When my eldest brother Seng told me that he was still in contact with Chin Wah after all these years, I lost no time in arranging to meet up with the latter, who was one of my closest mates in Remove Class.
One thing led quickly to another; Chin Wah initiated a WhatsApp group for this “Remove to Form Three” fraternity and soon Choon Chee decided to sponsor a reunion in Tapah/Kampar where he has established a string of successful businesses there. Many of us have not seen each other since 1964!
Thiam Soon flew in from Perth with his wife Jan. Swee Seng postponed his medical just to attend from Melbourne. From Penang, we had Huee Hong; from Selangor, Chieu Hiong and wife (who is also my cousin), Buang Leng and wife, How Hock and wife, Mang Siang, wife and daughter, Kok Siew and Lee Chun; from Malacca, Chew Perng; from Batu Pahat, Chu Chin and wife; from Segamat, Boon Huat and wife; from Terengganu, Meng Dong; from Singapore, Chin Wah and wife, and me and Hwa; and from our home town Muar, Ge Lek, Keng Hua and family and Chuan Huat.
Of my Old Boys fraternities, this is the dearest to me. The four years we spent together was most nostalgic to me. Hwa could not understand why, until she saw how we behaved during the 3D2N do.
My first two years were spent in a village school. There were only two classrooms for six different “years”. The teacher had to butterfly between his charges. (And there were only two teachers for the school!) Although the lessons were taught in Mandarin, we conversed only in Hokkien (Fujianese). My father decided to send me to one of the Chung Hwa primary schools in Muar for my Standard Three. I remember I cried to my mother that I wanted to return to my old school. I just couldn’t handle Mandarin!
Fortunately, I had a great class teacher. She soon helped me to overcome my handicap. No sooner, I also emerged as the No 1 student in her class and from the 13th Class, I hopped to the top class. Although it was a big school, every teacher and student seemed to know me, thanks partly to my academic “halo” and my very extraordinary simple name in Chinese characters. I was walking on air!
After passing the compulsory Standard Six examinations, we had a choice: Either go to Chung Hwa High School to continue our education in Chinese medium, or enroll into Remove Class. It was apparent to all parents that employment opportunities for Chinese school leavers were poor. The choice was obvious.
There were two Remove classes, Remove A for those who scored A in the Standard Six exam and Remove B for those who obtained B. For those who did not make the grade, this option was closed to them.
Muar was a big district, but only two schools offered Remove Class: High School for boys and Sultan Abu Bakar School for girls. Students therefore came from every corner of the district. (But the majority was those from the three Chung Hwa primary schools in town.)
Everyone in my Remove A class was more-or-less a top student from our respective schools! After Remove, we were supposed to go into the mainstream. Alas, we continued to be segregated. High School’s feeder school then was Sultan Ismail School. Our Remove A became Form 1E, since there were four classes streaming in from Sultan Ismail School. And in Form 3, another two classes were streamed in from one of the Malay schools nearby, we had to suffer the indignation of becoming the “G” class! Family friends must be wondering if I had been so good in my primary school days, how could I land myself in “G” class in high school!
Those from Sultan Ismail School were very elitist to us. They spoke perfect English. A few came to school in chauffeur-driven cars. Most of us, like me, cycled to school. (My home was ten kilometres from school; fortunately, Muar was geographically flat within that radius.) We simply were too low-end to mix with them. The concept of Remove Class was for the system to prepare us sufficiently in language so that we could join the mainstream without difficulty. It was supposed to be one year; in reality, our “Remove” experience lasted four years!
Hokkien continued to be our lingua franca. Few read English papers. Save for English Literature which was a subject then, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and the likes were of little interest to us. Instead, Chinese “sword-fighting” series, which could run into tens of volumes, were our favourite reads. Many of us gathered during weekends to visit our mates on bicycles. Before school, since some had to catch public buses from the corners of the district, they usually arrived early. We played football in the public grounds at "Tanjong" (the scenic walk next to the Muar River). We were indeed a world unto ourselves. Camaraderie ran deep. We even get to know one another’s parents and siblings.
I can’t speak for others. But I really developed a huge inferiority complex during these formative years. I was amongst the first to leave the flock. I went to the Technical Institute in Kuala Lumpur after completing my Form 3 exam (Lower Certificate of Education).
But we were not a lost cause. Most stayed on to do their Forms 4 and 5 there. (By then, they were already “full-fledged” High School boys.) And for those who went on to do their Sixth Form there, most ended up in university.