The Scout Choir of the V.I.
by Joe Howard
ecently I received an e-mail from a Malaysian friend, Koh Tong Chui. He attached a picture (probably taken in 1964) that brought wonderful memories from my Malaysian Peace Corps days. He and his brother, Koh Tong Bak, were both doctors from Malaysia. Both immigrated to Wisconsin. Tong Bak visited with me a couple of times in DC. Once I met Tong Chui for lunch in DC.
My Peace Corps assignments were as a librarian at the University of Malaya (later Malaysia) and as Lecturer in music at the Malaysian Teachers College. In addition, at various at times, as a volunteer, I conducted choirs at Malaysian Teachers College, Bukit Nanas Convent and the Victoria Institution’s First Kuala Lumpur Scout Troop.
The First Kuala Lumpur Scout Troup Choir started in this way:
In 1963 I was visited by Koh Tong Bak as well as a few other former Scouts. Their idea was to create a Victoria Institution Scout choir whereby the Scouts would broaden their experiences by providing another outlet for their energies. I couldn’t resist this opportunity and it turned out to be one of the most rewarding things that I did in my 21 months in Malaysia.
The Victoria Institution (V.I.) is a secondary school for boys and is considered to be of the best non-residential schools in Malaysia – only the brightest and smartest students.
For me it was a grand experience to direct the first (and last?) Victoria Institution Scout Choir. As the director, I had a wonderful time. In fact, the experience was probably more fun for me than it was for the choir members. They were a wonderful group of boys. Our three performances were lots of fun also – a concert at the V.I., in the Chin Woo Auditorium, and appearances on TV Malaysia and on Radio Malaysia.
Alice Lage, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer was the Librarian at VI. Both Alice and I were asked to be chaperones at one of their parties. It was held at the home of Lim Meng Hui, the choir’s wonderful accompanist. He was very talented and his father was Lim Swee Aun, the Minister of Health.
On the evening of the party, I went to pick up Alice on the motorbike that I got to use every other day. Alice was wearing a cheongsam. It was so tight that she couldn’t get her leg over the back of the scooter. I tilted it over so she could get her leg over it and then I raised it which made her dress slide “way up.” We took off. Upon arrival, we reversed the order and then we were ready to chaperone. I’m not sure I was very good at it. At one point all the lights were turned off and the poor moon, try as it may, could not find all the crooks and crannies.
However, the most memorable of my experiences with the scouts was the time that I went with the troop to Cameron Highlands. Some of them may remember that I was rolled out of the tent – twice. I’m sure that all of them will remember that they taught me to count to ten in Cantonese. Yat, Yee, Sam, Sei, Ng, Luk, Chaat, Baat, Gau, Sap.
It took me a while since I’m not the “sharpest tool in the shed” when it comes to languages. Once I mastered it, the giggling boys, supposedly my friends, asked me to say a certain sequence of digits which sounded like some naughty phrase in Cantonese. This brought forth howls of laughter from them.
I recently found a list of boys in the choir. I do remember, however, some of the names of the scout advisors that I worked with. They had all had graduated from VI and had been Scouts there: Peter Koh Tong Bak, Koh Tong Chiu, David Yee Sek Kum, Siew Chak Yun (“Jonah”), Goh Poh Teck, and Wong Kin Sun. I find it a privilege to be able to call them my friends. Thanks for the memories.
This is a picture of Chak Yun, now living in Canada who won a Silver Medal in the 2017 World Masters Games in badminton.
On May 14, (2017?) I received an e-mail from Tong Bak:
This is Tong Bak ………
The First KL guys are all reminiscing about the good old times, and about the Choir singing that you taught the bunch of guys from 1963 … culminating in the 1st KL Scouts being the first scout troop to sing on TV Malaysia.
There has been talk about inviting you and Pat to visit KL and have a good time reminiscing with your boys, who are all grandfathers now!
How would you and Pat like to make a trip to Malaysia? Would you be able to travel to Malaysia? I know Chak Yun has just emailed you. Do let me know if you would be interested in returning to Malaysia/KL for a visit, then our guys can plan for your visit… we should be able to get you both the airfare, and accommodations in KL …… if you can make the trip.
This was an unbelievably generous offer. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go. Pat and I agreed that I was not up to a long plane ride. Also, I was still recovering from tripping and falling in Wegman’s parking lot when I broke my right eye socket. I had two operations putting in a titanium sling to hold my eyeball in place. While I have problems reading, I am very lucky that I didn’t lose the eye. I also had mobility problems. Tong Bak, wearing his doctor’s hat, gave me some good advice on physical fitness and since then I have been taking water aerobics three times a week and, while not great, I am much better all around.
Koh Tong Chui - Physician who lived in Wisconsin (summer) and Florida (winter) - email@example.com
Siew Chak Yun (“Jonah”) - firstname.lastname@example.org - Lives in Canada
David Yee Sek Kum - email@example.com
Goh Poh Teck
Wong Kin Sun
Boys in the Choir
Yong Wei Lin
Yang Chee Hoong
Yap Piang Kian - Physician
Lee Chee Sung - In the picture, in yellow
Oh Seong Lye - Accountant
Richard Ho Onn - firstname.lastname@example.org - Accountant
Edward Choo Hing Yong - email@example.com
Liew Kon Wui - Professor of Agriculture, Universiti Malaysia Kelantan
Liew Kon Swee
Ng Hon Yuen
Wong Twee Juat
Yap Mun Kah - Deceased
Wong Sieu Kong
Kee Kim Chye - Deceased
Yap Peng Lee - Lives in Edinburgh - Immunologist
Donald Lee - Economist with the United Nations firstname.lastname@example.org Website: http://globalsocialchange.com/about-us/
Robert Ng Seng Peng
Chris Lim Seong Ghee - email@example.com - Lives in New Zealand. Rehearsals were held in his house on Stonor Drive - Obstetrician and Gynaecologist
Chan Poh Sum - Visited me at the Library of Congress where I worked
Seow Poon Shing
Harun Merican - Deceased. Had a tragic flying accident in Sabah when he was in the Malaysian Air Force
There are probably others whose names I don’t have. I apologize.
The following is from Chak Yun:
Very nostalgic for me as the last time I was in such a large group of them was in 1990 just before leaving for Canada. You should plan a trip back to KL and these guys will be so very happy to see and take care of you and Pat.
There is no limit to these guys’ comradeship and generosity as I found out this time! I think the guys are talking about you. Don’t be surprised many of them will be making contact with you. Then you will be very busy handling in-coming mails!! Time has really gone past so far! You are heading towards 90 and beyond, I am sure.
And to think we were, once upon a time, mischievous university students (Poh Teck, Sek Kum, Kin Sun and I ) having fun time with a young man named Joe Howard! We remember fondly how you gave us free access to your Brickfields apartment! We will keep in touch with you and Pat. Do take care, both of you.
The following is from Yee Sek Kum:
Below are some of my recollections during your time in
Malaysia as a Peace Corps volunteer. Please feel free
to correct me if my memory has failed me.
I enrolled the University of Malaya in 1963 as
did Siew Chak Yun and Goh Poh Teck. All three of us were from the
V.I. in Kuala Lumpur. Both Chak Yun and I managed to work part time
in the University’s Library as a student assistant. The Chief Librarian
then was Mr. Beda Lim. Initially, both Chak Yun and I were engaged
to work in the Cataloging Section. At that time the newly established
Faculty of Medicine was formed and because it was located away from
the main university campus it had their own Medical Library. We were
helping to sort out the medical books for their own library.
Around that time, the university also decided to
change the cataloging code from the British system to that of the USA
Library of Congress system. So our main tasks were to use black
ink to blank off the old codes. We used stabilo pens to fill in the
new Library of Congress codes.
After this main project of switching to the Library
of Congress Cataloging, I managed to secure employment as a student
assistant in the library between my lecture periods. My main job
was in the Red Spot section was to collect the Red Spot books returned
by students and file them properly. I was paid RM1.50/hour. I worked
in the library until my final year in 1965. We had introduced you to
other of our VI classmate Wong Kin Sun, Kwong Lok Wah, Ho Yik Chee
and a VI girl by the name of Quah Chooi Hon, who eventually after
graduation became a librarian in the UM Library.
A little bit about the Peace Corps that I could
remember hearing from you. It was initiated by President Kennedy to
introduce the USA to the rest of the world which at that was basically
under British and European influence.
The Peace Corps volunteers did not go as expatriates
to the countries they were assigned to as expatriates. They were paid
the same salaries as the locals (though the actual difference was set
aside back in the US for them). This was unlike the British expatriates
in Malaya who were paid exorbitant salaries and enjoyed extraordinary
I remembered you were living in a small apartment in
Brickfields. Chak Yun and Poh Teck had their own cars when in the university
and occasionally we visited you in your Brickfields apartment.
Sometimes we brought along some local hawker food for supper with you and
sometimes you cooked some of your American dishes for us to try. Now and
then either Poh Teck or Chak Yun would drive you out for a meal. There were
also good local hawker food in Jalan Brickfields.
Around that time Koh Tong Bak was a medical student in the
University of Singapore. He frequently returned to KL to visit his parents
and family. It was possibly during one of his trips back that we introduced
him to you. Like the three of us, Tong Bak was also very active with the
First KL Scout Troop in the V.I. The scouts of the First KL were very active
indeed and the numbers had increased substantially.
The scout den in the main block of the school had become
too small for the two scout troops in the school. (The other troop is the 2nd
KL.) Now and then the troops would have an annual campfire gathering to which
the old scouts and parents were invited to attend. Sometimes it was in the
school compound and sometimes in a clearing near a forest that they went camping
in. I understand that around this time the two scout troops were informed by
the school to raise funds for a larger scout den away from the main building.
Possibly, you were at one of the campfires and it was suggested that the current
scouts formed a choir and perhaps to raise some funds singing to the public.
The funds raised were for the building of a new scout den.
Joe, as you were involved then, you will have to update
the various fund-raising activities in your memoirs. I am not sure eventually
how much we raised but it was mainly from the 1st KL efforts that adequate funds
were raised to build a really sizeable den for both the 1st KL and 2nd KL.
Sadly, about ten years ago the whole den was burned to the ground by a fire.
Not sure how that happened. Anyway, a separate fund in being organised to rebuild
the den. [Unfortunately, I remember very little about the fund-raising project.
After completion of your duty as Peace Corps volunteer
you returned to the US. We continued to keep in touch and, in those days, it
was mostly by the traditional Christmas and New Year greeting cards. I had
always looked forward to receiving your letter which would have enclosed also
an annual family report.
Chak Yun, Poh Teck and I completed our university education
in Malaya while Tong Bak did his in Singapore. In 1989 I decided to migrate
to Melbourne, Australia and with the whole family and Chak Yun did so the
following year to Toronto, Canada. Tong Bak subsequently did so too, to Wisconsin,
USA. Pok Teck remained behind in Malaysia. We continued to keep in touch but,
with the fast-changing social media systems, we kept losing touch now and then.
Fortunately, I had not changed my house address since arriving in Melbourne but
you had changed yours about a couple of times. Thanks to either Tong Bak or Tong
Chui we managed to maintain contact.
Then in 1994 when I was working in Hong Kong, I decided to
take Sylvia for holiday in North America to celebrate our 25th Silver Anniversary.
It was in that trip that we ended up in Washington DC and we caught up with you
and Pat for a dinner together.
Joe, time flies. This year we are celebrating our 50th
Golden Anniversary. Unfortunately, we will not have the energy nor the time
to do another trip. We now have four granddaughters and two grandsons to keep
us very busy. Joe, do keep in touch and wishing you and Pat all the very best of
health & happiness in the Years to come.
Last update on 3 October 2019.
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