Recollections and Impressions

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.

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


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.

Benedict Morais

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


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.

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



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.

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.

The Genesis of the Single Malt Whisky Club

What Seniors Who Really Live Do Differently

Some time ago, I read a very interesting book by Bob Buford titled: Finishing Well – What People Who Really Live Do Differently!  The book is based on his in-depth interviews with 60 remarkable and successful people in the United States.

The book details with amazing clarity a motivating set of best practices for those who are seeking to re-define their second lifetime, so to speak. This second lifetime is actually a wonderful opportunity to re-invent ourselves with a singular purpose for the post-retirement phase of our lives.

Downside of our Failure to Re-Invent Ourselves

Failure to re-invent ourselves at this juncture in our lives will certainly leave us that much poorer in spirit and quite lost in this fast-paced world of ours. Some seniors, unfortunately, have become grumpy, morose, irritable and quarrelsome individuals. They are a real pain to be with because they choose to focus on the negatives all the time. This is a situation of their own making but they are the last to realise this.

While in full-time employment, we often danced to the tune of our demanding employers and bosses, the reverse is actually true for us in retirement. In order to do just that, we have to get organised and plan for a variety of interesting programmes and activities. Nobody is going to do that for you if you are much too lazy or indifferent to do that for yourself!

Retirement, I say, is not the time for endless rests and siestas or even watching television programmes one after the other until we knock off in the armchair. Seniors too need to be proactive and stay active. And if a 93-year old doctor can answer the call to lead the Malaysian nation once again, we too must be up for the challenge.

Have Carefully Chosen to be Semi-Retired

This is our opportunity to plan for an enjoyable post-retirement phase.

In my case, I have carefully chosen to be semi-retired. I still enjoy the challenge of a tough management assignment; I also relish the chance to assist a friend or client with a speech; and I jump at the chance to conduct a training programme in my areas of expertise.

Most recently, I received an invitation to conduct a two-day training programme in Effective Public Relations sometime next month. I readily accepted the offer.

Then again, I also received an invitation a couple of days ago to conduct a training session on Business Writing Skills for a small group of women executives/managers in the Klang Valley. I have also signalled my acceptance in this case. Three months ago I was invited to address members of the Rotary Club of Damansara on the topic: Professionals and Professionalism.

All these activities and the fact that I blog regularly keep my mental faculties in top condition……….or so I hope!

Indulging in a Range of Physical Activities

On the other hand, I do not neglect the need for physical activities. I make it a point to go for brisk walks five times a week. Each walk lasts for about forty minutes in a small park in my neighbourhood.

In addition, my wife and I enjoy undertaking scenic drives to ‘ discover’ small towns and villages that we have heard about. We have undertaken such adventures to places like Fraser’s Hill, Kuala Kubu Bahru, Kuala Selangor, Port Dickson, Taiping, Kuala Terengganu etc.

In most cases, these are just day-long drives, but in some cases, we have stayed the night in the town. We did not have the luxury or the time to undertake such drives when we were working and the children were young. Our three adult children have flown from the nest and we are truly free to undertake such enjoyable trips on a regular basis.

On The Social Side of Activities

On the social side of activities, I personally like some variety.

I make it a point to attend at least three interesting tea talks or lectures on an annual basis. The most recent one was on the topic of “ Building Resilience – Ways to Draw on our Inner Strength “ by Maureen Goodman, programme director of Brahma Kumaris, United Kingdom.

In addition, I attend plays, musical shows and comedy programmes from time to time at Theatre Lounge Cafe in Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur; at PJ Live Arts Theatre in Jaya One, Petaling Jaya; and also at KL PAC Theatre in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur. The prices of tickets to attend these events are reasonable and there are ample parking facilities at these centres.

There are also a few groups that I meet with on a social basis periodically. They are my associates from the public relations fraternity; my friends from the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur; my former colleagues from the teaching profession as well as some of my former students; and also my college mates from my days at a small La Salle college in Penang called St Joseph’s Training College in Pulau Tikus, Penang.

Drinks and Bites Events

An attempt was made to have a social gathering at a well-known club in Kuala Lumpur over drinks and small bites. Initially, only about four others were invited. The event proved very popular and more such events were held always at this social club but with an increase in the number of attendees.

The attendees were all former teachers and former students who had studiously taken the trouble to stay in touch with a few of their former teachers. The initial group was made up of three former teachers and three former students.

The event would last for about three hours or so. The joy of fellowship was the key driver for these events and the subjects for informal conversation were usually topical issues of the day! This club also has a conducive ambience and a comfortable setting for the gathering.

Single Malt Whisky (SMW) Club

After about three such Drinks and Bites events, someone in the select group suggested that the group ought to morph into a ‘ Single Malt Whisky Club ‘. It was to be on a ‘by invitation only’ basis. There was unanimous agreement to the idea and soon, we had our first Single Malt Whisky Club gathering at the same club.

We would meet initially for a couple of cold beers in one part of the club and after about two hours, adjourn to a Chinese restaurant within the club for a leisurely dinner. Each member of the group would take turns by bringing a bottle of a SMW of his choice. The bill for the drinks and the dinner would then be split equally among the attendees.

Octogenarian, Septuagenarians and Sexagenarians

This has now been going on for about three years. The group has increased to eight individuals.  There is an octogenarian, a couple of septuagenarians and the youngest are sexagenarians.

Occupation wise, the attendees are a retired senior manager with a Swedish multinational, a retired general manager of a prominent US hotel chain in Malaysia, a retired but re-employed editor of a mainstream newspaper, a retired entrepreneur with a love for quality German cars, a gung-ho entrepreneur still in harness in a technology business, a retired senior manager, commerce with an established embassy, a passionate geographer and a semi-retired accountant who shuttles between Malaysia and Australia. The actual numbers attending a session may vary due to health or travel reasons but the group remains deliberately small for proper interaction.

Whisky Grand Master & the Rituals We Go Through

One among us is a true whisky connoisseur and he likes to surprise us with a range of expensive whiskies that he is familiar with. He will also normally brief us on the history of that particular liquid gold as well as advise us on the correct way to sip the first drink! He enjoys, by popular acclaim, an exalted Whisky Grand Master status among us.

Now, who says seniors do not know how to live and enjoy life? For this small group in the Klang Valley in Selangor, Malaysia, it is the fine art of living well but in moderation that holds great promise and excitement for them.

Moreover, good friends take on an even greater role and meaning in a post-retirement phase because we share a common past and a diminishing future. But for three or four glorious hours, we can all take a fun trip back to the past, share forgotten and hilarious stories and enjoy the warm fellowship and easy camaraderie. C’est la vie.

Who Qualifies to be Considered a Friend?

Learning to differentiate between someone who is only a mere acquaintance and someone who is a true friend

I have come across a number of individuals who casually refer to someone they know as a friend when in actual fact that person is only a mere acquaintance. These individuals should be more careful about making such statements because of the ramifications that flow from conferring such an esteemed and exalted status on that person!

What is the big deal you may ask about this practice of calling someone a friend when he is not actually a friend?

Misrepresentation of that Person

It has a lot to do with the misrepresentation of that person. A few may take it that it is good or advantageous to get to know that person better since he is a friend of your friend. Others may boldly venture into a business deal with that person based on the fact that he is considered a friend of your friend.

But when that business venture goes down the drain and these individuals part company on unpleasant terms, you may be blamed. Of course, the individual concerned should have carried out his own due diligence. He should not have merely relied on the statement that he is a friend!

Who is an Acquaintance?

Now, who exactly is an acquaintance? He or she is someone you have met and got to know a little, probably in an office, temple, club or association setting. He may also be a former colleague or a neighbour.

He has remained merely an acquaintance because there was not enough of a ‘pull factor’ for either of you to progress that relationship.

All Kinds of Friends

You become a friend of another person when you both share common values and probably a number of similar interests. You also truly enjoy each other’s company. Your shared interests and values are the ‘pull factors’ that cause you both to gravitate towards each other and thereby keep the friendship alive and thriving.

It would seem, therefore that you are both charter members of a special grouping called MAS i.e. Mutual Admiration Society!

However, if only you are investing in this so-called friendship, then do not waste your time. If the other party does not reciprocate, move on with dignity and do not try to force a friendship. Unfortunately, some individuals are unable to take a hint.

Friends for a Season / Reason

Over time, one realises that there are all kinds of friends. Initially, they meet the basic requirements as stated above. But over time, their true characters surface. Former colleagues and friends conveniently forget the favours and the assistance rendered. For some, you are currently not in a position to be useful to them any more and so they just disappear having already benefitted from this so-called friendship in the past.

The other reality is that some friendships fray at the edges over time. Not enough effort was spent nourishing these friendships. For some others, your repeated career successes and achievements may have surprised them beyond belief. Jealousy makes an unkind appearance and begins to rear its ugly head!

While a true friend will always be happy for you, those who are pretending to be a friend will display their true colours.  Some are only happy if you fumble, drop the ball and hopefully remain at their mediocre level!

Always Keep a Group of Good Friends

Two weeks ago, a friend of mine from Penang sent me a wonderful and insightful three text message. But I need to let you know that was because I am still using an old Nokia phone, not a smartphone.

Far too many people, I hear, send you all kinds of, mostly irrelevant messages, via whatsapp without realising what a nuisance that has become. I constantly hear of people moaning about having to delete such messages without even bothering to read them.

This friend received that message from another mutual friend now based in Melbourne, Australia. He too was sufficiently impressed with the message that he wanted to further share it. Now that is a truly great circle of friendship.

What Was this Message About?

Friends are the Bulwarks of Life

“Many years ago, after I got married, I was sitting on a couch on a hot humid day, sipping orange juice during a visit to my father. As I talked about adult life, marriage, responsibilities and obligations, my father cast a clear, sober look at me.

‘Never forget your friends‘ he advised, ‘they will become more important as you get older‘. Regardless of how much you love your family and the children you happen to have, you will always need friends. Remember to go out with them occasionally, do activities with them and call them from time to time“.

What strange advice I thought!

I had just entered the married world, I am an adult and surely my wife and the family we will start will be everything I need to make sense of my life.

Yet, I obeyed him and kept in touch with my friends and occasionally increased their number. Over the years, I became truly aware that my father knew what he was talking about.

In as much as time and nature carry out their designs and mysteries on a man, friends are the bulwarks of his life.

After 50 years of Life, this is what I Learned.

Time passes. Life goes on.

The distances increase.

Children grow up and become independent. Although it breaks the parents’ heart, they are often separated from them.

Jobs come and go.

Illusions, desires, attractions and sex weaken.

People do what they should not do.

Parents die.

Colleagues forget favours.

The races are over.

But true friends are always there

No matter how long or how many miles away they are.

A friend is never more distant that the reach of a need, reaching out to you, intervening in your favour, waiting for you with open arms or blessings for your life.

When we started this adventure called LIFE
Wwe did not know the incredible joys or sorrows that were ahead.
We did not know how much we would need from one another.
Love your parents.
Take care of your children
but always keep a group of good friends.

( The author of this sharing is unknown but he or she summed it up quite well. I have also taken the liberty to edit the article. )

In the twilight of our lives, if we can count five individuals as true friends, consider that a real blessing. And if you happen to have another five friends, then that again is your extremely good fortune.

Celebrities and politicians who claim to have hundreds of friends are only deceiving themselves.  Having the company of hundreds of supporters, gushing teenagers or hangers-on, however, is quite possible.

Much too often, some of these individuals mistake ardent supporters from their party or club as their friends. A number of insecure leaders who delight in surrounding themselves with a large retinue of sycophants, often make the tragic mistake of thinking that these toady individuals are actually their friends.

To their surprise and dismay, these leaders soon discover that these characters will, when the chips are down, desert them faster than fleeing rats from a sinking ship!

In summing up, always remember to keep and cultivate a group of good and trusted friends.


Troika of Exceptional Educators and Leaders

La Salle School Brickfields was blessed to have such personalities at the helm

Recently, there was a guest blog post by Denis Armstrong on my blog site that had a relatively simple heading: La Salle School, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur. It was an incredibly nostalgic, interesting and factual sharing of the early days of this school and of that particular era in the days when the country was known as Malaya.

Denis Armstrong also shared some wonderful photographs from that era. These included photos of some of the pioneer teachers at the school as well as some photos of the school when it was first built in the fifties. That this then nondescript, small school could rise above its grim situation and become a school to reckon with is now the stuff of legends.

However, no history of La Salle Brickfields can be complete without some mention being made of the incredible troika of educators and outstanding leaders.

Overwhelming Response to the Blog Post

This blog post had an overwhelming, positive response. To date over 2,711 individuals have read that particular blog post. It is a clear indication of the great interest that many old boys and even residents of Brickfields have on the subject matter.

However, no history of La Salle Brickfields can be complete without some mention being made of the incredible troika of educators and outstanding leaders. These individuals gave so much of themselves in leading La Salle School Brickfields to much success not just in academic matters but also in sports, games, athletics and extra-mural activities.

The Troika

The troika consisted of Rev. Bro. Gaston, headmaster of La Salle Primary School 1, S. Ratnasingam, headmaster of La Salle Primary School 2 and Albert Rozario who succeeded Rev Bro Gaston as headmaster of the school. All three leaders have since passed on but they have collectively left behind, to their credit, a great legacy.

Group photo of teachers from the three schools

Group photo of teachers from the three schools: La Salle Brickfields Primary School 1, La Salle Brickfields Primary School 2 and La Salle  Brickfields Secondary School ( 1976 )

There are two more individuals who also contributed significantly to La Salle School being a success story. They are Denis Armstrong, the extraordinarily talented athletics coach and strict disciplinarian who later became the supervisor of La Salle Secondary School. The next person is L A Fernandez, an able administrator and a confident as well as a humourous public speaker who later succeeded S Ratnasingam as headmaster of the school.

  1. Ratnasingam – A Charismatic Leader

In a troika, all the three individuals are supposed to be of equal status. However, in my opinion, S. Ratnasingam, who always chose to wear a bowtie, was the undisputed leader of the pack. Ratnasingam, a Normal Class trained teacher had the vision, the drive and the will to unite all three schools. In this effort, the troika succeeded brilliantly.

Mr & Mrs S Ratnasingam

Mr & Mrs S Ratnasingam

At that time and even now, it is quite common to see the headmasters of schools sharing the same premises being unnecessarily petty and small minded. Instead of pooling resources and being prudent, these small minded individuals insist on being difficult and are overly bureaucratic.

With the troika firmly in place there was unity in purpose and much was achieved at La Salle Brickfields during that golden era.

To his everlasting credit, Ratnasingam generously made time to undertake other civic and community-related responsibilities willingly. He was no mere pen pusher or a laid back, stodgy bureaucrat. He was mainly responsible for building a new 2 storey block for La Salle Brickfields. By his actions and his approach, he stood head and shoulders over the other headmasters of his time by being a leader who could inspire his team.

Ratnasingam also served a stint as Boy Scout Commissioner for Kuala Lumpur. In addition, he made time to serve as an adviser to the Juvenile Court in Kuala Lumpur for a number of years.

S Ratnasingam as Commissioner of Kuala Lumpur Scouts

S Ratnasingam as Commissioner of Kuala Lumpur Scouts

In retirement, Ratnasingam stayed true to his DNA! He continued to contribute his time and effort behind the scenes to the Kuala Lumpur Befrienders.

Albert Rozario – A Leader with a Human Touch

Like S Ratnasingam, Albert Rozario was also a Normal Class trained teacher. Later on, he attended and successfully completed a year-long course at the Specialist Teachers’ Training Institute (STTI) in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur. He achieved a distinction grade in his field of specialisation i.e. Physical Education. Albert Rozario was also a good swimmer and a keen gymnast.

He had an affable personality and was pretty down to earth in his relationships with the teachers and admin staff. He also possessed a keen and sympathetic understanding of human nature and this was put to good use when he had to counsel a few individuals who had committed some malpractice.

Albert Rozario and Rev Bro Gaston

Albert Rozario and Rev Bro Gaston

Albert was also a talented administrator and a headmaster who readily supported his teachers’ efforts. He was also equally quick to recognise good performance. I can vouch for both – his strong support and due recognition during my 15 years of service at La Salle Brickfields.

Sometime in 1965, he successfully underwent a major operation, while at La Salle Brickfields, to remove an ailing kidney. He survived for more than 50 years with just one kidney.

Albert Rozario was married to a teacher, Mary who later became a headmistress at St Theresa’s Primary Convent, conveniently situated next door to La Salle Brickfields. They had eight children.

In view of his physical education qualifications and related abilities, he also served with considerable energy and enthusiasm for about three years as the Organiser for Physical Education at the Selangor Education Department.

One of his unique skills was his uncanny ability to get a teacher to undertake a difficult task. His approach was disarmingly unique: He would not summon you to meet him. Instead, he would casually accost you as you walked along the passageway to your class. As he reached you, he would put a friendly arm on your shoulder and then make the request – it was never an order or a directive. No one could ever turn down such a friendly approach!

Rev Bro Gaston – Good Rapid Writing Promoter

I remember meeting Rev Bro Gaston when I first reported for duty at La Salle Brickfields Secondary School in 1966. We exchanged pleasantries and indulged briefly in some small talk. However, over the years I, unfortunately, did not have much interaction with him.

Many old boys fondly remember this genial gentleman with a ready smile for introducing them to Good Rapid Writing – an activity forever associated with him.

Rev Bro Gaston was not very much involved in the day to day administration of the school, leaving that important task to his able senior assistant ( deputy headmaster ), Albert Rozario. But he was a familiar sight in his smart white robe along the corridors and classrooms of La Salle Brickfields – both the primary schools as well as the secondary school.

Many old boys fondly remember this genial gentleman with a ready smile for introducing them to Good Rapid Writing – an activity forever associated with him.

This was a mission of crucial importance to Rev Bro Gaston because he believed that good rapid writing was a much-needed skill that students needed to master.

He emphasised the formation of each alphabet in a smooth flowing movement. A former student and an education professional himself, Loh Kok Khuan described it as: speed, modernity and poetry in motion! Loh Kok Khuan also mentioned that some alphabets seemed to resemble rockets and racing cars and that those were the heady years when the US was aiming to land a man on the moon.

Rev Bro Gaston was the master trainer in this field and he went around the many classes teaching the skills with a passion that was contagious. To encourage and motivate the boys to take this training seriously, he organised competitions in good rapid writing from time to time.

The prize was a Parker pen – a quality pen in those days that many could not afford. Kok Khuan also revealed that a classmate who excelled in this good rapid writing and in the process won many Parker pens much to the chagrin of his fellow classmates is Chang Hoe Yoon. By some strange coincidence, Hoe Yoon subsequently qualified as an engineer and worked for a reputable regional airline.

Rev Bro Gaston was also responsible for promoting the Ukulele musical instrument.

He encouraged the boys to take up this small, four–stringed guitar-like musical instrument. For the record, the Ukulele was introduced from Portugal into the Hawaiian Islands in about 1879.

After his retirement, he returned to Canada. He was not in the best of health when S Ratnasingam decided to pay him a visit. He was overjoyed by this unexpected visit from an old colleague and dear friend and perked up considerably. Rev Bro Gaston even made a brief visit to Malaysia later.

La Salle Brickfields in Kuala Lumpur was indeed very fortunate to have had such visionary and caring leaders during those formative years before and after Malaya gained its independence. They may have moved on but the teachers and many old boys do have wonderful memories to treasure.

Amazing Sikhs From Around the World

A Community that Punches above its Weight Class

Sikhs seem to possess an indomitable spirit and a desire to rise above their station in life. This is not just happening in India where most Sikhs live but throughout the world.

Members of the vibrant Sikh community in the United Kingdom, for instance, are taking their noble tradition of religious hospitality to one of the most inhospitable places on the planet.

This is a remarkable and edifying example of real caring, concern and sympathy for the downtrodden and it is manifested in this act of feeding the displaced individuals.

Just a mere five miles from the Syrian border, Sikh volunteers from Langar Aid are feeding about 14,000 refugees fleeing the civil war in that country. This is a remarkable and edifying example of real caring, concern and sympathy for the downtrodden and it is manifested in this act of feeding the displaced individuals.

Religious Hospitality at its Best

Langar Aid is an off-shoot of Khalsa Aid. Khalsa Aid is mainly funded by UK based Sikhs. Khalsa Aid was founded in 1999 in the UK.

In the not too recent past, Khalsa Aid, an international non-profit and relief organisation has also rendered much-needed assistance to displaced Kosovan refugees as well as provided earthquake relief in Turkey.

The answer lies, I believe, in the lofty Sikh principles of selfless service and universal love.

Selfless Service and Universal Love

Just what is it that motivates these Sikh volunteers from the UK to place themselves in harm’s way especially in a danger zone and render much-needed assistance to fellow human beings in distress?

The answer lies, I believe, in the lofty Sikh principles of selfless service and universal love. These are truly noble principles to live up to. It is relatively easy to talk or preach about selfless service and universal love but to actually live it in practice is altogether a different matter.

To carry out this humanitarian service, these committed volunteers have taken time out of work, education, family and other recreational pursuits to travel abroad and render assistance. These volunteers have truly demonstrated in a practical and inspiring way their utmost commitment to their religious principles.

Their selfless service, especially in such dangerous conditions, reminds me of that famous saying: ‘ Greater love than this no man has, than to lay down his life for another ‘.

Golden Temple in Amritsar

The Golden Temple in Amritsar, India –  the holiest shrine for Sikhs throughout the world, provides another telling example of this selfless service and universal love.

How many know, for instance, that nearly 100,000 people are fed on an average day at the Golden Temple? This free meal is not limited to only Sikhs but extended to individuals of every faith, colour and ethnicity who visit the temple.

This simple but nutritious meal, let me reiterate, is free for all who visit, not just Sikhs. Think for a moment about the sheer logistics and costs involved. This goes on day after day. Of course, those entering must observe certain respectful traditions before entering the Golden Temple.

Back here in Malaysia, I have been informed that a number of Western tourists on a shoestring budget have heard about the warm hospitality at Sikh temples in Malaysia. They go with confidence to a Sikh temple for a meal and also occasionally to spend a night there. They have to, of course, adhere to an appropriate code of conduct whilst spending the night within the temple compound.

Four Sikh Cabinet Ministers in Canada

Recently in Canada, the prime minister of that country appointed four Canadian Sikhs as cabinet ministers. These appointments made world headlines because they are serious, high-level positions in the government of Canada. It is also a clear demonstration that this is Canada’s most diverse cabinet. Canada leads the world, I believe, in truly embracing diversity in full measure. There is no lip service or tokenism here.

Harjit Sajjan, a former senior police officer and a veteran of three military deployments to Afghanistan was appointed Defense Minister. This is a senior position in the cabinet. It is no window dressing. Amarjeet Sohi was appointed Infrastructure Minister, Navdeep Bains, a business school professor was appointed Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister and finally, a Sikh lady named Bardish Chaggar was named Small Business and Tourism Minister.

What some may not know is that there are an estimated 500, 000 Sikhs in Canada today. Sikhs first started moving to Canada more than 100 years ago. The appointment of not one but four ministers from this community is a clear sign that the Sikhs have integrated well into Canadian society.

By contrast, India has only two Sikh ministers. But then again, one must realise that Sikhs in India only constitute two percent of the population.

Sikhs in the Indian Army

Sikhs are by nature respectful, courageous, hardworking and enterprising. Does one realise that nowhere in the world can you find a Sikh beggar? This speaks volumes about the cohesion within the community.

There are no official statistics for the number of Sikhs in the Indian Army for obvious reasons. However, it is generally regarded to be in excess of twenty percent! There are also many senior Sikh officers from the ranks of colonel to general.

A Sikh, Manmohan Singh, a graduate from Oxford University has also served with distinction for a number of years as the prime minister of India.

Sikhs in Malaysia

The Sikhs constitute one of the many Indian groups in Malaysia. The biggest group of Indians in Malaysia come from the Tamil community. In the early days of Malaya, these Sikhs served in the Police force as well as in the Home Guard. The Home Guard was an earlier version of the Territorial Army.

The Sikhs were recruited to serve in these bodies because of their impressive size and build, towering figures and burly outlook, complete with moustache and beard that made them look fierce. However, they are also big, strong and friendly people if you take the trouble to get to know them. In the Army and Police force too, Sikhs have made great contributions.

Significant Contribution to the Professions

In the fifties and sixties, it was common to see a number of burly Sikh gentlemen serving as guards ( or jagas ) for banks and companies. These guards would sleep on charpoys beds in front of the buildings that they were protecting. The charpoy is basically four wooden legs supporting an open, rectangular structure that is filled with intricately woven network of ropes or chords.

Other economically and socially disadvantaged Sikhs took to goat herding or rearing cows for their milk. The Sikh would then peddle a bicycle with a milk tank on the back and sell the milk to a regular list of homes in the area. Some of these Sikhs also got into the informal but lucrative money lending business.

Lion of Jelutong

Through sheer dint of hard work, discipline and a desire to improve their lot, many of these families provided a disproportionately high number of well known medical doctors/specialists, engineers, lawyers, academics and other professionals.

Easily one of the more well known, highly regarded and respected Sikhs in Malaysia is the late Karpal Singh.  He was regarded as a brilliant and fearless criminal lawyer and many did seek out his services. He was also a committed Member of Parliament, a lawmaker of repute, and a righteous fighter for the underdog.

You can now probably understand why I stated that the Sikhs certainly do punch above their weight class and they do so with style and flair.

Red Rose of Petra Truly Rocks!

A Magnificent Jewel among Jordan’s Tourist Sites

I visited this amazing site during my two day trip to Amman, the capital of Jordan recently. It was a long, tedious four-hour drive from Amman in a not so comfortable tourist bus which had seen better days. But it was well worth the visit.

Petra city is the capital of the Nabataeans. The city was built more than two thousand years ago in the heart of the Shara Mountains! It thrived in the first centuries BC and AD and was a vital link of a major trading area connecting ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.

It is no wonder that Petra has gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status as a result.

Trade then was mainly in frankincense, myrrh and spices. It was later annexed by the Roman Empire. Much of the city was destroyed in a major earthquake in 363 AD. It appears to have been largely deserted and abandoned partly because of a change in trade routes too.

Rediscovered by a Swiss Explorer

Thanks to the persistence, skill and cunning of a Swiss explorer named Johannes Burckhardt this wonderful place was rediscovered in 1812. Johannes dressed up as an Arab and convinced his Bedouin guide to take him to the lost city.

As a result of this rediscovery, Petra became increasingly known in the West as a fascinating city. It also began attracting visitors in large numbers.

Gains UNESCO World Heritage Site Status

It is no wonder that Petra has gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status as a result.Like the famous Angkor Wat temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia and the equally famous Borobudur Temple Compound and Prambanan Temple in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, the Red Rose of Petra is a most worthy recipient of this prestigious award.

No mere description, photographs or even a video recording of this site can do justice to the wonder and glory of the Red Rose of Petra. In Petra, you actually get to see and marvel at great natural, cultural, archaeological and geological features that truly merge in an awesome display of nature and human habitation at its best.

Why is it called the Red Rose?

It gets this name from the wonderful colour of the rock. I was informed that the many impressive sandstone mountains in that area contain iron and that also partly explains the colour.

Many of the city’s structures were carved from these impressive sandstone mountains. The same mountains also contained intricate tombs that were cut out of the mountainsides. The Nabataeans buried their nobility in these tombs.

Discovering Petra

After a four-hour journey, I finally arrived at the site. I saw a large, well-planned visitor centre with all the modern conveniences that are needed to make this walking tour a reality.

There are fast food outlets, restaurants, shops selling souvenirs, and more than adequate, clean toilet facilities. For those not so inclined to walking all the way through the various trails, they had the option of taking a horse ride ( part of the way only ) or a horse-drawn carriage all the way to the main attraction i.e. the Treasury.

The Treasury

The Treasury, Petra’s most magnificent facade soars almost 40 metres high and is intricately decorated with Corinthian capitals, friezes, figures and more. The Treasury is crowned by a funerary urn, which according to local legend conceals a pharaoh’s treasure. No such treasure, however, was ever found.

Leisurely Walk Along the Trails

I was with a group of fifteen other Malaysian men and women and all of us chose to walk down the gently sloping trails to the Treasury. It was a cool afternoon when we began the 2 km walk and as we walked we were gently cooled and caressed by breezes that kept us comfortable.

We were advised by our experienced tour guide not to choose the horse-drawn carriage because it could turn out to be quite an uncomfortable and bumpy ride. Those with back problems especially had to be very careful.

Amazing Sights to Behold

The sights along the way were mesmerising, to say the least. The beauty, majesty and grandeur of those glorious sandstone mountains were a sight to behold. Over time, mother nature ( wind, rain, snow and earthquakes ) had taken turns to wear down portions of the rock.

In one particular place, as we passed, we could make out the side profile of a fish! As we passed that rock and turned back to look at it again, we could clearly make out an elephant with its trunk! At other areas, we could make out shepherds and even camels but nature had exacted its toll.

The Incredible Siq

The Siq

This is a narrow gorge that leads visitors into Petra. The Siq actually resulted from a natural splitting of the mountain. A triumphal arch once spanned the entrance to it.

Two water channels run along both rock sides. What an amazing piece of imagination to have constructed such a water conduit those many, many years ago. It also presents a dramatic entryway into Petra.

Good Workout and Great Time

The walk back was a lot different.

Most of it was pretty easy going except for the few hilly portions. I could feel the perspiration on the back of my neck. But all of us in our group, including a senior lady who had knee surgery on both knees and who had the use of a hiking stick to ease the walking process, made it back with relative ease.

A seasoned traveller in my group informed me later that evening that the apps on his smartphone showed that he had taken a total of 11660 steps in all. Not bad for a pleasant and enjoyable afternoon workout.

Some Other Relevant Matters

Part of the trail we took was paved with limestone slabs from the time of the Roman annexation. These were meant to enable the Romans to drive their horse-drawn carriages over them. Over time, these limestone slabs had turned quite smooth.

The Collannaded Street

We also had to put up with the smell of fresh horse dung which was liberally excreted all along the way. But the good thing is that there were workers around at certain sections to sweep these droppings. So we had to be careful and watch where we put our foot all along the way.

The other matter that annoyed me was that the horse-drawn carriages were using the same trial as the walkers. There was no separate trail for us. From a safety angle, this was bad because the drivers of the carriages were all out for the dollars and so they drove the carriages at speed.

Sometimes, they rudely shouted out warnings for us to keep out of their way.  In such circumstances, accidents are just waiting to happen. I do hope the Jordanian tourism authorities will look into the matter and make it safe for the walkers.

Interesting Observations

Ben Jordan Morais

Throughout our bus journey to Petra and also while cruising around in the city of Amman, I did not see a single motorbike. I checked with our guide Talal and he informed me that the government had some five years ago allowed for the importation of motorbikes but somehow it did not seem to have taken off.

There were no signs of the usual Honda, Yamaha or Suzuki small bikes nor of any big Harley Davidsons! Coming from S. E. Asia and especially in countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, this was a pleasant surprise for me.

I would also like to commend the motorcar, bus and truck drivers of Jordan who seem to be very level-headed and responsible. Throughout the four hour journey to Petra and even in Amman itself, everyone seemed to drive in a responsible and careful manner.

There was absolutely no speeding on the highway and likewise, there was none of the recklessness you see on Malaysian roads and highways. I did not expect to witness such self-discipline by vehicle drivers in Jordan. But there were, however, some instances of double parking in the city.