Tuesday, 2 October 2012

My Teaching Career and Official Retirement

I first teaching job was at Kay Wah Primary School. I started on 13th January, 1958 teaching English. It's the same school I had attended as a kid, completing my education in Chinese with English as a second language.

I had sat for my Senior Cambridge Certificate exams in 1957 and obtained a Grade One certificate. So I returned to teach English at the same school. English was then a compulsory 2nd language at this government-aided school. Its first language was Chinese. It remained so throughout the 50s and early 60s.

In 1959, I started my teacher training proper at the Teacher's Training College on a part-time basis. If I taught in the morning, I then went for my training in the afternoon, and vice versa. The training was 3-4 hours a day, three days a week.

After struggling for three years, I obtained my Certificate in Education and began teaching as a qualified teacher in 1962.

I left Kay Wah on 31st December that same year and began my career with Boys Town English School on 1st January 1963. BTES was the old name for the current Assumption English School. The school's name was changed after it took in girls at the secondary level in 1973. The primary level was still an all-boys primary school.

1973 was the same year I stopped teaching at the primary level and moved on up to the secondary. I had majored in Art during my teacher training and it so happened that the newly co-ed secondary school needed an Art teacher. So I was pushed up to teach Art there. At the same, I was asked to design the new Assumption English School badge and flag after a competition amongst the students failed to find a suitable solution. Thankfully, both designs were officially accepted and signed off by then director and founder of Boys Town, Brother Vincent.

After I started teaching at Boys Town, I grew attached to the school. Much of it had to do with the kind of work and commitments I had. For example, I was made Scout Leader of the school's Scout and Cadet Scout (primary level) Troops. I held this responsibility from 1963 till 1996.

I was also an active member of the Boys' Town Old Boys' Association, now known as Boys' Town Alumni. We were very active during the late 60s and early 70s when we used to organise Talentime for Schools in order to raise funds for the Alumni's scholarship fund.

I was roped in to serve on the Alumni's EXCO in 1965 and am still in it!

To me, my time with Boys Town was/is not just a job or career, it's everything in my life.

So in 1996, when time came for me to retire, there was great sadness. It was compounded by the fact that the old school had been rebuilt and newly opened. It now boasted of two state-of-the-art Art Rooms - something I had longed for over 20 years. I had all along taught Art in that meantime without a proper Art room.

I felt disappointed that I had to leave just as new facilities were available. But then I remembered something that was said during the retirement seminar I had attended. I could continue as an Associate Teacher if I so desired! So I approached the school's principal then - Mrs Susan Thomas - about it. She advised me to write in to MOE, which I did. My application was successful and so I started work again on 9th January 1996 - a day after my official retirement on the 8th.

Towards the end of 1996, Mrs Thomas asked me to sign up for another year. This went on year after year until 2005 when I was asked to take over Sec 1 Art so as to hand over the upper secondary (graduating) classes to new teachers in case I left.

My schedule became quite full. I had eight Sec 1 classes with 2 periods a week. It was quite the change. You see, for the last ten years, I had been dealing with Sec 3 and Sec 4 students preparing them for 'O' or "N' level Art exams. I became quite lost when I suddenly had to teach Sec 1.

The problem was communication.

The students either didn't get what I was telling them or they just couldn't be bothered with what I said. A few rowdy girls and boys and there would be havoc in class. Many of them were very restless or active.

A few would forget to bring their Art materials too. Some just wouldn't listen. A few found the spacious Art Room a nice place to run about. When I approached the misbehaving pupil, he/she would run away, round the room, expecting me to catch them. I was not young anymore to play 'catching' with them!

The experience with the Sec 1 classes in 2005 was both stressful and unpleasant. I decided then to step down as Associate Teacher with full load and duty. Instead I would take up the new post of Flexi Adjunct Teacher where one could sign up to teach a limited number of hours over a period of time. Mine was in the 27 hrs per week category, usually for 10 weeks a Term.

Suddenly my workload became much lighter. Sure, my pay was affected: It was reduced, I don't get paid during the school holidays, and there would be no year-end bonus. I was also not entitled to any promotion. But it was so much stress-free!

All I had to do was assist the teacher proper (usually a young one) and guide her along. Or to co-teach the upper secondary classes or Normal Technical ones. I no longer took the lead but played second fiddle instead. It was indeed much more relaxing. I just did my best to support and help out the main teacher however I could.

I am still a Flexi Adjunct Teacher in the school and hope to be there as long as I am able and needed!

[Editor Note: Mr Ang has finally announced his retirement from teaching on 1st Jan 2013, almost 17 years after his official retirement on 8th Jan 1996. He had returned as an adjunct teacher then. Thank you, Mr Ang, for what is almost a lifetime of service to your students and to Assumption English and Boys Town. They are definitely poorer without your presence and contributions!]

Pioneer Scout Boat Shed and Launch Area:

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Being Called Up For National Service

It was early 1955 while I was in Sec 2 (known as Standard 7 then) that my school was informed to send all pupils of the age 18 to register for National Service. So one fine morning, Bro Vincent drove about five or six of us of the right age to Beach Road to the Singapore Volunteer Corp (SVC) HQ to get us registered for National Service. The notice would come later.

The Notice
At around May 1955, the letter from HQ was sent to me to report for formal registration and training. At the time, we were still under British Rule though we had our our elected chief minister and assembly men. To train under the SVC - a British oriented regiment - was like joining the British army, and we Chinese hated it so. There were suggestions that I should go back to China to avoid being a British soldier, so a struggle within me started to evolve. I felt lost.

I didn't want to be regarded as a British soldier. All my elder brothers agreed that I should go back to China. My parents, especially my father, was not with them. He did not want me to leave the family and go to China where the future was so uncertain. He wanted me to stay and turn up for National Service training. That made me even more confused.

But someone had to make a decision and my father did. I obeyed him and so turned up for enrolment.

This was a great change in my life and it affected my school performance. My form teacher, Rev Bro Paul Goh Seng Chan noticed the change in me. He saw me personally and after knowing my problems, gave me a lot of advice and encouragement.

My Problem
My NS training was like this: Twice a week - Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5pm to 7pm. Every month, there was a weekend in-camp training from Friday night to Sunday noon.

On top of that, there was an annual camp lasting two weeks at the end of the year. So, at the start, for every Tuesday and Thursday, I would rush home to my house in Lim Chu Kang, change into army uniform and cycle that two kilometres to the bus terminal at Thong Hoe village. I then take a bus to Queen Street terminus, change to a Tay Koh Yat bus to Beach Road and then walk to SVC HQ at Beach Road where we would start our training.

The total journey time to go home and rush to SVC HQ took me three hours.  Training ended at 7pm. By the time we were dismissed, it was half an hour later. My journey home took me another 1 to 1.5 hrs to 2 hrs. By the time I was settled to do my homework, it was about 10pm and I would be usually dead tired.

The following day in school, I was often tired and dozed off at the end of the day. As a result, although I topped my class in Term 1 before all that NS training started, I was 4th in Term 2 and 7th after the final exams. This was what shocked my form teacher Rev Bro Paul.

Suspected Girl Trouble
Rev Bro Paul interviewed me to find out the cause.

He must have thought I was growing up and was developing too much of an interest in the opposite sex. First, he gave me a book on decency. I remember that it was about parts of a female body which were very sensitive topics to growing up boys like me. He advised me to behave decently towards the opposite sex. But that was not my problem actually.

Then during the Term 2 exam, there was a composition title with the words "The Most Unforgettable Event In My Life". Without hesitation, I zeroed in on the question and revealed the terrible experience I went through during the initial stage of my NS to the added problem of my then situation, namely, the extra time I had to spend attending the NS training twice a week. I was surprised that I scored high marks for the essay! It also prompted Rev Bro Paul to give a talk on NS to the class, stressing the importance of us Singaporeans being trained to protect our country.

The Solution
One afternoon, he spoke to me in a kind of interview or couselling way, first stressing on the duty as a citizen. Then he proposed that during my training days - instead of going all the way home to Lim Chu Kang to prepare myself for training that I should proceed to Beach Road from school. I could bring my army stuff along with my school bag. I could stay in school to study and do my homework while waiting from 1.30pm to 4.30pm. By the time I reached home late, I would not need to be doing my homework anymore!

I agreed with Rev Bro Paul that his suggestion was a good idea and decided to follow his advice. It was proper Time Management. Although it was quite troublesome for me to bring my army uniform and boots with my school bag etc., I managed to save a lot of time by doing my homework in school till 4.30pm. When that time came, I would start off for my National Service training in Beach Road.

About Pre-independent Singapore National Service
I was called up for National Service in June 1955. I was in the third batch of Singapore NS. We underwent six months of Basic Training, mastering footdrills and the handling of the 303 rifle which was about 10 lbs in weight. Training was twice a week with two-hour sessions from 5pm to 7pm. After six months, we had a Passing Out Parade, which meant we had passed our BT. We were then posted to different units. There wasn't a Commando unit at the time so I joined the Infantry or 'foot soldiers'. Training was reduced to once a week for three years.

So I passed my BT at the end of 1955 and ended my NS training at the end of 1958. After that, we were put in reserve for seven years. No active Reservist training for us. We just had to report back annually for address and other particulars like job description, etc. We didn't have to report after Singapore joined Malaysia in 1963. By then, my NS was all but over.

Editor's Note: The National Service Ordinance issued by the British in 1952 (but taking effect in 1954) caused a lot of unhappiness amongst the local Chinese populace. For one, many of the 18-20 yr olds were still studying (their studies being interrupted by WWII) and two, the Chinese were wondering why they had to serve the British as soldiers since they had abandoned them when the Japanese invaded. This unhappiness exploded into the famous 13th May 1954 National Service Riots, which is notable for a couple of reasons. For one, it marked the beginning of the militancy of the Chinese middle schools; two, the infiltration of the Communists into these schools to cause further outrage and riots (like the Hock Lee Bus Riots and Maria Hertogh one). More can be learnt here:


My Lasting Impression Of Rev Bro Vincent

I have a cousin who is two and a half years my senior. At the time I was struggling with my English in Jurong Primary School in the early 50s, he was attending Holy Innocent English School in the Secondary levels.

HIES was later changed to the Monfort Primary and Secondary schools. During the 1950s, a lot of the teachers there were brothers of the St Gabriel Order (the same order from which Bro Vincent hailed from).

My cousin had told me a lot about the values the Brother teachers in the school displayed: Dedication, Hard Working, Simplicity, Compassion... to name a few. When I met Bro Vincent for the first time (and also the first time I was meeting a priest), he was everything my cousin had described.

The second time I met him was when I had to go back to school to buy some more textbooks. Bro Vincent then was the director of Boys Town, principal of its English school, and also in-charge of selling textbooks. He attended to me even though he was the principal. I could not help but respect him even more.

My good impression of him grew as I became his student and later as a staff of Boys Town. He would give a listening ear to whomever turned to him with a problem.

And throughout the years I'd known him, I've never seen him lose his temper or even be angry with anyone. In my eyes, he was a real holy man, a real-life saint!

On one occasion, just after I joined BTES as a Sec 1 student, we had a problem with our literature teacher.

It was the first time we were having the subject English Literature.

Our textbook was "The Vicar of Wakefield" by Oliver Goldsmith.

Our literature teacher was a fresh Senior Cambridge Exam graduate (same as our present GCE 'O' Levels). Her first lesson was a nightmare. In person, she was an Eurasian, fair and rather pretty, but she put on a very serious and fierce look. She didn't simply look at you but stared. Her firece look was very scary to us students then.

After the class greeting, she would begin the lesson straightaway.

"Take out your Literature book and open to Chapter One. You! Read!" she would command.

During our first lesson, she pointed at one unfortunate boy and asked him to read. He was so frightened that he stammered. "Sit down!" she commanded. She pointed to another boy and said: "You! Tell me what he has read!"

The poor boy looked lost and shocked. He could not answer and had to remain standing. More boys were queried, more remained standing. Some answered, but all throughout, this teacher did not comment if the answers were right or wrong. She just randomly picked anyone and asked them to answer.

Up till then, we never had a teacher quite like that. Often, we were taught first and then asked to answer questions later. We were all shocked (and somewhat traumatised) by this. We approached our form teacher Ms Helen Chan for help. (Ms Chan later became Mrs Helen Seah.)

Ms Chan, together with Mr Seah Cheng Liang were both graduates of the then Teacher's Teaching College. They went to consult with Bro Vincent.

For the next few weeks, Bro Vincent took over the Literature periods from that fierce Ms Stewards. He made sure we could follow the lessons and understand them. Bro Vincent's teaching style created a very pleasant ambience in the class; we learned better and faster. After a few weeks, he covered the whole chapter and gave us a test. I don't remember anyone failing.

The following lesson, he brought Ms Stewards back. She was all smiles and friendly. "You must tell me if you don't understand," she'd said. Her demeanor now reflected that of Bro Vincent. How he had changed her I do not know. But I am sure it was done without any harsh words.

When one has love for Education, one has love for everyone! This is Bro Vincent, the founder of Boys Town. The man I remember most fondly.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Joining Boys' Town

As Beatty Sec Sch was so far away, my family decided to try me out for Boys Town English, which had started a secondary wing in 1953.

One fine December morning, my teacher Mr Lawrence Sia Khoon Siong (who was then living at some quarters near St Joseph Church next to BT) led me and my classmate Lim Thion Quee to BT to meet Bro Vincent in order to seek admission. We arrived with our report cards and sec sch posting slips.

In Boys Town, we met Bro Vincent on the slope leading to BT's Dormitory (the Boys' Home). He was driving a truck with a few boys on it going to perform some manual work. He stopped the truck and got off to meet us. We then told him our purpose and he looked at our documents.

After going through mine, he said: "Admitted to Std 6". As for Thion Quee's report card, Bro Vincent shook his head. Finally he said:"Ok, we will give you First Term on trial."

Upon hearing that, TQ gave out a deep sigh of relief. We then proceeded to the general office to register.

I had bought my textbooks during the December holidays and so in Jan 1954, I would start my next phase of life in Boys Town English School.

At The Crossroad Of My Education

After graduating from primary school, the next stage was to enter  a Chinese middle school (i.e a secondary school). The nearest one was Chinese High, which was about 30km from my village in Lim Chu Kang. At that time, the Chinese schools were not financially assisted by the government and hence the school fees were very high - something my parents could not afford. Also the long journey (and transport costs there-in) made it a dream not to be realised.

The next option was to join an English school.

There was Bukit Panjang English School where the Ten Mile Junction is now. It's been demolished but has since been relocated to nearby Cashew Heights. But at the time, it only admitted P1 students of age six. Overaged pupils had no chance of being accepted.

At the time during the 50s, the government had just started to build English primary schools in the rural areas. The nearest one to my village was the one in Ama Keng but it was still in construction. The one along Jurong Road was already functioning and they took in Chinese school pupils who were overaged. So, I decided to try my luck.

My first day in Jurong Primary School was like this:

I went alone with my birth cert to the school. Feeling quite lost in the school compound, I was approached by an Indian teacher who nodded his head in my direction as if to ask can I help you?

I thrusted my birth cert at him and presumed that he knew I wanted to join the school.

He then asked me: "Can you speak English?"

I said a little, sir, as I'ved been coached in my Chinese school.

Without another word, he signalled me to follow him. He took me to his class.

As we entered, someone called out new boy! New boy!

The teacher then took out an English Reader and asked me to read. I jerked along, softening or skipping words I did not know. After a few lines, he said: "Ok. Go and sit down."

Next period, another teacher came in. That same boy who had shouted new boy pointed at me and said, "Sir, new boy!"

I found out later that he was called Wong Siew Chye. He was from another English school and could speak English better than me.

This new teacher walked up to me and asked, "What is your name?"

I stood up and answered (quite clearly): "My name is Ang Leng Sze." He went on:

"How old are you?"
"Where do you live?"
"Who is your father?"

I responded clamly and correctly to all these questions. We had been drilled before by our English teacher at Kay Wah.

Finally, he said: "Thank you. You may sit down." Siew Chye leaned over and whispered: "Good, man!"

That day, I bought my first textbooks and exercise books. The textbooks were Everyday Classic Reader Book II and Oxford English Course Book II. There were no books on Geography, History, and Science. But there was a book called Nature Studies.

More than half the pupils in my class had English background or had come from an English school. The others were like me, from another P6 primary school who could hardly understand English.

I remember there was this big sized Indian teacher who came in to teach Nature Studies. I did not know what he was talking about but kept hearing the word "mosquito". I was not alone. Later, all the Chinese-educated pupils in my class would refer him as Mr Mosquito!

At the beginning, I tried my best to pay attention. But I could hardly understand what was being taught. When the rest of the class laughed, we laughed along.

My classmate, Ong Poh Siak, nudged me and asked me in Mandarin: "Ni ting de dong ma?" - meaning if could I understand. I said no.

"Then how come you laughed?" he asked. I replied that when other people laughed, we'd follow.

The days went by, and more lessons were taught.

I loved lessons in Drawing or Art, as well as Handiwork. I also loved the writing lessons - not the essay type but to copy and repeat a line neatly in our best handwriting. I scored highly or topped the class in all these subjects. Fortunately, there weren't any textbooks in History, Geography or Nature Studies or else I would have seen Greek and stars. It helped that after these lessons, the teachers would condense all contents into 10 statements. For example, a statement might read: 'The female lays eggs in water', etc.

It was within my capabilty to learn these statements by heart and fill in the blanks correctly during tests.

At end-of-year exams, it was decided to put the better students formally into a Standard 4 class. It's unfortunate that I did not make it. The weaker lot of about ten of us remained in the Special Class, then known as Special 2; it was a new special class formed. I was just below the borderline of Std 4. Here's a comparison between the Old (Standard) and New education systems.

Old System (Present System)
P1 (Pri 1)
P2 (Pri 1)
Std 1 (Pri 2)
Std 2 (Pri 3)
Std 3 (Pri 4)
Std 4 (Pri 5)
Std 5 (Pri 6)
Std 6 (Sec 1)
Std 7 (Sec 2)
Std 8 (Sec 3)
Std 9 (Sec 4)

In the final exams of 1952, another boy and I scored very high marks, leaving a big gap between us and the rest of the class. So in 1953, we were double-promoted to join the Std 5 class, which was the same year I had to sit for my Std 6 Entrance Exams. It's equivalent to the present PSLE.

I struggled very hard to study for it.

It was also the time I began to understand the story books I was reading, titles like: Children of the New Forest, Heidi Grows Up, etc. But my English composition was still very weak. The same with my grammar.

After the First Term exam, I was positioned at 12th in a class of 15. In Term 2, I progressed to 8th, then 6th in the prelims of the entrance exam.

After the Std 6 entrance exams, 12 of us qualified to go to Std 6 (Sec 1). I was posted to Beatty Secondary School, somewhere along Jalan Besar and some 18.5 miles away from my home in Lim Chu Kang! Hence, the good news of having passed my entrance exam posed another big headache. Which secondary school to go to?

Fainting In School

Though the British had returned and took control of Singapore, life was not any better for us than during the Japanese occupation. The rationing of rice and sugar was no more but we needed money to buy things. And money was hard to earn.

By this time, my dad had built a bigger and better attap house in our new estate at Neo Tiew Road, relegating our place at Cashin Estate to lesser importance. Nevertheless, my brother and I were still posted there to look after it.

Every morning, I would have every many chores to do before I could go to school.

One Monday, I left home without a proper breakfast after helping my brother to pick vegetables and feed the pigs. I just swallowed a few small bananas and cycled to school.

At school, it was Monday Assembly - Chinese-school style. It began with a flag-raising ceremony. The national flag of the Republic of China was raised, a colourful flag with a quarter at the top left in blue. On this patch was a 12-point white sun. The remainder of the flag was red in colour (see picture below).

In Chinese, we would say "Qing tian bai re man di hung."

At the time, we were Chinese settlers in a British colony and so remained Chinese and honored our motherland, which was China.

As the flag was raised, we sang the national anthem of China, which was the san ming zhu yi. After that song, our principal recited the will of Dr Sun Yat Sen. The ceremony ended with the paying of respect to the portrait of Dr Sun with three deep bows.

After this, the principal would start his long lecture, followed by the Senior Teacher and then the Discipline Master, and any teacher with something to say. At times, there would be a moral lecture on some theme of the week. The theme could be about Honesty, Helpfulness, Friendliness, etc. A Moral Student would then be picked at the end of the week as an exemplary student.

One week, I was picked as the model student for Loving Kindness as the teachers found I loved everyone and they in turn were friendly to me.

On this day, I am standing right at the front of my class in a straight line in the basketball court that is used as an Assembly Area. I feel very tired and my legs have become lighter and seem to float. All of a sudden, a thick black curtain cast itself right in front of me and I couldn't see anything any more....

The next thing I knew, everybody was calling my name, but I found it hard to reply. Slowly, I began to feel people pinching me; it was painful. I could hear them call me some more. When I answered them, they were so relieved. "He's alright now," they said.

I felt as if I had been asleep and when I opened my eyes, I saw Mr Yeh - a teacher with a weather-beaten face and one who cycled to school everyday. Around me were all my friends grateful that I had come around. My teacher asked me two questions: "Did you have enough sleep last night?" and "Did you have your breakfast?" He then gave me a cup of warm water to drink.

Later, two schoolmates from upper primary sent me home. One used his bicycle to pillion me, the other rode my bike. They then returned to school on one bike.

As my fainting case was the only major incident to happen in my school so far, I became suddenly very famous. I was known as The Boy Who Fainted, The Boy Who Nearly Died, and The Boy Who Died And Was Resurrected!

The teachers also became very concerned and would ask me if I had taken a good breakfast, how I was that day or simply to take care.

This was around 1949 when I was in Primary 5. By 1950 year end, I was ready to graduate from Kay Wah Public School. At the graduating ceremony, I was chosen to deliver a message to thank the school and my teachers for a successful education.

My form teacher, who was also my principal, was praying hard that I would not faint. The speech was written by him and I learnt it by heart.

I was a bit nervous at first but after a few sentences, I calmed down. I could tell that the principal was very pleased with my performance that day.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Singapore Under Japanese Occupation

Life for farmers in Lim Chu Kang was as usual. We just needed to work a little harder to supplement our rations with sweet potato and tapioca.

During the first year or so, food was not a problem.  At least we had those tubers to eat. And sweet potato leaves made a very good stir-fry veggie dish with dried ikan bilis (anchovy) and chilli belacan. For protein, we had frequent seafood from the marshlands and river of Sungei Buloh.

While staying and earning a living on rented land that was owned by a Jewish fella named Cashin, my father and uncle had also bought a piece of land near Neo Tiew Road, about 1km off the main Lim Chu Kang Road. My uncle occupied half of this land leaving the other half uncultivated. It was overgrown with shrubs, lallang and undergrowth.

One day, in less than a year under the Japanese, our neighbour the Toh family's plot of land caught fire. This spread to ours and burnt off all the wild shrubs unintentionally. It actually left the place ripe for tilling!

My father did not blame the Toh family for the fire but thanked them sarcastically for a job well done. He then decided to develop the place into a farming unit. He roped in one of his cousins from China, who had no family, and my mother's brother who had just arrived from China before the Japanese invaded.

Together, they built a small house with wooden planks and thatched the roof with lallang. A pigsty and a chicken coop were also erected. My two uncles were then 'posted' to work there.

My eldest brother was sent to keep an eye on things. During the day, my dad would arrive to work with my uncles and go home to Cashin Estate at night.

My eldest brother must have felt lonely looking after two adults aged forty and above because one day, he asked my father if I could accompany him. My dad agreed. I was only six years old then and my brother, thirteen.

With all  my cousins staying just next to our plot of land, I was not lonely at all. Every evening after dinner, we would play on a track road that ran by. It was seldom used so it was still covered with turfs of grass. It was like a playground to us.

One of my uncles was an martial arts expert. He taught us a thing or two about self-defence. He also trained us how to stand on our hands and 'walk' about. The training began with us learning how to stand on our heads first!

In those days, dinner was had before dark as the Japanese liked to practice emergency drills. Then all lights must be off.

At night my brother would teach me singing. In his school days, he had learnt quite a bit of anti-Japanese songs and so he taught me all he knew. Fortunately, none of the Japs ever visited us in the kampongs. I took it as a singing lesson without fully understanding what it was that I sang. Now I do.

One of the lyrics ran as follows:

(See picture below)

It translates to:

"Brothers and sisters. Listen to me carefully. Nearby our East, there is a small region (meaning Japan).
For decades, they have been building up a strong army well-known for their superiority and aim to destroy China."

I also picked up many other anti-Japanese songs which my brother had learned from school. Luckily, we were never visited by the Japanese soldiers or our heads would have been chopped off and hung at the marketplace as a grave warning to others.

Although I was of school-going age, there were no schools in the village. The Japs were also not keen to make the villagers learn their language. The premises of the old village school were being used by the sex-hungry Japanese soldiers as a comfort station.

But my three-and-a-half years were not purely wasted. My brother who taught me songs was teaching me the English alphabet as well. Both upper and lower case. He taught me numbers as well.

I also learned the Times Table by heart, and read some Chinese Readers meant for the Primary 1 standard.

All these gave me an edge over the others when I eventually went back to school for Primary 1 in 1946. I topped the class of 60-over pupils - some of them older than me.

Although I was already 10 years old, I was double promoted for two semesters and managed to finish my Primary 6 Chinese-medium school education in about 5 years.

However, I was forced to quit school for half a year because of poverty. My family couldn't afford the school fees. But my parents fough hard to get me reinstated later. Half a year on, I was back as if my schooling was never interrupted.