Victoria Institution Reunion
crowd had already gathered at the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel by 4.30 p.m. on Friday. A large banner with the Victoria Institution crest and colors of dark and light blue stretched above a table on which were the information materials.
Welcoming smiles from the organizers and volunteers greeted the participants. There were hugs for old friends, handshakes for new; smiles, questions, exclamations, “I haven’t seen you since….! Where….? How.…? Do you remember…?”
This was the scene at the registration for the Victoria Institution reunion, VIVA 2013, in Vancouver, Canada. It was Friday, August 16, and the reunion would take place over a period of three days. Some former Victorians had already met and made a trip to Seattle and some had taken a cruise to Alaska from there. The gathering in Vancouver was the third and main part of the activities.
The organizers, Ron Leong, Stan Loh, Tom Yang, Chan Yuen Tuck and Chung Chee Min, had labored for nine months, through sixteen committee meetings, site visits, and were now ready to deliver. They had done an outstanding job and left nothing to chance. Each participant had a name tag with the school crest (artfully redesigned with a background of Vancouver), the person’s name and year and the flag of the country of residence. With the name tags, we could sneak glances at the other person’s chest to recall his or her name. We were given meal coupons, schedules, and a book, V.I. Tales, edited by Chee Min.
What brought us, over ninety former students of the school, to a reunion which was half a world away for some? We came from as far afield as Melbourne, Sydney, New Jersey, Seattle, Virginia, Toronto, Vancouver, U.K., Spain, Singapore and Malaysia. Among those who left the VI in the 1950s was Col. Khong Kim Kong who went on to an illustrious career, and the two youngest attendees, Ann Foo-Flowers and Mohan Iyer who left in 1969. And yet, here we were, feeling that we belonged together in some way. What did we have in common that we would travel so far to meet one another?
The Victoria Institution, we would like to think, was the premier school in Malaya, later Malaysia. Established by the British in 1893 with support from prominent Chinese, Malays and Indians, it was a training ground for the country’s leaders in many fields and we are suitably proud to have been students there.
Since so many of us now live in countries other than Malaysia, the link to our previous life is through these reunions. Here, we meet people with whom we have had similar experiences, a shared pride in the VI, a sadness that the school we knew is no more. We remember the spectacle of Sports Day, the fun of Speech Day, the Exhibition, the school plays, the eccentricities of our teachers, the compulsive daily polishing of door knobs and hinges. We were comfortable enough with each other that we could let our hair down and lift our skirts up (as the guys did in the Can Can on Saturday night).
The first item on the agenda was the group photo. The guides carried little blue school flags mounted on sticks. We followed them dutifully, feeling like Japanese tourists, to a nearby park, Minoru Gardens, where the hired photographer arranged us to his satisfaction and took our photo.
The next important item of business was food. We followed our guides enthusiastically to the Empire Seafood Restaurant, a block away. All these places, the hotel, restaurant and park were in Richmond, a heavily Chinese area with noodle shops, restaurants, banks, travel agencies….
But first, Master of Ceremony Tom Yang formally introduced the chairman of the VIVA 2013 Organizing Committee, Ron Leong who made a welcome speech. Chung Chee Min then initiated the Reunion Banner ceremony. This Banner, a further symbol of our togetherness, was the brainchild of Wong Yin Fook's 1961 form mates. It was originally ordered for their 50th anniversary celebration at Putrajaya in 2011. After that it was taken by someone to the UK and used again at the 2012 reunion at Cambridge. The organizing committee at Cambridge included Yin Fook. The latter now formally passed the Reunion Banner to Lee Chee Kuon from Malaysia who was one of the organizers of the recent June 2013 V.I. reunion in Putrajaya. Chee Kuon in turn passed the Banner to Ron Leong representing the Vancouver VIVA 2013 reunion, completing the three-city relay.
It is hoped that the much-travelled Banner would continue to be passed on and be used at future reunions.
The next speaker, Isher Singh (school vice captain, 1957), gave a comprehensive account of the school’s history, its values, activities and personalities, and brought his summation to the present day when so many changes have become evident.
We now stood proudly to attention to sing the first verse of the school song. Memories of Friday assemblies came flooding back.
We had a great meal with menu selected by Meng Eng. The twelve-course Chinese dinner now started with a combination cold dish, followed by dishes each more mouth-watering than the preceding one. The highlight was the braised fresh lobster and the crispy squab. Those who like vegetables were happy with baby bak choy, winter melon and mushroom and, best of all, no sharks were killed in the making of the soup.
VIVA participants came down the next morning to find the Sheraton dining room in darkness and the administrative staff standing in little groups. “The service staff is on strike,” a manager told us,”but the Marriott and Hilton will honor your meal coupons.”
Sure enough, we saw the workers in front of Sheraton marching up and down the road with placards. After breakfast at the nearby hotels, we got in the bus.Now the VI old boys and girls started singing enthusiastically and continued to sing as the bus took us through the suburbs and stopped at a lovely park, Queen Elizabeth Park, which was developed from an old quarry. It was officially opened when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) visited Canada in 1939.
As we entered the park, we saw several groups of Chinese doing morning exercises. Each instructor had staked out a claim to a particular area, and hung the banner of his/her organization behind the group. They ignored us and continued with their taichi or qigong practice.
We wandered around the park, admiring the lush growth, taking photos of ourselves and plants, but we did not have time to take in all the sights such as the enclosed tropical garden, geodesic conservatory or Henry Moore sculpture before we had to get back on the bus. As the bus headed into the old part of Vancouver, the historic Chinatown, now eclipsed by the newer Chinatown of Richmond, our organizers kept up a lively and informative patter about where we were going.
We drove through the narrow, cobbled streets of Gastown which got its name from “Gassy” Jack Deighton who opened the first saloon in 1867. The town was a terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway and was located near the waterfront. Its early businesses catered to loggers, fishermen and seamen in search of relaxation. It grew to be a center of trade and commerce and was incorporated as the City of Vancouver in 1886. It has had a varied history: it was almost destroyed by a fire after which it was rebuilt and thrived attracting new businesses. Gastown has also seen riots. After the Depression, it descended into seediness until the 1960s when citizens became concerned about preserving its historic architecture.
Today, we can still see the ambivalent nature of Gastown: its artistic pursuits, businesses serving tourists, professional and technology offices, nightclubs and bars. The tension between gentrification and preservation remains to this day.
The bus dropped the VIVA participants off at Canada Place. The area looked festive, with crowds, ships anchored nearby, colorful banners, flags, signs, and young people dressed in eye-catching and fantastic costumes going for the Anime Conference.
The plan was that we would walk through the area we had just passed and meet the bus at the other end of the street at a certain time. We could shop, take pictures, look at some older buildings. The tourist attraction in Gastown was the steam-powered clock said to be a heritage although it was neither very old nor always powered by steam. Nevertheless, tourists stood around watching little puffs of steam emerging from the top of the structure. They waited to see what else would happen. Soon, the clock whistled the hour and more puffs of steam emerged simultaneously. Some tourists turned away disappointed.
We met the bus at the appointed time but there was a delay when the organizers went to get our lunches which were to be loaded onto the bus. It was too hot to sit in a parked bus (regulations do not allow the engine idling) so we stood on the sidewalk or sat on the benches. Since sitting and waiting was not much fun, some former students started singing Malay and Chinese songs, school songs, and golden oldies. It was loud and boisterous; passers- by looked amused, some looked confused wondering what kind of group we were. The shop owners, however, were not amused convinced that we were driving away customers. Then, Keela Lam smiled impishly and put her coffee mug on the ground in front of the singers. We waited while the singing continued. Most of the tourists looked but walked on. One gentleman bent down and dropped a coin in the cup. At this point, we all broke out laughing.
After a half hour by the side of the road, the organizers, Stan Loh, Ron Leong and Tom Yang returned to the bus with our lunch and we set off again on a tour of Vancouver.
Vancouver sits on the south side of a long inlet. On the western end of the city is a peninsula that juts out into the straits, Stanley Park. One of the first things we saw when we got off the bus at Stanley Park was the totems, standing tall and dominant. Totem poles have been part of First Nations culture from ancient times, according to oral history. Some were placed against the front of the house, others were inside and supported roof beams, others were free standing and placed outside the house. The carvings on the Totems indicate a family or clan’s lineage, its rights, history, and events. The figures carved are the strong or fearsome animals, birds, sea creatures, or stylized humans. Some totems were painted and others were not. The totems in Stanley Park were not the originals but that mattered little to our VIVA participants who were busy taking photos.
Our organizers were elated that they had something special for our lunch, Dunn’s Montreal smoked beef sandwiches which were coming from the best shop of its kind in Vancouver. We sat on benches or on the grass, looked at the water, or watched joggers and families go by along the path by the seawall while we ate our Jewish corned beef on rye sandwiches. After lunch, we headed out to Granville Island, a tiny chunk of land that sits off the shore.
Back on the bus, we took a leisurely drive through the southern suburbs and the University of British Columbia with its huge campus.
Reunions for us are as much about food as friendship. The buffet dinner in the Elmbridge Room at the Sheraton offered a selection of food to suit every taste – be it vegan, vegetarian or omnivorous.
Now, sated and mellow, we sang the second verse of the school song and waited for the unique, self-generated entertainment called “Chungarama", a programme put together by Chung Chee Min. Each of the ten tables was given a quiz sheet with trivia questions. We were asked for little-known facts about some HMs, names of various people working in the VI, facts about students, clubs, trophies, and dates of certain strange events such as, which acting HM’s wife shot dead a man in 1911.
While we were filling in the quiz sheet, Stan Loh played the guitar and John Vadiveloo the keyboard. The two had paired together some fifty years earlier when they competed at the VI Talentime contests but they had certainly not played regularly in recent years and yet, here they were, playing the blues so well they could have been professionals. To say that we were impressed is an understatement.
The next survey made some of us apprehensive. Old Girl Chung Meng Eng (a psychiatrist no less!) had made up a series of questions to test the compatibility of one selected couple at each table. Will the answers be read out to everyone present, we wondered? Some questions were serious, some outrageous and some funny. Meng Eng handled this tactfully and talked in general about the questions and their relevance.
Wan Kee Yio then sang a French song La Mer with gifted pianist John Vadiveloo as accompanist.
Next, some interesting VI history via a slide presentation. We know that the VI was the venue for the Japanese surrender, September 13, 1945, presided over by General Ouvry L. Roberts. Strangely enough, the British did not have a Union Jack for the surrender ceremony and had to find one, not an easy task when the country had been occupied for several years. It turned out that Harry Yuen, maternal uncle of organizer Stan Loh, had a Union Jack which was carefully passed on to the British. This was the flag the British borrowed and we saw it in the photos of the surrender ceremony at the VI. Ivan Ho, who inherited the flag from his uncle Harry Yuen, consulted Stan about authenticating the signature of Gen. Ouvry L. Roberts on the flag. Chee Min, a history buff, researched the matter at Kings College London last summer and was convinced the signature was genuine. The flag was displayed at the 2012 launching of a book by Andrew Barber, Kuala Lumpur at War, 1939-1945, and the flag was even mentioned in it.
After this account of the VI’s role in history, the evening called for lighter fare.
The Seladang Five of Form 5C 1963, now made their appearance: Yow Tak Seng, Cheah Hoi Meng, Sally Ong (Mrs. Cheah), and Lee Kim Seng and his wife Maureen Tan. The four songs, their clothes, colorful glasses had all been chosen carefully with an eye to their symbolic meaning.
Chee Min now got down to business, presenting the first of two skits he had written. With black-rimmed glasses on, he assumed the serious demeanor of a newsreader broadcasting VI-oriented news. The school librarian, who had been pleading for the return of the well-thumbed book, A Thousand and One Nights, reported that it had been recovered from - the HM’s house, Chee Min intoned.
He then reminded us of science teacher Mr. Lim Eng Thye’s habit of knocking students on the head, slapping or pinching them with his huge hands if they broke rules. However, a recent survey revealed that students punished in this way became successful doctors, dentists, engineers and scientists. Students unfortunate not to have been punished by the fearsome Mr. Eng Thye did not amount to much! Chee Min delivered the last item of news in an extra solemn voice. A police raid of the prefects’ room, he said, had turned up knuckle dusters, instruments of torture, and syringes with truth serums. The School Captain has been detained for questioning.
After the chuckles died down, we had a change of mood when Mohan Iyer sang a song, Main Shayer to nahi, from Raj Kapoor’s film Bobby.
A hilarious skit followed. Ah Beng, played by Chee Min, sat talking on the phone to his mother and describing his visit to the Victoria Institution which he was checking out. He was appalled that the HM was a Dr. Lewis. A doctor? And the school was called Victoria Institution? “Victoria” is a girl’s name! And “institution?” What kind of place was that? And who were those people in white coats and blue shirts? Even the clock tower was crazy; each face told a different time. The half-wit Ah Beng thought that maybe this was a place where they lock up crazy girls. But wait! There are boys, too, boys polishing hinges who actually look happy doing it! And boys playing football with an oval ball, not a round one! Somebody must have sat on it. “No, Marder! I don wan to come here. I tink I stay in Geylang Road School. Better, lah.”
The stand-up (or should that be sit-down?) comic Chee Min hit his peak here and the attendees roared with laughter.
It was time for a song to calm us down. Multi-tongued Wan Kee Yio belted out Sukiyaki (in Japanese!) accompanied by John Vadiveloo again.
To remind us of the fun we had at school, Chee Min showed slides of past concerts and drama, including one of the 1959 Speech Day concert in which Upper Six Arts boys performed the Cancan. What we, the VIVA participants didn’t know was that this slide was the prelude to a totally unexpected performance.
We turned towards the door on hearing the thudding of big, bare feet. Suddenly, three tall figures whirled into the room swishing their skirts. It was a Cancan! The ‘girls’ wore red skirts, accented with black, red underwear, cone bras, masks and garters. They were none other than Stanley Loh, Tom Yang, and Koh Tong Bak. They kicked, and twirled, bent, and kicked some more. Tom Yang, feeling like the naughty schoolboy he once was,
Thank you Chee Min, the organizers, singers, pianist, volunteers, and spouses especially Wyn Yang who designed, made the costumes and dressed the guys. It was a wonderful evening!
The weather did not look promising on Sunday, August 18, the third and last day of the VIVA 2013 reunion. This was also the day we had planned for outdoor activities before we knew that the weather would be bad.
We were going first to Grouse Mountain, Vancouver’s most popular tourist site where, in the summer, visitors could watch a lumberjack show or hike the trails. We were thankful our organizers had the foresight to get tickets in advance so we did not have to stand in a long line for the gondola that would take visitors to the peak.
Once we reached the misty top, we headed for the little hollow where the lumberjack show would be held. The benches, on a slope so that everyone had a good view, were wet but we had our trusty plastic ponchos, thanks again to our organizers’ planning. The Master of Ceremony, an attractive young woman, got the audience involved by dividing us into two teams, each cheering for one or the other lumberjack. Out came the lumberjacks, looking very macho, and showing off their fine form.
The events started with the lumberjacks throwing large, heavy axes at a target. Then, each of them chopped a short log and shaped it into a rabbit or a little chair which they presented to the two littlest kids in the audience.
All the action was fast and the MC urged them on to greater speed with the springboard chop event. Here, the aim was to reach the top of a pole by jumping on springboards inserted into cuts they made higher and higher up the pole. Once they reached the top, hacking off the top was the easy part.
The weather got colder and more misty, making the log-rolling event challenging but more fun to watch. The lumberjacks stood several feet apart from each other on the log (in reality, a large rolled-up carpet) lying across a muddy pond. The lumberjacks ran backwards and forwards on the log, changing direction, faster and faster, until one or the other fell in the water, splashing the audience in the front rows. Armed with safety equipment, the two lumberjacks now competed to see who could climb the two tall poles first and then get down. The MC had the audience cheering for them.
A third man appeared unexpectedly, leapt for the pole and climbed and, as he went up, he threw his safety equipment down. This certainly got our attention. If that was not enough, this man performed some nerve-racking acts such as standing on his head, juggling, and laying flat down on his stomach. Now what? Suddenly, he went sliding down a safety line which stretched away from the pole to the ground. It was too misty for us to see that he had been attached to this line all along and we had been worrying needlessly. Back in the bus, our organizers announced that lunch would be beaver burgers. Some participants protested vehemently; no way would they eat beaver burgers! Those who knew that the Canadian beaver was a protected animal kept quiet, certain that this was a joke.
We got off the bus at Cleveland Dam and the organizers handed us our lunch. The shape of the packages was familiar. They were conical at the top! Our lunch was nasi lemak! Far from boycotting this lunch, we devoured it after which we took a little walk to the dam which supplies drinking water to the city of Vancouver.
The next place was the Capilano Salmon Hatchery. We know that salmon are led by some instinct to return to the rivers where they were spawned to lay their eggs but obstacles such as dams can block their swim up river. To overcome this problem, fish ladders are often constructed. The salmon hatchery had an exhibit showing a cross section of the fish ladder with the fish waiting below, preparing to jump up. This was the exhibit that captivated us. We stood as if willing the fish to leap the step and, when one did, we almost cheered.
The Capilano Salmon Hatchery is part of the extensive Capilano River Regional Park but the Capilano Suspension Bridge and the area around it is privately owned. As we entered the Suspension Bridge area, a guide in period costume talked about the history of the simple suspension bridge. It was built in 1889 by a Scottish civil engineer George Grant Mackay who was also Vancouver park commissioner and featured a cedar plank deck and hemp ropes. A few years later the bridge was made safer, but it was in 1956 that the bridge was completely rebuilt.
The bridge changed hands a few times and in 1935, the owner added a new theme by inviting the First Nations to display their totem poles in the park. The current owner, Nancy Stibbard, added a number of activities to suit different ages and interests.
We regretted that we did not have time to do more than cross the suspension bridge to the other side of the Capilano River and then head back. Several people said they would have liked to have gone on some of the trails and walks. As one might expect, a suspension bridge can have a different impact on different people. Some in the VI group walked across the 460 foot long bridge nonchalantly, others fixed their eyes on the far distance, took baby steps, and clutched the railing in a death grip. We had to leave this too-short tour and head back to our hotel and dinner.
This was the last day of our program and the farewell dinner at the Sheraton just had to be extra special. We had been given a choice of two main courses, each of which is associated with the Pacific North West – bison steak or salmon, as well as vegetarian food. Mabel Loh had quilled at least a hundred paperfish or bison heads, and for a couple who were vegetarians, she had put together a design of paper leaves and berries. These 3-D creations were attached to our place seating cards. It was a beautiful and creative idea and some of us saved the cards as souvenirs.
Following the practice of the last two days, dinner was followed by speeches and songs, starting with the third and final verse of the school song. Since we are a group who left VI from the years 1950s to 1969, a reminder that we were still young at heart and feisty was just what we needed on this the last evening of our reunion. Tom Yang sang, You Will Never Grow Old, with the same skill that he brought to his organizing.
David Tan Kee Keong was hoping to have a sing-along with the audience but because of a technical glitch the words could not be projected on the screen. Still he bravely sang through popular hits such as Some Enchanted Evening, Burong Kakak Tua and Autumn Leaves.
Former Head Girl Siew Mun spoke of the role played by the wives, Meng Eng, Wynn, Mabel, Shirley and Kim, and thanked them for their contribution.
John Vadiveloo and Stan Loh had planned to sing You are My Destiny, just as they had done years before when they were students but, unfortunately, John was ill the whole day and their plan had to be cancelled. Stan had composed and arranged his own VI song, It’s So Good to See You Again, and now he sang it to us, accompanying himself on his guitar and harmonica.
The VI group obviously included many people who liked to sing as you can tell from the report. From the first day when we got on the bus, to the unintended busking on the street in Gas Town and on many other occasions, Quah Chooi Hon could be heard singing lustily. So it was no surprise that she would now belt out Just the Way You look Tonight.
VI Swimming Captain, Hoh Wing, was "persuaded" to sing and he sportingly obliged with the Beatles song, Yesterday. Organiser Chan Yuen Tuck sang Danny Boy in a rich baritone voice like a professional, prompting not a few lady admirers to trot up to the stage one at a time to present him with flowers as he sang.
At ten sharp, the Organizing Chairman made a farewell speech in which he thanked the participants for their attendance at VIVA 2013 and declared the formal part of the evening closed.
During the karaoke session which followed, there was also dancing to the music. Math Professor Wong Sia Kow and his nimble-footed partner, Sylvia, did the jive with ease.
At sharp midnight, the karaoke and dancing ended but and the remaining twenty or so people held hands and sang, Auld Lang Syne, and so ended a successful reunion, VIVA 2013.
When we had returned home, there was a tsunami of email messages from participants thanking the organizers. and messages to each other. Photos were shared, new friendships formed, old friendships strengthened and memories stored. Already, there was talk of another reunion next year and, why not? The enthusiasm spread even to former VI students who had not come for this reunion. Norman Foo Yeow Khean, while not present was fully engaged and posted photos of the reunion on an album to share with others. We hope that sharing will encourage former students to attend future reunions and preserve memories of a time when we lived in the same country, attended the same school and carried with us memories of a special period in our lives.
Report by MooLan Siew Silver
The OC at one of their meetings in the Metrotown Mall
One of the elaborate cancan costumes made by Wynn Yang for Chungarama night
Pre-VIVA, Rex Toh (fourth from left) showed some 20 participants around his home town, Seattle.
Seattle host Rex Toh and VIVA participants enjoying a meal
Ah Lek, Jennifer Loh, Rex and Pauline Wong at the Seattle Space Needle
At the Sheraton lobby, the Silvers get their name tags and a souvenir "VI Tales"
Five VIVA wives and OC member Tom Yang help out with registration
Khong Kim Hoong and Chooi Peng from K.L. with Michael Loh from Toronto
Participants walking to Minoru Gardens for the Group photo
Catching up with the decades: Khong Kim Hoong, Rex Toh, Allan Cheah and Stan Loh
Singing of School Song, 1st verse. Centre Koh Tong Bak; left Quah Chek Jwee, right Ron Liew
From right: Ho Yik Chee, Quah Chooi Hon (Mrs Ho), Pauline Wong
Setting out on the first day's tour to Vancouver
Michael Loh encounters some strange creatures at Canada Place
The Gastown steam clock whistles eleven o'clock
Pauline Wong waits at Gastown as Ron Leong stocks the tour bus with lunch
The VIVA Gastown choir strikes up !
It goes viral ....
Totem poles at Stanley Park
As the participants tuck in, John Vadiveloo and Stan Loh have a jam session
The Seladang Five of Form 5C 1963 led by Allan Cheah (centre)
Cancan "girls" Stanley Loh, Tom Yang and Koh Tong Bak
Time to break out the ponchos at Porteau Cove
Munching Vietnamese sandwiches on the coach (1)
Munching Vietnamese sandwiches on the coach (2)
The Lumberjack Show in heavy mist on Grouse Mountain
Winnie and Siew Hian meet the Lumberjack mascot
Ka Hang and daughter Siobhan admire Grouse Mountain carvings
Showing the Flag on Grouse Mountain
Mmm-mm-mmm! The tastiest Beaver Burgers this side of the Rockies!
Lunching at Cleveland Dam Park
A briefing on the history of the Suspension Bridge
Crossing the Bridge
Mohan makes it across the Bridge
The Cliff Walk
Mabel Loh's exquisite quilling on place cards indicating entree choices
Chooi Hon with "Just the Way You Look Tonight"
David Tan Kee Keong goes Italian with "O Sole Mio"
Anesthesiologists Tong Chui and Tong Bak declare that "Waking up is Hard to Do"
Clement Wong insists that "All I have to do is Dream"
Chan Yuen Tuck holding three bouquets from his female admirers for his rendition of "Danny Boy"
"You will never Grow Old," Tom Yang assures the VIVA audience
Siew Mun (fourth from left) with the VIVA OC wives -
(from left) Kim Chan, Shirley Leong, Mabel Loh, Meng Eng Chung and Wyn Yang
Wrapping up VIVA 2103 with dancing till midnight
Some ex-pupils and ex-teachers at VIVA 2013
Till we meet again !
Photographs by Chris Liew Peng Fook, Wong Yin Fook, Stanley Loh, Koh Tong Bak, Chung Chee Min
Last update:November 14, 2013.