I was of a medium quality in school, neither good nor bad, a mediocre to be exact. During my primary school days, I would grin widely if I managed to score fifty five out of hundred in any subject and if I scored anything above fifty for my arithmetic, I would tell the whole neighbourhood. My best subject was drawing and I could draw cartoons with ease. I hated Geography because I thought it was such a boring subject, like “how long is the Pahang River?” and “what is the capital city of Thailand?” Too bad singing was not an examination subject, otherwise I could easily score full marks. When the result of the Standard Six examination came out, I scored a ‘B’, just above the line to be admitted to the Muar High School. It was in early December 1962 when I got hold of my result paper, cycling home like I was in a cycling competition, so very eager to tell grandma. Four miles of fast cycling did not tire me at all as I was in such a high spirit.
The distance of the Muar High School from my house in Jalan Omri was just two junctions away and this time I would not be cycling to school. Grandma was extremely pleased and she would soon be going to town in a beca to buy me my new school uniform; a pair of dark blue short trousers and a pair of white short-sleeve shirts. I had told her earlier not to bother about the shoes as the ones I had were still new but a new pair of white socks would be most appreciated. A week before school reopened, I went to the school office to get the list of the school books and would buy these books at the Ban Heng bookstore situated along Jalan Abdullah.
It was like a dream came true that I was now going to be admitted to the Muar High School. I would tell anybody at home that passed my way that soon I would be going to the High School without having any of them asking. Sometime I would forget that I’ve told some of them twice or three times. That was how excited I felt. Since getting my results, every night before retiring to bed I would imagine wearing my new school uniform and walking by the road holding my books like I was going to be a university professor. I would also imagine some school girls with their uniform passing by looking at me, a grown up lad looking very studious. Then I would imagine my classroom was at the main building facing the government office by the side of the Muar River. I would imagine all these things until I dozed off.
The moment finally arrived; the first Sunday of the year 1963. It was the most exciting year of the 60s; the Beatles with their ‘yeah yeah yeah’ songs, James Bond against the world’s villains, Chubby Checker with his new ‘twist’ and ‘limbo rock’ dances. P. Ramlee with his Bujang Lapok and many more interesting celebrities/personalities taking center stage. As for me, I was still very much influence over everything ‘Cliff Richard’.
It was 7.00am and I was ready to walk to my new school. I looked at the mirror maybe slightly more than ten times, combing my hair twice or three times the number of times I looked at the mirror. Grandpa disallowed me to have my hair like the Beatles. He said I looked like Moe of the Three Stooges and so I had my hair style that of Cliff Richard. Grandma gave me fifty cents, more than enough to have a nice bowl of mi goreng and a glass of orange juice. On the first day I did not bring any books, just an exercise book to write some notes as advised by the school clerk earlier. It was 7.15am when I began my first walk to the Muar High School, a journey of slightly more than five minutes. I was grinning unnecessarily.
The road was already filled with school children with their uniform and most of them were cycling. Those staying within my neighbourhood walked and many were bigger than me as they were seniors in the upper forms. Many schoolgirls too were cycling to their school, the Sultan Abu Bakar Girls School, situated along Jalan Abdul Rahman. It was a beautiful morning with the sun still hidden at the eastern horizon covered by the thick morning clouds. I was beaming with pride as I walked holding my exercise book and a pencil in my pocket shirt.
There was a big crowd when I reached the school compound. The school was divided into two; the first block was where stood the main building facing the government office by the side of the Muar River and the other block across the road where the teachers’ mess was, the science laboratory, the school library, the tuck-shop and some classes and they were all single-storeys. There wasn’t any faces familiar to me as I walked nearer to the crowd that kept growing as new students arrived. All of us were new recruits to be allocated to our Form One classes. Some teachers were seen discussing among themselves and there was one with a loud speaker. Across the road where the main building was, the assembly hall was already filled with existing students ready to sing NegaraKu, the Johor national anthem and the school song.
Then three or four teachers began to divide us into rows and after having done so, they came to inspect our result papers after which I was placed to the correct row. None of my Standard Six classmates that made it were in the same row as mine. The teacher with the loud speaker began to identify the rows admitted to Form One ‘A’ followed by Form One ‘B’ and ‘C’. It went on and on until finally the last row was finally announced. I was finally admitted to Form One of the Muar High School, the very last class of the twelve classes of Form One; Form One ‘L’.
We were then introduced to our class teacher, a chubby chap with a smiling face; Mr. Quek (can’t remember his full name). He then told us to follow him and we walked pass the school tuck-shop and further behind until we reached a single storey wooden building, the very last building of the school. Right besides this building were Malay houses and we could notice some of them were having their breakfast. There was an elderly man with a sarong ready to ease himself inside a small wooden shack not far away from where our class was.
As we entered our class, Mr. Quek suggested that we choose our own seats and I chose the very last end. He introduced himself and would be teaching us ‘Health Science’. Then he asked each one of us to stand up and introduced ourselves, one by one. I was amused to hearing such peculiar Malay names as the introduction progressed; Marto, Sinapon, Satiman, Santini, Marion, etc. There was one boy who was bespectacled whose name was Ramly Yasser. Most of them came from the remote areas of the Muar district, some as far as Pagoh. I sat beside a very quiet boy named Shahid Yassin, whose elder brother would one day become the Deputy Prime Minister of our country. Right behind me was a new boy from Perak, a tall chap with an innocent face named Johari Aziz and beside him was a Malay of Javanese descent whose name was akin to those belonging to the Italian Mafia clan.
An hour later, a new teacher came and Mr. Quek introduced him to us; a tall and slim man and bespectacled. He was going to be our English teacher. Mr. Subramaniam spoke very good English which to my understanding with proper pronunciation.Most of these new boys could not speak proper English as they came from the areas where English was taught as a single subject. After Mr. Subramaniam was over, another teacher arrived who would be teaching us Bahasa Melayu. He was a very tall man, stout and looked very serious. Cikgu Hasrin taught Bahasa Melayu until I reached Form Five. Most of the subjects were taught for forty minutes and it was now time to visit the school tuck-shop.
I was a school prefect in Standard Six and looked upon my juniors as kids with runny noses. But now I became a junior with so many seniors around with some much taller than me. These seniors would sometime tease us, something I hated most. There was one instant when a Form Five guy tried to bully me by telling me to buy him a drink. I looked at him and said, “If I buy for you, it will be twenty cents, double the price”. He stood up and tried to scare me but I stood still and told him a white lie, “You touch me and my two big brothers would come looking for you. My two big brothers are gangsters in Tanjung area”. The guy sat back and would not dare to bully me any more.
I had a nice plate of mi goreng and fresh orange costing fifteen cents, sitting alone while looking at the crowd to see if any of my Standard Six classmates were around. Then I took a walk around the school compound looking at the new surrounding I would soon be accustomed with.
After recess, our class teacher Mr. Quek came back and gave us our time table to begin proper classes beginning tomorrow. There wasn’t any proper classes conducted on the first day and so most of us began to get to know one another.
“Halo, saya Kamaruddin, nama awak apa?” (Hello, I am Kamaruddin, what’s your name?), I began the conversation with my new classmate who looked like a hungry pirate. He looked at me like as though he was going to eat me alive. He was taller than me and very solidly built like a body builder.
“Tamrin Kasmin, dari Sungei Mati” (Tamrin Kasmin, from Sungei Mati), he answered me still looking very serious.
“Awak angkat besi ke? Badan sendo nampak” (Are you a body builder, you look stout and fit), I continued.
“Tak lah. Potong kayu getah tiap tiap petang” (No. I chopped rubber wood every evening), still looking at me like I’ve done something wrong to him and I could not stand any longer and asked him:
“Kenapa awak tengok kawan macam nak makan je?” (Why are you looking at me like as though you want to eat me?).
Upon hearing my serious question, he then smiled and brought his face nearer to mine whispering to my ear, “Kawan nak berak lah, kat mana ada jamban?” (I need to ease myself, where can I find the toilet?). Tamrin had his break with a bowl of mi kari and now his stomach was giving him some uneasy moments. That was perhaps why his face looked so serious and gloomy. I was not too sure where the toilet was but I suggested that he should try looking for it at the main building.
Tamrin was a bright kampung boy and about three months later, he was transferred to Form One ‘B’.
On my first day at the High School, I met many new friends whom in later years became my buddies. Most of them came from the far end of the Muar district and I hardly had any classmate staying in Muar town. But it did not matter much as I still had my two close friends Yem and Halim for our daily rendezvous around town.
It was almost twelve thirty, half an hour before class ended when we began to hear the frying pan of our nearest neighbour and soon the fishy aroma began to fill every corner of the classroom. Sometime the aroma would be of sambal belacan, ikan kering, udang goreng and few other sniffy stuff. So for the next twelve months and at around the same time, our classroom would be stuffed with these aroma.
Since our classroom was at the very end of the school, I took a short cut home using the back lanes passing by some Malay houses. It would lead me to Jalan Ibrahim where the Police barracks stood.
So it was. There were twelve classes for Form One and I was admitted into the last one; Form One ‘L’.
As I strolled along the road leading to my house, my mind began to imagine many things but this time quite contrary to the ones I used to imagine before retiring to bed. “I don’t think being a university professor will be suitable any longer”, I said to myself. “Form One ‘L’, now would anyone believe that there were twelve classes of Form One, and embarrassingly I happened to be in the last class?” Maybe I should just dream of being a Headmaster of a primary school driving a Morris Minor.
Back home after having my lunch alone prepared by grandma, my two close buddies came. They too were in Form One but different schools. Yem went to the Maharani School while Halim attended the Saint Andrew School. They had wanted me to come along with them to watch the latest James Bond movie shown at the Rex cinema. The three of us cycled to town three abreast passing by the Police barracks to Simpang Lima. On the way Halim asked Yem whether he was in the ‘A’ class or ‘B’ class. He replied that he was in Form One ‘B’ and Halim said he was also in Form One ‘B’. Then both of them asked me and it took me quite a while to answer until finally I just looked straight and said, “Form One ‘L’.
“L?” Mana ada? (“L?”. There is no such thing), Halim immediately said.
“Tak percaya sudah” (It’s up to you to believe), I answered back. I was quite disappointed though, but at least I was schooling at the Muar High School while both of them were studying in private schools.
We reached the Rex cinema and bought our tickets just in time to watch “From Russia With Love”.