. The letter will be dated and posted to you as soon as I know you are still around and I locate your current address. It has been nearly 40 long years since we last met. Where was that? I think it was near the Princess Circle. You were on the way to the Bilal Restaurant at Ipoh Road, where you often had your daily meals. How are you Sir? Are you well? I trust you are in the best of health for a sprightly over 80 years young man! What I mean to say is that, for someone who does not smoke or drink, and who plays badminton regularly and lead a simple quiet life, God willing, you should stay forever young. Sir, by chance I ran into Mr Cheah, the Assistant Deputy Headmaster at Batu Road School II, at the National Museum in Taipeh, Taiwan, back in 1982. He said he thought you had been transferred to Rawang or Batu Arang. I have over the years made many trips to these towns, particularly Rawang, to enquire as to your whereabouts, but was unable to locate you. Batu Arang is predominantly Indian, and if you are or were there, in all probabilities, they should know or have known of you. Sadly, that was not so. Surprisingly, many of the Indian children there do not speak English. Knowing that your Bahasa was not so good, I wonder how you would have coped with the changes to using Bahasa as the medium of instruction. I think most of the Chinese teachers would have resigned. I encountered one of the (redundant) teachers, Mr Tan, working at a motor spare parts shop in Batu Road, which you know has been renamed Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, when they renamed all the roads in Bahasa and replaced Imperial and Colonial street names with those of Independence leaders. There was an Indian music store proprietor in the main street of Rawang, who bore a strong resemblance to you, when you were young. I got friendly with him as a result. Unfortunately, he has never heard of you. He was so touched by the story of me looking for you, who looked like him, that he gave me a good discount on the Hindi CDs that I bought of him. I was interested as to whether you got married and have a family, so I asked Mr Cheah when I met him. He said he thought you ended up marrying a Chinese girl, but did not know whether you have any children. I presume that your good wife, if you are married, cannot be Miss Ng, the teacher at school. Otherwise, Mr Cheah would have mentioned this fact. Sir, I have adopted your Christian name 'Vincent Paul' as mine; but without the de in the middle. So, in a way, I have adopted your full name as mine. In Australia, where I now reside, I am known as Vince Cheok. My full name of Vincent Paul Hong Chuan Cheok would be quite a mouthful! In Malaysia, I am still known as Hong Chuan or simply Chuan by friends and relatives. Coincidentally, Say Chuan, my twin brother adopted your cousins name. So, he is now known as Albert Cheok. Sir, please forgive for my lack of manners. I should mention, before I continue reminiscing, that I

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have not enclosed any gift with this letter. This is because I want to deliver my thanks and gratitude to you personally, when we get to meet. In any case whatever gift I make can never fully repay or demonstrate how much I owe you for putting me on the road to a good education. If it were not for you, I would not be the person I am today. I suppose you would be interested in who finished university among my batch of your students. I cannot vouch that I have a complete list. Let me start with the students that made it to the top high school Victoria Institution. I became an accountant and lawyer. Say Chuan became an economist and banker. To your credit, if I may say so, we both obtained university scholarships in Adelaide, Australia. Say Chuan came dux in Economics at University and earned the Joseph Fisher Medal. He is now, Chairman of Bangkok Bank in Malaysia. I came dux in Accountancy at University and earned the Australian Society of Accountants Medal. For a time I was Assistant Commissioner of Internal Revenue and Customs in Papua New Guinea. I returned to Australia in 2001 and am currently with Australian Quarantine. I keep myself busy writing, mainly on Jesuit Christianity and Zen Buddhism. Kok Ann, the son of the managing director of China Insurance, became an engineer. He now owns the Dunkin Donut Chain in Malaysia. Kang Shen, the son of the managing director of Malayan Banking (now Maybank) became a cosmetic surgeon. Rajinder Kumar, the top student, when we were at primary school, later became a doctor, and has since migrated to Adelaide in Australia. Long Shin (now called Victor); my foster brother eventually got a degree in Finance, after stints at various universities in UK and US. He is now the managing director of the family concern, Wing Constructions. Under the bumiputra policy, the company is now only a shadow of it former stature,as the No1 foundation piling firm. You will probably remember Wing Constructions did the piling for, among other things, the Muar, Batu Pahat and Klang Bridges, Subang international Airport and Miri and Penang New Ports. Of those who went to Maxwell High, Siew Hock, whose father owned Fom Lom Electronics in Chow Kit Road, became an engineer. Kok Thye, whose father is the dentist at Campbell Road, went to Methodist Boys School and later became an engineer. Azman, from Kampung Baru, went to Malay College Kuala Kangsar and later became an engineer. Of the others, Hoo Ben, whose father owned the Chinese kopitiam and hotel near the Prince of Wales Kindergarten, ventured into different types of business, one after another. At one stage he even opened a Chinese restaurant in Paris! I think he is now into counterfeit motor parts. Kee Kuang, whose father owned Hwee Lai Batteries and Tyres at Batu Road near my grandfathers house, and the nephew of Dr Tan Chee Koon, the local doctor near the school and the leader of the Socialist Workers Party (and for your information, one of the local triad chieftains as well), migrated to US. Moon Fook and Moon Thong, the other pair of twins in the school, joined the navy and later migrated to US. I think Moon Fook is back in Malaysia and is working in one of the Robert Kuok companies. I last saw Thameen, the fastest runner in school, at his uncles sarong shop near Malay Street. But that was almost 40 years ago. I met Gopal Singh, whose father was a shepherd, near the Central Market once; he was peddling milk from his fathers cows. Again that was almost 40 years ago. Mahendran, whose father was a cleaner at the General Hospital, was said to have migrated to Singapore. Of my relatives, Thean Cheong is now a partner in an air cargo agency. Ming Ming works in a spare parts shop. Theam Swee, whose father owned the Esso station at the junction of Ipoh Road and Maxwell Road, now owns his own Esso station in Damansara. Leong Swee went back to Penang, where his father came from. Do you remember the Indian pen pal in Mauritius you arranged for me to have to encourage me in letter writing? It never got beyond 2 letters and I did not learn much of Mauritius beyond the extinction of their giant Dodo bird. Still, that small beginning got me started and interested in prose and later poetry; and if I might add, very useful when having to write essays after essays, when I was reading Law. Later in life I befriended Marc Koo, a Hakka-Chinese businessman born in Mauritius and, what a small world it is, the brother-in-law of Michelle Yeoh, the James Bond girl. Marc owned a furniture factory in Kuala Kangsar, in which the company I worked for had an interest.

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As Kuala Kangsar is only half an hour from Taiping, I would often visit Taiping to find out more about your hometown. I would stay at the Government Rest House, which is across the road from King George V, your former school. These frequent trips in an endeavour to find out more about your background have made me very fond of Taiping. I like the Hokkiennese about the town. The Hokkien spoken there is closer to the Hokkien dialect I speak, than say the Penang Hokkien or the Singapore Hokkien. Most of all I enjoy the majestic beauty of the gigantic 'rain trees' at the Taiping Botanical Gardens. Do you miss Taiping? I would not mind retiring to Taiping one day, although my personal preference is one of the smaller Chinese towns like Ulu Yam (Selangor), Banting (Selangor), Tanjung Tualang (Perak), Kampar (Perak), Bukit Tambun (Penang) or Kulim (Kedah). Where were you during the inter-racial riots on May 13, 1969? As you know the killings first started along Princess Road, near your old house, and near the junction with Jalan Rajah Abdullah and opposite the soccer stadium. The raving Malay mob, enraged to the point of being murderous by the Chinese victory at the elections and spurred on in their fury by bloodthirsty Malay extremists, left the Chief Ministers residence, about 300 meters down the road from your house at Princess Road, armed with parangs and bicycle chains with clear intent to kill the first Chinese they came across. The first Chinese they encountered and killed were those in the vicinity of the row of Chinese/Indian shophouses opposite the road from your house. Strange isnt it? The Tengku when he conspired with the Chinese leaders during the struggle for independence often met clandestinely with them at the cheap Chinese hotel/brothel (I note that it is now called Rumah Tumpang Muda) opposite the road from your house. Then 12 years later, the same spot is the scene of racial carnage. The racial violence spread quickly that night to Batu Road, Ipoh Road and Campbell Road. 2 of the best Hokkien Mee cooks ever died that night. One operated the Hokkien Mee stall at Jalan Raja Laut. The other operated the Hokkien Mee stall at Campbell Road. I can only say that many Batu Road neighbourhood childhood friends and acquaintances went missing after the May 13 riots. Many may still be in detention or deported for life to various restricted rehabilitation zones or centres right around the country for known triad members, although I must say many may have died through drug overdose or related ailments. Anyway, let us return to more sombre things closer to school and education. I never became a prefect at Victoria Institution, unlike at Batu Road School 2. This was even though I did well in studies and represented the school in rugby, and Thamboosamy House in every sport except swimming, hockey and cricket. The fact that I was a bit of a rebel-rouser and rumoured to being a Batu Road gangster did not help. The school was a bit of a posh college, most of the students coming from royal, wealthy or professional backgrounds. You attend board meetings in Kuala Lumpur these days and at least 25% of the directors are former Victorians. The present Sultan of Brunei was 2 years my senior. Dr Jegathesan, the fastest man in Asia was 5 years my senior. You get ex-Victorians as the elite in government, politics, industry and commerce, medicine, defence forces, arts and all areas of public life. Sir, I must confess that I was a bit of a delinquent at Victoria Institution. I am not proud of it. All I can say is that I have learned from my past misdeeds. I got caned, trying to be a conscientious objector, when I refused to line up, at the schools allocated section of the motorcade route, to flagwave to President Johnson when he visited Malaysia. My father was very anti-American because of the Vietnam War. I got caned again when I organised a petition protesting against the teachers strike arguing that like Florence Nightingale they should put dedication before self-pecuniary interest. I got caned again when I wrote a submission arguing against the promulgation of Bahasa as the National Language. I argued that English should be the National Language as it was common to all the races in Malaysia and that it would facilitate academic and economic

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development. How very young and nave I was! When they said my shorts were too short, I started wearing Bahamas. When they said my socks were too short, because I folded them down, I started wearing long walking socks, up to the knees. When they said my hair was too long I ended up having a very, very short crew cut. I did anything and everything, to test the limits of the schools strict discipline and dress code. Can you imagine! At assembly, the headmaster still wore his academic gown and mortarboard! We were supposed to have abandoned all relics of Colonial rule! The geography master once made a remark I found offensive. So I gesticulated in a rude way, when he was writing on the blackboard and had his back towards the class. The whole class burst out laughing. He asked who caused the laughter. I immediately stood up and confessed Sir, you were rude. So I did this. I gestured in the same rude way again. The whole class burst out laughing again. For the rest of the year, I had to sit on the floor during his geography lessons. Now that we are both old and can afford to look back at life and have a good laugh, do you want to know what the gesture was. I suppose that you know the Chinese way of gesturing f..k you. You clench your left fist towards your protagonist, and then hit it with your right palm, making a clapping sound. I was never ever physically violent or destructive at Victoria Institution. Unlike at Batu Road School I never got into fights. Or should I say, Say Chuan always got into trouble, and I always went to his defence. I cannot say the same of some others who were in my clique at Victoria Institution (we were all more or less the same age, and relatives by blood or fostered). I think you might be able to guess who they might be. One hint not Say Chuan. One scratched the entire side panels of a teachers car - Thean Cheong!. Another decided to practise karate on the study desks and chairs during a swot back period, for the exams Long Shin [Victor]. Quite a few chairs and tables were broken in that demonstration of physical prowess. Sir, I love to be able to meet up with you again. Not only to personally say a long belated thank you, but in particular to feel the warmth of your presence and take delight in your infectious smile and your gentlemanly charm. You are the greatest! May Jesus bless you always, and I thank Jesus for letting you into my life. Yours obediently, Cheok Hong Chuan

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