Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Quah Seng Chye, P.E. teacher extraordinaire

This picture that I saw in the archives room of the Penang Free School recently brought back some memories of my physical education (P.E.) training during my days in school. The person seated in the centre was my P.E. teacher and, oh boy, was he the fiercest teacher on the field and the courts. If you do not know how big the field is at the Penang Free School, I can tell you that you can safely place four football fields into it and still have space left for some other activities! That's how big it is.

And Quah Seng Chye, my P.E. teacher who, by the way, was not related to me, in his inspired moments would require his classes to run around the perimeter of this field. The route would take us from behind the main school buildings - that was where the basketball and volleyball courts were located then when I was still at school - to join up with the road around the field and then back to the courts behind the buildings. A distance of about 1.2 kilometers, I would estimate. Not only that, as we panted around the route, he would follow us on his trusty old motorcycle to make sure that we did not slacken and, um, cut corners. He would stand at one corner of the field and holler at anyone at the opposite diagonal, and he could still be heard. Robert Plant would have been impressed!

On the field, we were taught the basics of rugby by this man. In fact, he was senior coach of the school's rugby squad, a throwback to the time when not only was he the Hargreaves House captain in 1953, but also the House games captain for rugby. Yes, this guy was an Old Free too but he never let on his past to any of us, not even to his fellow teachers, so I gathered.

He also taught us court skills and volleyball was one of his forte. And this was about the only court game that I really enjoyed in school although I wasn't any good at it. Again in his moments, we would be asked to go down on the ground and put do our pumping exercises, squats and what not. For umpteen times in a row. That, I did not enjoy.

Quah Seng Chye was also bloody good at gymnastics. Possibly the only teacher in the school that was comfortable enough to demonstrate to us boys how to work the parallel bars or the wooden gym horse. Possibly also the rings. The parallel bars and rings were permanent fixtures in the school's quadrangle and the gym horses were all kept at the back of the school hall. So we would either exercise in the quadrangle or the hall, depending on his mood of the day.

And just the other day, I heard an anecdote about him. I had quite forgotten that it ever happened but if someone had recollected it, well, I guess it must have. One year, he selected a group of boys to build a human pyramid. A lot of training and practice went into it, and his intention was to display this effort at the school's Sports Day. Now, the Sports Day was one of the few occasions when the Penang Governor himself would turn up, and there would be other dignitaries too. On this fateful occasion when the boys were clambering on top of one another, the base failed and the the boys toppled over. The story was that Quah Seng Chye was livid. He couldn't care less about who were present in the stands. He simply let go and bellowed at the boys at the top of his voice. Everyone was astounded. There was an eerie quiet, broken only by the sound of stirring music from the public address system. Here, in front of the Governor, was a dedicated coach who saw all his boys' training collapse. He bellowed and the ashen-faced boys all got up to try again. And luckily for them, they made it this time and the formation stood firm. Quah Seng Chye got his way, the tension was broken and the school's pride was restored.

But if anyone thinks that this was all there was to this man, let me add that there was also a more academic and less physical side to this man. In the upper forms, he would also teach us health science. I heard many decades ago, not reliably confirmed though, that he had resigned from the school to take up a teaching post in Brunei, and that was where he could have passed away later.

Quah Seng Chye, he was such an interesting man. In his memory, perhaps the Free School could remember him and dedicate one of the school's two quadrangles, the one next to the Sixth Form Block, as the Quah Seng Chye Quadrangle. What with the parallel bars there, it would be a fitting memorial to him.

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