My Days in the Sun. Part 1: The First Days of School

3 12 2009

School life for me began on a cool early morning in January 1971. After a light breakfast of bread lightly toasted over the stove by my grandmother, spread with the SCS butter that my mother was fond of then, I dressed in the crisp white starched shirt and khaki shorts of my school uniform, sat on the sofa by the doorway to put the white socks and white shoes that seem to glow in the half light of dawn, and waited for my grandmother, who was to take me to the school bus pick up point. As I sat, a sense of anticipation, as well as a growing sense of trepidation came over me … it was for me, a journey into the unknown…

As I waited for the school bus at the foot of the block of flats, a light blue cardigan draped over me by my protective grandmother, I silently observed the many school children, dressed in different coloured uniforms, as they waited and then made their way down the staircase as  their buses pulled up one by one. I was constantly on the look-out  for a light blue minibus with the number 388 on the license plate. I suppose my grandmother would have brought me to the pick up point with a lot of time to spare, as I remember waiting for what seemed like an eternity before the minibus finally arrived.

The minibus delivered the small load of noisy schoolboys, four wide-eyed first years amongst them, to the drop-off point at school, greeted by the statue of the Archangel Michael killing the Serpent over a circular pond that served as a roundabout. I don’t seem to remember how we got to our classes, but when we did get to our classrooms, I do remember our teacher trying to introduce herself and organise our seating arrangements over the dissonance of cries and voices that punctured the air. In the midst of all that, one of my classmates proceeded to throw up right in the middle of the classroom, adding to the discord that prevailed over the chaotic start to my school life.

Class Photograph, Primary 1B, St. Michael's School, 1971

In the few weeks that followed, as the number of parents and grandparents that stood outside the classrooms which were on the ground floor started to thin, we got about our daily routine of assemblies, classes, recess time, and more classes before the morning session which I was attending, ended. The morning session would start with assembly, during which we would stand in our class groups lined up in twos, at the designated assembly points facing the school building in front of which a flag pole stood beyond a row of trees. The Pledge would be recited and the National Anthem sung as the Flag was raised, as we stood at attention. The row of trees, as I recall, had lots of green caterpillars dangling down from the low branches and very often, as we walked below them, we would find green caterpillars on the back of our shirts and sometimes in our hair. The last period of the day was what some of us look forward to as our class teacher, Mrs May Chua, would hold a mental maths quiz with pencils as prizes to those who were the first with the answers.

Early in the school year, I had to have my schoolbag replaced several times – something my parents remind me of from time to time. Schoolbags then were these boxy shaped cases constructed of cardboard, measuring about 35 cm wide, 25 cm high and 12 cm deep, with a tartan like patterned exterior. They were fitted with plastic handles, which some school children had sponges tied on (to make it less painful to carry the full heavy load of books), plastic corner protectors, and had a catch in the middle where the handle was.  I had to have my bag replaced as there was this particularly mischievous boy, on the same school bus, who besides using my schoolbag as a seat, had on one occasion put the bag on the road right within sight of St. Michael, for a school bus to run over!

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24 responses

4 05 2010
My Days in the Sun. Part 2: Epok-Epok, sports days and the marvels of MILO « The Long and Winding Road

[…] 4 05 2010 My second year at primary school provided me with a very different experience from the one I had in my first year. This was possibly because of two things, the first being having to attend school in the afternoon […]

18 08 2010
naren777

Hi Wondering Wanderer,

I guess I ‘m a year older. I was from the batch of 1970.

I fondly remember the aroma of cooked food emanating from the old tuckshop every morning before recess.

Do recall one quaint practice of the two bell rings after recess? One the first ring, everyone would have to freeze-up in whatever posture they happened to be in. Then, on the second ring we would walk back to our classes slowly.

I also recall squatting at the drains behind our classrooms to brush our teeth.

My fondest memories of SMS was during the two years I had the late Mr Joseph Wee as my form teacher. He has alsways been to me the paragon of teachers. As he was the teacher in charge of the school’s upper primary soccer team, our class would travel to far away places (during school hours!) to cheer the school team.

Mr Joseph Wee even created a league of sorts within our class and we were all decked up with jerseys, shorts and ankle guards.

Those were some of the best years of my life!

Cheers

18 08 2010
The wondering wanderer

The old tuckshop was great! The Nasi Lemak and the turnip slices which we would dip in prawn paste were my favourites! And oh yes! Now that you mentioned it … the two rings, the first one at which we would have to freeze – that in retrospect seems silly – but we had a lot of fun with that then! :D Yes … I remember the toothbrushing sessions – we were each given a small toothbrush and a tumbler for that!

If you had Mr Joseph Wee as your form teacher, I guess you would have been in School I … I was in School II … I had a similar experience with my form teacher Mr Tan Siang Ann who was with our class for three years in upper primary! I remember the trips we would make to cheer the soccer team – the north zone finals were somehow always played in the old Sembawang School field – somewhere across from where Khatib Camp is these days … mentioned it in a post on the old rubber factory we used to pass on the way there. Remember how the field somehow seemed to have a small inclination? We had a league in our class in primary 2 – Mr George Kheng organised us into the English teams … and most of us grew up supporting the teams we were in. And yes, I remember how we played with ankle guards … and later makeshift boots using those canvas hockey shoes with rubber studded soles that were common back then! Certainly the best years of my life too!
:D

Cheers!

21 10 2010
Terence

Hi, nice page! I was in SMS from 1967 to 1973, my form teachers were:
P1B Mrs Leong, P2A Mr Chan, P3C Mr J Varghese, P4A Tan Kheng Siang, P5A same, P6B Mr Tan Siang Ann. I wandered between School 1 and 2 as my mum was a teacher (in another school) and I had to follow her timetable, the result was I made twice the number of friends, in both the Chinese and Malay classes!

I remember the mee pok stall (the first one stall on your left as you turned into the tuckshop), followed by the turnip seller then the fruits and the nasi lemak and the drinks; on the opposite side in reverse order (going towards the school hall) was the sweet shop, the Malay food stall, but I can’t recall anything else after that, I think it was empty?

My favorite classroom was probably the one above the tuckshop, which doubled as the ETV room (remember that?) and had a beautful rear view. I was there when in Pr3.

If you have any more photos to share of old Singapore please do post them, especially of Cold Storage, Koek Road and the Orchard Road Market, all old favorites of mine. Btw, I helped to write the SMS commemorative book (the 50th Anniversary one), hope you have a copy!

23 10 2010
The wondering wanderer

Hi Terence! Thanks! :) Wow – you remember all your form teachers! I had Mr Tan Siang Ann for three years.

The mee pok stall somehow always seemed to be the most popular stall. Somehow – I don’t quite remember what was after the Malay food stall but I do vaguely remember that there was a stall there. Remember the mee rebus and mee goreng that the Malay stall served on little enamel plates?

Oh gosh I had almost forgotten about the ETV room! Didn’t realise that was used as a classroom. My favourite was the one at the other end on the second level … we had one that opened up at the back and it was really nice and airy.

You might like to check out http://www.singas.co.uk – there’s quite a lot of photographs of old Singapore there … also have a postcard view of old Orchard Road that I got from a friend somewhere with the old Orchard Road Market …

Didn’t realise that there was a SMS commemorative book – I don’t have a copy :( … nice to know you helped write that – anyway I can get my hands on a copy?

24 11 2010
Tony

Is Mr. Tan Siang Ann still alive? IHe was my Primary 6 form teacher, when I was at SMS. Wondered how many generation of SMS’s boys he had taught, from once a primary school student, then becoming a parent & then teaching that parent son.

24 11 2010
The wondering wanderer

Hi Tony, if I am not wrong, Mr. Tan passed on in 1987.

24 11 2010
Terence

Hi WW, I can check with Dominic or Mrs Sheares and let you know.

24 11 2010
The wondering wanderer

Hi Terence, you still in touch with Mrs Sheares? That’s nice!

13 01 2011
Ray Cheong

Hi to everyone here, I was a student of SMS in the early 60’s. I remember some of the teachers there. Yes, Mr. Tan Siang Ann was there, so was Mr. Francis Yeo, the Toh brothers, Joseph and John and not forgetting Mr. Wong Voon Fui. The priciple than was Bro. Basil. Back then we have this weekly test and Bro Basil would go to every class on Mondays to check on the test results of every student. Any student who did not do well in the test would be asked to side aside outside the corridor, while those with good marks would be allowed back into the classroom. The who were asked to stand aside would be caned.

Yes, I remember the Mee Pok stall. This stall also sells Cha Keow Teow on certain fixed day of the week I love his Char Keow Teow. I also rememebr the stall that sells the Turnip with prawn paste spread over it, top up with peanuts and sugar.

SMS was one of the only primary school with a proper school hall with badminton courts and a ‘S’ curve stage.

All these sure brings back fond memeories.

13 01 2011
The wondering wanderer

It’s nice to know that there are fellow Michaelians out there to share experiences and nostalgia with! I guess you might know Mike Ang – who would have been there around that time! The guys in my year would know Mr Francis Yeo as his son was in the same standard as us … we didn’t have Mr John Toh by our time – but we had Mr. Joseph Toh as well and also Mr. Wong Woon Fui. Thinking of the turnip slices somehow still makes my mouth water! Even during my time, SMS was one of the few Primary Schools with a closed hall – most had open halls and I guess that helped our badminton team to be one of the best around! Thanks for sharing your memories Ray! :)

1 04 2011
avery

I was there for six years from 1976, and can still remember the brotherhood of 3 Josephs – Joseph Chee, Joseph Wee and Joseph Toh. And Mrs Leong (Agatha?) was my form teacher in Pri.1 so seems like she must’ve been there long before 1976. But the one lingering memory is of the curry pok man on the bicycle and his bottle of chili sauce – only those in the afternoon sessions would get to battle it out for them after flag-lowering!

24 07 2011
David Tan B. K

Hi one and all . It’s great to stumble on this blog especially concerning the good old SMS days. I was there from ’69 onwards and the Principal Was Mr. Ho Fook Seng ( hope I got the spelling right). He was to me a very stern person. Some of us were caught washing our feet after a football match in the toilet sinks and we all got punished real good. The teachers I could remember were Mrs. Leong, Mrs. Keong, the 3 Josephs , of which Joseph Wee was our football coach ( God rest his soul) and I was in the team . I especially had fun playing with the boys in St. John’s Island and many tournaments at Farrer park. Also Mr. Charles Chan my cub scouts Akela , Mrs Sheares. I hope all the teachers are still around and in good health.
Back to football, I wonder what happened to our teammates like Gabriel Chew, Peter Chia, Edmund Tan, etc ?
For me it was all sports and fun at SMS , from soccer to Athletics to Table Tennis . I also remember the spider catching days and vicious fights for the King positions. Aubrey Toh ( nephew of the late Joseph Toh) my class mate owned I think the largest spider I had ever seen with white fangs ( not devil spider ah!) which wiped out many of ours. We even nicknamed his enormous arachnid OH Bi TOH spider. I guess these are all memories now but good ones nevertheless. Hope to hear from anyone who taught or was taught back then. Bye and God Bless! David Tan , 49 years.

11 11 2011
David

http://newspapers.nl.sg/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19891219.2.66.2.2.2.aspx

I find this absolute crap, as if she was such a soft kind person. Agartha Leong was a tyrant to small primary one boys. I was one of the many victims of her special “pinch your left cheek, slap your right” punishments. And I was not alone. We were just little boys, being boys. If it was today, she would be jailed. I was told a while back that she had passed away and my only regret is not slapping her back now that I’m grown up. I hated my time in St Mikes.

31 08 2012
Kelvin Monteiro

The Wondering Wanderer and I were from the same batch. Mr Francis Yeo was my form teacher in Pri 5 and Pri 6, his son was in our class. BTW Mr Francis Yeo just retired from teaching earlier this yr (2012). He was at SMS/SJI Jr all these yrs. It’s a pity my son didn’t get a chance to know him. He’s one teacher that has made an impression on me … both figuratively and literally. LOL . He started every class by canning someone! He single handedly caned my grades up ….

31 08 2012
Kelvin Monteiro

BTW … Mrs Colleen Sheares is still teaching at SJI Jr (SMS) … this is her 47th yr with the school.

31 08 2012
Kelvin Monteiro

And Mrs Sheares is on Facebook … or at least ‘will be’ by the end of the day when I hand over the detail of the account to her as a Teacher’s Day surprise present. Guys who would like to get connected again pls search for Colleen Sheares … cheers

13 04 2013
sgpkop

We would rush to the football fiedn when recess started and played until the last 5 minutes when we would rush to the tuckshop to tuck in the food. Yes, the “bung kwang” with “har kor”(turnip slices with prawn paste was my favourite too! (Ray, what is your Chinese name? I know a number of my classmates by their Chinese names)
Mike

22 04 2013
Animesh Sen

It was really nice stumbling onto this blog.I was in SMS, Primary 1 in 1967.My class teachers were Miss Arul (later Mrs Nathan) Mr. Charles Chan,Mr. Tan Siag An and Mr. Ow Mun Seong. Mrs Coleen Shears was the House Mistress and i really would like to get back in touch with her. Mr Joseph Varghese was the P.E Teacher and i do have fond memories of him..I still remember the feel of Mr. Joseph Wees cane on my behind and how he took his time before starting…
Some of the best memories i have.

Sen

23 04 2013
sgpkop

Animesh,
You can join the newly formed St Michael’s School Alumni Association: by sending your name and year of graduation and contact details (email and mobile) to membership@smssjij.org.

There is a Facebook page on the Alumni: https://www.facebook.com/groups/267291913380728/
Mike

23 04 2013
TERENCE TEO

Hi Animesh, its been a long long time! I can’t quite remember which class we were in together, but I will never forget that name.

23 04 2013
Animesh Sen

So nice to get in touch again..after so many years.

19 05 2013
Tony

Didn’t know if this was still around, indeed it is, how many of you remembered Kitty Fogh, she passed away last year & was featured in the newspaper before she passed on. Those from the late 60’s would know her?

5 06 2013

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