Sunday, February 03, 2008

Mr and Mrs JB Chong - The First Chinese English Teachers of Sibu

There used to be a beautiful wooden bungalow sitting in a very sizeable piece of land near the Methodist Theological College along Queensway (now Jalan Tun Haji Openg). And there lived a beautiful Nyonya who wore beautiful Indonesian sarong kebaya, before our former First Lady of Malaysia made it famous throughout the world.

I had quite a few visits to the house because it belonged to my grandmother Chong's brother, JB Chong, who passed away before I was born. But I had a great respect and perhaps even "fear" as children would always have of Grand Aunty Chong, who was a very grand and proper lady in fact. She had a very imposing personality. It was later when I became a teacher, that this seriousness of personality was a very important trait of a good English teacher. Included in this trait is the by product "we have to mean what we say and say what we mean".

Mr. and Mrs. JB Chong taught English alongside Rev and Mrs.Hoover. Thus they became the first Chinese English teachers of Sibu. And that is really a historical record.

Mr.Chong would spot a European suit for official functions and he looked every inch a Western educated Chinese. In actual fact he was raised in both Java and Singapore. More importantly he was educated in English in Singapore. His English, being impeccable, helped nurture and inspire many Sibu Foochow young boys and girls, including Tiong Kung Ping's children. His teaching according my father, was very simple, straightforward and he made sure that all his students could remember what he taught them. His eyes were fascinating and the most significant part of his personality. His students worshipped him and held him in fear. Of course the rotan cane was part of the classroom. How often he used, no one would know now.

He worked extremely hard as a teacher, helping the students to memorise words and sentences, and at the same time groomed his own children to be learned, hardworking and genteel in attitude and outlook. He encouraged them to be both knowledgeable in western and east cultures and traditions. Thus they grew up to be extremely scholarly and well behaved.

Mrs. Chong, a true Nyonya was beautiful. Fair, very disciplined and very neat, she often indicated to us children how to behave well and respect our elders. I remember her as a person having a very neat handwriting. She loved photographs and taking photographs. She gave my father some photographs of a gathering she had with her former students and she wrote in her neat handwriting on the photograph itself. Today, such photographs are family heirlooms!! We will treasure them always.

Another thing I remember about Mrs. Chong was her beauty care. She was meticulous about her face powder and how good she had to smell. She would carry that remarkable fragrance with her and the air of a well cultured lady we do not often find today. I would of course remember her embroidered white cotton handkerchief.

It was not by coincidence that my grandfather,Tiong Kung Ping,married Mr. JB Chong's sister, Chong Soong Ching. The marriage was actually arranged by Rev. Hoover who thought that a hardworking and enterprising young man like my grandfather was a good match for the English teacher's sister who at that time and by that time's standard,very well educated. And together my grandparents had nine children before she passed away untimely at the age of 38. She was buried on top of a lovely hill in the Methodist Cemetery in Sungei Merah,Sibu.

Mr. and Mrs. JB Chong had four boys and two girls. Their second eldest child,Professor Dr. Chong Chung Hien is a famous surgeon and represented Malaysia as a medical officer in WHO in Korea and then US. His wife was the late Julia Chong, the well known Malaysian composer , musician and symphony orchestra conductor. The youngest son,Peter Chong was an engineer with the JKR, Sarawak , and before he retired, he held a very high position. Peter passed away very recently. They had two daughters. Mary became a nun of the Catholic Church and another served the Methodist Church as a women's leader for a long time.

Living together with Mrs. Chong in the lovely bungalow were their eldest son, Mr. Chong Chung Sing, a very good pianist, and his family. And they faithfully looked after her until Mrs, Chong passed away in her eighties. They also grew the best grade rambutans and other tropical fruits in their garden. For a long time while Mrs. Chong was alive, she would hold court in the garden with her children, former students and friends.

Today the Chong family's third generation are all over the world, making contributions wherever they go,bringing a part of Sibu with them.

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