Leading English in Kuala Kangsar

28 February 1999

When I arrived at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) prep school in early January 1948, I was ready, so I thought, to study English.

I had gone there unprepared: out of 21 enrolled, several already knew some English while I knew not a word of the language.

On the first Saturday, we marched to the Big School for our first weekly school assembly which was always held between 12.30pm and 1pm in the library where attendance was recorded, at first verbally.

I was coached to say "present" after the headmaster, H.R. Carey, a Cantarbrigian, called out my name.

The word was one of the half-dozen I picked up and learned by heart.

As weeks and months went by, my vocabulary gradually increased but it is sad to say my vocabulary is now limited.

Though I was not intimidated, the first few weeks were a difficult transition from Malay medium to learning everything, except Agama Islam and Bahasa Melayu, in English.

The Malay medium group struggled but fortunately not for too long. It was invigorating to know we could cope.

After a test we were streamed into A or B class. I was sent to Form 1B while Rawi Abdul Rahman, my mate from Padang Garong Malay School Kota Baru, moved to Form 1A.

Even at Padang Garong Rawi was in A class and I in B.

I recall two Tengkus who regularly competed for the bottom place in my class.

I was always in the middle of the class of 21 except once when I was among the first ten.

I learned what I liked fast but could not remember much of any subject I disliked, mathematics and science amongst them.

It was said I was already destined to be different from my contemporaries.

By the time I was in form five, slightly half of the original class remained.

In my class, Ahmad Rasidi Abdullah and Abdul Jalil Abdullah already knew English. Their fathers were in the Malay Administrative Service and both had been old boys.

Rasidi, the first boy I knew at MCKK remains a close friend, and is now a retired banker. He travels about, otherwise he spends time doting on his grandchildren. Jalil died several years ago.

The other pupil who already spoke and read English then was Abdul Rahim Ismail from Penang, later nicknamed "Mr. Lambert" as he was perpetually lambat (late) for any function.

He is now vice-president of the Lake Club, a jazz aficionado and a wealthy retiree.

In 1949 I was double-promoted, leaving behind my three "speaking mates" to join a new class where most of the pupils came equipped with English.

I caught up with Rawi who eventually went on to a Malaysian Teachers' Training College in England, at Brinsford Lodge, I think. He now lives in retirement in Kota Baru, Kelantan.

I became a journalist with the Straits Times.

I enjoyed enormously my two years at the white-washed building whose western facade overlooks Jalan Taiping and the southern side faces Jalan Hargreaves.

A new playing field was created behind the prep school and J.D.R. Howell's bungalow.

We were told it was converted into grounds for field games, it was filled with disused Japanese tanks!

It was here that I learned to play soccer, not much good at it though good enough to play for my House's first eleven.

I was in Ahmad House as was Rawi who in the final year in 1954 became the secretary and I the captain.

I am not overstating when I say even after 45 years since I left MCKK, my alma mater gave me unalloyed pleasure and good training and experience which put me in goodstead later in life.

My time there was a well, filled and wonderful six years. We were all made to join wolf cubs, altogether 68 of us.

I was in the 1st Kuala Kangsar cub pack under Chegu Abbas whose assistants, called "senior sixes", were Salim Osman and two others.

Salim subsequently became a King's scout. He is now a retired banker living in Bukit Tunku.