Strong Convent Bonds

Stella Alexander was the Conductor while singers were
grouped as the Violins, the Clarinet, the Horn and the Drums;
Peggy [2nd from Far Left] is next to Christina Khoo
[3rd from Far Left] in the Violins group
 
It all started with my former classmate, Christina Khoo, whose late father’s hobby in photography left us with some very precious photos taken while we were Primary kids in Holy Infant Jesus Convent Johor Baru.  When Christina discovered this collection of photos among her father’s mementoes, she shared them with me.  These priceless photos brought back a flood of fond memories because some were taken at our first stage presentation in school.

Christina and I examined the photos, trying to figure out who’s who in the black and white shots and remembered that we were put in groups as the Violins, the Clarinet, the Horn and the Drums to sing in separate groups and together in harmony.  Christina and I were among the four girls in the “Violin” group and even though we tried to remember the lyrics to that song, I could only recall brief snatches.  We grew up with these friends throughout Primary and Secondary school and one of them, whom we have not seen since we left school is Stella Alexander, the girl who was in the Conductor’s role.

Backstage before the concert: [Back Row Left to Right] Chia Moew Lian, Amy Cheah, Patricia Stewart,
Juanita Khan, Khatijah, Ong Ai Lin, Feng Wei Leng, Soraya Kamaluddin, Peggy Loh, Christina Khoo
and Johanis Puthucheary; [Front Row Left to Right] Stella Alexander, Sa'odah and Agatha Loh
 
Last month I proudly applauded the students of SMK IJ Convent Johor Baru when they performed their entertaining rendition of “Grease the Musical.”  As I watched with growing admiration, I had flashbacks to that time in Primary school when I was singing in our “Violins” concert and also remembered scenes from fairy tale, “The Magic Belt,” an operetta we presented in Secondary school where I had a non-speaking role as one of the mischievous gnomes!  Just as 3 shows with a gala night attended by VIPs and members of the Johor Royal family was staged for “The Magic Belt,” they did the same in the staging of “Grease the Musical.” 

At that time, the operetta was considered a very ambitious project but we practiced hard under the guidance of Mrs Carol Selverajah and felt a great sense of pride when the late Sultanah Aminah of Johor, graced the event held in our school hall.  Students from the non-examination years were involved in the show and I remember that award-winning performing artist and acclaimed choreographer, Marion D’Cruz, was then one of the senior students in school.  From the recent “Grease” presentation, I was proud to see that the school and students have indeed come a long way in progressing the standard and quality of performing arts in Convent JB. 

This recent contact with my former school set me off to reminisce about my own concert experiences and when I reviewed the old photos taken by Christina’s father, I still wondered where the elusive Stella Alexander is now.  In Secondary school she used to play hockey and was also a School Prefect.  But unlike other prefects who were sticklers for keeping rules, Stella was always cool and often turned a blind eye even if we crossed the line!

Standard 6A taken on day Mrs George left us;
Christina Khoo was absent because she was ill
In Secondary school some of the girls discovered the pleasure of reading Mills & Boon romantic fiction novels and they used to bring stacks of books to exchange – which was against the rules.  I distinctly remember that instead of putting a stop to this blatant breaking of rules, Stella, an avid reader, was one of the most ardent fans of these novels.  At that time, I was (duh!) quite oblivious to this form of reading “addiction” and it was much later that I realised that Stella was one of the girls who seemed to be quietly reading her text book but she was actually deeply engrossed in the novel that was tucked inside the open text book!

Every now and then, prefect teams will launch classroom “raids” to confiscate any contraband romance novels but if Stella got wind of it, she would give a tip-off so that the offending books could disappear before the raid.  The girls would find ingenious ways to hide their novels, sometimes even sticking them behind the large cork notice-boards that hung in the classroom.  I remember there was once a sudden approaching raid and Stella, buried in the intricacies of the romance, was caught off-guard but she responded spontaneously by skillfully chucking the novel out through the open louver window of our fourth-floor classroom, instantly disposing of any incriminating evidence!

Stella and I spent a great deal of time together during Mathematics class, not because we were great Mathematicians but on the contrary, because we did not take Math as an exam subject.  There were three of us including, Thervy Rajaratnam, who would leave the class and go to the school library to read or do our homework.  But we usually ended up looking at colourful cook books and salivating over cakes and dishes until we had to return to class for the next subject.

On May 1, it was like a May Day gift when I received an email from Stella with a query: “Is this the Peggy from Convent days?  Wasn’t sure if it was you but that picture of you looks like the Peggy Loh from school…”  I wrote right back and we have been in touch almost daily with plenty to catch up with each other.  I have since reconnected Stella in the UK, with other classmates around the world and I can’t wait to meet her again but first I must share these precious photos of our Primary school concert from way back when we were cute little girls in Convent JB!

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 30 May 2013

I'm glad to share some reactions to this article:
 
On May 31, Kausar said:
Thank you so much for sharing the story!  Reading it brought memories too especially about the Mills & Boon novels thrown out of the window during raids….I wonder if I was one of the culprits!  Anyway keep those stories coming…

Lee Fung said:
Great article, Peggy! Although I don't remember the primary school musical, I remember the secondary school one!  Say "hello" to Stella.   She probably doesn't remember me.

A few hours later, Kausar updated:
Guess who called me all the way from England to Vancouver this Thursday evening…none other than our long lost friend the ‘cool prefect’ Stella Alexander.  Thanks to Peggy that we got connected. We are even thinking of meeting up in England…anyone interested?

Agatha said:
Thanks for the lovely write up n photos.  I was in the 'horn' group.  I can only remember vividly the sound of the horn... the horn!

Patricia said:
I like Kausar's suggestion of a rendezvous in England to meet up with Stella, but don't think I can put my hand up just yet, having just been there.  Hope it comes off.  If I am not mistaken Lee Chin and Hwee Ling are going to England sometime in June.

Hwee Ling said:
Thanks for the memories.  The book raids were scary.  I had difficulty hiding my favourite Jackie mags!  I remember auditioning for the ‘drum” but got kicked out.  I seemed to be getting kicked out for lots of things including marching.  That was why I got discharged early and ended up being hit by a car.  Maybe I was challenging whether me or the Mini Cooper was stronger. Anyway the car was towed away and I ended up in hospital and away from school for 6 weeks.  

During this period it was our prefect Stella who brought me all the homework, updated me on school stuff and I managed to catch up with school work when I returned to class.  I was a shopaholic since young.  Used to stay behind for the book sales and missed my bas sekolah.  As usual it was Stella who would accompany me in walking home.  Remember the muddy road at Kampung Sai (before Jln Kuel)?  So Stella, I will always remember you for your kindness and thoughtfulness.
Thanks to Peggy, I managed to contact Stella today. She called me at 3 am (UK time) and we had a good chat.  Most probably will meet up with Stella next month when I visit UK.  Now that I’m older and bigger, should I challenge a “Lexus”?  Ha Ha only joking, don’t want to go thru that ordeal again!
 
Christina said:
Hwee Ling,
I'm sorry, I didn't know you had an accident back then!  I'm glad you survived it to tell the tale now.

Peggy, I read your article and saw the photos, thanks.  Now all the secrets are coming forth!  I remember the song we sang for the concert.  [Correct me if I'm wrong.] It goes:

The violins ringing
Like lo...vely singing
The violins ringing
Like lo...vely song

The clarinet, the clarinet
Makes doodle, doodle, doodle day.

The horn, the horn
Awakes me at morn!

The drums playing two tones
And always the same tone
Five one, one five,
Five, five, five, five, one.

Stella, Welcome back into the loop!  You were the first person I sat with on the first day at
school in Standard One.

On June 2, Patricia [who was a former prefect] said:
As one of those who was doing the “raiding” I too, look back in horror.  I am horrified and embarrassed that I actually took it all so seriously and did that offensive stuff.  Not a memory of school days I cherish, but clearly one that many remember.  So, even though it is many years on I would like to say sorry to all who were affected.  I sincerely apologise for causing such angst amongst peers.

Lee Chin replied:
No worries Pat, what you can do to compensate is to get those books for us as I still do enjoy reading them!!! 

Daphne said: 
I don't remember this at all!!  Wow!  What the hell was I doing, I wonder?


On June 3, Christina [who was also a prefect] said:
Perhaps I have selective memory, but I don't remember the book raids at all.  My apologies too, if I offended anyone while at school.


/pl




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