Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Remembering Robert Sparke Hutchings, 2015

About a week ago I had sent an appeal through the Old Frees' Association facebook group for more Old Frees to remember the founder of the Penang Free School by turning up at the Protestant Cemetery for the Reverend Robert Sparke Hutchings commemorative service.

I was very encouraged when I arrived at Northam Road to find bustling activity outside the cemetery's gate at 6.45a.m. Not only were there a busload of Penang Free School boys and their teachers - possibly about 20 to 25 of them - but also a group of about 10 to 15 representatives from the nearby Hutchings School.

But more than anything else, for the first time in four years since I started coming to witness the annual commemorative services, there were about 15 Old Frees (and two parishioners from the St George's Church) who had made it a point to join the schoolboys and their teachers at this time of the morning. The pervasive haze made the occasion very ethereal as we gathered before Hutchings' grave in the cemetery.

The presence of Billy Yeoh, president of The Old Frees' Association, was very welcomed. For once, we have representatives of the Management Committee present. But there is a strong message in Billy's presence too. As the School moves towards its 200th Anniversary in 2016, the Bicentenary, I hope that I am not wrong to say that we can be assured of The Old Frees' Association's commitment to uphold the School's many old traditions. The annual visit to Hutchings' grave is one of most important among them.

I'm saying this because Christianity is not my religion. I'm a confirmed Buddhist. Yet, there shall be little that will prevent me from visiting a church or this Protestant cemetery and remembering this great man who through his efforts in 1816 pushed through his plans to establish a school that has lasted till today.

For that effort, I shall remember Robert Sparke Hutchings and I hope that many more Old Frees will honour that man too by turning up at the annual service. That is the least that we can do for the man and the institution we call our Alma Mater, the Penang Free School.

Revd Ho Kong Eng addressing the Penang Fee School students and teachers

Old Frees among the people at the cemetery

The teacher and boys from Hutchings School

Some of the Old Boys from Free School

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.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Getting ready for Hutchings 2015

As a run-up to the bicentenary celebrations of the Penang Free School, let's give the Press something to write about! Let's give the Press a whole crowd of people at the Protestant Cemetery in Northam Road! This year is the 199th anniversary of the School's founding. Will anyone be willing to join me at the Protestant Cemetery next Wednesday (21 October 2015) morning? I've been going there since three years ago, and I should be there again next week.

The commemoration service at Hutchings' grave will start at seven o'clock sharp, and the prefects from the Free School will be there with two or three teachers. Sometimes, there'll also be a few representatives from the Hutchings School itself, as well as one or two parishioners from the St George's Church.

If you plan to be there, please arrive before 7a.m. If you find the main gate open, that means the congregation has already gone in. But no matter, just walk straight in and follow the path when it veers left. You'll then see the people far away to your right.

I'll even encourage you to spend some time wandering around the cemetery after the service is over. There is history buried here. Go look around and you'll even find the resting place of Francis Light. It's recorded on his grave that he passed away on the same date as the founding of Free School - 21st October - but a different year, that is, 1794.

My previous posts on remembering Hutchings here, here and here.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Battling conjunctivitis, part two

One thing that I had not mentioned before when I went to see the Opthalmologist at the Penang Hospital on the 20th of last month was that during the course of her first examination of my eyes, I mentioned to her that I was going to Kuala Lumpur early on the next day and would only be returning to Penang late on Friday night. If she had wanted to follow-up on my eyes, she would have to wait until Saturday at the earliest.

"Your eyes are in a terrible state," she protested. "I've just scraped off the pseudo-membrane from the eyelids and they will come back. If I don'y remove the membrane, the eye-drops can't be absorbed effectively." I must admit that my eyes were in a terrible state: both eyelids were half-closed, both sporting a deep shade of maroon, and both were puffed up. Goodness knows what could happen if I were to go back to the hospital on Saturday.

"Tell you what," she seemed to be conceding to me after some uncomfortable moments. "I'll let you go down to KL tomorrow but you must go for follow-up treatment immediately at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital. I'll write you a referral letter."

Wait a minute, I thought to myself. You mean I can go to KL but I must go for daily consultations at the hospital there? What's the use of going to KL then if I'm going to be holed up at the hospital and waste all my time there?

"Okay, okay," it was my turn to back down. "I'll postpone my trip to KL and see you tomorrow." A victory for her. But actually, with my eyes in their condition, I wasn't relishing any trip far from home, let alone Kuala Lumpur. And that was why I was back at the Penang Hospital on the next day, and the following day, and the day after that, and....

So continuing with my story, on Sunday (27 Sept), I had again gone to the hospital's Eye Ward for the doctor on duty to check on my eyes' condition. Some welcome news: just a bit of new pseudo-membrane there and she won't be doing any scraping.

On Monday (28 Sept), I returned to the eye clinic at the out-patient ward and saw the regular eye doctor. Just two scrapes of my eyelids and that was that. Two days later (30 Sept), the same procedure was repeated.

Today (5 Oct) will mark the 14th day after I first went to see the eye doctor at the hospital. I am still using the three eyedrops or ointment but she still wants to see me today, to check whether I am really rid of conjunctivitis. And this is the status now: I'm waiting (im)patiently to see her for hopefully the last time. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Wish me luck!