Cikgu Tony reminisces

Anthony Fernandez was a teacher with the Secondary
Vocational School from 1959 to 1979
Anthony Fernandez is a retired teacher who will celebrate his 80th year on 19 November 2012.  Happy Birthday, Uncle Tony! 

I was 14 years old when my father relocated our family from Kedah to Johor Baru.  We arrived at Linden Estate, a rubber plantation in Skudai where he worked in 1946.  This plantation no longer exists today because the land is now occupied by the campus of the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM). 

I went to Standard 5 in Bukit Zaharah School, a level equivalent to Form 1 at that time.  From 1947 to 1952 I studied in the English College or Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar, as its known today, one of Johor Baru’s premier schools.  I was probably inspired by the exemplary standards of the teachers here because I had the ambition to become a teacher.

Cikgu Tony, the Librarian Teacher, with his two
assistants at Secondary Vocational School
In 1954, I was a trainee teacher posted to Bukit Zaharah School and besides teaching English I was also a Sports Master.  I remember Tahir Onn, the uncle of Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, Minister of Home Affairs, one of the students in the photo taken with the team.  Since joining the Photography Society in English College, Photography was my hobby and this photo was taken by my first camera, a Brownie.

My first teaching post was with a vocational school known in the early days as the Trade School.  While I was with this school from 1959 to 1979, the school name was changed three times in the 20 years.  From Trade School, the name was changed to Secondary Trade School before finally being called Secondary Vocational School. 

I’m better known as Tony so students would call me Cikgu Tony.  The subjects I taught was mainly English and Social Studies.  I have a deep fondness for books so I enjoyed my role as the Librarian Teacher who supervised my assistants in helping to maintain the school library. 

I attend the oldest church in Johor Baru, the Church of Immaculate Conception, and was with this parish since I was 14.  When the parish introduced laity in the church, I was one of the early lay-ministers who assisted the priests.  Every now and then, I contribute articles to the Herald, a Catholic magazine.

In a picnic at Pulau Bukom, Singapore, organized by a priest in 1962, I met Celine who became my wife in 1965.  We have three children, two girls and a boy and are blessed with four grandchildren.  With all the changes and re-development happening around us today, I often reminisce about the Johor Baru of yester-years – a small, quaint, quiet town that was centered around Jalan Ibrahim and Jalan Segget, where the bus terminal was located. 

Anthony Fernandez when he was a trainee teacher [Centre],
with Tahir Onn [Far Left] at Bukit Zaharah School, 1954
My wife and I used to frequent the Chinatown food centre that bordered Johor Baru’s infamous Sungai Segget and we joined many food fans there to enjoy our favourite Teochew-style fried kuay teow with lots of cockles.  Looking back now, I wonder if the filthy river ever dissuaded us from visiting the food centre but I guess the presence of the awful pong was very much part of the experience and everyone just accepted it!

Our shopping was done along Jalan Ibrahim – for books by Han Su Yin and Somerset Maugham and magazines on psychiatry from Johor Central Book Store and imported cheese, jam and butter from Johor Cold Storage.  I remember enjoying a range of good quality imported products, available only at this early style mini-market.  And while we were at Jalan Ibrahim, we will always drop in at Ee H’ng for refreshing ice-kacang!

For entertainment, we would watch movies at Capitol cinema – a theatre that is synonymous with James Ho.  We watched a lot of movies there and I cannot forget “Zorro” the suave hero and Johnny Weissmuller in his role as Tarzan as well as the gorgeous Dorothy Lamour who wore a sarong in her role as Ulah, a female Tarzan!

In 1979 I was transferred to a school in Felda Taib Andak in Kulai for 5 years before my next transfer to a Primary School in Senai as Supervisor for the next 5 years.  It was interesting that my final posting before retirement in 1987 was to Sekolah Temenggong Abdul Rahman II, better known as STAR II.  I realize that I had come full circle because STAR I and II located on Jalan Abdul Rahman Andak, were established to replace the former Bukit Zaharah School where started my career! 

Happy Birthday Uncle Tony!
Upon retirement, I taught English in a private college but I only managed 2 years of teaching because English teaching is very different now.  I’m a product of the British education system and today my greatest disappointment as an English language teacher, is to see language standards plunge to such distressing depths.

To keep myself fit, I walk a 5km route everyday in the area where I live in Jalan Kolam Air and when weather permits, I will walk around the nearby Merdeka Park.  I spend my leisure time reading English literature like dramas and plays and am teaching myself to play the piano and guitar.  To stay in touch with my eldest daughter and family in the United States, I talk to them through Skype and exchange emails regularly.

I’m enjoying my retirement and coming from a generation where computers were unheard of – I’m coping well with modern technology and consider myself quite tech-savvy for an 80-year old. 

As I celebrate my 80th birthday on 19 November 2012, I wish to mark this occasion with a word of appreciation to my fellow teachers and former colleagues.  It was my privilege to have worked with you and I wish all of you a Happy Retirement, good health and happiness in the years to come! 

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets in April 2010


  1. I lived in Linden Estate. I'd like to get in touch with Tony.
    Thank you,
    Pradeep Nair

  2. Hello Pradeep, Thanks for your message. Please write me at Contacts [Top Left of this page] and give me your email address so that I may connect you with Tony. Thanks.