The first born of the first English teacher recruited by Rev James Hoover for Sibu's first co-ed Methodist School, Mr. Chong Jin Bok, was my uncle Chong Chung Sing. Later When Mrs. Hoover decided that it was more viable to have a girls' school under her and a boys' school for skills training, she established the iconic Yuk Ing Girls School. The Boys' section became the Agricultural and Industrial school in Bukit Lan and it was not too well accepted by the then early settlers who deemed the school rather redundant since the teachers were only teaching the boys how to farm!! By then the Chung Hua school, and the Sacred Heart school wee also at their beginning stages and many other primary schools established by the Methodist Church were sprouting up. By 1935, Rev Hoover and the Methodist community had founded 41 primary schools!!
My grand uncle Mr. Chong Jin Bok passed away fairly early while Grand Aunty continued to teach English until their retirement in Sibu.
Uncle Chung Sing passed away on lst of June 2014, having lived a long rewarding life, as a school Maths teacher during the Japanese Occupation,Head of School Accounts Department of the Methodist Secondary School,and church pianist.
Uncle Chung Sing was a very quiet man all his life, having a very successful set of parents and high achievers as siblings. Aunty Chong, his mother, whom we called Ging Boh, was a strict, disciplinarian who maintained a very sternly hold over her household at Chong Villa, Queensway.
I remember Uncle Chung Sing as a man who quietly smile even though some great laughter exploded in front of him. His calm demeanour matched his wife's every ready support for him and his big family. Aunt Meng Toh was always around to do every small thing for Ging Boh all her life.
As a child ,when in the primary school and having lessons, I remember listening to great music from the Masland church,Sibu. He was very very disciplined when he practised his piano for the following Sunday. I wonder how it felt for him to be sitting there alone in front of all those belian pews, and under the great picture of Jesus at Gethsemane, with just some light from the window.
We knew it would be for a funeral, when he played "Rock of Ages, Cleft for me" ,"Amazing Grace", or "Blest be the ties that bind". It would be a wedding coming up when he practised the Wedding March. His whole heart was in the music that floated out of the Church window into our school yard and classroom. I believe I was hit a few times because I was not paying attention to the teachers, but to the music. I would then be brought back to reality. But this kind of mind wondering was all worth it. Never mind the scolding. Thanks teachers.
It was always a great moment for us when we saw him playing the piano for relatives' weddings and funerals. It was a wondrous sight to see a man play piano in those days!! Most of the piano players were wives of pastors, or people like Mrs. Coole, Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Mamora. It was very much later in our lives when our younger generation like Thomas Ling, came into the piano playing scene.
A friend Wong Yuk Feng remembers him as a good Maths teacher during the Japanese Occupation. He actually taught in several schools before coming back to Sibu to be Head of Accounts in the Methodist Secondary School, until he retired. His honest ,simple life style,albeit reclusive, is to be emulated.
Uncle Chung Sing also taught Japanese language during the war. Being humble, according to Aunt Meng Toh, he was willing to be transferred from place to place during the first years of their marriage. He was truly an "Obedient Servant" of the government. He actually lived through those turbulent days between the end of the First World War and the end of the Second World War without much complaints. Never did I hear he faulted any one or any government.
Another humbling example he set for us in Sibu was his love for cycling. We would always know if he was in the school office by looking at his bicycle parked near the office. Often it was earlier then the opening hours of the office. His windows would only be opened exactly at 8.
We would like to collect our mail first thing in the morning. He and Mr. Wong Kiing Nung, the other general clerk, were the staff who collected the mail from the post office for the school, twice a day: once in the morning before school break at 10 and once in the evening. Sometimes we could not wait for our pen pals' letters to arrive and we would stay until about four. If we were not in the school in the afternoon, we had to collect our mail the next day. Those were the kind of students we were, happy to receive letters through air mail or even sea mail. And he would be there watching our faces : disappointment? Happiness? I am sure he had many tales to tell. But he never let on. Bless his heart.
He would be happy to know that many people are now riding bicycles to work, including Meng Lei, the Chief Operating Office of the Methodist Message, Ing Chiong and others. Uncle Chung Sing cycled to work, to church and to visit friends in town throughout his working life. We wondered if he learned how to cycle using Rev Hoover's bicycle. And when did Ging Boh buy a bicycle for him in those early days?
If we do walk down memory lane of the Tiongs and the Chongs, there are more tales to tell.
Thank you for the music and the silent smiles of the Chongs!!
Blest be the ties that bind. Amen.
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