OLD BOYS: Penang Free School's batch of 1974 may have celebrated its 40th reunion recently, but its ties go back to 1964 — the year its members started school
PENANG Free School (PFS) absorbed the best from a number of primary schools on the island — the bulk came from the then Francis Light School, Wellesley School, Westlands School, Air Itam English School, Gelugor English School, and Jelutong English School, among others.
In January of 1970, the top 70 from Francis Light smelled the steps of PFS in Green Lane. PFS was the epitome of education to many of our parents' generation, born and bred in Tanjong, and other parts of Penang.
PFS students were the crèmè de la crèmè. We carried on the tradition of some of the most reputable schools in the country. But as always, perhaps every batch, every alumnus from every part of the country, or anywhere in the world could possibly say the same.
That January morning, some 80 of us congregated at the school canteen. When I arrived, I saw familiar faces. Most of us came in white shirt, white pants and white shoes. It was "awesome" as one of us — senior police officer Mohd. Ariff Ariffin — described on hindsight.
At the reunion, we coolly greeted each other over nasi lemak, kuih and tea — bonded by the discipline, order , and experience over the four or six years we were at PFS. I had actually expected the usual fare of the early 1970s — nasi kandar or roti canai with mutton curry. The latter was served once a week.
Mohd. Nasir Ali and Ryan Khong
Some of us still meet frequently. Some meet once a year. But for many Lau Peng Yus — C.H. Chee told me it means "old friends" in Hokkien — the reunion was a rare occasion.
The batch of 1974 had approximately 220 students. Thanks to Lau Peng Yu C.H. Chee, some 193 have been identified. They flew in from New York, Paris, Jakarta and Singapore.
Others were from Malaysia, including onefrom Tanjong Malim, but who commutes to the island about once a month.
Not all of us studied until Form Five (1974) or Upper Six (1976). A few such as Leong Hien Hsing, Goh Yoon Wah and Jaseni Maidinsa left for the nearby Technical Institute just across Sungai Air Itam in 1973. Ir. Jaseni Maidinsa, from Kuantan Road, who is CEO of Perbadanan Bekalan Air Pulau Pinang, was my classmate in Standard 1A, Francis Light.
Another who left PFS in1973 for the Royal Military College was Azizul Bahari Abdul Ghani.
PFS batch of '74 at the reunion.
Corporate figure Datuk Mohd. Nasir Ali and Ryan Khong were the forces behind the reunion. Mohd Nasir joined Malay College Kuala Kangsar in 1975.
To my knowledge, six of our friends are deceased — architect Adenan Omar (from Kampong Melayu where I stayed), Cheah Kok Seong, Lee Teik Ghee, PFS hockey player Ooi Boo Chuan and musician Salim Arshad. I must mention the late Azmi Abdul Rahman, dear to us, who died in an accident along Air Itam Road in 1975.
To my knowledge, a number among us are deceased such as architect Adenan Omar (from Kampong Melayu where I stayed), Ooi Boo Chuan, PFS hockey player) and musician Salim Arshad.
Nothing really changes except our age. Most will turn 57 this year. We should know by now what life is — and that we cannot expect fairness. We catch up with each other at the Class of 74/76 Lau Peng Yu Facebook.
And posted on the Class of 74/76 Lau Peng Yu Facebook is a quote from Mohd. Nasir: “No one cares what we were and where we are now. What mattered was we saw many recognisable faces and hardly recognised ones too.”
I discovered that Chin Teng Lam, from my Francis Light days, is now a planter with one of the Government-Linked Companies. Not many ventured into the profession, even in those days. Also friends from my primary schooldays were teacher Inderjit Singh, physician Dr K. Suresh, and Dr Norizal Noordin from Universiti Sains Malaysia’s School of Housing Building and Planning.
And also present at the reunion were my PFS schoolmates and classmates from Form One to Upper Six — ACP Abdul Rahman Ibrahim, Abdul Rauf Zainal Abidin, Azlan Datuk Ismail, Ismail Abdul Rahim and Mohd. Rafee Karim and Mussadikh Meah.
And there was Professor Dr Siow Jin Keat of the Faculty of Medicine, National University of Singapore, who related how he came to realise the meaning of tumpah darahku over lunch. He had posted it earlier on social media, inducing me to write an article titled The Education of an Old Free: Let the Spirit of Nationhood Burn Bright (Aug 25, 2007) in this newspaper.
And who can forget Goh Boon Hoe, now based in Jakarta, Indonesia who played music for the school. Boon Hoe was the acclaimed pianist of the school as he played the musical instrument at the school assembly from 1970 to 1974. On the day of the reunion in the hall, we sang the school anthem and Negaraku to the tinkling of Boon Hoe’s fingers on the piano.
But I must mention the "headmaster" (in those days called the headmaster, not principal) of PFS, Encik Jalil Saad. His speech and disposition at the "school assembly" that morning was vintage Old Free.
It takes someone of stature to strike the same tenor of headmasters K.G. Yogam and Goon Fatt Chee. Jalil, an old Free and an accomplished web-master has helmed the school since 2012.
I have to mention a few who are academics and scholars from the batch of 1974. Apart from Professor Siow and Dr Norizal, a good number joined the universities — Professors Danny Quah of the London School of Economics and Zubaid Akhbar of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Dr Noor Harun Karim of University of Malaya and Noor Allam Wanchik of Universiti Utara Malaysia.
And if I have not mentioned your names, you can visit the school archives and see your admission number in the register. The Lau Peng Yus in the Arts stream — many born in 1957, some in 1958 — have had a fair dose of Shakespeare in literature classes.
I take leave with the first line from one of the Bard’s sonnets: “To me, fair friend, you never can be old.”
A. Murad Merican NST Channels Learning Curve 06 April 2014