Wednesday, March 25, 2015



The Background
I write this short article not without a great sense of grief for my fellow Malaysian Tamils especially those who come from the estate backgrounds like me. We see that Malaysia has made tremendous progress since my days as an estate boy in the 1950’s.  While the Malayan Tamils lived and worked hard a little above slavery under the British they were a satisfied lot.  They knew very little about the world and the country.  They did follow some developments in India but knew very little about the Malays or Chinese.  Except for an occasional quarrel or fight among themselves the majority were quite contented with their monthly Tamil movies, Tamil schools, toddy shops, temples, little vegetable gardens and lived happily in their own “little Indian villages”. In short they lived in “cocoons”.
Now all this has changed slowly but surely beginning with the economic growth of the country that became very evident around the 70’s onwards.  As such, this community is very much urbanized today.  Almost all the large rubber plantations have morphed into oil palm estates and manned mostly by cheap foreign workers.  Most of the rubber estates that were close to the major towns like Kuala Lumpur, Kajang, Sermban, Melaka and so on have developed into housing estates, industrial parks or even extended townships.  This single factor has forced the estate Tamils to seek a living in the towns.  The urban drift of the Tamils had begun.  The town Tamils who also worked at menial jobs were attached to the JKR, LLN, Malayan Railways and the port authorities (in places like Port Klang and Penang).  This urban Tamils had understood the Malayan ethnic diversity and had adapted well.  The same cannot be said of those who “migrated” from the estates.
Both these urban and rural menial laborer groups of course shared certain commonalities like the Tamil language and schools, Hinduism, general poverty, toddy shops (closed down later), Tamil movies and so on.  While the urban lot had adapted to town life the rural group had not.  Their mentalities too were different somewhat.  The urban lot lived in quarters provided by their respective employers - the government, JKR, LLN and the port workers.  Those from the rural drift lived in illegal squatter properties or were allowed to live in their estates that were yet to be developed.  When surely and eventually development  did reach these yet-to-be developed places the squatters, temples, houses, schools and so had to be removed to make way for a big development that began in the 1980’s.  To their credit, some of the developers did provide some sort of compensation to take over their properties 100%.
The Current Realty
Today, many from this rural group are yet to fully integrate themselves with the mainstream Malaysian community. They still have their Tamil schools, temples and TV entertainment and other ways to satisfy the loss of toddy shops.  The Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) is the party in the government that is/was supposed to take care of this community.  But most of the finances appropriated by the Malaysian government and channeled through MIC for the development of the Indian community at large were “misappropriated” and seldom reached the grass root Indians.  The MAIKA Holdings venture which took even life savings from the Tamils to become members went kaput due to mismanagement and other factors I do not wish to mention here….anyway everyone knows it.  Of course there were also some from this community who have uplifted themselves economically through education, business and professions.  A few even enjoyed governmental scholarships and loans.
The Dilemma
The larger majority of these Tamils descended for both urban and rural Tamil communities found themselves handicapped to even seek employment.  Grounded almost totally in Tamil background, many could not seek meaningful or higher paying jobs.  The government’s affirmative policy for the Malays also worked against this group.  Other job opportunities in the private sectors required language proficiency in English or Malay languages both of which were non-existent most of the time.  Thus it became a “pandai-pandai lah cari makan sendiri” affair with little help from MIC or the richer Indians in Malaysia.  This was quite unlike the Chinese community which thrived and survived well with their own community support through their many guild and associations.  The Indians had no such guild or associations.  So how?
About this time around the late 70’s and 80’s Tamil movies glorified stories of fights against injustice in a society.  This theme was well portrayed by M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) in all his movies even as far back as the 1950’s. MGR is labeled as “puratchee thalaivar” or loosely translated as reformist struggle leader”.  Stuck in an urban situation with little avenues for earning a proper living many  Tamil youngsters became “pukau” with the Tamil movies and heroes like MGR and Rajinikanth fighting for social justice.  Films like “Bashaa” come to mind.  Such films are still being produced in India like “Pollathaven” starring Danush…the new screen idol who is so very thin but can take on an army like Rambo.  The only difference is that in India the film goers know its all about fantasy.  Over here, our folks take it on as a reality.
In the light of the aforesaid, the otherwise peaceful Tamils now started “producing” the likes of Bentong Kali.  Secret societies, protection rackets, illegal gambling, prostitution and drugs were at one time exclusively controlled by the Chinese triads.  After the May13th incident the Chinese learnt well not to be or behave like street gangsters and moved up their “ladder” in the criminal world, sometimes even with open connivance with the authorities .  Strangely I hear that some crime world chiefs are even datuks. 
The street fighter jobs thus had many vacancies.  This vacancy began to be filled by Tamil youths who saw this as a way to instant fame and more importantly riches.  The police lock-ups suddenly were filled with Tamils.  Many died in custody.  The Malaysian police ( the special branch and UTK) were fully authorized to handle the situation.  Shoot to kill was often a common operational thing. Thus many Indians died this way at the hands of the police.  Seldom did they want to be arrested and be whacked by the police, charged and condemned to the gallows.  It was better to die fighting.  This still goes on.

The Indian community in Malaysia is far more complex than presented in this short article.  The clearer black and white distribution and distinction of Indians in Malaysia has always been separated by education.  Those who came over to Malaya with already a reasonably good education in English did well under the British administration and even later on till today.  This group is not the Indian group this article is about.  Meanwhile, the groups described in this article are still living as a marginalized community in Malaysia with almost no meaningful thought and strategies planned for them.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


The study of music in the formal Malaysian curriculum for the primary schools under the present system was first introduced in 1983. It has undergone some cosmetic changes which have not changed the situation much but I dare say worsened in recent years with the removal of 30 minutes out of the 60 minutes allocated for music.  In any case, the bulk of these students end up leaving the primary schools with hardly any appreciable levels of knowledge in music theory, notation, sight-reading, solfege or even practical skills on the only instrument they learn which is the recorder.  The few musical ones who might have performed with the school choir or recorder group may exhibit some musical behaviour  but sad to say, this only applies to a negligible few.  In summation this is what one may observe of our Malaysians who have gone through formal music since 1983 and who may be aged around 40 and downwards. They :
  1. Are not too well-informed about music in general and also local musical traditions.
  2. Are incapable of any serious thought or discussion on music even at the lowest levels.
  3. Have very narrow musical tastes if any and if so only influenced by popular musics.
  4. Cannot sing the national or state anthems properly in pitch and rhythm.
  5. Cannot identify most musical instruments except for the recorder, guitar and piano.
  6. Cannot even name the main instruments in say, a "keroncong", ghazal or string quartet.
There are many others but I think I have said enough and better stop here before I receive a shower of slippers or brickbats from some of my own collegues.  Surely all the aforesaid would indicate that we have not been too successful with our music education programs even with the so many changes and "updates" and the billions spent.  These children then go on to secondary schools and nothing much happens there either to shout about.  Then some of the more musically inclined ones pursue diploma and degree courses at the higher institutions of learning where the basic rudiments of theory have to be repeated again right from scratch except perhaps for those who have had private music lessons.  The truth of the matter is that we have bungled and fumbled at music education for over 30 years mind you.  A good tree is only good if it flowers, blooms and fruits….so what do we do if all
 these do not happen.  Cut the tree down ? That is exactly what the government, to its credit, has done by slashing 30 minutes from the original 60 minute allocation.  Merely re-instating the 30 minutes may not be the answer as we go back to square one again and for another 30 years????  A complete re-vamping of our music education program in the primary schools from aims and objectives to methods and curricular content is a must…..nothing short of that will work.

Music is a part and parcel of one’s life from birth till death.  Like other life skills it is there throughout one’s life and at any social occasion….even at funerals.

I am a firm believer and advocate of "learning music for music's sake". No leading scholar or philosopher in any culture have said otherwise.  Confucius insisted that a true scholar must study music too.  Even the famed Arab genius Al Farabi was an accomplished musician cum mathematician and so was Einstein.  No math educator needs to justify the need for our children to learn mathematics, do they?  Some music educators do and cite research that shows the learning of music improves brain function and other positive or similar correlations......It's like PE teachers suggesting that PE is a must in the education process because it also improves the human digestive functions.  Every child today learns mathematics not necessarily to become an engineer nor does every child who undergoes Physical Education becomes a national athlete like Dato' Nicole.

Now with all that said, the approach to music in all primary schools should be a twin approach with firstly, an emphasis on general music for everybody first with some practical activities too (singing, percussion, recorder and notation).  Performance comes next with students who exhibit good musical ability but in school ensembles during extramural time - choirs, bands etc.  Theory fundamentals related to time, pitch, texture and harmony can be taught from the 3rd year or so but still in an incidental way.

The ultimate goal of music education program in the primary schools should be to teach music appreciation on a wider angle.  This can be done in short segments within a lesson itself during which time children are exposed not only to different genres of music but also from all cultures.  Such things will widen their musical horizon.  Aural and visual recognition of instruments can also follow.  They can then be given opportunities to discover how a musical note is generated.  In this way they begin to realize that sound is produced by vibrations of bodies- air, strings etc.. In this way by Standard 6 they will be able to understand the basics of the  Hornbostel-Sachs system of classifying musical instruments from any culture.

Coming to the recorder, I am yet see anyone who has acquired a life-ling habit or love for blowing the recorder after they leave the primary school.  The instrument, sadly or not, is discarded for good after Standard 6.  It is my sincere view that the ukulele would be a much better choice to replace the recorder which I see as an obsolete instrument forced upon the kids and totally divorced from ground reality.  Besides, playing the ukulele involves bigger muscle movements than the more difficult use of small muscle involvement for the recorder. Besides, the ukulele also resembles the popular guitar with which kids can more readily identify themselves with.  It is also an easier harmony instrument to play and sing along. Other neighbouring countries have been using them since the 70's at that.

Monday, March 9, 2015


My first electric guitar was an F-hole Suzuki acoustic guitar. I bought an external pick up and
A 1960 Suzuki Guitar
screwed it onto the guitar.  There was no proper amplifier so I just plugged it into the back of our Philips radio and played on gleefully.  Now this was in 1960 by the way. The “new” electrified sound thrilled me and many of our contemporaries who did the same.  A radio shop Chinese technician built his own amplifier with the tubes open and visible.  It had 3 inputs and we plugged three guitars to it for the bass, rhythm and lead guitars.  By today’s standards this would be something of a cave-dweller’s gadget.  By 1962, the same technician had developed his own tremolo channel…quite an ingenuous chap he was. By that time some of bands in KL and Penang were already using the early Gibson and / or Fender amplifiers which I could not afford.  I used a Fender amplifier complete with tremolo effects at a recording at Radio Malaya Melaka once and it was an exhilarating experience.

Notice Reverb Unit and the William's amp at bottom right

In 1964, there was a company in  KL named Williams and if I am not mistaken became Bentleys later.  This company made their own amplifiers with Goodman speakers and my band bought two of them using our savings from our gigs.  One was a bigger one with two 12 inch Goodman speakers inside.  In 1963 a friend of ours bought an external reverberation unit with a spring inside that generated the reverb effects.  I remember using it to play “Telstar” by The Ventures.  While playing the guitar, I “kicked” the reverb unit and we got “space effx”.  Of course these were tricks to sound different from the other bands and competitors.
The much coveted Swiss Tape Echo Unit
The Schaller Disc Echo Unit

Then in 1964 the tape echo units became available and brought a new dimension to guitar players to sound like the Shadows.  The best one was the Swiss Echo and that cost some $ 800 which was like paying RM 10,000 today….a good second hand car cost that much.  There was another option - The Schaller Echo unit which also cost about $700.  As usual I lost out on buying either one and settled for a Watkins Copicat that cost about half of that amount.  This is the unit that I used for all my commercial audio recordings with The Jayhawkers and TV appearances.

Later on the wah-wah pedal made its appearance and I bought one.  At about the same time the fuzz-box also became available and this became a must for playing rock music even then.  The last one I bought was a Roland Phaser in the late 70’s. 
The Roland Phaser

A Modern Guitar Effects Rack

These days, I am happy playing the guitar only with a little reverb and some delay effect.  Of course many of these gadgets for guitars are taken for granted but if one has gone through what I have gone through, only then would one begin to understand and appreciate the wonderful array of guitars and effects that are available today.

Friday, March 6, 2015


The Founding Fathers

Many of the things that we see, witness or read about in the news these days in matters related to interfaith and inter-racial matters in Malaysia do not amuse me and probably many others like me who are septuagenarian Malaysians.  We can proudly say that  we were the pioneers who have made Malaysia become what it is today. It stands tall in the international of nations having been transformed from a backwater country to one that is well-recognized by everyone as a moderate, peaceful and progressive country.

Now with all said and done, the main schism and division evident in Malaysia today is principally caused by the racial divide between the Malays and the non-Malays.  This divide is caused mainly by that human frailty called economic greed of wanting more and more. Only a fool will deny that the affirmative actions for the Malays crafted by the earlier British government and the subsequent locally elected government has born fruit  in the past fifty odd years.  Local politics too have not helped in this matter.
To add to this the efforts by Islamic parties to want to make Malaysia more Islamic than it already is.

Otherwise, we are generally okay and much better off in almost all ways compared to all of the former British colonies and also  many other countries in the world.  - why even some of the so-called developed countries without even mentioning the Middle East countries stretch up to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Politicians have been the main cause to aggravate and to keep the divide wide open instead of taking the bull by the horns. The new wave of misguided Muslim leaders too have and are still playing their part in keeping people divided and it is always to their benefit, not the people at large.

It is my observation that Malays have nothing to fear from the non-Malays simply because power (almost absolute) is in their hands...The King, the sultans, the judiciary, the parliament, the PM, the DPM, the majority of ministers and representatives in Parliament, State Assemblies and town councils, the majority work force in the civil service, military, police, heads of many commercial organizations up to the distict officers and ketua kampongs are all one can ask " Apa Melayu mahu lagi" or "What else do the Malays want?"  It is a well-known fact that almost nothing can be done in this country without Malay approval right - why even in economics ?  

On the other hand, non-Malays still live quite comfortably in this country. They are free to pray to anything or any deity, trade successfully, eat whatever is desired, drink alcohol, live out of wedlock and even choose the medium of instruction till Std. 6 (for Chinese up to secondary level), gamble (Magnum, Toto, Damacai, Genting casino etc) , run massage parlors and so on - all of which Malays cannot engage one can also ask in return " What else do the non-Malays want?".

So all this " What else Malays / non-Malays want" nonsense is counter productive to the country and national unity.........we should not allow ourselves to fall into the hands of politicians who survive in this country by harping on such things.  

Live and let live in this land of plenty I say ........ it still invites millions of foreigners to come here even by risking their lives and arrest .....Think my fellow Malaysians, think.

Saturday, February 21, 2015


My music has been a continual change since I first started playing on stage in 1960.  During this time I have played all sorts of music - country, Malaysian folk, cabaret /dance, jazz, rock, dangdut and what not.

Listen to this recording of my music in 1965 here. 

Now all this was over a period of about 35 years between 1960 and 1995 when I more or less gave up active on-stage performances and went strictly into managing entertainment events. Now that I am 70 I wanted to leave an impression of what sort of music I played last compared to, say, the Malay  pop music of the 60's which I had recorded commercially and for which I am mostly remembered.

By 1993 I was already playing the keyboards and piano solo ( a one man band concept - no midi files though) and performing with some good singers like Azizah Basri for gigs.  Here is what we sounded like here.

In 2002 I was invited to put a jazz band together for a 60 min program for Astro on "JAZ"....and I manged to get a good band together and performed for the last time as a big band

So listen to this singles album that we completed in January 2015 with the help of my music industry friends....all are top-notch musicians who have helped add a little class to my music.  Listen to it here

"The Prophets of Doom" (POD) in Malaysia

Since the late 1960's I have met many PODs. It also coincides with the emergence of DAP as a political party to replace PAP when S'pore was asked to leave Malaysia. Many PODs still walk among us or have left the country for "greener" pastures. These PODs may not be happy about the politics and/or politicians and resultantly tend to condemn everything in sight. Get real I say.

But the higher the prophecies of impending doom predicted, the higher becomes our standard of living besides the higher influx of legal and illegal immigrants into our country from Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines, India and Bangladesh.....besides even China. How come ah ??

Look around and see how we Malaysians are peacefully celebrating our various festivals after year. We are smack in the middle of one right now. We have more to eat than ever before and in greater variety. We drive better cars and live in better homes with better comforts from showers to waste disposal systems.

All our schools are much better in infrastructure with increasing enrollment to bear. The ports are busy as are our airports. The police and all other essential services are doing their work well. The malls, if they can also be considered indicators of the economics in the country, and other places of retreat and entertainment seem to be always full. More people are travelling overseas than before....just go and sit quietly at KLIA and KLIA 2 and see what is going on there. We have a better as well as choice of medical care ............ in short, the country is fine but some people are not.

Yes, Malaysian politics suck but there is no need to condemn the whole country which is a blessed country with such varieties of people, food, culture, religions etc..

Yes we do have problems and the main one, in case you do not know, is the "Malaysian Malaysia" first shouted out by PAP in the early 60's. This problem is yet to be resolved....otherwise we are fine. So get out and enjoy Malaysia.

BTW all govt. servants and pensioners (like me too) sudah dapat gaji awal....I believe no other country in the world does this.

The Chicken Chop - A Malaysian-Western dish ??

Is the chicken chop a local Malaysian creation: I’m not able to provide a history of how it came about, but it may have something to do with the Hainanese in Malaysia. No one outside of Malaysia or Singapore seems to know what the heck a chicken chop is. It is not even to be found on Wikipedia. Pork or lamb chops yes but chicken chop? Only in Malaysia. 


My first chicken chop experience was definitely in the 1950's at The Tanjung Club in Muar. Later on in the 60's I have eaten this superb dish at rest houses, railway restaurants, army messes and some Chinese restaurants.
Today there are at least three varieties . One is the dry type which is quite rare. The other two types come with some thick gravy. The gravies are of two types. One is mainly tomato ketchup and reddish in color. The one that I would plainly say is the more "original " Hainanese Chicken has hints of taste from the HP sauce and Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire sauce. The chicken chop as I remember it from the rest houses and army camps of colonial days had this sort of brownish gravy. The one that is more easily found these days is the tomato ketchup variety.
Whatever it is, there are two halal places that I know of in Seremban that serve that "original" variety      with the brownish sauce  ( see picture) .....The Royal Sg. Ujung Club and Jayamas Resaturant.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


There is a clear divide in Malaysia today which is not often highlighted anywhere as I see it. I am referring to the group that is proficient in English and the other group which is not.  Let me share my experience in having witnessed this  phenomenon as a teacher in the system from 1960 to 1996 at the primary, secondary and college levels.

In the days prior to the 60’s, it was not much of a problem.  If one was good at English and had gone to an English school (located only in the major towns ) one would be able to get a “decent” job and earn something that could afford one a better life and comfort.  It was also a time when the bulk of the Malayan population was rural based – in kampongs, rubber plantations and in areas that fringe the secondary jungles.  Not many really complained and life went on with their lot in life.

Most of small towns (pekans) and villages had vernacular primary schools (Malay, Chinese and Tamil medium ) catering more for the rural folks in the countryside or the rubber plantations.  The Malay medium schools were designated differently as Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK).  The Chinese schools known  as Sekolah Rendah Jenis Kebangsaan (C).  Tamil medium schools were also labeled Sekolah Rendah Jenis Kebangsaan but had  a “T” in brackets  as say SRJK (T) Ladang Gaddes, Bahau.  This arrangement worked well for the existing population demographics of the time.  Such vernacular schools were also to be found in the towns to cater for those who wanted their children to attend such schools, a practice that is still prevalent.  Besides all these national and national-type schools, there were also the “sekolah pondok” (literally hut schools) that had a heavy emphasis in Islam and resultantly  were more focused on Islamic than the other types. 

There was also an avenue for crossover to the “esteemed” English medium schools for the smarter kids in the vernacular schools.  For Malay kids, they were offered places on the English school after Standard 5 for another two years into what were known as Special Malay Classes ( SMC 1 and SMC 2) after which they proceed to Form 1 in the English medium having “lost” one extra year at the primary school.  For the vernacular schools, their brightest kids were offered a special class for an English intensive one year program known as Form 1 Remove.  After one year, they go to the regular Form 1, having also “lost” one year.  Thus kids from the Malay, Chinese and Tamil media schools who crossed over were all one year older than the other regular kids that had come direct from Std 6 in the English medium primary schools.
My Gymnastic Squad at Johol in 1960

Boy Scouts of High School Muar 1960
MCKK Form 5 1960
After Merdeka in 1957 the government launched an extensive program to build schools and bring better education to the masses in line with the recommendations of The Razak Report of 1956. This report still remains the basic philosophy for education in Malaysia.  The government then started building English medium primary schools (Sekolah Rendah Jenis Kebangsaan (SRJK) in the rural towns ( “ pekans” ) all over the country complement the vernacular schools.  These schools were more modern and often had better facilities than the older Malay and Tamil vernacular schools.  The Chinese schools were somehow always better equipped even then.  To meet the increase, the government started training more teachers and built more training colleges which originally were only known as Malayan Teachers College or MTC for short.  Graduating teachers from these colleges were then posted to the new schools that had been established.

This was about the time I myself began my teaching career at SRJK (I) Dato Undang Johol in 1960.  My students there came from a very homogenous background which were villages around the “pekan” Johol.  The only difference was that some parents sent their kids to the Malay school there while many Chinese preferred their kids to attend the SRJK (C). 
It is my observation from that time that the English medium schools outclassed the vernacular schools not only in academics but also in the field of sports and other extra-curricular activities.

This was even true in Muar where my (English) school stopped playing against the vernacular schools there and instead preferred playing against other similar schools in Batu Pahat, Segamat and Melaka. My football teams in Johol for instance constantly thrashed the Malay and Chinese medium schools there and this happened not only in Johol but also in all the other rural schools that I had taught in Negeri Sembilan at Tg. Ipoh, Lenggeng, Bahau, Nilai and Rembau.  Thinking about this now, it dawns on me that the students in the English medium schools somehow grew up to be more confident citizens irrespective of what careers they went into.  Call it a superiority complex if we must but they carried themselves well even much later in life.  These traits have even been passed onto their children and grandchildren.

Then in the 1970’s this scenario underwent a gradual change.  In accordance to the national language policy, the government began to change English-medium primary and secondary national-type schools into Malay-medium national schools. The language change was made gradually starting from the first year in primary school, then the second year in the following year and so on. The change was completed by the end of 1982.  In the 1970’s I was already teaching in the secondary school level.  The English medium was simply named Form 1 and the Malay medium Tingkatan 1.  It was during this time that I began to see firsthand the differences between the two media kids whom I had to teach.
It was obvious that the English medium students spoke fluent English compared to those from the Malay medium.  They also excelled and took leading roles in all extracurricular activities at school.  As the school sports secretary, I remember announcing the trials/selections for the school team (football, hockey or netball or whatever game) at school assemblies.  Only the English medium would “dare” to come for the selection.  The Malay medium kids would linger around but very rarely would present themselves for the selection process.  In this way, the bulk of the school games and athletics teams were dominated by the English medium kids. I remember in one year, one Malay medium student even wrote to education department complaining that the Malay medium kids were being sidelined.  An official from the education department came to investigate this complaint and found it to be baseless.  It was the Malay medium students themselves who had sidelined themselves.  This notable difference in attitude and educational success was baffling to me even then as both groups were Malays from the same surrounding villages.   

Now when some of the brighter kids from the Malay medium reached Tingkatan 5 many went on to take the Sijil Tinggi Malaysia or went through matriculation classes and ended up as graduates from UKM or ITM.  These early graduates would be in their 60’s by now or finishing service.  I have many ex-students from this group too.  Following the governments affirmative action policies, these early Malay graduates (both from the Malay and English media) climbed the ladders in their respective fields very fast.  Many for example became headmasters hardly two years after graduation.  There were of course also others like Tan Sri Dr. Zeti Akhtar Aziz who were from the English medium who also rose to hold high offices. 

This short write up may be an over-simplistic analysis but this divide is a national problem for the past few decades.  In 1976, I used to do part-time encyclopedia sales.  I remember visiting a UKM professor’s house in Jalan Bukit in Kajang with the idea that as a highly educated person he would be willing to buy a set from me.  This professor stopped my presentation half-way and asked me why his kids should be reading about apples instead of rambutans.  I replied that he could see rambutans right outside his house and pointed to his tree outside.  His son could have a firsthand with them but not with apples.  This reply clearly angered him and visibly upset with my answer he told me to leave his house.  Does this sort of attitude ring a belI ? I can still hear such bells ringing today.

“ English is a window to the world “said the first prime minister of India,  Jawaharlal Nehru.  Most of our early leaders too felt the same way.  But we have lost it.  So if you happen to go to an office counter at a government establishment and request for something like a stamp in English and the officer snaps back, “Cakap Bahasa Melayu lah” you may then understand which side of the divide that Malay officer comes from.

Friday, January 23, 2015


(by Joe Chelliah)

Seremban as we know it today was not always like what it is today both in physical form as well as in population demographics.  This is also true of almost all Malaysian towns in the west coast of peninsular Malaya and more so of those that have a tin mining historical past.  These towns saw better development of infrastructure in line with the economic needs of the time.  Only the roads in Seremban remain with mostly changed names supposedly displaying a more Malaysian identity.  The prominent roads had names like Birch Road, Paul Street, Wilkinson Street, Cameron Street, Channer Road, Carew Street, Dunman Road and so on.

Birch Road in the 1960's

Seremban was and still is to some extent essentially a Chinese dominated town comprising mostly of the Cantonese speaking variety.  They even had their own name for Seremban as “Fuyong”.  They dominated almost all the big and small business ventures in the towns while others grew vegetables in the areas surrounding the town principally in the Rasah, Paroi and  Sikamat areas which also house the new villages.  Probably a little tin-mining continued with some Chinese as dulang washers along the Sungai Linggi areas. This river flows through Seremban. 
The Dulang Washers
The “dulang” was used to scoop earth mixed with water and by careful swirling the mud was swept away and the heavier tin ore remained.  This is not surprising as Seremban began mainly as a Chinese dominated tin-mining entity. The huge number of man-made lakes to be found around Seremban even today bears testimony to this assertion.  Many smaller lakes nearer to town have been covered up and houses built on them.  Some had been converted to lake gardens by the British, a Britsh legacy in towns with a mining past like Kuala Lumpur, Taiping and Ipoh.

The Sermban Lake Gardens

The Seremban market was almost entirely run by Chinese with some Indian Muslims selling mainly mutton or beef.  There were also exotic animals that were easily available to suit the prevalent Chinese tastes of the time – tortoises, snakes, iguanas and what not. The Chinese had so many secret societies – 03, 04, 08, 18 Immortals, Long Foo Thong etc.  These people mainly provided protection for the business community and often had gang fights for territorial control.  They also ran brothels and massage parlors and illegal lotteries.  Needless to say, there were opium dens and illicit samsu sales too that were done in the back lanes which was essentially a Chinese social problem of the times.  Mahjong was their popular game.  Very few Chinese worked in government jobs although some educated ones worked as teachers and also in the police force, especially in the special branch which helped combat the communist insurgency.  A handful of Chinese also did a very important social service at the town council which no other community wanted to do – the job of a “night-soil” collector – a highly paid job too.  The human waste was collected at night and “distributed” / sold to the surrounding vegetable farms as manure. The rest was just dumped into the  Sungai Linggi.

Malay presence in Seremban was somewhat very restricted to the few small Malay kampong areas that surrounded the town essentially in Ampangan and Rasah areas mainly.   Most Malays in Seremban at the time were from the police force and lived in quarters provided for them.  Others were in the Malay Civil Service as district officers and clerks or technicians.  Unlike today, the three army camps in Rasah, Paroi and Sikamat were populated by British troops including Gurkhas at the Sikamat Camp.  Of course today these camps have been taken over by the Malay dominated military.  Even as late as the early 1960’s, there was not a single Malay eating shop in town.  I remember there were only two in the mid-60’s – Kak Yan Restaurant and another beside the Plaza theatre.  Earlier on, the Muslims could only eat at one or two public Muslim restaurants run by Malabaris ( Indian Muslims from Malabar in Kerala) such as Ally's Cafe.  Other than that, there was row of Indian Muslim (we wrongly call them mamaks now) mee goring and rojak stalls in the lane beside the Rex theatre which was a popular venue for Malay and Tamil movies.  There were only two mosques in Seremban at the time and that too were built by the Indian Muslim community – one in town and another in Rahang.

A Malabari Stall

Besides the Chinese and the Malays ,  Seremban also had a significant number of Indians of different Indian ethnicity too which significantly added to the non-Malay segments of the Seremban population.  One such group dominated mostly all the civil service, railways and utility boards.  These were the more English educated Ceylon (Sri Lankan) Tamils who held almost all the middle-management and supervisory posts in all the government departments.  The lesser educated Tamils manned the public works departments and worked mostly as laborers or lower posts like peons at the Public Woks Dept. (PWD), Telecoms, Electricity Boards and Town Council.  These folks were housed in laborer quarters in Lobak.  Of course there were exceptions to the rule. The Indian Muslims also traded in groceries and the food business. 

There was also a very small Chettiar community that functioned as registered money-lenders.  It was customary for the Chettiar community to build temples wherever they resided..  The biggest Hindu temple in Seremban town was more often referred to simply as the “Chettiar kovil”.  Its real name is Sri Bala Thandayuthapani Temple and was first built in 1895 even before Seremban developed fully.

Sri Bala Thandayuthapani Temple today

Then there was a small Pakistani and Punjabi community too in Seremban which comprised of mostly retired policemen.  The Punjabi community also had some wealthy businessmen who owned mostly transport companies running lorries and many of the bus companies too – Utam Singh, Seremban Town Bus Service,  Ganasan and so on.  One of the bus company bosses even drove a Buick car with the number plate NA 1.  But the bulk of the ex-policemen worked very hard as watchmen at night while by day the reared cows, drove bullock-carts, sold cow-dung as manure besides being the sole source of fresh cows’ milk.  This community was extremely frugal but placed heavy emphasis on education and sent their children to study medicine mostly and also law.  Today there is a kampong in Seremban named Kampong Singh.

National coach - Peter Van Huizen

There was another prominent community in Seremban in the 60's - the Portuguese Eurasians. Most of them lived in Temiang and also at the government quarters in Rahang Square, Melaka Road, Hill Road and Bland Road. There were so many of them at the time especially in the government services. This group played a significantly disproportionate role in the fields of sports and music at the time in Seremban.  Many excelled in hockey and even became national coaches.  In music this community produced quite a few family bands - The Woodens, The Sparklers, The Monotones, The Starlings and the Danker family had many drummers. Understandably, the boys attended St. Paul's Institution and the girls where else but The Convent.  There were many Eurasian families too - the Sta Marias, Van Geyzels, Lazaruses, Van Huizens, Hoseys, Dankers, Valens, Especkermans, Freemans, Henderofs, Jacksons, Woodens, De Mellos, Nonis, Sequerahs, etc. Many from this community migrated to UK too in the 60's..

That in a nutshell is how I personally witnessed the kaleidoscope of Seremban through my personal observation and experiences in Seremban since 1955 till now.

Thursday, November 6, 2014


The Background.

The education system in the pre-Merdeka days was utilitarian at best.  It served the interests of the time and the denizens of the Malay Peninsula in particular.  I am not including East Malaysia in this writing simply because I know too little of what happened there.  The British freely allowed vernacular education which developed along the needs of the respective community concerned.

The Malays lived mostly agrarian lives in the rural and coastal areas. To them an education was

Sekolah Attap

seen as necessary especially in Islam. They were quite satisfied with the “sekolah attap / pondok” that were provided for them even though it was only at the primary level.  Such schools existed nationwide in almost all kampongs.  The teachers had little specific training and were themselves Std. 6 “graduates”.
Better Equipped Chinese schools

The Chinese, as a rule, did value education very much more and had Chinese schools in every Chinese community that grew into small or big towns mainly along the mining areas in the west coast of the peninsula.  Their children could learn up to the secondary school level.  They had their own system of school, teacher training and syllabus.  The schools too were better built and had better facilities as the community and its leaders funded the schools generously.  The schools were also built on land with proper titles.

Tamil schools were situated mostly in the rubberestates

As for the Indians, their schools were mostly Tamil medium with a few Sikh ones too in a few towns.  Most of the schools were built in the rubber plantations owned by the British to serve the estate workers basic needs.  In the towns too Tamil schools were attended mainly by children of laborers and other menial workers from the town councils, public utility departments like JKR and NEB.  Education here too was for only 6 years and the teachers were not properly trained and were mostly educated up to Standard 6 mostly.

The schools to go to then and in fashion were the English schools of course and situated in all the major towns.  These schools supplied the needs of the British to man the clerical and sub-managerial jobs in their civil service. The schools provided eleven years of schooling, six primaries and five at the secondary level. The Form 5 students sat for examinations set by Cambridge and the curriculum, needless to say, was very much like the secondary schools in England.  The parents of the children in these  schools were therefore also mostly town dwellers and who preferred English education to the vernacular varieties.  Most often, they themselves were English educated.  These schools were also well-built and had good facilities.  Only a few Chinese schools could match them. Teachers in these schools were trained and the highest qualification at the time was the Overseas Cambridge School Certificate. Even the Higher School Certificate only came about after Merdeka.  Of course, the British freely allowed missionary schools to operate. These schools served well and left a legacy hard to follow.

                                                                   English medium schools were the most prestigious ones

                                               High School Muar                                               St. Paul's Institution                                                                                                      
After Merdeka

By 1956 it was already becoming crystal clear that we were going to be independent soon.  The government set up an education commission to plan education for an independent Malaya.  The commission was led by Tun Razak.

                                                                                                               Elite Schools - MCKK & Kolej Tunku Khursiah                                 

The Razak Report provides for Malay, English, Chinese and Tamil schools at the primary school level and Malay and English schools at the secondary level.  The Malay medium schools were referred to as "national" schools while the others were referred to as "national type" schools.  All schools are government funded and use a common national curriculum regardless of school type. Other provisions include :-
  • Formation of a single system of national education
  • Commencement of a Malaysan-orientated curriculum
  • Conception of a single system of evaluation for all
  • Recognition of the eventual objective of making Bahasa Melayu the main medium of instruction.
Today, there is much dissatisfaction regarding the school system and education in general.  Almost all harsh critics are unaware that the main framework and aims of The Razak Report have indeed been achieved.  National unity which was the report's primary aim, however, remains elusive.

The eventual and ultimate objective of making Bahasa Malaysia the main medium of instruction has become a praiseworthy success and  was not really the result or handicraft of Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim or even Tun Dr. Mahathir…. those who think so simply do not know their history well.

The proliferation of new schools in Malaysia since Merdeka is can be envious by the standards of almost all countries that were colonized.  Today we have, in fact, such a plurality of schools that is actually working against national unity.  No where in the world do we have such a wide spectrum of schools - national schools, national type vernacular schools, private schools, religious schools and international schools.  While such an array of different school types may be not without benefits and provided for in our constitution, it definitely is a contributory factor in our failing efforts at true national unity these was also the main aim of The Tun Razak Report of 1956.