Boy Scouts Choir from Victoria Institution
(This article is also posted on the Victoria Institution website at http://wvweb.school/vihome.htm)
Recently I received an e-mail from a Malaysian friend Koh Tong Chui. He attached a picture (probably taken in 1964) that brought wonderful memories from my Malaysian Peace Corps days. He and his brother Koh Tong Bak, were both doctors from Malaysia. Both immigrated to Wisconsin. Tong Bak visited with me a couple of times in DC. Once I met Tong Chui for lunch in DC.
My Peace Corps assignments were as a librarian at the University of Malaya (later Malaysia) and as Lecturer in music at the Malaysian Teachers College. In addition, at various at times, as a volunteer, I conducted choirs at Malaysian Teachers College, Bukit Nanas Convent and the Victoria Institution’s First Kuala Lumpur Scout Troop.
The First Kuala Lumpur Scout Troup Choir started in this way:
In 1963 I was visited by Koh Tong Bak as well as a few other former Scouts. Their idea was to create a Victoria Institution Scout choir whereby the Scouts would broaden their experiences by providing another outlet for their energies. I couldn’t resist this opportunity and it turned out to be one of the most rewarding things that I did in my 21 months in Malaysia.
Victoria Institution (V.I.) is a secondary school for boys and is considered to be of the best non-residential schools in Malaysia – only the brightest and smartest students.
For me it was a grand experience to direct the first (and last?) Victoria Institution Scout Choir. As the director, I had a wonderful time. In fact, the experience was probably more fun for me than it was for the choir members. They were a wonderful group of boys. Our three performances were lots of fun also – a concert at V.I. in the Chin Woo Auditorium, and appearances on TV Malaysia and on Radio Malaysia.
Alice Lage, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer was the Librarian at VI. Both Alice and I were asked to be chaperones at one of their parties. It was held at the home of Lim Meng Hui, the choir’s wonderful accompanist. He was very talented and his father was Lim Swee Aun, Minister of Health. On the evening of the party, I went to pick up Alice on the motorbike that I got to use every other day. Alice was wearing a cheongsam. It was so tight that she couldn’t get her leg over the back of the scooter. I tilted it over so she could get her leg over it and then I raised it which made her dress come “way up.” We took off. Upon arrival, we reversed the order and then we were ready to chaperone. I’m not sure were very good at it. At one point all the lights were turned off and the poor moon, try as it may, could not find all the crooks and crannies.
However, the most memorable of my experiences with the scouts was the time that I went with the troop to Cameron Highlands. Some of them may remember that I was rolled out of the tent – twice. I’m sure that all of them will remember that they taught me to count to ten in Cantonese. Yat, Yee, Sam, Sei, Ng, Luk, Chaat, Baat, Gau, Sap. It took me awhile since I’m not the “sharpest tool in the shed” when it comes to languages. Once I mastered it, the boys, supposedly my friends, with many giggles, asked me to say the Cantonese words for 1, 1, 9, 6, 7. Yat, yat, gau, luk, chaat. Howls of laughter. It took a while for them to tell me that I had said “every day man plays with himself.” Through the years I have loved telling this story to my friends. I thought it was very funny at the time and I still do. Was I shocked? No, for I was young once myself – believe it or not.
I recently found a list of boys in the choir. I do remember, however, some of the names of the scout advisors that I worked with. They had all had graduated from VI and had been Scouts there: Peter Koh Tong Bak, Koh Tong Chiu, David Yee See Kum, Siew Chak Yun “Jonah”, Poh Teck, and Kin Sun. I find it a privilege to be able to call them my friends. Thanks for the memories.
On May 14, (2017?) I received an e-mail from Tong Bak:
This is Tong Bak …
The First KL guys are all reminiscing about the good old times, and about the Choir singing that you taught the bunch of guys from 1963 … culminating in the 1st KL Scouts being the first scout troop to sing on TV Malaysia.
There has been talk about inviting you and Pat to visit KL and have a good time reminiscing with your boys, who are all grandfathers now!
How would you and Pat like to make a trip to Malaysia? Would you be able to travel to Malaysia? I know Chak Yun has just emailed you.
Do let me know if you would be interested in returning to Malaysia/KL for a visit, then our guys can plan for your visit… we should be able to get you both the airfare, and accommodations in KL … if you can make the trip.
This was an unbelievable generous offer. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go. Pat and I agreed that I was not up to a long plane ride. Also, I was still recovering from tripping and falling in Wegman’s parking lot when I broke my right eye socket. I had two operations putting in a titanium sling to hold my eyeball in place. While I have problems reading, I am very lucky that I didn’t lose the eye. I also had mobility problems. Tong Bak, wearing his Doctor’s hat, gave me some good advice on physical fitness and since then I have been taking water aerobics 3 times a week and, while not great, I am much better all around.
Photos provided by Chris Lim:
|Peter Koh Tong Bak||Physician|
|Koh Tong Chiu||Physician who lives in Wisconsin (Summer) and Florida (Winter)|
|Siew Chak Yun “Jonah”||Lives in Canada|
|David Yee See Kum||Lives in Australia|
Boys in the Choir
There are probably others whose names I don’t have. I apologize.
|Lim Meng Hui||Wonderful accompanist|
|Leong Wei Lin|
|Yang Chee Hoong|
|Yap Piang Kian||Physician|
|Lee Chee Sung||In the picture – in yellow|
|Oh Seong Lye||Accountant|
|Richard Ho Onn||Accountant|
|Edward Choo Hing Yong|
|Liew Kon Wui||Professor of Agriculture, Universiti Malaysia Kelantan|
|Liew Kon Swee|
|Ng Hon Yuen|
|Wong Twee Luat||Surgeon|
|Yap Mun Kah||Deceased|
|Wong Siew Kong|
|Kee Kim Chye||Deceased|
|Yap Peng Lee||Lives in Edinburgh, Immuniologist|
|Donald Lee||Former Senior Economist with the United Nations in New York
|Robert Ng Seng Peng|
|Chris Lim Seong Ghee||Obstetrician and Gynecologist, lives in New Zealand. Rehearsals were held in his house on Stonor Drive.|
|Chan Poh Sum||Visited me at the Library of Congress where I worked|
|Chew Poon Siang|
|Harun Merican||Deceased. Had a tragic flying accident in Sabah when he was with the Malaysian Air Force.|
The following, which helped to add information that I had forgotten, from Yee Sek Kum:
Below are some of my recollections during you time in Malaysia as a Peace Corps volunteer. Please feel free to correct if my memory has failed me.
I entered the University of Malaya in 1963 and so did Siew Chak Yun and Goh Poh Teck. All three of us were from the Victoria Institution in Kuala Lumpur. Both Chak Yun and I managed to work part time in the University’s Library as a student assistant. The Chief Librarian then was Mr. Beda Lim. Initially, both Chak Yun and I were engaged to work in the Cataloging Section. At that time the newly established Faculty of Medicine was formed and because it was located away from the main university campus it had their own Medical Library. We were helping to sort out the Medical books for their own library. Around that time, the university also decided to change the cataloging code from the British system to that of the USA Library of Congress system. So our main tasks were to use the black ink to blank off the old codes and we used the stabilo pens to fill in the new Library of Congress codes. After this main project of switching to the Library of Congress Cataloging, I managed to secure employment as a student assistant in the library between my lecture periods. My main job was in the Red Spot section was to collect the Red Spot books returned by students and file them properly. I was paid RM1.50/hour. I worked in the library until my final year in 1965. We had introduced you to other of our VI classmate Wong Kin Sun, Kwong Lok Wah, Ho Yik Chee and a VI girl by name of Wuah Chooi Hon who eventually after graduation became a librarian in the UM Library
I little bit about the Peace Corps that I could remember hearing from you. It was initiated by President Kennedy to introduce the USA to the rest of the world which at that was basically British and European influence. The Peace Corps volunteers did not go to the countries they were to as expatriates. They were paid the same salaries as the locals though the actual difference was set aside back in the US. Unlike the British expatriates based in Malaya who were paid exorbitant salaries and enjoyed extraordinary living conditions. The Peace Corps volunteers did not enjoy such pleasures. I remembered you were staying in a small apartment in Brickfields.
Chak Yun and Poh Teck had their own cars when in the university and occasionally we came to visit you in your Brickfields apartment. Sometimes we brought along some local hawker food for supper with you and sometimes you cooked some of your American dishes for us to try. Now and then either Poh Teck or Chak Yun will use their car to take you out for a meal. There were also good local hawker food among Jalan Brickfield. Around that time Koh Tong Bak was a medical student in the University of Singapore. Frequently, he returned to KL to visit his parents and family. Possibly, it was during one of his trips back that we introduced him to you. Like the three of us Tong Bak was also very active with the First KL Scout Troop in the Victoria Institution. The scouts of the First KL were very active indeed and the numbers had increased substantially. The scout den in the main block of the school had become too small for the two scout troops in the school. The other troop is the 2nd KL. Now and then the troops will have an annual campfire gathering where the old scouts and parents were invited to attend. Sometimes it was in the school compound and sometimes in the opening near a forest that they go camping in. I understand that around this time that the two scout troops were informed by the school to raise funds for a larger scout den away from the main building. Possibly, you were at one of the campfires and it was suggested that the current scouts form a choir and perhaps raise some funds singing to the public. The funds raised were for the building of a new scout den.
Joe, as you were involved then, you will have you to update the various fund-raising activities in the fund-raising efforts into your memoirs. I am not sure eventually how much we raised but it was mainly from the 1st KL efforts the adequate funds were raised to build a really sizeable den for both the 1st KL & and 2nd KL. Sadly, about ten years ago the whole den was burned to the ground by a fire. Not sure how that happened. Anyway, a separate fund in being organised to rebuild the den. [Unfortunately, I remember very little about the fund-raising project. – JHH]
After completion of your duty as Peace Corps volunteer you returned to the US. We continued to keep in touch and in those days, it was mostly by the traditional Christmas & New Year greeting cards. I had always looked forward to receiving your letter which will have enclosed also an annual family report. Chak Yun, Poh Teck and I completed our university education in Malaya and Tong Bak did his in Singapore. In 1989 I decided to migrate to Melbourne, Australia and with the whole family & Chak Yun did so the following year to Toronto, Canada. Tong Bak subsequently did so to Wisconsin, USA. Pok Tech remained behind in Malaysia. We continued to keep in touch but with the fast-changing Social Media systems we kept losing touch now and then. Fortunately, I had not changed my house address since arriving in Melbourne but you had changed yours about a couple of times. Thanks to either Tong Bak or Tong Chui we managed to maintain contact. Then in 1994 when I was working in Hong Kong, I decided to take Sylvia for holiday in North America to celebrate our 25th Silver Anniversary. It was in that trip that we ended up in Washington DC and we caught up with you & Pat for a dinner together. Joe, time flies. And, this year we are celebrating our 50th Golden Anniversary. Unfortunately, we will not have the energy nor the time to do another trip. We now have four granddaughters and two grandsons to keep us very busy.
Joe do keep in touch and wishing you and Pat all the very best of health & happiness in the Years to come.
and from Brian Percival:
10 July 2019
Dear Joe Howard,
I just received the email below from an old friend and colleague, Ooi Boon Teck, originally from the Technical College (maktab tekkie), where I taught during my Peace Corps Tour, 1963-1965. I was in group 5.
Till now I have not remembered your name, but you have to be the person from home I inherited the Victoria Institution Boy Scout chorus. I remember someone in the PC office, knowing that I sang in the Victoria Methodist church choir, asked me if I would do this since my predecessor was heading home. Thus, with great trepidation, but With ultimate success, I led the chorus in the 1965 Gang show at the Chin Wu. Stadium. I regret that I only did this once since I was soon coming to my termination date.
It is so nice to see these pictures. I am sure some of these, then, students should be familiar to me. Alas you have kept much better records than I did.
I just thought I would write to Say hello, but recognizing that this was 55 years ago and hoping that you are still here and in good health. I have continued to sing in choruses most of my life, most notably 36 years with the Oratorio Society of New York. I retired three years ago principally because of spinal stenosis requiring my use of a wheelchair most of the time. Attendance at rehearsals has become difficult but I still sing in our local church choir.
Obviously Boon Teck has misdated your PC Time below. Your dates indicate that you were my predecessor. I wonder which PC group you were in?
And yes, that event in Chin Wu stadium, and all the work that great group of boys did in preparation for it, and of course their friendships, was one of the great highlights of my all too short time in Malaysia.
Hoping you are alive and well, I send my best wishes,
The following update on Siew Chak Yun (2020)