Foo Chee Wee (V.I. 1935-1939)
The holder of a First Class badge, Foo Chee Wee was a Patrol Leader and later Troop Leader in the V.I. Second Selangor Troop. He was a School Prefect and the monitor of his class of 1938 that still meets regularly more than sixty years after their V.I. days.
Chee Wee was in Government service before independence, in the Public Works Department, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Natural Resources. He has served as clerk, storemaster, timekeeper and even phone operator. After Merdeka he was became Organisation and Methods Officer in the Treasury. He was sent for overseas training to Australia as one of the first Malaysians to be exposed to computer systems analysis (in the bad old days when Fortran and Cobol were in their infancy and they had to programme computers in machine language). Chee Wee was posted to the Implementation and Coordination Unit of the Prime Minister's Department in 1975 and after that to the Petronas Corporation. After retirement he worked in his son's business from 1981 to 1985. Since 1986, he has been storemaster at Tun Hussein Onn Eye Hospital.
ooking on the left at the 1938 photo of the First and Second Selangor Troops, you will find me sitting third from left beside the V.I. Headmaster, Mr C E Gates, and on his left is the ADC, Mr E M F Payne. We are part of a V.I. Scout gathering to present a thanks badge to Mr H L Barnett and a parang to Mr Payne. I am dressed - would you believe - as a fencer. To tell the truth, I could fence better with a ruler than with a foil! As could the other ‘fencers’. After all, we had had plenty of practice with our rulers in class whenever the opportunity arose. However, this practice did cost our parents dearly. Besides, our maths teacher was never quite appreciative of the rather crooked lines we drew with the said rulers!
I got to know Mr Payne well when I was one of the lucky six from the V.I. to be selected to go on a tour of Kelantan and Trengganu in 1938. The others were Jalil, Yaaya, Majid, Thiam Tsiew and Mun Thong. I cannot remember the names of those four Scouts from Malacca. Besides Mr Tacchi and Mr Payne (who would later be a postwar Headmaster of the V.I.), the other Scouter was Mr Muir of Malacca, who later became an Assistant Inspector of Schools in Selangor. That tour was fantastic – it was a series of adventures intermingled with misadventures!
In those days, there was no East Coast road linking Kuantan to Kota Bahru. We went in three cars from K.L. to Kuala Lipis through the Gap. We lads started in high spirits up the winding road, but before long, most of us, car sick, were in no mood to enjoy the rest of the journey. However, after arriving at Kuala Lipis, our young constitutions enabled us to recover quickly. As none of us had been to Kuala Lipis before, that evening, we went out for a joy ride. Although Kuala Lipis was only a two-street town then, we still managed to lose our way and got one of the cars stuck in a rut! In trying to get the car out, some of us got ourselves into a stinking mess! We spent practically the rest of the night washing the car, our clothes and ourselves!!
The next day, we went to the railway station to catch the Sakai Express coming from Gemas to go north to Kota Bharu. The first part of the train journey was quite interesting, travelling across the Main Range through, I think, five tunnels to reach the plains of Kelantan. From there, the journey became monotonous – nothing but practically flat land all the way. After passing Kuala Krai the train followed the west bank of the Kelantan River. After quite some time, we stopped at the station at Palekbang. We learned that it was directly opposite Kota Bahru on the east bank of the Kelantan River. We crossed the river by ferry and were met at the jetty by some Kelantan Scouters and Scouts. We were taken to the Montgomery Camp by the South China Sea. There some Scouts were preparing our dinner while we had a short walk to look around. We then all sat down to a sumptuous dinner: a truly Kelantanese spread consisting of dishes I had never tasted before!
Many visits were arranged for us. One was to the British Adviser’s residence for tea. When we arrived, the host ushered us into a room. We, the Scouts, suddenly came to a stop; not because we were taken in by the splendour of the room, but more so by what seemed like a huge monster slowly lifting itself from the floor! We had read and seen pictures of Great Danes, but this one was ridiculous! It was more a pony than a dog – it was huge!! Although it was quite tame and friendly, we were never quite comfortable in its presence.
Another was a trip to Pasir Mas at the invitation of the District Officer. The lunch was more a feast! But what was more memorable was the journey to and fro – by launch along the Kelantan River. It was the dry season and the water was low, so low that the launch had to wend its way from bank to bank. At one point, the launch ran into a sand bank and got stuck. Some deck-hands jumped into the river and the water hardly reached their waists. They managed, after much straining on our part, to push the launch free. Fortunately, none of us got sea sick!
Then came the trip to Trengganu and what a trip! We went by bus – ah, but it was not like the buses of today with air conditioning and cushioned seats equipped with head rests. Our bus was open-sided with wooden benches facing outwards on both sides. As the bus moved off, the Kelantan Scouts told us to count the number of wooden bridges we were going to cross on our way to Kuala Trengganu. So we took their advice...! Outside Kota Bahru we turned into a laterite road and almost immediately we heard a rumble as the bus bucked across a wooden bridge. We started counting - "One!" Most of us stopped when we reached "100". Later we learnt that there were over 120 wooden bridges over a distance of just one hundred odd miles! The bridges were over gullies created by the monsoon rains. When we reached Kuala Trengganu, how we ached! But we could not help laughing at one another. Why? All of us were red-headed! All our well-groomed and well-greased heads were coated with red laterite dust!
We were well taken care of by some Trengganu Scouts. We camped by the sea. The following day, the tide was low and the sea was more than one hundred yards out. Most of us in our trunks walked out to the sea and soon we were in water up to our waists. But before we could get our navels wet, we heard shouts from the shore. We looked back, and to our surprise (or was it horror?), we found the sea was already half-way between us and the shore and was running in fast. Those at the shore were shouting and waving frantically. We immediately made for the shore and found ourselves struggling hard through the water. At several points, the sea bed dipped suddenly, caused by the under currents. One was rather bad. Luckily we had joined hands helping one another along. Those who had crossed this point pulled the rest across. Majid, who was at the end of the line, was nearly swept away! With this experience - I do not know about the others - but I never ventured in to the South China Sea again even though I went back to the East Coast several times subsequently.
However, for me, personally, the highlight of the tour was the reunion with my second sister and her family whom I had not seen for years! My brother-in-law was a Chinese school teacher and the last I heard of the family was that he was teaching somewhere in Kelantan. One day, I learnt that one of our Kelantan host Scouters was an officer in the Education Department. I casually mentioned my brother-in-law to him. The next morning I received a message for me to call at the Education Department. There was my brother-in-law! He took me home to meet my sister and various nephews and nieces some of whom I had not seen before!
In those days in West Malaya, when we entertained, the main dish would be chicken. But in Kelantan, chicken was a daily fare. For non-Muslims, the main dish was pork (secretly procured!). That night, at my sister’s place, I had pork for the first time in days! It was, indeed, a feast not only for me but for the whole family as well!!!
The present day Scouts are lucky to have a large hut for their Scout Den. Our pre-war Scout Den was the first floor room at the end of the Birch Road wing of the school. Also, when camping, the present day scouts sleep on raised beds, while we slept in self-pitched tents in our time. I remember the first time we went to the Castle Camp in old Rifle Range Road. On arrival, we cleared the sites to pitch our tents; and gathered wood for the night camp fire. When we finished, we were so tired that we just crawled into our tents and fell asleep. The next thing we knew was a heavy body crashing through the bushes outside our tents. Before we could open our eyes, we heard a loud voice, "Get up, you lazy pigs!" It was our Scouter Mr Lim Eng Thye! Well, we got out of our tents faster than when we got into them!
There were various Victorians whose fame of old may elude many of those of the present young generation. Tan Sri Majid Ismail was a scout. He is not to be confused with the Majid who went to Kelantan with me. That Majid was Majid Tahir, if I remember correctly, who became a Selangor State Assemblyman. He was a keen footballer. Tun Ismail was, of course, one of the famous scouts. I certainly remember Mohd Noor, one year my senior, and Abdul Aziz, who was my classmate. Both were scouts.
When I was reading about the Scouters of my time, it struck me that something was missing. After much digging into my poor memory, I came up with the name: Ariffin bin Nam. He was a Raffles graduate who joined the V.I. staff and became one of our Scouters. One thing I truly remember of him: he was an excellent gymnast. He often demonstrated his prowess on the parallel bars which were kept in the School Hall. Other Scouting Greats: Dr Lee Siew Choh, Dr Keshmahinder Singh, Singapore Chief JusticeJ Pung How and Dato' Nim Chee, all of whom were my contemporaries in V.I.
Kesh was my classmate from 1935 to 1938. At the Asia Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology (APAO) 12th Congress held in Seoul in June 1989, Kesh was awarded the Jose Rizal Medal. Once every two years during the Opening Ceremony of the Congress of APAO, this medal is awarded for excellence in Ophthalmology and contributions to eye care in the Asia Pacific region. Dr Jose Rizal, after whom the award is named, was himself an ophthalmologist and a freedom fighter of the Philippines.
In 1985, Kesh helped to found the Tun Hussein Onn Eye Hospital in Petaling Jaya and became its Honorary Director until he retired in May 1994. He even donated his lucrative eye clinic in Campbell Road (now Jalan Dang Wangi), Kuala Lumpur, to the hospital as its K.L. branch clinic. During one of our regular class reunions, Kesh asked me what I was doing. I told him I was not doing anything in particular. He then invited me to serve as a voluntary worker at the Eye Hospital that he had just helped to found. I accepted the offer and helped to set up the general store. I became the storekeeper cum store clerk cum storeman cum store labourer - all four in one! A superman? Well, not really. I only work in the morning for about three to four hours, then home to lunch, read the papers, and - most important - have my afternoon nap! Yes, I am still, in a sense, working; just to keep myself physically mobile and mentally alert.
Old Victorian Lee Kuan Yew was a champion pole-vaulter and high-jumper at both state and national levels. We met and became close associates when we were both elected officials of the Selangor Amateur Athletic Association (SAAA). He was the President and I the treasurer and, later, of the MAAU as well.
Last update on 11 October 2004.
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