August 5, 2013

Tales from Sungei Merah : Boarding School and Holiday Home Visits 1930's-1950's

Grandfather Kung Ping was a man who valued education and especially good education for his daughters. He was thus very advance and visionary for a Foochow man of his time.

Primary School kids with their teacher in their wooden school house 1930's

Children and education in those days:
Children could go to primary schools set up by the Methodist Church/Mission but when they were older, only those with some money could go to secondary school in Kuching or Sibu. Very much like today, these older children had to be in boarding schools.

From Aunty Lily (Lee Sieng) to Aunty Cheng Sieng, all the girls were sent to Kai Boon  Primary School in Bintangor and later Yuk Ing Girls school in Sibu Town when they were old enough and were accepted by Mrs. Hoover. My aunts remember them going to school in Bintangor when they were very young. In the 1920's my grandfather and his friends, especially Rev Yao Siew King, pioneered the opening of land in Bintangor for the Foochows. Rev Yao was the first Principal of Kai Ung Primary School.

My aunts therefore experienced the best of the education given by the Methodist Mission.

Aunty Chiew Sieng said that it was good to be in school and it was pleasant to be able to go from one grade to another. It was a kind of achievement for a young girl and Grandfather was most proud of his "girls" where were bright and hardworking.

Aunty Pick once remarked that she had to run an errand for Mrs. Hoover and because she did not really manage to complete her errand she sat by the steps of the school until Mrs. Hoover appeared. But Mrs. Hoover did not punish her to her great relief. She somehow remembers that incident until today. Mrs. Hoover was a very punctual person and she was very careful with her time management.

Beloved photos from family album. Courtesy of Irene T. Yeo and William Chinois. Aunts and nieces and nephews get together for souvenir photos during the holidays. I love the bottom photo where my aunts all wore the same material for their holidays. Christmas family reunion I think. (I often wonder who took those photos, and if two of these were studio photos, did they go to Nan Kwong Photo Studio?)
Aunty Pearl used to remark that Mrs. Hoover as a supervisor of girls' hostel insisted that the girls must fold their clothes very properly and neatly. Every child must be neat and tidy. And they were always reminded of good behaviour at the dining table. On Sundays they wore their best white suits, properly ironed to go to worship in the Masland Church. They were lined line neatly and they walked smartly to the church.

The girls went home for the holidays to stay with our Great Grand parents in Hua Hong Ice Factory.. My aunties were happy to go home. In this way they did enjoy three generation family in Hua Hong Ice Factory in Pulau Kerto. My great grandfather passed away in 1942, but the family continued to live in the Hua Hong home until 1956, when Grandfather moved to Sungei Merah, and we moved to Sibu.

Great grandmother moved to stay with grandfather in Sungei Merah and not with us in Sibu. Grandfather Kung Ping made a very decisive  statement which my mother remembers all her life, " Tui Mah (Great Grandmother) must live in the Sungei Merah house because, Tui Soh (my mother) has very young children and she cannot cope without a maid." Once Grandfather made a statement it was law in my family and no one could oppose him. Tui Mah needed a maid to help her because of her bound feet.  My mother is a very quiet person and she never wants to say much. However she did mention that Tui Mah and she got along very well in Hua Hong Factory. And Tui Mah loved having every one to come to visit her.

 By then Aunty Ah Hiong had come to live with them in the Sungei Merah House . Aunty Ah Hiong is the third from right at the bottom photo above. She is a very cheerful aunt, very energetic and the best thing I remember her is about her laughter when she washed clothes by hand, by the side of the "cement well" which was a common household utility built into an enclosed room which had a sky light, next to the kitchen. She kept the floor absolutely white from brushing with a steel brush so that Tui Mah would not slip accidentally.

 My younger aunts continued with their boarding school life but came home to visit their grand mother . By that time I also remember how happy it was to have Aunty Carrie studying in St.Elizabeth School and she was a basketballer too.

However by that  time , most of them were getting ready to go to Kuching and Singapore for their further studies.

Going away from Sibu:
It was interesting to note how some of my aunts and uncles left home for their further studies. My Fourth Aunt, Maggie, took the last boat out of Sibu before the Japanese arrived and at the same escaped from a match making arrangement. She became a nursing student throughout the Japanese Occupation in Singapore. My first and second Aunts were already in Singapore in those day.

Fifth Aunt left for Singapore to further her studies, teach for a while in Singapore and then left for the USA by freight boat. Seventh Aunt also graduated from the Methodist Secondary School (first batch) and also left for Singapore to follow Fifth Aunt. Aunt Greta, Aunt Pick and Aunt Hong studied in St. Mary's Kuching. Soon after that Sibu has more secondary schools and the other younger aunts completed Form Five in Sibu. By then Great Grandma had already passed away, which saddened all my aunts and uncles.

It has become quite tradition amongst Sibu Foochows actually to visit grand parents during the school holidays. I remember myself that visiting grandparents would mean very good food at the table. Kids all grew plump and happy with grandparents.

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