Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Tribute to My Primary School

I had just finished tackling the mathematics exam that day, for which “Ng Sir”, as we used to call this caring and dedicated math teacher of ours, had prepared us by tirelessly giving after-school tutoring in the school hall for three evenings a week in the months leading up to the exam.. My mind was a total blank and my pent-up emotions just had to be given a cathartic release. When asked by a classmate how I did, I simply couldn’t react in any way but by letting go a profuse cascade of tears. I was so unnerved by the maths exam that I was not at all confident about my performance. On the bright side though, I felt pretty sure I would get high grades for the English and Chinese exams.

For a lot of primary 6 students who came from poor families like myself, the secondary school entrance examination was one big hurdle to cross in our young lives, as we had to compete for a very limited number of seats in much coveted well-known English secondary schools, whose selection criteria were invariably top grades in all of the three key subjects: Chinese, English and Mathematics. Being able to get into one of those few renowned schools was equivalent to being given a magic wand which could cast a life-changing spell on one’s teenage years and one’s future.

The subject of maths had always been my bete noire. What made matters worse was that the secondary school entrance exam was designed to not only test one’s arithmetic skills, but also one’s brain agility (a student had to answer 100 questions in a one-and-a-half- hour duration) and as such was an extremely stressful test for a primary 6 student. Mind you, those questions all required calculations to be done and were not multiple choice questions.

As much as it was a tension-filled 1-day examination, it was also the most competitive and stimulating task that we had ever attempted. Now in retrospect, it was probably the expected competition that had worked as a motivating force that pushed us to do the best we could and excel in all those three subjects, which helped to lay an essential foundation for our secondary and post-secondary education and to prepare us for our later challenges in life. After all, competition is omnipresent in the adult world, and the earlier you get trained for it, the better.

I have always felt that I owe deeply to my primary school headmaster and teachers not only for the solid primary education I received, but also for their ethical and moral teachings and the way they imparted their values on us by their own examples.

Our headmaster 容宜燕 was a gentle, compassionate and highly respected education professional, whose kind complexion always radiated warmth, intelligence, and paternal love for his students. Every week he would give a short inspiring speech before class to students lined up tidily in the school playground on the second level. The speeches were mostly touching anecdotes from which moral lessons could be drawn. Even the usually most unruly of students would behave and quietly listen from start to finish.

There were a total of 4 classes of primary 6 students (6A, 6B, 6C & 6D) and I was in class 6B. There were five of us in 6B who were Ng Sir’s favorites and we were called the “little five”, as we were of relatively small build and were all seated in the front row. Two of us were girls and the other three boys (girls – Fung & myself; boys - Lee, Wong and Chiu).

Ng Sir was the most hardworking of all teachers and gave generously of his own time to tutor students after school hours. He was well aware how daunting the secondary school entrance exam in maths was and wanted us to be well prepared and well trained in the subject. He made his tutoring sessions open to all four classes and always managed to make what appeared to some of us the most inscrutable subject a little easier to understand.

Our class mistress and English teacher was Mrs. Lee, a bespectacled, care-free, independent and outspoken personality. Considering we didn’t start to learn the 26 English letters until we were in primary 3, Mrs. Lee’s efforts to prepare us for the rigorous secondary school entrance exam were quite a feat, to say the least. Our Chinese teacher was Miss Tsui, who was a demure, soft-spoken and gracious lady, though she never had a problem commanding our total attention in class.

On one fateful day, the results of the secondary school entrance exam were announced. Happily the “little five” all got accepted into reputable English schools. Lee and Wong went on to St. Paul’s Co-ed College, Chiu got accepted by Wah Yan College, Fung went to Ying Wah Girls’ College and I went to St. Paul’s Convent School.

To this day, I am still in contact with Wong, Lee and Chiu (although we haven’t had a get-together for ages). Our greatest regret is that somehow we lost the contact of Fung many years ago.

In those days, the five of us used to play together during recesses on the school rooftop playground (which was reserved for primary 6 students). Our most favorite game was “acrobatic jumping on rubber-band string” which required great physical agility. Fung was the best at this game and always scored highest. During class times, we also used to help each other with our school work. Lee and Fung, who lived near me, used to stop by my home before the three of us trotted off to school together.

Our primary school, which saw us grow from childhood into adolescence, is named Eastern Hospital Road Government Primary School (東院道官立小學)and is located at the junction of Eastern Hospital Road (東院道) and Cotton Path (紅棉徑), near the So Kon Po Recreation Ground (掃桿埔運動場). The school was built atop a small hill in serene surroundings. What I remember most vividly are the flaming red cotton trees that we used to walk by on Cotton Path during spring time.

There was an access path, fenced on one side, that sloped down from the school entrance to the road level. The “little five” had a habit of leaning against the fence at the bottom of the slope, where we would wait for everybody to arrive before marching up together into the school hall, and while waiting, we used to chat while fixing our loving gaze at the school facade. In our heart, the school will always be a monument that we behold with affection and respect, just like when we were small.

PS I've just learned about the 50th anniversary commemorative event of Eastern Hospital Road Government Primary School to be held on December 1, 2007 and the alumni website: I've also learned from this article that Ronny Tong used to be a student of this school.


Anonymous said...

You must be getting old! Reminiscing about primary school days! However, I must admit that I am as guilty as anyone since I do it all the time. Although I have graduated from primary school for over 30 years, I still remember all my buddies back then in St. Louis School. I guess with the stressful daily work environment full of enemies ready to stab me in the back, it is not hard to think about those friends that you trusted back then. Amazing thing was one time I visited my old school website and one of my old buddyies left a message on the guest book trying to locate me! I know that guy 30 years ago!

Alice Poon said...

(To Anonymous)

One interesting thing is that when I wrote the post, I knew nothing about the 50th anniversary event! And once I got back into contact with my school pals through the alumni website, I received an avalanche of emails from dozens of them! Like you said, primary school pals are the ones you can trust. I've always loved my primary classmates, which is one thing that time and age can never change.