By Tiger A. Kathiresan of NST, 18 Aug 2010
TO a 9-year-old boy, the monsoon drain running along the front of the school in Station Road, Taiping, was a challenge of immense proportions.
Since Standard One, I had wanted to leap across it, as the senior boys seemed to so do effortlessly. One day, in Standard Three, I did it. What an exhilarating experience. It is one of the many memories I have of school life. Another is sitting or playing around the partly raised enormous roots of the rain trees lining the field of King Edward VII Primary School. That's where I used to sit and eat the thosai my mother had rolled, with sugar or curry inside, and packed in a container. Then, gulping down some tap water, I would join my friends and run around chasing each other or do the sundry other things that kids do.
The trees, I later learnt, had been planted in 1910 by a gentleman named P. Moss. At that time, I didn't know that my school stood on the site of the first railway station in the country.
King Edward VII School began as the Central School -- because it was centrally located in the mining district -- in 1883. It started with 13 pupils of various ages under the headship of J.L. Greene. Later, as the school population grew, it moved to the present primary school site -- the former railway station. Construction started in 1904 and the new school was opened on Jan 19, 1906, by the then sultan of Perak, Sultan Idris Mursyidul Azam Syah.
The headmaster, R.F. Stainer, had suggested that the school be renamed King Edward VII, in honour of King Edward VII who had succeeded to the throne of England in 1901. Stainer, who was headmaster from 1900 to 1922, laid the foundation for what became the KEVII tradition. He coined the school motto Magni Nominis Umbra (Under the shadow of the great).
KEVII was renowned for its rugby prowess and it owes the introduction of the game, in 1923, to teacher T.J. Thomas. King Edward's team trounced Penang Free School in the first inter-school rugby game in Malaya in 1933. It had been national schools' champ numerous times. Rugby and KEVII were synonymous. There have since been moments of misplaced sense of nationalism. One principal, for instance, feeling the name King Edward was rather unpatriotic and the motto Magni Nominis Umbra un-Malaysian, decided to change both. The Old Tigers roared so loudly that he was transferred out.
A school is not, it is often said, just brick and mortar. Nothing was truer of KEVII, especially the secondary school. When I went to Form One, Long Heng Hua was the principal. If Stainer was the main architect of KEVII's early years, Long was his counterpart in the later years, serving from 1964 to 1982. He was the quintessential school head of earlier years -- smart, knowledgeable, neat, firm, dedicated, disciplined, caring and a good manager. Discipline was important to him, as was effort.
The words "Pak Long" were magic. They were enough to send us scuttling to our chairs or pretend to be immersed in our books; vacuous looks gave way to faces frozen in rapt attention. Nobody messed with him. That is why, perhaps, I won admiration when I threw a pail of water on him in 1972, when I was in Upper Six. It was Teachers Day and my classmates and I were splashing water on each other. Someone dared me to throw water on Long.
Carried away by the excitement of the moment, I ran with a pail of water towards Long who was then walking to his office. With a "Sir", I splashed him. That's when the magnitude of my folly dawned on me. But he just smiled and walked into his room. He took it with a sporting spirit. That was Long. He was not interested in just academic success or sporting success. We had plenty of both. He was interested in building character. He believed very much in what is known among Edwardians as the Tiger Spirit. He not only lived it, he infused his charges with the spirit -- to take on any challenge with gusto and camaraderie.
Most of my teachers were gems. They didn't just teach, they inspired. I owe my interest in journalism to two of them: Raja Mahtra Raja Kamaralzaman and Leow Kam Fong. They taught me English and English Literature in Forms Four to Six. The principal and teachers, the students and the ever present difficult-to-define Tiger Spirit, a gutsy companionship of sorts, all helped give KEVII an unmistakable charm.
One of the principals, R.P.S. Walker once said: "King Edward's should teach a pupil self discipline, duty to himself, his family and country, and hard work, for it is not the school in your life that matters but the life in your school". To him, "the teacher is the school and the school the teacher". That describes KEVII.
Today, the drain in front of my school no longer looks intimidating. But when I leapt across it those many years ago, I gained confidence. And KEVII helped me make a lovely leap into life. And life remains exhilarating. The Tiger Spirit still roars within me.
Source: NST Online
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