Friday, 5 June 2015

A family of teachers


I've been seeing a number of my old school pals lately but this afternoon was quite something else. I went downtown to meet up with Chuan Keat and Leong Teik - the former having arrived from Kuala Lumpur yesterday and the latter zooming up from Singapore on the same day - and we then went to the E&O Hotel in Farquhar Street to visit our old school teacher, Tan Joo Sin, who is now a long-term resident at the hotel. Swee Poh was already there with her and from what I know, he is her very regular visitor whenever he's back from South Australia, sometimes visiting her two or three times a week.


Tan Joo Sin should be well in her 90s by now. Previously, she lived in a bungalow house in Barrack Road but when her sister passed away several years ago and unaided walking became a problem, she moved into the E&O Hotel with two foreign carers. I've no idea how much she must be spending on her accommodation in this five-star hotel but it must be costing her an arm and a leg.

Ms Tan was my teacher at the Penang Free School but unfortunately, my memory fails me whenever I try to recall the subject or subjects that she must have taught my classmates. Was it English? Or was it English literature? Or could it be Physical Geography? Mmm....

Anyway, I do remember that she was the teacher-in-charge of the Khutub Khanah Tunku, an absolutely indescribable name for the PFS Library that was opened in December 1969, and named after the country's first Prime Minister who happened to be an Old Boy of the school.

After my Higher School Certificate examinations in 1972, I regularly returned to the school to use the library. It held tons of interesting books, old books even, including a series of great classic novels such as Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. I would walk the corridors, peering at the shelves and especially, rummaging through the foreign newspapers and magazines when I discovered, quite by accident, that magazines like The Spectator carried a chess column within its pages. I would disappear into a tiny room at the back of the building where the old magazines were stored. I had great fun reading all those magazines and book classics while free of any exam worries and before worries of the exam results set in.

Incidentally, Tan Joo Sin had a brother teaching in the Penang Free School. Capt Tan Boon Soon was the afternoon supervisor when I entered PFS in 1966, the position akin to being the afternoon "headmaster". Tan, himself an Old Boy of the school, was also captain of the school's Cadet Corps. He, together with three or four other teachers, would occasionally turn up for work dressed resplendently in white knee-length trousers while wearing shiny black boots with long white cotton socks pulled up and folded down below the kneecaps. A typical Old World gentleman.



4 comments:

Unknown said...

just to share on this, as i have an interest in languages, especially borrowed words in malay...

khutubkhana is an Urdu/Hindi word for library.. khutub is plural for kitab (which is book), and khana means cell or place (musafir khana = hotel for example)

anyway, keep up the interesting stories!

Anonymous said...

Just curious.
Are we allowed to use the school library since we have already left the school?

Poh Soon said...

Hi Quah, Thanks for this article on Ms Tan. I did not know her well as she taught the Arts classes but her brother Master Boon Soon was a legend and certainly one of the great teachers at PFS during my time 57-63. Besides his involvement with the Cadet Corp, he was the school football and cricket coach simultaneously and devoted much time, effort and energy to make sure that the football and cricket teams were the best school teams in Penang and one of the best in the country. As far as I know all the boys who were under Master's care and tutelage liked him tremendously and we had great fun travelling with him to the various outstation inter-school competitions. IMHO, he was the epitome of a great teacher, a friend and a great coach and one of the principal reasons why the PFS was such a great school.

alex lim said...

Thank you for sharing.
Glad to know many people still apreciate their teachers.
Aunty Joo Sin always told me great stories about her travels...
Glad to have met Captain Tan as well.