Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Day in My Life with Grand Aunt in Sibu 1960

1960 was a remarkable year. I was in Primary Five and we had started having extra afternoon English classes in our preparation for our Primary Six Entrance Examination.

We had to pass our Entrance Examination in order to enter Secondary School. Failing that a girl would have to attend Ling Chu Ming Secondary School, or attend Night School or prepare to get married!

I loved going to the afternoon classes and being taught by Mr. Wong Kie Mee. He was a plump man, extremely strict and he had about 6 different rattan canes of different thicknesses to beat us if we made mistakes in English. He also had very heavy footsteps which were very distinctive.

That particular day, that particular morning I remember very clearly. It was Thursday. And the bell rang for the first lesson which was Hygiene, taught by Mr. Tiong, also a very strict teacher. It was then followed by Maths, taught by Mr. Huang Teck Nai. After that lesson was General Knowledge and we were told to memorise lots of facts, which I also enjoyed very much. Then we had recess and I flew up the staircase to be with Goo Poh, Grand Aunt, the half sister of my Grandfather.

Being the kindergarten teacher of the Methodist Kindergarten, my grandaunt or Goo Poh was given lodging in the Methodist Memorial Building which had flats for lady missionaries on the first floor. this building also had a small hall on the ground floor for women's meetings, craft work, choir practice and other activities. It was a square, functional white washed building with two staircases, one in the front and one at the back. To us it was a huge monument, steadfast and welcoming, like our Grand Aunt.

Every day Grand Aunt would have our snacks ready during our recess and hers as well: milk in a bowl and soda biscuits or marie biscuits. I always wondered how she managed to feed me and my siblings (Sing and Hsiung). There was never any talk of payment. Perhaps it was true Foochow manners of reciprocal love. (Yin Ching li yin ching kuo ). But nevertheless as a child I had a lot of comfort having a break there and felt very privileged to rub shoulders with a teacher, and my own relative at that. Then if we had bought something with our money which was all of twenty cents, we would take out our buns, or kuihs. Sometimes we would have a packet of fried noodles at twenty cents. And it was all a good meal together. Goo Poh would wait on us.

I never realised the significance of waiting at tables until very much later in life when I studied about how Chinese women waited at the tables of their families, to run for the bean sauce, the little bit of cut chilies, a little more of salt in a saucer and another glass of drinking water or beer without a "please"or a" dear". Then when I grew into quite a feminist I resented waiting at tables for our menfolks. Now whenever I remember how Goo Poh waited on us, my heart would just burst and tears well up.

On that particular recess time, I told Goo Poh that I would have afternoon class with Mr. Wong and that we would have a test. It was going to be Present Continuous Tense I remember as Mr. Wong had told us to revise. I was quite sure that I knew everything. So Goo Poh warned me to be careful. Mr. Wong would mark very carefully.

Soon the bell rang for the morning session to be over and we went home. In the morning, my father would send us with his Land Rover and we would walk home in the afternoon as he worked in Sg.Aup and would only be back in the evening. Our house was not very far you see from our school. By two I was back in school.

I sat for the test and soon Mr. Wong had the test papers all marked as we did our exercises.

He lined the papers very properly, those who failed at the bottom. More than half failed the test.

Those who passed got their paper first. And I did not get mine in that pile! I had failed! But how badly? I could not believe it. I had been so careful.

He called the first boy to collect his paper. They counted the mistakes together and he was beaten six times across the palm of his left hand.

Then it was my turn. I was red in the face and my palms started to sweat and then went cold. I could not have made so many mistakes!! I went up and faced the class and then faced him. He asked me very sternly and slowly as if I was hard of hearing, "Count, how many mistakes have you made?"

He had underlined FOUR words in red. I had forgotten to write ING after the verbs!

So he said, "Now I am going to beat you! GO-ING to beat you FOUR times!"
He said again,"Say after me,I am GOING to beat you"

So I said, "I am going to beat you."

After the beating, my hand was extremely painful, but my face was red as a tomato. I could not concentrate on the lesson any more. I could not remember any thing.

When the bell rang, I ran up to Goo Poh and cried .... I never seemed to be able to reach her, the stair case was like a stair case going up to heaven. It was so high! And I believe I was only about four cats tall at that time.

All she said was "Never mind, mo yu kin, mo yu kin, you will do well next time. It is just a small thing...."

She gave me some of her beautiful tissue paper to wipe my tears and the pain away. But my heart heavy bearing the pain of embarrassment. How could a Tiong girl fail her English? All her aunts were educated! All her uncles were well established business men! And all were English speaking!

She then walked me to the main road, and squeezed the hand that did not bear the brunt of the rattan cane.

Softly she continued to say, "Never mind, it is just only an ant's bite. All students get beaten."

Because of my Grand aunt and the comfort she gave me, I never failed my English again. Grand Aunt was like tissue paper - soft and gentle and loving.

Everyone has a grandaunt, but mine is a special one.

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