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Not far from my house lies a small plot shaded by palms and fruit trees. One sultry afternoon I wandered to this spot and sank down for a quiet rest. Soon my eyelids drooped and I fell asleep, and found myself standing on the deck of a P&O liner which was sailing to Southampton. Around the ship were blue waters which merrily rippled as the ship ploughed its way. I asked a ship's officer where we were going and he informed me that we were in the Bay of Bengal making for Colombo.
Night wore on. I spent my time looking at the flashes of light coming from a lighthouse on some distant islet which illuminated the dark waters with a dazzling hue. Next morning the liner, at full steam, made for Colombo where some mail and passengers were transhipped. It was fine fun looking at the native vessels called catamarans dashing along with the howl of the wind while others lay anchored, their occupants diving for pearls. They were good swimmers and divers and never used any equipment to protect themselves from the sharks which infest those shores. Some of them also dived for coins which were thrown by the passengers of the steamer.
The ship started off and soon we were in the Indian Ocean. On the way I saw some islands and atolls covered with palms. Then we passed Aden and entered the Red Sea in a few days. The liner entered the Suez Canal at a slow speed and proceeded at this rate till it reached Port Said, where it stopped to take on coal and other supplies.
I noted that the people were Egyptians, Negroes and swarthy Arabs who wore loose flowing gowns, and on the streets some women were seen going about veiled. My attention was drawn to the beating of drums and, turning to the docks, I found a crowd gathering round a snake charmer who was performing some tricks. Some curio dealers were gazing idly at the ship as they had no customers.
The ship again went on its way again. It passed Malta and raced up the Italian coast by Stromboli, which often lights up the Mediterranean at night. For a few hours we skimmed through the calm waters till we reached Marseilles, where some passengers chose to disembark to avoid experiencing the stormy weather in the Bay of Biscay. They could also reach their destination earlier by the overland route.
We next came to Gibraltar, where we stopped for a short time and I managed to get a glimpse of it. It is an immense mass of rock, into which forts have been built. I saw some sailors strolling on the beach, and nearby lay some British cruisers.
Some Spaniards came alongside our ship in their boats laden with fruits, tobacco and other eatables. I purchased some oranges and apples, which had a better flavour than those in our country.
The ship again moved on and rounded the Portuguese coast. Here we met many ships coming from Lisbon and other ports. The weather was fine and sunny; the ship left the waters at high speed and at times some fishes landed on the deck. As we entered the Bay of Biscay, a strong gale suddenly sprang up. The ship was tossed mercilessly about, and huge volumes of water splashed over the deck,
Night came on, rain descended in torrents, and the night passed off monotonously with the dull beating of the ship's engines. At the peep of dawn we found ourselves in the English Channel; a few tugs came alongside and towed the liner towards the harbour.
Instantly, I felt my body shivering and, waking up, I found myself lying in a puddle, as rain had descended during my nap. I returned home with a severe cold.
Where the waves beat;
I remember a place,
Where sea gulls meet.
Hot is the day
And bright shines the sun on the sand.
Birds fly their way
Over sea and over land.
Coming and going, the winds are blowing;
For ever and e'er the waves are flowing.
From morn till night and from night until morn
Are growing here and there the weeds and thorn.
It's a land of joy, of dreams,
Of pleasure and of wealth.
For one and all it seems
A wondrous place for health.
At even, things big and small,
Nature pacifies them all.
Then time comes for sweet reflection.
And such it is, my recollection.
Alarmists are not wanting in these days to make a mountain out of a mole heap. "Slump, Slump!!" their horrid voices echo and re-echo everywhere; but for the life of me I cannot understand their peculiar mentality. Our football team has won the Thomson Cup and is this on account of the slump? Surely not! It may be a slump for other schools, but not for us.
Is there a slump in rubber? All the sheds and huts in Malaya are full and there is an extra amount to be piled up 'where you wish'. Is this not a boom in rubber? If you do not think it to be so, why should those beautiful trees of nature's creation be ransacked for all they are worth? What does it profit a man to bring destruction on himself and then blame another? Foolish man, "as ye sow, ye shall reap."
But by storing rubber you are safe too. If a fire breaks out, you get your money from the insurance company. Pure cash, no more, no less and mind you, no fake! Now, if your cash notes are burned, well, you go to the mental asylum! But if you set fire to your rubber and claim money from the insurance company, you will be sent to the jail. Consoling but - !
The Press is filled with thousands of new schemes all 'published for the first time,' mark you, 'first time'. Is there no happiness in that? Tin and rubber get salvation from all the dailies in Malaya. This is a good chance to use one's imagination hard and then new schemes shoot out! They go to the Press the next minute and appear the next day (it's a pity there is no hourly edition!) with the author's name in bold capitals! Editors, too, rejoice that they have a lot of material for their editorials !
Thousands of labourers are fed daily at someone else's account and even the Government has taken this golden opportunity, when thousands are going on holiday, to give them a health trip free! In other words to repatriate the workless! Hurry up, ye grousers, and join them for a free trip!
Now to be serious; too many boys are sitting up late at night. The Queen's Scholarships are in 1931. There is still one whole year more. A law must be passed immediately against these late nights as they are dangerous to the health of these boys! As for our gluttons, they spend their whole leisure eating in the Tuck Shop! Who said, "Slump"?
In the Laboratories
We began chemistry at the beginning of the second term.
First we examined our apparatus or the tools used in our experiments, such as burners which burn a mixture of petrol vapour and air, and desiccators inside which things can be kept dry for years.
We then learnt to weigh on delicate balances. These balances are kept in glass cases so that no dust may settle on them. If it does, we cannot get the exact weight. The weights are of two kinds - the larger ones of brass and the smaller ones of nickel.
We then studied the air and observed its effect on burning, breathing, rusting, and decay and in every case we found that one fifth of the air was used up. From this we found out the composition of the air and studied its constituents, the chief of which are oxygen and nitrogen.
We next studied natural waters, rain water, spring water, river water and sea water. We found that rain water is the purest natural water as it left very little residue on evaporation. Then comes spring water, then river water, and lastly sea-water, in order of purity. We were surprised to find that ordinary water is a compound of one part of oxygen and two parts of hydrogen. Hydrogen burns with a very hot flame, and oxygen makes things burn very rapidly, yet the compound of the two, water, extinguished fires.
Practical science is the subject I like best in school, because we do not have to believe the text book unless we have seen with our own eyes, and we are allowed to talk to our partners while we are doing experiments. Chemistry itself is very interesting and to make it more interesting a science library has been opened. Books on such interesting subjects as model engineering, electricity, magnetism, and wireless are found in the Science Library. The Science rooms are the cleanest and tidiest in the school.
My visit to the workshops
It was on the 7th of October that I visited the Sentul Workshops. The section I visited first was the Erecting Shops. It was here that I spent the longest time because it was one of the most interesting shops. Here was a long line of locomotives with so many workmen inside and outside, closing rivets up with hammers. All these gigantic locomotives were, I was told, made in Birmingham. I myself discovered this, by looking at the plate on the frame of the boiler. Above me I saw a giant locomotive hanging in the chains of an overhead crane. When I looked at this, it was like a tiger lifting up a huge elephant, because the crane was not even a quarter the size of the locomotive.
With this impression still in my mind, I passed over to the next section called the machine shop. Here were prepared all the small parts of both the coaches and the locomotives. There were machines and lathes with narrow pathways between them. I was amazed to look at the places where the workmen were seated, because all round them were machines and small wheels moving at a terrific speed. I actually received a frightful shock when I saw the wheels over my head moving at an equally tremendous speed. So I hurried away from this section of the shop where many a tragical thing had occurred.
The third section I entered was the Carriage Shop. Here, too, I saw a long line of coaches. Some workmen were building up new coaches and others painting and inscribing in big capitals the four letters F.M.S.R. There was nothing else of interest I could describe.
The most unhygienic of all shops was the smith shop. Here and there, at an anvil, would be two sturdy Indians or Chinese with heavy hammers, while a third would be seated beside the anvil to adjust the position of the block of red hot iron so that it would be shaped as they wished. The reason why I called this section unhygienic was that small pieces of coal were strewn in small heaps beside the furnaces. I was almost suffocated by the smoke from these furnaces and was not sorry to leave this place.
When at last I came to the office. I was detained for a long time by the board boy who was lazily sitting at the gate. His duty, it appeared, was not to allow anyone to enter the works without receiving a ticket, nor to leave without returning the same. So when I came here the boy demanded my ticket and when I produced the permit which I had obtained from the Work's Manager, the boy ran to the head-officer who confirmed the validity of my permit after which the boy let me leave.
Autobiography of a Wonderful Astronomer
It was at 1 p.m. on the 1st of January in the year 1111 that I was born. At my birth, however, no Magi visited me to foreshew my greatness as the king of the astronomers (in my own opinion, I think they ought to have done); but during the whole of that honourable night the firmament was exceptionally bright and the moon and the stars shone with extraordinary brilliancy. Meteors, too, were seen passing to and fro in the sky. In short, the whole heavens were in a merry chaos to celebrate the birth of one who would study them with lifelong interest.
I grew like other children, and there was no noteworthy event in my youth. My parents sent me to school to be educated in reading, writing and a little arithmetic. Only then, and not till then, was my life brought to a crisis. On a certain day while perusing my books, I was greatly struck by this stanza:
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky.
Lo! Here Man was frankly confessing his ignorance of the wonderful heavenly bodies. Why not, I thought, be a benefactor to him in this branch of knowledge? Henceforth, I would stand solitarily in the open air and gaze eagerly at the sky for hours together. Thus, as the unceasing wheel of time turned, I became so excelled in astronomy that I had no equal in the whole world.
I specialised at first in the study of some particular planets and stars that I loved best. For instance, the Sun, the Earth, Venus, Mercury, and Jupiter were those in which I was interested. And I had reasons in so doing: I held as sacred the Sun, and the Earth for one was the source of our warmth and light and the other was our place of shelter. Then Venus was the Goddess of Love; Mercury, the Messenger of God; and Jupiter, the supreme deity of the pagan world.
But I abhored Saturn in spite of its elegant ring of moons, for its name was, perhaps, somewhat connected with Satan, the devil. Neither was Mars a favourite of mine. Being a peaceful man myself I disliked the God of War and his three destructive hounds, Famine, Sword and Fire. The Moon was luna in Latin, and this had something to do with lunatic. Lastly, I had a personal grudge against Neptune, the God of the Oceans, for once I almost became his victim when I fell into a stream.
My real fame, however, rests largely on one unfortunate or fortunate (both epithets are applicable, mark you!) incident in my life which I shall never forget. One day I was walking hastily homewards when carelessly I stepped on a banana skin (woe unto it; nay, may it be blessed!) Consequently I fell down flat like the walls of Jericho with my face skyward. The back of my wretched head knocked so forcibly against the stone pavement of the street that, lo and behold, a luminous body was seen dangling in the air. I took more than an hour to come to myself again, but I had won immortal fame, to wit, I had discovered a new star! To it I gave the name of the Stella Ariena - a most suitable name, indeed !
Thus I have lived to pursue the truth, regarding these heavenly bodies for the general good of all mankind. I might now proudly say to each of the stars,
I don't wonder what you are!
You are but a shining thing
Simply hanging on a string."
Last update on 28 October 2000.
Contributed by: Chung Chee Min