We practice what they teach

Prefects presenting a song on Teacher's Day, 1974
I was at a birthday party when some guests arrived and were ushered into the sitting room.  Among them was an older lady dressed in an eye-catching black glittering sari who shook hands all around as she introduced herself as Rani.  She mingled comfortably with the guests and in the course of conversation, the question popped up on which school I came from.

When I answered, “The Convent Johor Baru,” Rani’s eyes instantly widened and she pinned me down with her next question, “Which year?”  

Rani Param still teaches Maths in KL
Her tone of voice brought back a rush of bad memories, mostly of detestable Maths lessons under Mrs Param because she was our form teacher for not just one but two years.  I was in shock as it dawned upon me that I was talking to none other than my former teacher, Rani Param.

She used to look much taller and certainly more intimidating and I struggled to believe that it was really her because she was so small now – or did I grow so tall?  As we went on chatting, I recognized her familiar mannerisms that confirmed that it is truly Mrs Param.  She lives in Kuala Lumpur now and as she assured me that she’s still very much into Maths, teaching it in a private school, I suppressed an involuntary shudder.

It’s interesting how teachers are often associated with the subjects they taught and I used to admire how some teachers could teach from their hearts without reference to any textbooks. 

I can look back now to Mrs Kwong’s Geography lessons and understand how my interest in travel was ignited when she made the topography and ethnic beauty of many lands come alive as she took me there, simply by talking and pointing to the places on the wall atlas.  Her genuine passion for the subject was so infectious that I enjoyed her lessons tremendously and inevitably, scored highly in this subject both in O and A levels.

Dorothy Pereira now lives in Australia
If Maths used to give me nightmares, English Literature led me to wistful dreams, mostly about aloof and romantic heroes like Mr Darcy (Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen).  In those days, a great deal hinged on how our Literature teacher helped us to appreciate archaic language and made the stories relevant to restless teenage girls. 

At that time we depended on the written word and the way teachers stimulated our active imagination to enjoy lessons but now, such great literary works are often presented in plays and made into movies with popular actors to help audiences better appreciate Literature.  

One of the teachers, whom I associate with poetry recitation and good elocution, is Dorothy Pereira who was the winner of the National Level Bahasa Melayu Oratory competition in 1966. 

I admired her for what she represented and was further in awe of her when she became the first Malaysian to travel on the Trans-Siberian Railways, the longest railway in the world that connected Moscow with Japan. Years after we left the Convent, our paths recently crossed again, literally at the entrance of Plaza Kotaraya.

All the years fell away when I recognized her trademark precise Queen’s English enunciation as we chatted like old friends and renewed our acquaintance. I learnt that she now lives in Australia but was in Johor Baru for a family visit.  Our chat ended with an invitation to lunch with her the following week and for me, it was both a delight and an honour to enjoy a home-cooked meal specially prepared by a former teacher.  We are in touch by email now and when I respectfully addressed her as “Aunty Dorothy” in a recent mail, she replied with, “Had to smile when I saw how you addressed me!”

Amy Wong modelling a traditonal kwa,
a heavily embroideried Chinese ensemble, 1958
For many girls, teachers also impacted us with their fashion sense and at one time, it was the highlight of our day to see who wore the shortest mini-skirt or the trendiest platform shoes.  But the teacher who always dressed in colour-coordinated outfits complete with can-can skirts, matching stiletto shoes, handbag and accessories, was Amy Wong.  In addition to being among 148 Malayans in the pioneer batch of trainees at the Malayan Teachers’ Training College in Kirkby, England, she was the epitome of elegance.

Since the late 1950’s, Ms Wong, who is distinguished by her slender frame and enviable 22-inch waistline, was a sought-after model for charity fashion shows.  When my friends and I paid her a Chinese New Year visit recently, Ms Wong was such a good sport to show us her wardrobe and accessories, and proved that she could still fit into those pretty dresses.  As she moved around with agility to serve us her special recipe, green-bean dessert, we marveled at how she remains alert and active in her retirement. 

[L to R] Elizabeth Chan, Lina Loh, Amy Wong, Peggy
and Tay Bee Choo at Ms Wong's 80th birthday party
Even as our former teachers are now our friends, we cannot deny the far-reaching effects of teachers on their students because they were our role models in so many ways.  As we continue to hold our teachers in high esteem, we are grateful for how they encouraged us to pursue academic excellence while keeping a healthy balance of extra-curricular activities for a wholesome development.  Thank you teachers and Happy Teacher’s Day!

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 1 June 2011

More on our former teachers:

This sumptuous spread was personally cooked by
Dorothy Pereira when I was invited to lunch
with her in early December 2010
Happy 82nd Birthday Ms Wong!
[L to R] Elizabeth Chan, Amy Wong,
Seah Hwee Ling and Peggy

Retired teachers of HIJ Convent with former admin staff
in group shot taken in August 2008

The first message I received on my phone on 1 June was from a reader - a former Convent student - who among other things, also said:  "I remember all the teachers in your article and was taught by them."

Then I received an email from Dorothy Pereira which reads: "Rani and I were friends at the Convent and we visit each other in KL till today.  As for Amy, she is a sweetie.  Amy taught me when she returned from Kirkby.  I still remember the bright yellow shirt with black stripes she wore to class that day!  Wow!  She was a fashion plate!  Keep up the fantastic down-to-earth articles that you write.  Love, Aunty Dot."


No comments:

Post a Comment