Scouts – Malaysia

Boy Scouts Choir from Victoria Institution

(This article is also posted on the Victoria Institution website at

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.

Left to right: Eddie Yap (wilderness guide), Donald Lee (Economist with the United Nations), Liew Kon Wui (Agriculture Professor, Universiti Malaysia Kelantan), Joe Howard, Oh Seong Lye (Accountant), Yap Piang Kian (Physican), Yap Mun Kah (Deceased)

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.

This is a picture of Chak Yun, now living in Canada who won a Silver Medal in the 2017 World Masters Games in badminton.

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.

Tong Bak

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:

L to R: Yap Peng Lee, Lim Seong Ghee, Joe Howard, Chew Poon Siang, Robert Ng Sing Peng


With Chan Poh Sum

Scout Advisors

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
Poh Teck  

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  
Johnny Chew  
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  
Abu Hanifah  
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:

Hi Joe,

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.

Sek Kum

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,

Brian Percival

The following update on Siew Chak Yun (2020)

Hi Joe,
So very, very good of you to include me in your thoughts and well wishes again.
I am guilty, very guilty. Need to be slapped behind the head and kicked in the butt for being, probably, the only one from good old Malaysia days who rudely ignored so many messages of yours.
No Joe, I have never forgotten you in spite of my lack of keeping in touch. It is just my nature, lazy and too laid back. Sek Kum, in Australia, often criticized me for not communicating which is really so much easier and faster today.  I have been hearing you had some health issues and hope you are now fully recovered.
Joe, it is impossible for me and the guys who befriended you in UofM Library and the whole scout group of VI to forget you. The time spent with you are strong memories that money cannot buy. The fun, jokes, the pranks we shared are unforgettable.
Yes, time has passed on and we are now seniors as well although still considered “young” to you. I am 77, going 78. Immigrated to Canada in 1990 and still living in Toronto where we landed. I was a very late starter in marriage and family. Poh Teck, Sek Kum, Sze Nen, Juay Chee, the Koh brothers all married in their early 20s and already had children before I even married Margie How (How Wan Hong’s sister) in 1974! First daughter late 1975 and second daughter early 1978 after which I said enough. Don’t want to risk another daughter as already very outnumbered.
Margie and I are keeping very well in spite of current rather depressing Covid pandemic. Only out for groceries and pharmacy when necessary. From mid-November, I had to stop playing my regular badminton and pickle ball for safety. Anyway, Toronto is now under lockdown.
To self-punish, I am writing this long letter to try atone for ignoring your many past messages. And I should start by introducing my small family members which looks like a mini-United Nations. Attached are a few photos to better show my family members.
Hahaha! Just in case you have forgotten how Chak Yun aka Jonah looked like in the old days, first picture shows the mischievous rascal. This was the bamboo raft trip down Klang River that I made with Koh Tong Chui and Au-Yoeng Kun Ying in 1966.
Margie and I seldom have photos taken especially these last few years. Here is the latest taken in 2017 when I was in Auckland World Masters Games and won silver medal for badminton men singles. I think you never knew I could play badminton.
Third picture is my elder daughter, Eu-lin, with her husband, Curtis Harrison, on their wedding day. She works in Ikea in Mississauga, a city about 45 minutes from Toronto. Curtis is with Air Canada ground staff but has been temporarily laid off due pandemic.
Fourth picture is my younger daughter, Su-lin, with her husband Daniel Pedersen. For the sake of love, she gave up her legal career in Toronto to follow Daniel back to Sweden. This photo was taken in 2015 when we visited them in Stockholm.
Last photo is with my granddaughter, Kathryn Harrison, when she was 2. She is now 9 and going 10 soon. Yes, only one grandchild as our younger daughter in Stockholm definitely do not want children. No grandson to indulge in the rough stuff with. 
So, now here we are. Margie and I. Both retired and finally behaving like good old seniors. No more heroics. No more mischief. 
I worked at various low-profile jobs after arriving in Canada age 47 as I was tired of the sometimes viciousness as a high-level senior executive when working in Malaysia. I dislike intensely the often-unethical ways many top executives 
indulge in to stay or get ahead. As senior Marketing Manager responsible for sale, locally and for export, of our natural rubber and crude palm oil amounting to annually M$80, it was challenging and stressful although also rewarding, pay wise. The responsibility to do the best for the company remains with you day and night. It also came with unhealthy wining and dining entertainment. I could have died by 60. When I decided to immigrate, I said no more rat race for me.
After some job-hopping in Toronto, I eventually bought a franchised autoglass shop under Apple Auto Glass. It did not make me any much richer but at least, I was in control of what I want to do without watching my back. By that time, I was in my late 50s. After some years, I decided to sell it to my staff partly because I was getting tired of work that I did not really love but also not dislike. I had a great passion for badminton from my very young days that was kept on hold for some time but revived when I had time and energy to fully indulge in it when in Toronto. The city realized I was good in it and offered me part-time work as convenor and instructor in 1998. I kept this part-time job until I finally decided to stop in summer of 2019 because I, now, want to play and fully enjoy the sport I love.
As for Margie, her working career was very simple. After graduating and marrying me, she worked just a few years as junior executive in a corporation rife with the usual internal conflicts to be one up. She hated it and I told her to stop working and look after our two young daughters. Once in Canada, as daughters grew older, it was getting quite boring for her. I encouraged her to try getting a job with Coles Book Shop that was near our home. She had always loved reading novels and it was a perfect fit. Then Coles was bought over by Chapters and then Indigo, both mega book retailers. The small Coles shop was to be closed and Margie was offered a position in one of the super stores about hour and half away. I told her to quit as did not want her to drive so far in winter. After few months, she got a job with Ikea near home and she kept this job until I advised her time to retire for good in March 2020. Talk about bad timing. Few days after her last day, Toronto went into lockdown. All our earlier travel plans, after we both retired, immediately on hold indefinitely.
Well, Joe, that’s the very uninteresting second half of my life in Canada. With 47 years in Malaysia and 30 years to date in Canada, I have another 17 years to be half and half.
Hope, I did not bore you with this long email. I just told Margie that if I ever visit America, you are the only friend I will see. I have a niece in Napa Valley and another niece who was based in LA until she was moved to somewhere in Europe. Margie has a younger brother and three nieces in California. We have never visited them there. 
Will end now, Joe and give your eyes a rest.
Warmest regards to you and Pat from Margie and I. Please do take care
Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year!