Labour of Love
by Chang Yi. Posted on August 19, 2012, Sunday
IN 2007, Dr Chong Hoi Hee mooted the idea of compiling all the stories shared by his schoolmates of Tanjong Lobang School-College (1956-1969) into a book for a grand reunion the following year.
The idea was immediately taken up by the keen like-minded schoolmates and a book was born.
The stories were first shared in the Ex-Tanjong Google group, manned by web managers like David Chin, (New Zealand) and Samuel Teo (USA) who were joined by Rizal Abdullah of Perak.
As the taikoh of the group, Dr Chong took the lead in writing many stories about the school life he experienced. After he blazed the trail, many others in the Ex-Tanjong Google group took to writing which attracted the attention of one very important Bob Lynn.
He happily accepted the position of editor-teacher and even wrote some very poignant stories himself. The students were all delighted by a contribution from their American and now US-based teacher.
Dr Chong wrote in the first few pages of the book: “Several of us took the job of compiling and editing this book as a labour of love. The students were Chong Hoi Hee and Rizal Abdullah (Robert Madang) and the teachers were Bob Lynn and Chang Yi. This is a book of nostalgia and appreciation, and a sketch of our times at Tanjong Lobang School-College. For ease of reference, the School-College will mostly be referred to in this book as TLS.”
“Although in 2007, a Golden Jubilee was mooted for TLS ex-students and teachers, the Beijing Olympics created an obstacle for the Jubilee to take place in Miri.
Several mini-reunions for TLS students and teachers were held in Miri and Kuching. A big one was held in 2010. But in response to the call for celebration, more former TLS students gathered in cyberspace to renew their friendship and remember their time in the school.
“This book is not only a gift to the students of TLS but a contribution to the school’s 50 years of existence (even though it is now called Kolej TuankuDatu Haji Bujang). With Dr Chong as the lead and most prolific contributor, other former students and teachers of the school, who too are not professional writers, contributed their stories from their heart.
“When reading the book, you will realise they have, indeed, gone along most diverse paths in their life journeys since leaving their beloved school,” he said.
Dr Chong then succinctly remarked: “The style of writing found among the articles-stories would be different. It will definitely make the book more interesting to read but no less readable! One regret is that due to various constraints, the Ex-Tanjong Group could not get more ex-teachers and ex-students to contribute, especially among the most senior of the students.”
Tribute to teachers
Four ex-teachers had passed on in the last two years. Mr William Hsu, one of the earliest local principals of Tanjong Lobang, passed away a few years ago. Another was Mr James Foh who, being a Mirian himself, was with the group for a mini reunion in Miri and a few months later, he passed away. The group was happy he and his wife had a good time. The other two were Mrs Philips and Mr Richard Tze. May their souls rest in peace.
These three teachers would have loved to read the stories, written by their students and about their gratitude towards them. And in a way, the book is a tribute to all the teachers who have helped make a difference to the students’ lives — aspirations were raised and hopes given.
Some did travel, for example, from the Bario Highlands to the US and one even piloted his own plane in the US. Several became doctors because the Tanjong Lobang teachers helped pay for their first few years of studies before they gained scholarships after doing well in their first and second years at their universities.
Some were given grants because teachers made personal contacts with academic bodies in the US. Other students were given pocket money by their form teachers. This was the kind of teachers Tanjong Lobang School had.
Besides these teachers, one of the beloved student leaders also passed away while the book was conceptualised. He wrote a few pages. He was none other than the beloved Zainal Abidin Matasaan who gave so much inspiration to the group. He also rose to be the first Sarawakian to be managing director of Petronas (Sarawak). William Soong, who was active in the Ex-Tanjong Google group, also passed on not long ago.
The book is divided into five sections:
l Early History
l Coming to School
l Tributes to teachers and others
l Our Early Stories
You will read personal and even heart-rending accounts about the food given by the school and how the girls were frisked when a sum of $20 was found missing. But one can glean from the stories the pedagogy and psychology of the day practised in the classroom by the teachers and principals.
It is a book which can amuse over-tired teachers, at the same time inspiring young and fresh teachers to teach in a multi-racial school and with a staff, manned by teachers from different countries and different areas of Sarawak.
Teaching is not every one’s cup of tea nor is it an easy vocation. Yet, the former students of Tanjong Lobang who have written in the book have made references to many lessons taught with great kindness, and also to the significant characteristics of the teachers and principals.
The book is also filled with old photos from precious old black and white albums belonging to former students. Thanks to modern technology, the very old crumbled photos, developed in the school’s very own dark room, are once again viewed and seen in printed form. (Many former students, in fact, have not seen these photos themselves and perhaps, they will now be able to even see themselves in the photos.)
Dr Chong himself is quite an artist. The book brings to light his interesting and artistic side. Perhaps, it is one special talent that many schoolmates did not know Dr Chong has. The illustrations are impactful and revealing.
The contributions of the former students and teachers are treasures. Some are real confessions read for the first time and some stories might even expose some ‘misdemeanors’ of the day.
But in all honesty, they are schoolboys and girls’ real experiences in harsh but rich school days.
One of the contributors, now Professor Emeritus Haji Mohammad Majid (University Brunei Darusalam), said “they (the students) were fortunate, in a way, because they were attending Sarawak’s first International School and they had enriched themselves by reading lots of books and interacting with both teachers and students.
Among the many articles he wrote, From Miri to Brunei by Bicycle is one of the most fascinating reads which will give readers an idea what it was like to travel from Miri to Brunei through the sandy beach road.
The book is fascinating as it encapsulates the best of the early life of a school built on a cliff with funds from Columbo Plan. The stories put in black and white the successes and achievements of the visionary principals like Mr Robert Nicholl and Mr Ruthe and teachers who came more than halfway round the world to teach the poor little puny ulu kids, several of whom, indeed, came to the school barefoot and with only a rattan mat and maybe not even a toothbrush.
The first principal was Father Rawlins who had written a good article which is included as the first article in the book. It is a good document relating the historical development of school systems in Sarawak before 1963.
Robert Nicholl’s most important contribution to the Tanjong Lobang, as revealed in the book, was creating the Tanjong Lobang Sixth Form section. Without such classes, many of the poor rural students of Sarawak could not have made it to the university. And they would include Tan Sri Alfred Jabu Numpang and Tan Sri Leo Moggie, to name two.
The local teachers recruited for the school and the teachers who came from India to teach science and maths all made their mark and were written about by their grateful students.