Teluk Intan Gladly Reveals Her Attractions

3rd largest town in the state of Perak, Malaysia

Recently I decided to make a long trip up north to Alor Star, Kedah. A former college mate and incidentally a room mate of mine at the small St Joseph’s Training College in Pulau Tikus, Penang had suffered a 2nd heart attack and was admitted to the ICU of the Alor Star General Hospital.

St Joseph’s was then a La Salle college, accredited by the Malaysian government and meant to train those who wished to be fully fledged brothers of the De La Salle teaching order. This highly regarded teaching order was established almost 300 years ago in France.

This college also took in lay individuals who wished to be teachers. After having qualified as teachers these individuals would then support the work and philosophy of the La Salle brothers and serve in La Salle schools all over Malaysia.

A Major Undertaking

This was a major undertaking to travel by car to Alor Star in the northern state of Kedah. Kedah is one of the states in Malaysia that has a common border with Thailand.

In order not to over strain, I embarked on a two point strategy: i. persuade my wife, Patricia to be my companion on this driving odyssey and to share in the driving chores. She did one third of the driving and I undertook the rest; ii. break journey in two places i.e. Teluk Intan and then Taiping both in the state of Perak. A point of interest to note is that Teluk Intan is the 3rd biggest town and Taiping is the 2nd biggest town in Perak.

The First Leg of the Driving Odyssey

We started the drive from Petaling Jaya at 8.00 am and drove at a leisurely pace along the superb Malaysian highway until the turn off to Sungkai. Then we left the tolled highway for federal roads to Teluk Intan. These roads require the driver to be extra alert because these, narrow roads are mainly two lane, winding stretches. Some parts of it are quite good, others not too comfortable because of the pot holes etc.

Care and caution had also to be exercised due to traffic conditions on the federal roads…in addition to motor cyclists, we also had to look out for a number of heavy laden lorries belching smoke, unsteady senior citizen cyclists and occasionally cows crossing the roads. So there you go… never a dull moment. It took me back to the much earlier days of driving in the sixties!

We reached our hotel in Teluk Intan by about 11.00 am after having covered about 160 km

All About Teluk Intan

Teluk Intan was initially known as Teluk Anson. This town of roughly 120,000 inhabitants was named by the British authorities in honour of the last Lieutenant Governor of Penang, Major General Sir Archibald Anson.

In 1982 and during the centenary celebrations of the town, it was renamed as Teluk Intan by the Malaysian government.

Leaning Tower of Teluk Intan

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Leaning Tower of Teluk Intan

The Leaning Tower of Teluk Intan is the pride and joy of its inhabitants. And rightly so!  The tower strikes me as a magnificent structure even by today’s standards. It was erected in 1885 by a visionary Chinese builder, Mr. Leong Choon Cheong. Like its   ‘ cousin ‘  in Italy, it too started to tilt barely four years after it was constructed.

The LTTI has a clock at the top which still chimes every 15 minutes. It also has a water tank meant to serve the needs of the population at that time. The tower in those days also served as a beacon to guide ships to Teluk Intan Port.

The tower is now surrounded by a large rectangular courtyard. In the evenings, small children can be seen riding their tricycles with their parents close by keeping a watchful eye. In the mornings and at noon people can be seen walking about the courtyard and admiring this tower. For the record, the grateful town has the main street named after the builder. This is a great honour indeed for the builder and his descendants.

One can also take the stairs up to the 3rd floor of the tower to get a glimpse of the town from that vantage point. Another point of interest is that this tower is slightly less than half the height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It is eight stories high.

Teluk Intan’s Unique Chee Cheong Fun

Heard and read a lot about this town’s famous chee cheong fun. While Hong Kong has an international reputation for its chee cheong fun, Teluk Intan too has a claim on a much smaller scale for its version of chee cheong fun.

The Hong Kong version of this dish is usually served with prawns or barbequed pork.

There are many restaurants in Malaysia that serve the Hong Kong version but none really can compare with the high standard Hong Kong version.

The Teluk Intan version however, is served with turnips and dried prawns! There is a tiny shop (  Liew Kee – Ah Lek ) almost hidden behind a bigger restaurant nearby that sells this dish only as a late night supper. Two slices cost RM 6.00 a packet. Most customers buy this dish as a take away because there are only two tables for customers. It is a unique version, quite tasty and well worth the effort trying to find this needle in a haystack.

Other Interesting Attractions

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St Anthony’s School

As far as other interesting attractions in Teluk Intan, there are a few worth mentioning. As a La Sallian, I found the St Anthony’s School a beautiful building to look at. The school is set in spacious grounds. It started off a school founded by the Catholic Church but it was later handed over to the La Salle Brothers.

This school has a very strong alumni association and the association is currently headed by a professor of high standing. I took the opportunity to visit the school and dropped by the office where I met the principal. He kindly invited me in for a brief chat when he knew that I was a La Sallian to the core. I took the opportunity to present him with a complimentary copy of my latest publication for the school library: Choosing to Raise the Bar – Reflections on Continuous Self Development.

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The old Court House

Directly on the road opposite the school sits the small but impressive St Anthony’s Church in very spacious grounds. It reminded me of the past when buildings in Malaya…yes, Malaya were small to reflect the population they served. My wife and I dropped in to say a prayer before moving on to other sights.

Next we went to see and marvel at the sight of the small Old Court House built in the 1880’s. The building has since been handed over to the Malaysian Army. Some minor additions to the building, for sensible reasons, tend to mar the wholesome beauty of this lovely old building.

The Memorial Stone for the Fallen

This is listed as a tourist attraction but it has been placed in a most awkward site. It is situated near a traffic light where it will be most inconvenient for people to walk by because of the traffic.

It should be moved to a place where it will be easy for visitors to see the huge stone which serves as a War Memorial. This is part of our rich history and due recognition should thus be given to afford it a rightful place in the town square.

The huge stone seems to be covered in thick dirt and dust and needs an urgent deep clean to restore it to its rightful state. The moving inscription on the plaque reads: “ At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them “  – 1914 to 1918 and a later addition – 1939 to 1945.

Next Leg of the Driving Adventure

The next leg of the driving adventure from Teluk Intan to Taiping covered a total of almost 200 km. It was good to get off the federal roads and on to the super highway. Although it was a longer drive, it was pleasant with much less traffic on the highway.

A Few Well Known Taiping Sights

The name ‘ Taiping ‘ comes from two Chinese characters.  Tai means great and Ping means peace. How very appropriate indeed. The town has a population of 245,00 as of 2013.

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Taiping War Cemetery

After we had checked into our hotel, we wasted no time in discovering a sight that has been much touted. I am referring here to the famous Taiping War Cemetery. This is a heartfelt tribute to the fallen by the British and still maintained by the British.

The cemetery which is sited within the Taiping Lake Gardens is on both sides of one of the roads. On one side are the graves of the fallen British soldiers of the Christian faith. On the opposite side of the road are the graves of Muslim and Gurkha soldiers.

This is a very well maintained grave site and the graves are neatly arranged in some splendid order. In between the graves are small flowering plants which lend a nice, poignant touch. On reading the inscriptions, one realises that these men lost their lives for a great cause at a very tender age… some were only 17 years old! The others were in their early twenties. On the other side, I did not notice any names but a general statement that they were known to God!

The Oldest and the Best Lake Gardens

In my opinion, the Lake Gardens in Taiping covering 160 acres is easily and by far the oldest and the best lake gardens in Malaysia. The sheer size and splendour of the Lake Gardens is a sight to behold. Early in the morning and in the evening, we could see the people of Taiping, youngsters and senior citizens alike, taking full advantage of this tranquil place to exercise, jog or simply walk about the Lake Gardens. One can also go for boat rides and/or rent a bicycle if one is so inclined. It is cherished for its beauty and serenity and is well maintained.

While talking to a resident who was exercising, I learned that the Lake Gardens has what appears to be many lakes! This is not so because it is all one big lake that to the uninitiated looks like many lakes. They are all inter-connected. An interesting fact is that this lake began initially as a tin mine!

The sight of so many majestic old Raintrees all over the lake is just wonderful. There are jogging / walking paths within the Lake Gardens. There are also sidewalks for people to walk or jog along side the roads fronting the Lake Gardens. I also noticed a number of park benches, a few gazebos and at one of the gazebos a photo shoot of a newly married couple was in full swing. The slightly humid weather did not seem to bother the couple.

All Saints Church

We decided to visit this historical site to view an old, quaint, timber church ( 1887 ) with an equally interesting history. It is a small Anglican church with a unique and lovely architecture. The Bell Tower is elegant as is the shingled roof and there are graveyards on both sides of the church. Buried here are the remains of the who’s who of that era in the 1800s.

Adjacent to this Little House of the Prairie type of church with its high ceilings, stained glass windows high above the altar and pipe organ, stands a newly built, small modern church. There is also a big, old two storey building of that era next to this church but within the vast church grounds.

Rustic Charms of Larut Hills

A visit to Taiping will not be complete unless you go on a 4 wheel drive up the Larut Hills. Larut Hills was formerly known as Maxwell Hills. It is a one of a kind, white knuckle, thrilling drive that you need to experience.

Taiping receives the highest rainfall in Malaysia and so you can imagine the wet, wild and muddy challenge of this drive.

There is only one way to go on this drive. You have to go to the base office and book a ride in a Land Rover. There are only a limited number of Land Rovers and also a small pool of trained and capable drivers.

As this service is run by the government, the charge is actually very reasonable. So get there early in the morning to book a ride. We managed to get lucky on our second attempt!

For more details on this unique adventure, please visit my earlier blog post titled: Rustic Charms of Larut Hills.

The Final Leg of the Driving Adventure

The final leg of the driving adventure covered a total of 205 km. It was a fairly easy and pleasant drive partly because it was on a lazy Sunday morning. There was hardly any traffic on the highway to Alor Star.

This town is the capital of the state of Kedah with an estimated population of only 116,00. It is, however not the biggest town in Kedah. That honour goes to the town of Sungei Petani.

Noteworthy Attractions in Alor Star

There are a few noteworthy attractions in Alor Star. Two interesting buildings do stand out. These two buildings have been recently lovingly restored to their former glory. One is the Kedah State Art Gallery also known as Balai Seni Negeri. Work on this lovely building began in 1893 and was only completed years later to serve as the high court building.

The other building i.e. Zahir Mosque is one of the grandest and oldest mosques in Malaysia and was built in 1912. The architectural style is simply breathtaking. Both buildings are next to each other.

There is also Rumah Merdeka which was the home of the first prime minister of Malaysia, YTM Tengku Abdul Rahman Putra. It is a two storey building. There is also a Kedah Padi Museum.

In Good Spirits

We did manage to visit my dear, old friend at the General Hospital in Alor Star. We spent about 30 minutes chatting with him. He seems to be taking his present medical condition in reasonably good spirits. He is hoping to slowly but surely regain his strength. His doctors have advised him to go for a heart bypass operation when he is good and ready.

We returned to Petaling Jaya the next day after making three brief comfort and rest stops along the way.

 

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The Fruits of Friendships Formed, Cultivated and Strengthened

Many of us often make the following statements: Those were the good old days ; Those were the glorious, unforgettable days; Those were the days when  true, lasting friendships were formed, cultivated and strengthened. No one bothered what race you belonged to or what religion you professed. I am talking about growing up in the fifties and sixties in colonial era Malaya and later in a fully independent Malaysia.

Legacy of the Good Old Days

Central to all this was an admirable schooling system. We had Chinese medium schools, Tamil medium schools and English medium schools. Supporting this laudable effort  were schools set up by the Methodist  church like the Methodist Boys Schools  and likewise  Methodist Girls Schools in major cities like Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown, Penang. The Anglican Church too aided in this effort and set up schools like St Mary’s School in Kuala Lumpur. There were also schools run by other denominations like the Bukit Bintang Boys School in Kuala Lumpur which later moved to Petaling Jaya, in Selangor, Malaysia. Many of these mission run schools and some Chinese medium schools  soon earned a solid reputation.

Being a La Sallian, I must also tell you that the De La Salle Brothers set up over 45 schools , both primary and secondary in Sarawak, Sabah and Malaya. In addition, there is also a seminary to train Catholic priests from the South East Asia region and a training college to train De La Salle Brothers in Penang.

The Last, The Least and The Lost

This college, St Joseph’s Training College in Pulau Tikus, Penang also took in lay individuals sympathetic to the noble La Sallian mission to be of true service to ‘ The Last, The Least and The Lost. ‘ Pause for a while, if you will, and ponder on the sheer clarity and noble purpose of the idea to be of service to the marginalized, socio-economically disadvantaged  sectors of society. The founder of the De La Salle Brothers came from the privileged class in France more than 300 years ago!

Once qualified, these lay teachers taught along side the De La Salle Brothers in all the mission schools in Malaysia. I taught for fifteen years at only one  small but highly effective school called La Salle Secondary School Brickfields( LSB). To be factual, it was not even considered a school as such at that time because it was attached to a primary school. It was actually 12 lower secondary classes. Much later, it became a fully fledged secondary school in its own right.

What Made LSB Stand Out and Remarkable

It was a unique combination of many factors.

a: Being a small school had its advantages. It was small enough for the boys to get to know each other on an equal basis. It also enabled the teachers to get to know the boys better. Some teachers even took the trouble to visit the boys at home when it was called for.

b: There were no colour, race, cultural or religious issues that bothered the students or the teachers. It was an era when friends visited each other at their homes, ate in the homes without hesitation, and the colour of your skin was never an issue. Credit for that great disservice must go wholly to many low calibre and low class politicians for indulging in this madness!

c: The students came mostly from the surrounding areas i.e. Brickfields, Bangsar ( then just being developed ) Kampong Kerinchi, Old Klang Road and Travers Road. Their parents were rank and file policemen, customs officers, government admin personnel, railways workers and admin staff. A  few were the sons of senior police officers, some were sons of doctors, senior armed forces officers and engineers.

d: The underlying La Sallian spirit that kept this going was the concept of a wholesome education –  academically and with an equally demanding emphasis on extra curricula activities. Sports, games and athletic activities were heavily promoted. La Sallians became known not just for their academic successes but also for their sporting and athletic prowess. The boys were also encouraged to join bodies like the Scouts, the Debating Society, the Careers Club and the Red Cross to name a few.  All of these were seen as critical in their wholesome development.

e: Last but not least was the La Sallian glue that kept this all together i.e the age old traditions, espirit de corps, the ethos and the culture that were carefully cultivated. Today’s old boys from that era, now in their fifties and sixties, to their great credit, display all these qualities in full measure. The meet often, have regular boisterous, good natured gatherings and recall their past with a tinge of that old feeling ……..nostalgia.

 

A Case in Point

A few months back, an old boy who I shall name as Paul Sothy ( not his real name ) unexpectedly suffered a 2nd fairly devastating stroke. Paul had suffered his  first stroke ( a mild one ) about a year earlier. Paul also successfully underwent open heart surgery about 8 years.

He was supposed to attend a dinner event at a social club in Kuala Lumpur prior to the 2nd stroke. When he failed to turn up for the dinner, the hosts of the event tried unsuccessfully to contact him. For the next two days many of his friends tried but failed to contact him. The guys widened the search, enlisting social media in the process. With good fortune, they learned that he was in hospital after having suffered a 2nd stroke.

Friends Show That They Care

The former classmates informed the others through whatsapp  and some visited him in the hospital. After he had spent 10 days in hospital Paul was discharged. His classmates  gave him some time to recover slowly.

A month later about 15 of his former classmates hosted a simple tea gathering at an Indian restaurant in Petaling Jaya. Paul was touched by this outpouring of concern and care as exhibited by his classmates.

When they learned that Paul was also seeking to get traditional treatment to complement the western medicine treatment, these 15 guys volunteered ( in turn )  to pick him up and send him for the treatment. They also volunteered to send him back home after treatment. Mind you, all 15 did so willingly.

Even some of his  former teachers lent a hand. Without going into names, suffice to say three teachers and an old boy have met up with Paul at his specific request to talk to him about all the issues involved and to offer the benefit of their wisdom. These teachers have since met up with Paul twice and together they have agreed on a sensible way forward.

When we take time to show we really care, it is a manifestation that the good times have returned in a different but more realistic way. The fruits of friendship formed years ago are there for us if we care to remember. You get the finest steel only from the hottest furnace they say. And I say, if you have taken to trouble to cultivate true friendships over the years, these friendships will always and every time prove most useful. True friends never forget the warm camaraderie that was enjoyed many years ago.

 

Celebrating the Life of Brenda Lee Tang

A True Professional, a Caring Individual and a Lady of Substance

Some fourteen years ago I was requested to go on a special assignment half way around the world to Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean.

Courtesy WorldAtlas.com
Map of the Caribbean

The international professional organisation that I was working for had wanted me to carry out a month-long programme to coach and counsel a few executives and managers in its office in the Trinidadian capital. I was also tasked to guide and groom them to be truly capable and functioning managers in every sense of the word!

Furthermore, I was also briefed to carefully review, strengthen and ensure that the internal controls in that office were truly rigorous and robust. This was in the aftermath of the summary dismal of the then head of that professional organisation’s local office. Prior to this, I had also successfully undertaken a similar eighteen month long assignment in a South East Asian country.

When Destiny Played a Part

During the course of the month long assignment in Port of Spain, I got to know all the staff in that office fairly well. There were not many of them. I think about ten staff in all – with one manager, two executives and the others being support staff. I spent a considerable amount of time being with the manager and the two executives.

My immediate concern was to allay their fears and worries about the prevailing situation in the office. These individuals responded well to my efforts. Of the three individuals that I spent time with day after day, Brenda Lee Tang stood out.

Brenda Lee Tang

Brenda Lee Tang
Brenda Lee Tang

Two out of the three were actually fully qualified accountants. Brenda was one of the accountants but her job then was as the executive in charge of Student Services. I thought that this was rather strange. She should have been given a more responsible position in keeping with her professional status and ability. Over time, I discovered that she was unfairly treated by the then head as he was partial towards another person who was more amenable to his way of operating!

Brenda bore this shoddy treatment with unfailing grace and dignity. She carried out her duties with dedication and passion. She also carried herself well and was popular with the target publics that she had to deal with. Brenda always spoke calmly, in a self assured manner and was quite articulate in getting her point across.

Before I returned to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia after completing my mission in Trinidad and Tobago, I had recommended to my head office in London that Brenda be promoted. Head Office was pleased to back my recommendation and Brenda did get promoted to a managerial position together with a decent pay rise.

More Special Assignments to Trinidad and Tobago

The international professional organisation that I was working for knew that I relished challenging assignments. They also sent me back to Port of Spain on two other occasions, in both instances for week long assignments.

In the first case, it was to conduct a week long orientation programme for the newly appointed head of its office in that country. They left it up to me to determine the programme and subsequently endorsed the programme that I had drawn up. I did my best and delivered a fully packed and relevant orientation programme.

Unfortunately for the professional organisation, that lady subsequently stood for elections in her country and won a seat to Parliament. She was then appointed the Minister of Education. And so the organisation had to look for another suitable candidate to replace her. And when a suitable candidate was found, I was once again given the task of conducting yet another orientation programme.

A Hidden Talent Within

All these visits gave me more opportunities to get to know Brenda Lee Tang even better. I soon realised that the organisation had a most suitable candidate in Brenda Lee Tang. I spoke to key people in London and even followed this up with a note that they did not have to look far for a great candidate.

I was thus suitably pleased when Brenda was finally offered the position of head of office for the Caribbean. And in that role she excelled. The Caribbean is, however, a vast territory. Just imagine the flying time from Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago to Kingston, Jamaica is five hours!

I will always remember Brenda as a lady of substance and also as someone who remained truly gracious, grounded and grateful for life’s many blessings.

It was a gruelling task being head and to have to undertake frequent travel within the region. Brenda was, however, equal to the task but it did take a toll on her physically.

When Illness Came A Calling

Towards the end of her tenure, she went on a cruise and at the end of the cruise while in Spain she became ill and was admitted into a Spanish hospital. She was warded there for over a month. It was a distressing time for her being away from her family members, not to mention the huge costs involved.

Much later when she returned to Port of Spain, Brenda underwent two major operations. She did not go into details about these matters but kept me posted about how she was faring after the operations. Although she seemed to recover somewhat and kept her spirits up, this was not to be.

She finally succumbed to the illness during the Christmas period in 2018 after a brave, long fight with the kind of quiet dignity that only Brenda could muster. What a gallant lady and what a difference she made in the lives of so many. Her family members, I understand, were there for her in her time of need and comfort. Brenda often told me that she derived great joy in the company of her mother and nephews / nieces – the children of her brother.

Gracious, Grounded and Grateful

Over the years Brenda and I continued to keep in touch by email and even once by phone. Throughout this period, the one outstanding quality of Brenda was that she never forgot an act of kindness. She appreciated a good listening ear and being with a sympathetic person who could hear her out and talk to her in a calm, decent and supportive manner.

I will always remember Brenda as a lady of substance and also as someone who remained truly gracious, grounded and grateful for life’s many blessings. She continued in this vein even after her promotions to higher office.

When I requested a comment from her for my recent book: Choosing to Raise the Bar – Reflections on Continuous Self Development published in September 2017, she responded promptly: This is what she shared inter alia: ‘ I have had the privilege of being a colleague of Benedict Morais and can say with absolute certainty that he has been the perfect coach, friend, guide and mentor to many, including me ‘. Then she added another four sentences recommending the book to readers.

Gained Recognition in the Caribbean

In April 2016 or sometime to that effect, Brenda posted a book to me. It was titled: With Women in Mind and it was about Finding Your Purpose and Empowerment in Life. It was written by Adriana Sandrine Rattan. Adriana is a professionally trained Communications Consultant, Trainer and International Journalist.

The book is also a Tribute to Outstanding Women especially in the Caribbean. Brenda Lee Tang was one of thirteen outstanding women who were featured. Yet again, Brenda showed her class and humility when she penned these brief words on the page featuring her biography: ‘ Dearest Ben: Thanks for being such an excellent teacher. You are simply the Best! ‘ Brenda remembered that Tina Turner was one of my favourite singers / performers.

Leaving a Wonderful Legacy

I would like to leave you with this quote from Helen Keller. ‘When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another’. This is a pure nugget of wisdom.

Brenda Lee Tang lived her life doing the best she can for her family, her employers, her friends and her colleagues. Throughout my time in Trinidad and Tobago, she never once complained about her work or for that matter about anything else. She took these things in her stride, remained above the fray and by her mature and considered actions impressed her colleagues, her bosses and her friends.

The outpouring of grief, tributes and positive comments on Facebook when news got around about her demise is clear testimony to the fine person she always was. That, in my opinion, is the miracle she wrought in our lives.

Intriguing Method in Hanoi’s Madness

Appreciating the Awesome Splendour of Halong Bay

My wife and I went on a four nights and five days tour of Hanoi and also Halong Bay recently. It turned out to be an eye opener of sorts because of the very interesting sights. The cacophony of traffic sounds in Hanoi, however can drive one to utter distraction.

The privilege of owning a car for the average Vietnamese is an almost impossible dream. This is because of the high tax on motor cars. The next best option is to own a motorcycle or a scooter. The average starting pay for a fresh university graduate in the private sector is about US $ 200.00 per month. There is an adjustment to the pay by about US $ 30 after about six months.

With a population of about seven million in the city and three million on the outskirts of the old city, Hanoi is practically bursting at the seams. Millions of motorcycles are all over the place … both in the Old Quarter as well as in the other parts of the city.

Millions of Motorcycles on the Move

We were informed that we could walk about the area especially to places of interest in the Old Quarter where our hotel La Dolce Vita ( The Good Life in Italian ) is situated. It is rather strange that the hotel has chosen an Italian name because the country was a former French colony. I think it is all about a lingering resentment for the past occupation.

Casually walking about the area is possible for the Vietnamese people but for tourists it is certainly a risky and unwise proposition. Only the foolhardy would attempt this walking tour.

Method in the Traffic Madness

Why is this so?

Because of the millions of motorbike riders, young and old, men and women who swarm about the place, even in no entry streets! There is an almost continuous procession of motorbikes crisscrossing the area in an impatient manner.

In my past working visits to the Vietnamese capital, my local colleague had to hold my hand and help me cross the street safely. I had to trust her judgement without question! Only the Vietnamese seem to be able to read the minds of the motorcyclists with some degree of assurance.

Pavements Have Been Taken Over

On the main roads of Hanoi there are pavements for one to use with a degree of confidence. This is not the case for the back streets of the Old Quarter nor the side lanes which are all packed with tiny shops selling all manner of goods and boutique hotels.

What is even more curious is that the pavements have been taken over for other than the intended use! Many pavements serve as parking bays for the numerous motorbikes!

Some pavements serve as extensions for small restaurants and here one finds some plastic chairs ( meant for children ) but used by adults. They sit at equally small tables as they enjoy their noodles almost as if they are squatting!

Other pavements serve to store goods for the shops. So if you wish to walk in the area, your only option is to dice with death or injury and walk on the street while having eyes at the back of your head too!

Courteous, Kind and Helpful People

The people of Hanoi, from the hotel staff, tour company staff, restaurant workers and shop assistants are unfailingly kind, considerate and helpful.

Many of these people can speak English but some struggled with the language. Everyone, of course, understood sign language when all else failed.

The Attractions of Hanoi

Hanoi, like any other major city in the world, has its fair share of attractions. Some of these are the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex. There is an impressive and huge Ba Dinh Square, Uncle Ho’s Stilt House ( a modest two room building ) where he lived for most of the time, a lovely Botanical Gardens and an imposing, stately and sturdy Presidential Palace.

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The Presidential Palace – the former Indochina

The palace was the former residence of the Governor of Indochina. After 1954 it was renamed and became the office for the president of Vietnam. This is also where foreign dignitaries are welcomed and subsequent meetings with VIPs are held. I consider this building a gem.

West Lake of Hanoi

In addition, the serene West Lake of Hanoi is a true wonder of nature. It is the largest lake in the capital of Vietnam and has a shore length of 17 km and 500 hectare in area.

This lake and the other lakes of Hanoi are visited frequently by the residents of the city, including seniors and young children. It is also well landscaped and provides a refreshing oasis in an otherwise bustling city.

Ninh Binh, Tam Coc and Bich Dong Cave

There are a number of interesting sites to marvel at in Ninh Binh province. The province is a good two hour drive from Hanoi in a Hyundai Coaster. It is gaining a growing reputation and some believe that over time it may even surpass Halong Bay in popularity because of its outstanding natural beauty and impressive limestone caves. But that is debatable.

Here at Hoa Lu, the ancient citadel of Vietnam we visited the temples of two dynasties. One temple was dedicated to a king and the other lesser temple was dedicated to a general who was subsequently appointed a king! The citadel was built in the 10th century.

Scenic and Enjoyable Boat Ride

Next, we went on a scenic and slow boat ( simple metal sampan ) ride  with most boats carrying two or more passengers. It was a pretty uncomfortable ride but it was nevertheless a spectacular ride as the boatman rowed the boat using his two feet. There are also boatwomen and I even noticed a young boy of say twelve years of age rowing a boat with passengers.

During the ninety minute boat ride, the boat drifted down the lake among the villages, lush padi fields and impressive limestone mountains. We also had the unique pleasure, ‘ drama ‘ and thrill of passing slowly through three caves in almost total darkness. The limestone caves all gray with age were a sight to behold. No wonder Hollywood chose this place for some scenes in the movie blockbuster King Kong.

Awesome Splendour of Halong Bay

This was the highlight of our brief holiday in Vietnam. Halong Bay which incidentally enjoys UNESCO World Heritage Site status is regarded as the 2nd most popular site among the 7 Natural Wonders of the World.

We spent a night aboard a small ship which had about 16 cabins on board and which could accommodate about 32 individuals in all. The ship also had a crew of 12 including chefs.

As we cruised around the massive bay which has a 120 km coastline and is 1550 km in size with about 2000 islets, we could understand and better appreciate its incredible splendour and majesty. We also had a chance to view a beautiful sunset from the top deck of the ship. One unforgettable sight was to notice and marvel at the karsts landscape.

Three Important Considerations

There are three important points to note.

Type of Ships

You can choose to stay on a 3, 4 or 5 star ship and pay accordingly. So do remember this point when you speak to your travel agent and make your booking.

Best Time to Visit Hanoi

The other point is to choose the best time to visit Hanoi. The best time is from December to February when the weather is much more agreeable. In the evening, the temperature will hover between 12 to 14 degrees and you will probably need a sweater to keep you comfortable.

Uncomfortable Tour Buses

The tour buses we had were really uncomfortable and had poor air conditioning systems. We had three different tour buses during the time we spent in Hanoi and Halong Bay. All three were Hyundai Coasters which could seat about 20 or so passengers.

If these buses are used for short trips within the city, then that is fine. However, to use such tour buses for the two hour journey to Ninh Binh province or for the four hour trip to Halong Bay is most unsuitable.

The reasons: the seats had a very thin padding and were much too tight for two normal sized Asian adults; the air conditioning systems in all three buses were poor and we felt very uncomfortable.

In addition, on our return journey from Halong Bay and to make matters worse, the air conditioning system broke down twice early on. We continued the rest of the journey with the driver keeping the automatic door as well as the driver’s window open during the drive back. A most unpleasant experience!

Some other photos from the trip.

01-FlowerTrellis
The flower trellis behind the Presidential Palace where President Ho Chi Minh used to receive guests.
02-HouseNo.54
House No.54 where President Ho Chi Minh lived and worked since 1954.
03-BedroomOnStiltHouse
Bedroom on the stilt house.
05-BuddhaTree
Buddha (or Cypress) tree’s roots along Uncle Ho’s fishpond.
06-MangoPath
The mango path where President Ho Chi Minh used to walk and do morning exercises.

Recollections and Impressions – Part II

of a Legendary Athletics Coach and a Formidable Disciplinarian

This is the second post of a two-part post which consists of five article submissions on Denis Armstrong. Read the first post here.

This post comprises the contributions from :

  • Paul Selvadurai;
  • Peter Sinniah;
  • Dr Michael Tay Choon Hock.

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Some Individuals Cannot Be Replaced

They Are Forever One of A Kind!

 

Former La Salle Brickfields athletics coach, Denis Armstrong, who had a Hall of Fame career, was beloved by his athletes. He remains one of the nation’s revered figures in athletics.

I remember him as an outstanding coach, teacher and role model for his students. Denis Armstrong cannot be replaced. He is one of a kind, and in the field of athletics, I will remember him as one of its true pillars.

A Master Tactician

Coach Denis possessed one of the greatest minds in athletics. He was also a master tactician. When he was building an elite

athletics programme at the school, he was clearly ahead of his time. He was also adept at dealing with disciplinary issues with a firm resolve. Coach Denis’s greatest gift was his unique ability to teach what it takes to become a good human being. That was easy for him because he is a great man.

Paramedic in Disguise

I still remember that fateful day when I was running a 4X 100 metre relay race. I was the last runner and I was supposed to be the fastest too. It was 1.30 pm when some of us gathered on the field for training under Coach Denis for the Inter Schools Athletics Meet. Four of us ran in the race – the other three were: Michael Tay, Puranan Govindasamy and Sandara Segaran.

I was quite exhausted after running a few times. On my last practice run, I received the baton from Puranan. He also accidentally hit and scratched my ankle with his Addidas spikes. I dropped on the field in pain. My ankle was bleeding profusely.

At the same time, I noticed Coach Denis sprinting across the field towards me like a trained paramedic. He took out his handkerchief and tied it around my ankle to arrest the bleeding.

Though I was in great pain, I was suitably comforted by Coach Denis’s presence and attention. The great Coach Denis carried me with his strong arms and raced towards his Lambretta scooter.

He then promptly brought me to Dr. Vaithynathan’s Clinic which happened to be a stone’s throw from our school. After I was attended to by the doctor and had received twelve stitches, I was then sent home by the coach.

Other Talents of Coach Denis’s

As grateful as I am, I also feel very blessed because he was such a great influence on me. I cannot imagine anyone being a better influence than Coach Denis.

I just cannot imagine that. Despite all his successes with impressionable school-boy athletes, he was much more than that. Coach Denis was able to train, inspire, motivate and mould us into champion athletes.

And finally, he was a mentor, a father figure and I am happy to say, also a friend.

Coach Denis Armstrong’s unforgettable maxim is: ‘Do the best you can. Do the absolute best you can.  Don’t leave any stone unturned. And then live with it’.

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Paul Selvadurai

Paul Selvadurai
Teacher and Pastor
Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

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What’s Your Choice?

It Is Not Always Black and White: There Are Many Shades of Grey!

 

The name Denis Armstrong has always conveyed a sense of fear and trepidation among students of La Salle Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur.

It was a well-earned reputation. This stemmed from those rare occasions when you were directed to go to his office for some offence that you had committed.

He would show you the type of canes he had and the guilty party was given the choice of selecting the particular cane. These students had to reluctantly point to the cane of choice, whilst trembling in fear of the pain it would have on contact with their rear ends!

What is your choice?

As a student, you can choose to remain on the straight and narrow or go off the rails. It is your choice.

Solid Pep Talk

It was on the first day at the start of the school session in 1967 that I saw this towering figure. He was very well dressed. He was dressed in well-tailored pants with a soft coloured shirt. Nice choice of soft colours and well matched. He started by telling us what it means to be thirteen. Thirteen, he emphasised, was the beginning of our teenage years. Denis Armstrong continued sombrely. He said it was a period when we could either make it or break it to become adults. These were our formative years. He also cautioned us that our hormones would be working overtime and that we could get into activities that were not good for our wellbeing.

‘What is your choice’ began to resonate once again.

He also stressed on discipline, paying attention to our studies and not letting our parents down. The role of the teacher was explained and how it was their duty to mould us.

Another Side to Denis Armstrong

There is another side to him that I wish to share. The cane was not used indiscriminately. What happened to Joseph Choo and I would give credence to this.

One afternoon, when both of us were at the entrance of the Form 2 Green classroom (in 1968), we caught sight of one of our pretty young lady teachers wearing a short mini-skirt walking along the corridor.

Being teenagers, we got excited and started yelling at the top of our voices to the rest of the class. Lo and behold, from out of the blue, Denis Armstrong appeared and told us curtly to “wait in my office”.

That was a long one-hour wait for both of us. We knew we had it. Then he walked into the office, looked at us and did not direct us to go into his room.

Instead, he said softly, “don’t be so loud the next time.” Then he advised us to go to our class. Whew! That was a relief but today, we realise that Denis Armstrong looked at us as normal, boisterous, growing teenage boys.

Took a Personal Interest in Us

Like most La Sallian teachers, he took a personal interest in all of us, and where possible, got to know our parents. I remain grateful that he, together with the late headmaster Albert Rozario, made sure that Chan Hoe Yoon and I were exempted from school fees.  He knew my mother well. He had confided a few months ago that she was very much concerned about my studies. Denis had identified me for some athletic event because of my size but my mother never gave me the permission to pursue it.

When ‘ Tough Love ‘ Made Sense

The strict discipline that Denis instilled in us is the reason that makes many former students of La Salle Brickfields desire to meet up with him. I know that many students who were at the receiving end hold no grudges. Some have even expressed thanks for such discipline.

I sometimes see him doing his marketing in PJ Old Town, shopping at Tong Woh Pharmacy or handling his banking in PJ New Town.

He is equally disciplined about food and is health conscious. He has his chosen hobbies and has cultivated a small circle of friends, former colleagues and old boys whom he meets socially on a regular basis.

And Denis Armstrong is still accorded due reverence as our teacher because today that name also conveys respect. As we talk to him and share experiences, we are still learning from him about his approach to life and living a good life.

Thank You Sir Denis Armstrong.

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Peter Sinniah

Peter Sinniah
Geographer
Subang, Selangor, Malaysia

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David and Goliath Battle

No Substitute for Proper Training and Preparation

 

My first impression of Denis Armstrong was that he was someone to be feared and avoided! He was very strict and stern and used his cane quite often.

But on looking back now, we know that he meant well and wanted all of us to excel.

Technically Sound Coach

I had the privilege and good fortune to be trained by Coach Denis Armstrong. I had been selected by him to be a member of the school’s 4×100 metre relay team while still in Form Two! He was a dedicated, demanding and technically sound coach.

He impressed upon us that even though we were not all top sprinters, we could still beat the best relay team. To achieve that feat, we had to train hard and perfect our baton changing technique.

His Baton Changing Techniques

Coach Denis ensured that the baton changing was done without the front-runner looking back. The incoming runner would have to put the baton on the outstretched hand of the front-runner.

Coach Denis made us practise the baton change repeatedly to ensure perfection.

What is the great idea here? The idea is to keep the baton going throughout the race without much loss of speed.

We were also coached not to clench our fists while running and also to run with our toes pointing forwards …  and not sideways like ducks!

David versus Goliath Competition

In 1968, four young Form Two boys were sent to represent La Salle Brickfields Secondary School in the Under 15 Kuala Lumpur Athletics Meet Inter-School Invitational Relay held at the La Salle Peel Road School field. We were up against some of the best relay teams in KL and they were all Form Three boys!

We were also the school’s second relay team. We felt like it was a ‘David versus Goliath‘ battle. We, however, gave it our best shot, ran the race of our lives and came in third. To us, this bronze achievement was as good as gold.

We also won the first place in the Inter La Salle School Sports Meet later that year in the Division B Category. Alas, the May 13 tragedy the following year ended our quest for further honours and glory.

Unknown Facets of Coach Denis’s Personality

It was Coach Denis who brought me to buy my first pair of spikes. The spikes were white with blue stripes. That was almost fifty years ago.

On a personal note, Denis’s advice helped me to overcome my stammering. As a young boy, I would stammer a lot, especially when under stress. Denis noticed this and one day, he pulled me aside.

He then gave me this sound advice: he told me to read while looking at myself in the mirror. I did that daily, and in time, I managed to overcome the stammering.

We, the athletes, especially the sprinters, owe it all to Coach Denis Armstrong. He trained us well and drove us hard. In conclusion, I would add that Denis Armstrong and all the teachers at La Salle Brickfields played a part in moulding me to become the person I am today.

Pic04-DrMichaelTay170x200

Dr. Michael Tay Choon Hock
General Practitioner & Partner
Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia

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Why is a La Sallian Education So Unforgettable?

 

This is a serious question.  Many who did not have the opportunity to attend a La Salle school cannot fathom this phenomenon. I shall, therefore, try to explain the mystique, attractiveness and unique features of a La Sallian education in this sharing.

But first, let me declare up front that I am a true blue La Sallian, four times over! I had my primary education at St John Primary School, Kuala Lumpur; secondary education at St John’s Institution in Bukit Nanas, Kuala Lumpur; and my two-year teacher training course at St Joseph’s Training College in Pulau Tikus, Penang. I also taught for 15 years at only one school – La Salle Secondary School, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur.

The French Revolution

The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching, dramatic, social and political upheaval in France. It lasted for about ten tumultuous years from 1789 to 1799.

The French Revolution succeeded in overthrowing the monarchy and established a republic. During this period, France experienced violent periods of unrest and one of the most notable was the Storming of the Bastille. The Bastille was a royal fortress as well as a prison!

The execution of King Louis XV1 by means of the dreaded guillotine took place on 21 January 1793. The French monarchy and the ruling class were totally indifferent to the sufferings of the people.

They lived in a world of their own, divorced from the grim reality the people faced on a daily basis. They were thus simply out of touch with what was affecting the people of France, especially during the famines.

What made it even worse was this infamous and insensitive quote attributed to the King’s wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, when she heard about the suffering of the people: ‘Let them eat cake’.

This was the sad and dire situation for the peasants for many, many years before all this led to the dramatic French Revolution.

St John Baptist de La Salle

John Baptist de La Salle, who qualified as a priest, is the founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. He was the first son of wealthy parents living in France over 300 years ago. His mother, interestingly enough, was a relative of Claude Moet, founder of that famous champagne, Moet & Chandon. John Baptist saw first hand the stark inequalities of life in France during his lifetime of sixty-seven years, especially for those who were socially and economically disadvantaged.

Unlike the ruling class, John Baptist chose to think deeply about these matters, and thereafter decided to do something positive about it. That led him to dedicate and devote his life to the education of poor children in France. His huge legacy to the Last, the Lost and the Least in our society is testament to that unwavering zeal and commitment.

Today, thousands of schools, colleges and universities bearing his name are found all over the world. La Sallian education is highly valued and respected and is synonymous with high quality, wholesome education.

La Sallian Education in Malaysia

The La Salle Brothers first came to George Town in Penang, Malaya in 1852. Today, there are over forty plus primary and secondary schools, not just in Peninsular Malaya but also throughout Malaysia, including in Sabah and Sarawak. In the early days, all the La Sallian schools in Malaya, and later Malaysia, had La Salle Brothers serving in them as teachers as well as headmasters and principals.

After Malaya gained independence in August 1957, this slowly but surely changed. We could no longer get Irish, Canadian and Burmese La Salle Brothers to serve in these schools and had to rely on vocations from the locals. And over time, many locals also left the brotherhood for various reasons.

The La Salle Brothers were ably supported, in this noble mission to provide quality education in their schools, by groups of dedicated lay teachers. Some were Catholics but many were former students who later became teachers and although some were Hindus and Buddhists, they readily supported the La Salle Brothers’ approach to quality education.

These individuals could clearly see that the La Salle Brothers were men of substance and conviction. These individuals had voluntarily chosen to take up this noble vocation, live in communities, take some tough vows and dedicate their austere lives to the education of poor children in particular. Such nobility of purpose in this world is rare indeed.

Core Values and Features of a La Salle Education

The sole ministry of La Salle Education is the provision of education relevant to spirituality, citizenship and human development. Its mission of providing education is seen as a work of love and its service to society. What could be more laudable than that high ideal?

Likewise, John Baptist also had the intention of forming and developing school teachers. The aim here was a total dedication to the instruction and education of the children of the working class and those who are socially and economically marginalised.

John Baptist is rightfully credited as the founder of modern education. He introduced new teaching methods as he systematised and made practical many of the educational methods considered standard today. This system centres on deeply meaningful values and vision. It also assists children to develop their character and moral compass.

Extra Curricular Activities were Promoted

The La Sallian educational experience is not just about academic results. Equally important are the many extra-curricular activities that the students are encouraged to participate in. The choice is varied and there is usually something for everyone. There is a whole range of activities in the fields of athletics, sports and games.

There are uniformed units for students to join like the Boy Scouts Troop, Cadet Corps, Red Cross, St John’s Ambulance etc. Then again, there is a range of societies to join: the debating society; the careers club; the gardening society; and the drama society, to name a few.

It was also common in those days for some teachers to organise visits to places of interest for their students. I took my boys, for instance, on educational visits to factories like Lam Soon, Alcom Malaysia, Lever Brothers etc. They were able to see, first hand, some of the operations at these factories. The students did like the light refreshments served to them as guests. In one factory, they were amazed at the sheer intensity of the flames from the furnace. No textbook could convey that!

I also organised a day trip to Malacca for the students of my class for 14 of the 15 years that I taught. I did this for two reasons: to reward the boys for cooperating with me as the class teacher of Form Three Yellow; and also because it gave me a chance to conduct a history lesson while in Malacca.

I showed them the various historical sites and explained the background. History was my teaching option in college but I never got to teach the subject because I was assigned to teach Agricultural Science! These were activities that I willingly volunteered to carry out. There were many administrative tasks associated with these visits: prior approval from headmaster as well as the state education department; permission from the parents; letter to the Police departments in Brickfields, Seremban and Malacca etc. But this was all part of the wider educational experience that students should be given.

A school’s Sports Day was one of the great highlights of the year. Much emphasis was given to the Malaysian School Sports Council games and championship events. There was even an Inter La Salle Sports Meet for students. Believe it or not, there was also a much anticipated Malaya wide Inter La Salle Sports Meet for teachers from St Xavier’s in Penang, St. George’s in Taiping, St Michael’s in Ipoh, St Paul’s in Seremban, St. Francis in Malacca and St. John’s in Kuala Lumpur.

La Salle Brothers as Role Models

In France, during the time of John Baptist, teachers were referred to as Masters. John Baptist took a deliberate and different approach. He wanted the students and parents to see the teacher as a sort of elder Brother. He also wanted the students to look up to the Brothers as role models. An LSB old boy, now working in Kuantan, Pahang once shared this nugget of information with me.

He said: “In a small school like La Salle Brickfields, it was easy for the boys to know each other quite well. It was also easy for the teachers to interact not just with other teachers but more so with the students and to get to know them fairly well.

It was also an era when life was much simpler and people were generally kind and decent to each other. There were no chain link fences separating the houses and no signs on the gate warning people of a fierce dog in the house! We knew how to talk to each other in a civil manner and when both teachers and students were ‘colour blind‘ where race was concerned! And people were not obsessed with smartphones, iPads and other similar devices that seem to make them hardcore addicts of technology“!

I think he summed it up well.  At the end of the day, it is that all-important heady mix of ethos, culture, tradition and sound values that defines a La Sallian education.

Benedict Morais

 

 

Recollections and Impressions – Part I

of a Legendary Athletics Coach and a Formidable Disciplinarian

This is a compilation of five article submissions on Denis Armstrong. It was initially published as a book earlier this year and is now captured here in two posts.

DenisArmstrong170x200px
Denis Armstrong

This is the first post which comprises:-

  • my Introduction;
  • a contribution from Rev. Fr. Patrick Boudville; and
  • a contribution from Vinay Chandran.

The following post will comprise the remaining contributions from :

  • Paul Selvadurai;
  • Peter Sinniah;
  • Dr Michael Tay Choon Hock.

 

A good coach can change a game,
a great coach can change a life.
– John Wooden

INTRODUCTION

Denis Armstrong was one of the nine pioneer teachers of La Salle Brickfields when the school was established in 1954. While teaching at the school, he underwent concurrently a three-year teacher training programme known as Normal Class.

In its early beginnings, it was called Normal School. It was, in reality, a teacher training approach. Normal Class training was used because there were not enough colleges to train the number of teachers needed for the many schools in the colonial era Malaya. For the record, Malaya only gained its independence on 31st August 1957.

This particular sort of teacher training practice was first established in Paris, France in 1794. It was pioneered by St. John Baptist De La Salle and was intended to serve as a model for teacher training colleges.

After teaching and holding other senior administrative as well as extra-curricular posts in La Salle Brickfields for twenty years, Denis Armstrong resigned his position to take up an offer in the corporate world in 1974.

Denis Armstrong remained with the Ericsson Group of Companies till his retirement. From 1994 to 1998 Denis served as the Company Quality Manager for the Ericsson group of companies. The Quality Division that he headed was responsible for providing services for all three companies in the group.

Denis Armstrong is best known and fondly remembered among many former students as a legendary athletics coach and as a formidable disciplinarian. After a span of about fifty years, here are first hand vivid and interesting accounts captured for posterity. These are from a few former schoolboy athletes as well as a few former students of their recollections and impressions of this remarkable individual and the huge impact he had on them.

There is no way that this can be a complete picture of the man and who he really is because Denis Armstrong is by nature a private person. He has his circle of friends and associates and he does meet with them on a regular basis. In addition, he spends time on his few hobbies. Denis Armstrong also readily accepts invitations to meet up with old boys from the different graduating years of La Salle Brickfields on a fairly regular basis. To many old boys, he has that special aura and therefore still remains to this day, an enigma.

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Benedict Morais

Benedict Morais
Teacher, La Salle Brickfields Secondary School,
Kuala Lumpur  – 1966 to 1980.

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From A Distance … Master Denis, the Discipline Teacher

It was during my Standard 5 days at La Salle Brickfields 1 that I remember noticing this tall, slim, stylish light blue jeans wearing and good-looking gentleman who I eventually came to know as Master Denis.

He was certainly a strict teacher. I have heard him loudly scolding those who needed to be disciplined and then hearing the all too familiar swish of the cane as it struck the behind of the boys.

Master Denis, the taekwondo sifu and discipline teacher was feared by many students from the primary as well as the secondary schools.

Within Distance … Master Denis, the Science Teacher

Horror of horrors! We guys at Standard 6 Red in 1973 had to face the reality that Master Denis would be teaching us science. Our worries and fears were confirmed when our exercise books would come flying to the back of the class when we made careless mistakes. And you could be sure that all of us did our homework faithfully thereafter.

The best lesson that Master Denis taught us as a science teacher, at least for me, was the experience of what electric current feels like! One day, we guys were truly puzzled to see him carrying into class what looked like a desk mounted pencil sharpener. It turned out to be a manually operated generator. After some explanation, Master Denis got us lined up one by one to hold the two wires.  The reactions of the first few guys to the mild shock turned our worries into real fears.

During my LSB school days, I was once able to even escape the school organised and much feared TB inoculation programme but unfortunately there no escape from this electrifying lesson from Master Denis.

Short Distance Runner … Master Denis, the Athletics Coach

Out of the blues, I won the LSB Class A ( Under 12 ) athletics individual events in the 100 metres and 200 metres sprints during our 1973 Athletics Meet during Sports Day. Suddenly, it was discovered that I could actually sprint faster than those known sprinters in my category.

This surprising discovery also meant that it was too late to register me to represent LSB in these sprint events in the popular Inter La Salle Schools Sports Meet for schools in the Klang Valley. However, I was duly registered for the 4 X 100 metres team event as the 2nd runner. This was when I came closer into the circle of Master Denis…….the great athletics coach of LSB. His skills and approach in training athletes were definitely awesome.

Imagine sprinting 40 metres 10 times continuously……..the slow walk back to the starting line after every stopwatch timed sprint was our brief breather. The classic skill of baton changing that he taught us in training made sure that we won the 4 X 100 metres team event. That was Master Denis to us school athletes……..he was a champion maker albeit with a strong demand always for attention, focus and discipline.

One evening I was excused from the day’s strenuous training because I was unwell.

Yet, I joined some guys to play sepak takraw while waiting for the school bus. And there stood Master Denis pointing at me and signalling me to approach him. When I reached him, I did not dare look at his face as I knew I had disappointed and angered him. He sternly questioned me:  ‘ You are supposed to take a rest, aren’t you?  I expected a slap as I apologised. ‘ I am sorry, Sir ‘ I mumbled feebly. But the slap did not come. Instead, I felt regret in my heart. A slap would have settled the whole issue of disobedience followed by punishment but this was the gentle side of Master Denis that I encountered. And I somehow knew from that moment on that I should not push my luck too far when it came to Master Denis!

Record Short Distance Run …  Master Denis, the Champion Maker

I did the 100-metre dash during our 1974 LSB School Sports Day confident of winning the race. Being confident of winning the race is one thing but sprinting the 100 metres with a 12.7-second timing for a Class 3 ( Under 13 ) was another matter altogether.

I was at that time coached by Master Denis for nearly a year. He was very happy and exclaimed: You smashed the record Boudville. You have smashed the record. It was a proud moment for me as the usual timing for this event has never been below 13 seconds. My smashing the record has much to do with the training I received under Master Denis.

Feeling Distant … Master Denis Leaves LSB

After Master Denis left LSB to join the Swedish MNC Ericsson Group of Companies in 1974, we did not have the Inter La Salle Sports Meet for two years. When it was revived in 1976 it was so nice to see Master Denis at Merdeka Stadium, this time around as a guest official

Master Denis walked beside me after the Under 15 category 100-metre run in which I only managed to gain a 2nd place although the winner and I clocked the same timing.

‘ It is your stamina Boudville. You need to build up your stamina’ he advised consolingly. That was when I had wanted to tell him that I really missed the days of him being in LSB with us. Yet, life must go on and we need to keep focused in life too … with Master Denis as the role model.

Within Distance Again – Keeping in Touch with Master Denis

I am so glad to know that Mr Denis Armstrong is in touch with former students and athletes once again. You will always be Master Denis to me, Sir.

FrPatrick170x200
Fr Patrick Boudville

Rev. Fr. Patrick Boudville
Catholic Parish Priest
Kuantan, Pahang

 

Teachers play such an enormous role in forming, not just teaching them, but forming character in our kids. We really have to thank them for
what they do. They are really the core that
makes our society work.
– Jeanine Pirro

 

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From Grass to Bitumen
From Weakness to Strength; From Nothing to Something.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to find the right words to say about someone who means so much to you and sometimes, you need only a few words to express how grateful you are for everything.

Master Denis Armstrong, you are everything one could look for in a good mentor. You groomed us to be sound professionals and made training under you a rewarding and memorable experience. I will always be grateful to you for your support and kindness.

Uncanny Ability to Recognise Potential

It would be impossible to count all the ways that you’ve helped me in my life. You had the uncanny ability to recognise the potential one has. And then, you would dedicate all your efforts to bring out this ability and thereafter stretch the limits for us to become something.

I can never forget the days you used to call me out even during class breaks and make me do 20 push-ups at a time. I was just an ordinary athlete but the training techniques you used not only brought out the best in me but kept me injury free. You planned meticulously and made me peak at the right season. Representing Selangor in the Malaysian School Sports Council activities was indeed one of the early highlights of my life.

Some Matters I Never Understood Then

  1. Making me practise the 100m sprint but always at a distance of 110m. I was always stronger at the tape for a 100m sprint from the rest.  (Confidence & Endurance)
  2. Concentrating more on my upper limbs. I always wondered why swinging my arms faster was more important than pounding my feet. (Determination, Coordination & Power).
  3. Developing every muscle, even my eye muscles had to be conditioned. Still have no clue about this but I am sure it would have contributed in some way. (Leaving no loose ends).
  4. Innumerable repetitions. The more practice, the better. (Practice makes perfect).

There are many more examples.

Kind & Caring Disciplinarian

In the late 60’s the bitumen tracks were quite new for school level athletes. We used to sprint on grass tracks. The spikes (running shoes) we used were those with irremovable long nails. For the bitumen track, shorter nails were required and the nails were of different sizes for different purposes. My parents were more enthusiastic that I spend my time on studies rather than sports and refused to buy me the appropriate gear. Master Denis took the trouble to arrange a used pair of Adidas spikes for my coaching camp and the National Schools Meet in Penang. That is something that I can never forget.

Weeks before I was off for the Nationals, Master Denis would visit me at home on his scooter and then would spend at least half an hour preparing me mentally for the sprint. His talks were like he was running the race in my body. He would rehearse almost every five meters from the starting blocks to the end of the tape. He would tell me when my leg muscles feel weak, to shift my concentration to my arms and swing them faster and that that would carry my feet faster. His dedication and determination made it so important that even on his weekends he would make it a point to keep these home visits and mental coaching. I learnt that before any event in life, regular and repetitive mental rehearsal journeys are of utmost importance!

During the State Schools Coaching Camp, Master Denis would always be like a Phantom sitting in the gallery watching the full routine. The next day he would call me out in school and tell me ways to improve. He was so proud of his student’s success.

There’s one particularly funny episode that I remember well. I had fractured my arm once and had a cast on my forearm. During one of our P.E. classes, it was raining heavily and the class was scrapped. But a few of us decided to play rugby in the pouring rain. I just pulled a stocking over my white cast and was happily enjoying rugby with my fractured arm.

A Lion with a Lamb’s Heart

Suddenly, we heard a loud clap from the corridor and there was Master Denis calling me. When I approached him, he asked me to remove my spectacles. Before my spectacles were at my chin level, I was slapped like an automatic pistol. Too fast to count how many slaps. He questioned me, “Your athletic meet is soon approaching –  do you want to get hurt again?”

That was his sincerity and love: a lion with a lamb’s heart.

Over these past 50 years, there were numerous occasions when I would recollect my days with Master Denis. I would never hesitate to tell my friends, colleagues and associates that I had a Master Denis in school. I would always quote Tottenham Hotspur’s, Bill Nicholson’s famous lines:  ‘It is better to fail aiming high than to succeed aiming low. And we of Spurs have set our sights very high, so high in fact that even failure will have in it an echo of glory.’

His coaching has helped me to achieve high levels in sports and disciplined me in my profession. It is a privilege to wish him well and to mention that his efforts did bear fruit by bringing great credit to our school. I consider our school fortunate to have found such a distinguished and dedicated teacher. I wish him all the success, fulfilment and happiness in the coming years.

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Vinay Chandran

Vinay Chandran
Landscape Architect
( but prefers to be called a Farmer )
Muscat, Sultanate of Oman

Stupendous Example of Humanity at Its Very Best

The amazing, dramatic and awe-inspiring story of the daring rescue of the Thai boys from the caves in Cheng Rai, Thailand

For far too often these days we are regularly bombarded with sad, distressing and unpleasant stories of man’s sheer inhumanity to one another. There is the fairly regular story of a rocket attack(s) in the Middle East, a police station being surrounded and attacked by heavily armed insurgents in Pakistan and of a restaurant or hotel frequented by foreigners being attacked by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. These are all senseless attacks driven by pure, unadulterated hate.

Daily Diet of Atrocities

Closer home too, we hear of such atrocities being committed in Indonesian cities, in Southern Thailand, in Southern Philippines islands and even sometimes in Malaysian cities. The newspapers and 24-hour news broadcasts from local and international TV stations trumpet these stories with all the gory details on a regular, almost daily basis. Bad news sells like hot cakes!

On top of all that, these breaking news stories also appear on the internet, in whatsapp messages on your smartphone and on FB too. Of course, some of these are fake stories. However, the daily broadcast and publication of these ghastly stories have, to some extent, numbed many of us to all these gory happenings.

Simply Labelled as Collateral Damage

Despite all our so-called advances in science, medicine and space to name a few, man is mighty quick to revert to his prehistoric stage with little provocation. For the simpleton in him, it is easier, faster and much more satisfying to REACT to issues and problems than to seriously THINK matters through carefully.

Just take a cursory look at all the wars going on in this world currently.

The only people and companies laughing all the way to the bank are the mighty armaments manufacturers and their sleazy enabling, powerful political allies. These unprincipled politicians seek the people’s mandate to go to Congress or Parliament but then, once duly elected, choose to conveniently forget their solemn obligations to the electorate.

For these duplicitously evil people, all the damage and destruction of the cities and the resulting deaths of many civilians are casually and conveniently labelled as collateral damage!

No wonder, George Bernard Shaw, the famous Irish scholar once astutely remarked: Politics is the last refuge for scoundrels!

Let me be quick to add that there are exceptions to this rule. The legendary GBS was a well-known playwright, literary critic and dramatist as well as the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925.

Faith in Humanity Restored

Our faith in the inherent goodness of humanity when it matters most was restored recently when there was a huge effort launched by the Thai authorities to save 12 young soccer players and their amazing 25-year old coach who were trapped in the caves in Cheng Rai. Cheng Rai is in Northern Thailand and is close to its bigger and better-known city, Cheng Mai.

The fate of these boys and their coach trapped for 18 agonisingly long days in these dark, damp and flooded caves kept people in Thailand, the region and even globally riveted to regular news broadcasts on both national and international TV. Here, in Malaysia, there was much hope for a successful rescue even though we were informed that this was going to be a very difficult and hazardous operation at best.

However, since the Thai Navy Seals were leading the rescue operation, it was their firm belief that failure was not going to be an option! As the rescue attempt got underway and success begun to make an appearance, as many as 90 divers were involved. About 50 of them were Thai Navy Seals and the rest were the foreign divers.

Complex, Difficult and Dangerous Rescue Mission

At its height, the rescue mission involved almost 1000 personnel. Leading the rescue mission were Thai Navy Seals ( divers ). Also providing expertise in locating the boys were internationally acknowledged expert divers from the United Kingdom. There were three: John Volanthen, Richard Stanton and Robert Harper.

It was John who managed to locate and then speak to the boys. One of these three divers from the UK had some valuable experience in these caves on a past visit. And that precise knowledge proved most useful.

Mapping Knowledge of Tham Luang Caves

Another British expert caver named Vernon Unsworth provided detailed mapping knowledge of the caves that was so vitally important for the rescue team of divers.

This was because the rescue team needed such information about the complex, narrow network of twisting, flooded tunnels.

Green Light for Rescue

It was an Australian expert diver and doctor named Richard Harris who first examined the boys in the caves and subsequently gave the green light for the rescue operation to begin. He is also an anesthesiologist by training and practice. At some point before the rescue began each boy had to be sedated for the journey.

And for sure, it proved to be a tough mission.

But with the combined wisdom, experience and expertise of the diving professionals what was initially termed as a mission impossible turned out to be a success beyond measure.

Do keep in mind that none of the boys could swim and neither did they have experience in diving. In addition, the weather was threatening to wreak havoc and derail their plans.

Heroic International Effort All The Way

When it was first determined that the boys needed to be rescued, it was generally agreed that this was going to be an extremely complex, difficult, dangerous and daring rescue mission. International assistance came forth readily.

The United States sent some armed forces personnel from its Pacific Command to assist.  A few individuals ( diving experts ) from the following countries assisted willingly: United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Canada and Australia. Some foreign dive operators in Phuket and other islands in Thailand also joined in.

In the case of the Australian doctor, he interrupted his vacation to assist in the rescue operation. All these international volunteers came to assist at their own cost and willingly. They took time off from work and family matters in a wonderful, selfless show of true humanity at its very best. This rescue mission was no walk in the park! One Thai volunteer paid the ultimate price while on the mission.

Remarkable Cohesion of Thai Society

It is often said that sometimes it takes a tragedy or a disaster to bring out the best in people. This is very true in the case of the rescue mission of the 12 young and calm boys.

Here are a few examples of that amazing Thai resilience.

  1. Monkhood and Meditation: The soccer coach was a Buddhist monk for ten years. During that time, he had learned about meditation. He is credited with keeping the boys calm. The coach even gave whatever food he had to the boys. This is truly inspiring leadership by example;
  2. Accepted Flooding of their Village and Fields: The villagers who lived near the caves readily accepted the water that was being pumped out from the caves to flood their village and rice fields. They did not mind the consequent damage to their crops and the village. They believed in helping in whatever way possible to save the lives of the young boys;
  3. Free Laundry Service: A young Thai lady who operates a laundry service nearby offered free laundry service for all the divers involved in the mission. The mission, mind you, lasted 18 days. What a thoughtful contribution;
  4. Free Oxygen and Diving Gear: A local businessman in Cheng Rai who ran a shop selling oxygen tanks and diving gear etc donated a number of such tanks for the rescue mission. Another selfless act of solidarity;
  5. Villagers Brought Food for the Rescue Volunteers: Many local villagers were seen bringing cooked food for the volunteers on a regular basis; and
  6. The Sacrifice of Petty Officer Saman Gunan: This former Thai Navy Seal actually volunteered to assist. While transporting oxygen tanks to the trapped boys and on his way back to the surface, he ran out of oxygen and passed away. Such a fallen hero is worthy of great respect.

These are just a few related human interest stories that give us much hope for the future of humanity. When we come together for a greater and noble cause, much can be achieved.