A recent catching up of childhood friends at the online social network portal, Facebook, got me thinking about the school in a place I call my hometown. The little town called Cha’ah in the Johore state that I may have mentioned it in my other posts before.
Though we were born in Kluang, my b
rothers and I spent a great amount of growing up and being educated (in and outside school) in Cha’ah, a town so small that if you are travelling by the road you might miss it. Especially if you are a Singaporean driver.
But where is Cha’ah, you may ask? It’s in Johore, between Labis and Yong Peng. Where is Labis and Yong Peng, you may ask. Well, it’s between Segamat and Kluang. Where is Segamat and Kluang? I don’t know, in frickin’
Aside: Cha’ah is easy pronounce. Start with “Cha” as in “Char” and followed by a quick, “ahhh”. There…simple. Now, wipe that phlegm away. End of aside.
Anyway, the first school I attended, Sekolah Kebangsaa
n Seri Bali, was formerly a smallish building according to a blurry picture I saw, or a goat pen. After moving from Paloh (another small town and don’t get me started) the timing was right when the entire school moved into a new building. At the age of nine I was introduced new bunch of friends who welcomed me with open arm, and palm
(more on that later).
Pix: That's me, standing at the back row. Fourth from right. The one that looks like roasted squirrel
The kids were great. They were harmless, except the boys of course. Boys of that age usually should be locked up in a…goat pen. Outside the class they are always running. And when they are not tearing off into the field or towards the cafeteria (we call canteen here), the boys were menace to each other. They were nasty to the girls too but usually a wail or two would fix things up with the teacher towering over the quivering perpetrator. Teachers those days had the license to cane or slap you. Try complaining to your dad and you will get twice of what you got from your teacher with a bonus of extended studying hour.
The kids of Cha’ah of that time were of no exception. One of the most notorious things we’d do to each other involve rubber seed. Erase the dirty thought, first. Easy to locate, this piece of harmless plant reproduction instrument would be secretly rubbed on the floor and the assailant would suddenly appear and pressed the damned seed on your thigh. Imagine it a tiny smoking hot iron.
Of course, the seeds are not available at every location. This is made up by smacking your palm against your buddy’s crotch, and watch him cry and curl into fetal position. When in comraderie mood we play games. One of the popular one was Police Sentry, so basic and back then didn’t involve tear gas and water canon. Or Belon Acah (loosely translated as Baloon Pickle, I think), played on the badminton court. It involves running from one stage into the other where the other guy try to stop you until someone’s teeth got knocked off.
The girls, as usual, were delicate creatures. They like to chat, and I believe I hung out a lot more with girls. I was then extremely thin, small, asthmatic and slightly effeminate (my asthma made me involved less in sports), so I hung out with them more. It was not until Secondary school that I was hanging out with dudes more (mostly because they had cigarettes).
The teachers were decent folks. But I suspect not too bright. Well, I am not being judgemental here, but an incident confirmed that. I was fairly bright student then, always scored high, especially in science and mathematics (that was before secondary school where I descended into becoming a blithering idiot).
So, here was recess time and suddenly I was summoned by the science teacher. She was alone in the class, and it has to since it could jeapordise her reputation. The obviously, source-less she asked me the names of the nine planets in our galaxy, which I responded, which she noted down in the book and thanked me. A very proud day for me, though nobody saw that and they are not going to believe anyway. But she must be feeling betrayed now, since scientists and astronomers have declared that Pluto is not a planet, but Goofy’s pet dog.
Most of us came from poor family. By most I mean, there were mostly Malay students (majority) and Indians with sprinklings of Chinese students. There were Tamil and Chinese language schools, for the respective speakers, so I can’t speak for them. But over here, we were mostly from Kampung (village) and estate (plantations), like my brothers and I. Usually 20 cents or 30cents (www.xe.com) would take care of meal. Of course the menu consist of dishes which are horrifying the health conscious/politically correct parents of these days (most of whom are from our generation actually), but hey, we grew up to be normal, healthy adults with piles.
Meeting the childhood friends, albeit virtually, do bring back those sweet feelings. Sure, you may have acquired best buddies recently, or still hangout with those you went in college. But childhood friends bring something else to the table.
They were there when you fell and injured yourself playing Police Sentry. They were there when entire class laughed to a fart nose. They were there when you had to go back halfway because of heavy wheezing. They were they when you were crying (and them too) because the goddamned evil nurse jabbed the BCG syringe into your arm.
It was the most important years of your life, and they were there with you. Except for that one moment. Now, I need to find that teacher and apologize about Pluto.