Monday, August 27, 2007

The Three Angels - Part 2

As luck would have it, one of the three angels responded. The one who responded was Miss Teo Tang Ghee. This wholesome astute, sensitive, mature and caring lady had taken the trouble to write more detailed description of her experience and feelings about their experience there. To ensure that readers get it straight from the horse's mouth I reproduce verbatim what she wrote to me in her email. This should correct any mistake or perception made by me in the earlier posting about them.

On her first first day experience in Gua Musang.

When I got my posting in the mail, my heart sank and I almost cried. How could I possibly end up in one of the two most dreaded postings on the peninsular (Ulu Tembeling & Gua Musang were college jokes)? Don't they give any recognition to a 'Cemerlang' teacher training college graduate? Perhaps you could understand my feelings if you were born and bred in a city and the 2 1/2 -year stint at Maktab Perguruan Mohd.Khalid in JB were the only time I had lived away from home. I couldn't even find Renok Baru on the map!

Luckily I had a distant aunt working as a nurse for many years in Tanah Merah. She and her JKR engineering assistant husband kindly drove me to GM. Through some acquaintance of my uncle, I was shown a narrow room at the video rental shop. It didn't come cheap (I learned that accommodation was limited in Gua Musang) and I was to share the room with the owner's younger daughter. It was the sight of the bathroom that turned me off and I was praying that I wouldn't be made to accept it! On the way back to TM, my uncle made a stop at SK Renok Baru to see what it's like. Well, the bumpy ride some distance in from the highway past wooden houses on stilts and the sight of a single row of faded wooden building housing the classrooms that greeted me did little to lift my spirits! The school had no electricity nor piped water!

Sensing my dismay, my aunt thought I should go to JPN in Kota Bahru to appeal for a change of school. The next day I was put in a taxi and managed to find my way to JPN. The officer in charge was not helpful and would not entertain my requests. He said I could bathe in the river, etc (I didn't even know how to tie a sarong securely!). But there I met my first headmaster who was very nice and welcoming. He took me to his car where his wife and mentally-challenged son (he made strange noises that worried me when I was in the backseat with him!) were waiting, drove me to his house for tea then sent me to the terminal to catch a taxi back to my aunt's in Tanah Merah. He brushed aside all my fears, said not to worry, there's a teachers’ quarters and that he'd send a land rover to pick me up at the train station when I arrive in Gua Musang. I had no choice but to accept my fate. I can't remember exactly but I believe Suny came in the land rover when I arrived. My aunt gave me containers of boiled water and also suggested that I could carry water from the river into the house to bathe as the planks on the wooden floor had gaps (there was no bathroom). Can't remember anything about toilet facilities in the longhouse-style teachers’ quarters.

On problem with accommodation and transport.

Can’t recall the details but given a choice, we knew we wanted to stay in town and not in the teachers’ quarters. I remember the 3 of us walked around town looking for a room to rent. We were directed to a house with many tenants and were shown 2 rooms- one with no windows and a naked bulb hanging from the ceiling by a frugal and not-so-friendly old Chinawoman who listed out unattractive terms of tenancy. At first we decided on the one with a window thinking we had little choice, left our stuff and went down to bathe as we were hot and sweaty. Unsatisfied, we made further enquiries and as fate would have it we were brought to Chop Sing Hong, a hardware shop just relocated in a new 3-storey building. The owner and his wife were nice and there was a room to let. We quickly went back to the Chinawoman who showed her displeasure and said we had already taken our baths in her house! We paid her RM5 which she took!

Later in school, we managed to work out a car pool arrangement with Cikgu Yusof who I believe taught Maths & Science. Although he wore a white kopiah (skull cap), he was not an ustaz. He was from Pasir Puteh and had just been transferred to Renok Baru. He had his daughter, Ayu, with him and they rented a house in Gua Musang town.

On Relations with HM, fellow teachers, pupils, parents.

I remember serving under 3 Head Masters (HM) in my 5years in Renok Baru, The 1st was transferred shortly after we arrived the 2nd was nice and fatherly while we found the 3rd aloof and arrogant. The 2nd appreciated our contributions and valued us. We sometimes deliberately tried to make him panic by telling him about offers from other schools in town! He had a slipped disc operation and some time after got transferred nearer his home. He rang me one day to persuade me to join his school (he said he could arrange for my transfer), can’t recall which exactly, and cited a list of reasons to make his offer attractive. One was the distance. He said I could take a bus back to Penang directly even if I wanted to go home every weekend unlike GM. I didn’t take up his offer. I decided that when I leave GM it would be back to Penang , not another school in Kelantan. The same reason for turning down En.Sabri Salleh’s (the then District Education officer who was very impressed with the work I did with the students in Renok Baru) offer to teach in Kuala Krai where the district education office was based.

The pupils were curious about us. I think that was the first close encounter they had with non-Malays / Chinese. I think they loved us as we loved them. They were poor but simple and affectionate. They aroused the ‘altruistic’ values in me, making me do more than just teach. I have a few stories about that but they are too time consuming to write here (I’m suppose to study for my PTK Test day after tomorrow).

The parents welcomed us. They respected us and were supportive as well as appreciative of our efforts in teaching their children. Relationship with the rest of the staff was good. We even stayed overnight with the ustaz and his family when we were making the ‘asyura’ as a community project. His wife was very warm and was keen to teach us their culture. I remember how annoyed I was on one occasion when all the ladies (female teachers and teachers’ wives) spent the whole morning slaving in the kitchen and when the meal was ready and laid out on a mat on the floor, all the men were invited to eat first. When I protested, I was told that the womenfolk would only eat after them. It was so unfair!

Except for some minor hiccups, I didn’t think they were any big issues in our cultural and religious differences. There was a lot of respect and acceptance both ways. I don’t remember that it was the ustazah who told the children to use the stick. I think it was the students’ own ingenuity that led them to solve the problem of holding hands to make a circle creatively during one of my physical education classes. Of course they must have been taught that it was sinful to come into any physical contact with members of the opposite sex no matter what. They were only 6 to 7 year olds!

The children liked me. One day, when they were crowding round me, one student said she ‘sayang teacher’ (love the teacher) and ‘nak jadi anak angkat teacher’ (Wish to be the teacher's foster children). Suddenly, all of them echoed the same thing except one. The class monitor, the youngest daughter of the canteen operator said, “Tak leh, teacher kafir.”!(We can't be, the teacher is a non believer)Well, you can see that the programming started very early in their education.

On their transfer out.

It was just a natural progression, also an unwritten rule that once you have served 5-years in the ulus, you are eligible for transfer. Actually I didn’t wait till my 5th year, I submitted my application for transfer in my 4th year as I was unhappy with the 3rd HM. I didn’t feel much appreciated and once he summoned me to his office to tell me I can’t wear a sleeveless dress in school. He told me to tell Suny & Huey Ling. Suny reacted by saying that she would wear a sleeveless dress and shorter skirts the next time! Well, he never submitted my application for transfer. Later he told me he forgot to submit and had missed the deadline! I knew it was deliberate and I took it that he really wanted me to stay!

I think Huey Ling left 1st. After 3 years, it was easier for a local to get back to her hometown since it was not an inter-state transfer. Then Suny got a place to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Teaching B.Malaysia as a First Language in UPM. It was there that she met her Malay (of Java ancestry) husband-to-be. I was very unhappy and frustrated as I couldn’t get a place in the university. At that point I was determined I’ve had enough of Renok Baru. By then there were another 4 Chinese girls posted to SK Renok Baru.

On the children’s academic performance during their stint in Renok Baru.

I daresay having trained, qualified and competent English Language teachers made a difference. The UPSR results for English showed significant improvement every year. I thought the exposure to the ‘foreign’ language we gave them was invaluable. I believe many students benefited from our teaching. We manage to set up a Pusat Sumber (Resource Center) and DOW Chemicals’s aid (obtained through both your help and Hj.Hussein’s) of books and radio cassette recorders, etc was a great boost. In one year, we won (can’t remember whether it was 1st or 2nd or 3rd placing for our rural school category) in an annual competition among the schools in Kelantan. Later, just after I left, our Pusat Sumber was made the regional Pusat Sumber for the district.

On Miss Yong Huey Ling and her marriage.

His name is Oh Kim Leng. They were college sweethearts. I can’t remember his posting in Sarawak but it was in some remote part. I believe he injured his neck/spinal cord when he dived into the river when taking his bath. It was a tragedy as Kim Leng, I heard, was a very talented young man. It was a cruel twist of fate that ended a promising future for a bright young man. Huey Ling went against well-meaning advice and her family’s wish and married him instead. We re-established brief contact some years back and she said she was happy and contented with her life with Kim Leng despite his disability. At that time she was pursuing a degree privately. Her husband was doing well after medically boarded out, his Bahasa Malaysia tuition classes were well sought after. He even bought her a house and car (I have to buy them myself!).

All in all, the time in GM was an enriching experience for me though there wasn’t much opportunities for personal & professional development. You don’t even need to go abroad to get a culture shock, I had it in my own country.

On her reflection and regret in life.

Whenever I reflect upon those times we were in Gua Musang (GM), it brings a nostalgic feeling that is beyond comprehension.
Well, it was an important phase in our lives. We not only just embarked on our teaching career but entered the 'real world' outside. We were young and naive, and I was full of ideals. My one regret was not putting my 5 years there in good use. I could have pursued a law degree had I got the right motivation and support. Instead, life centered around school, and once the conditioning is set, I found myself trapped in a system that did me little justice because it is a system that does not give due recognition to talent or good work. It is a system that is demoralizing because it discriminates and it fails to help people like me charts my career path. I learn only too late that a system that treats unequal people equally is not necessarily fair. After 22 years in the service, you can say that I've no illusions left.

Most of my motivations are intrinsic. If I needed external rewards to stay motivated all these years, I would have been a dead wood a long time ago. However, the scholarship to UK was the best reward because it gave me an opportunity to realize my potentials and helped built my confidence. It was an experience of a lifetime to explore a world outside my little 'tempurung' and widen my horizons. But I did not get the scholarship because of my dedicated service, as far as the ministry was concerned I was only a name on the list, I got it because of my luck/destiny/karma.

Oh Kim Leng were later featured on National Televion as an example of teachers who contributed tremendously towards educating the youngs in Malacca despite of his being handicapped by paralysis from the waist down after the mishap. Their story brought tears to many who know either one of them and saw them on TV when it was aired.

There is nothing more that I can add at the moment. Suffice to say that these are examplary people (teachers) who sacrificed a part of their young lives to serve the pupils in the remote part of the country. How happy would they be if even a token of appreciation was accorded to them. To the three of them, this write up is to acknowledge their contibution to society.


J.T. said...

Wow... that is a good sharing of Miss Teo Tang Ghee. I could actually feel the challenges Miss Teo went through with her fellow teachers.

I think that many good teachers were never (and still not) given due recognition for their sacrifice and hardwork. Quality teachers like Miss Teo are hard to come by these days because of our education system.

Zawi said...

You said it all. There is nothing more for me to add. My old school in Pasir Mas is nothing compared to SK Renok Baru where they served.
Thanks for coming j.t. Its something so compelling I need someone to share it with and you have never failed me.

H J Angus said...

I had one teacher in Lower Secondary school, Mr John Lee who used to give me a ride to and from school on his Norton 500cc motorbike.

School was about 1.5miles away and in those days no one used crash helmets.

I used to walk to school and I guess he wanted to help.

He has passed on and I am grateful for what he did.

Zawi said...

h j Angus,
In our lives there will always be a teacher who will be so special to us. They had managed to do something to us that merit a special mention somewhere. I was lucky to be taught by teachers of all races and religion who never ever indicated such differences as a barrier to being a good teacher to me and my fellow classmates. I will be featuring many more of them in due course.

J.T. said...

I am honoured by that last remark. Thank you. Your blog is my regular read.

P.S. I seem to have lost the knack for writing. Maybe that break I took was a bit too much. :D
I need to find my groove again. I wonder how you (like others) manage to write and write and write. :)

Zawi said...

I have often experienced writer's block too. It was Rocky and h.j.Angus who gave me the push to continue beyond the first blog. Unfortunately I made a mistake and the first blog and their comments is lost forever by unintended deletion.
Now its your consistent visit and comments that kept me going. I would do the same to you if that small deed could help push you to write more.
There are other visiotrs to this blog but they didnt leave their mark cos they havent registered. Several ex teachers and classmates have phoned or emailed me telling me how they appreciated my effort to recall the memories of day gone. These are what motivate us to carry on writing.

Anonymous said...

teo tang ghee is my long lost great you know of her whereabout now sir? reading her writings reminds me of our sweetest good old days at pusat bahasa um in the early 90's. i must say that she is the most wonderful, interesting,caring and helpful person i ever known. i had also encounterd similar problems on my first three months teaching at sungai terah estate in gua musang . i met her at pusat bahasa university malaya and thereafter became good friends until we both made our way at different universities in the uk. should you read this tang ghee please contact me at

Zawi said...

You speak well about Miss Tang Ghee. Those words about her were most apt.
She will visit my blogsite occassionally. Anyway we are always in contact via email and I will alert her about yor comment or just ask her to email you and get connected again.
I cant divulge much info about her but you can get everything from her once you are in contact.
I am glad I have managed to bring two great friends together. If you are her friend then you are my friend too.