As we close out the year, it is appropriate that I shall attempt to give a first report on my progress in the Old Frees' Association coffee table book project.
First, my write-up on the Penang Free School Rally has been completed. This came about after I managed to track the original music score which was still in the hands of GS Reutens' daughter. I've written about it here for an easier reference.
Second, the story on the history of the Old Frees' Association is taking longer than I had expected. I thought that I had everything completed until the Seventies but then I started to research for news about the OFA that might have appeared in The Straits Times of Singapore, and I came across huge chunks of information. It's almost impossible for me to totally assimilate all that information but those I did were not entirely appropriate for my project. A lot of the early newspaper reports carried news about the early education system. Should be good for my co-editor's side but I wonder whether she'd want to use all that.
Anyway, I sent the first incomplete draft of the OFA history to the association's president for comments and word soon came back from him that we should try and say more about the association's later developments. Yes, I do agree with him that we should but I also know it's not going to be easy. Also, he kept telling me that we could also use a lot of old photographs in the possession of A Nehru who was a past president of the association. However, the problem was to contact him and to sit down with him. I was told that he had just come out from an operation and wasn't answering his telephone much.
As chance would have it, I bumped into him at the association yesterday evening. He was hobbling into the premises to meet someone. That he was up on his feet meant that he was recovering well. So I hailed him and reminded him about his photos and old magazines. He assured me that there would be no problem. I hope so, seeing how notorious he had been with his past assurances.
I've also been chasing the Old Frees' Associations in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to get someone to contribute essays on their own histories. Frankly, I'm not very confident of seeing much progress here despite having written quite a number of emails to friends and contacts.
Third, I have to admit that I'm struggling with the short biographies on Dr Lim Chong Eu and Dr Wu Lien Teh. It was not the lack of material, though. On the contrary, there's a wealth of information and I just don't know where to begin yet. Dr Wu Lien Teh, wow, just look at his credentials and achievements! What can you say about this great man, except that he was there at the right place and the right time!
The biographies of Prof Arthur Sandosham and Dr Yeoh Bok Choon proved a little difficult because nobody seemed to know what had happened to them since the Eighties. Luckily, I soon found two leads for the Sandosham story - one from an interesting book titled Doctors Extraordinaire and the other from the Malaysian Society of Parasitology and Tropical Medicine. As for the Yeoh Bok Choon write-up, learning that his family had moved to Kuala Lumpur after his death did not help me at all. But luckily again, I had a contact from a Singapore gynaecologist and Old Free who could tell me something about him. So I've unravelled part of his problem.
The easiest biographies to research were on Zainal Alam and Dr Lee Kum Tatt. For Zainal Alam, there was an obituary on him in The New Sunday Times and I also had access to his daughter in Penang who provided me with a nice picture of her father. While for Dr Lee, this man had actually maintained an interesting blog almost right until the day he died. Well, actually, he didn't write the blog as someone else did it for him but the material was all his. Plus, the OFA Singapore helped out by getting a few pictures from his family.
So there you have it, you have some idea now of some of the personalities that will be mentioned in the coffee table book.
Fifth, I just want to mention that until this point, we have had some interesting feedback from several Old Frees who are responding well to the OFA's call for articles and stories. The Old Frees are a great lot for offering us their stories!