La Salle School, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur

A guest post is a piece of writing that is published on someone else’s website or blog. This post today is a guest post by Denis Armstrong, one of nine pioneer teachers of La Salle Brickfields when the school was established in 1954

Beginnings
I was present at the creation. No, not THAT big one but a more modest one: the creation of La Salle Brickfields (LSB), K.L.

I was born and grew up in the fifth house in the first block of houses in Rozario Street (“Hundred Quarters”), a stone’s throw from LSB. Directly in front of my house was the Vivekananda Ashram. To the left, about 50 metres away was the Gajjan Singh petrol station along then Brickfields Road. To the right at the end of Rozario Street and the beginning of then Temple Road was the Lutheran Church.

Adjoining the church was the Buddhist Temple and a bit further on the opposite side of the road was a rice mill just next to the iconic toddy shop. Continuing along Temple Road, and where now are Brickfields Primary School and the Methodist Primary Girls’ School, used to be the town dump site for waste and discarded material. As children growing up in Brickfields in the late forties, we used to scavenge the dump site for old bicycle and motorbike rims. We removed the spokes and ran around and raced each other with these “wheelies”, controlling them with a stick.

Other landmarks at that time which now no longer exist were the original YMCA building which was demolished to accommodate the petrol station; and the Lido Cinema Theatre, also once known as the Cathay Cinema and earlier still as the Princess Cinema. Just behind the Lido cinema was the Kishan Dial Secondary School, possibly the first private school in the country to prepare students for the Overseas Senior Cambridge School Certificate.

The Anthonian Book Store started as a tiny business selling religious items like Catholic bibles, prayer books, rosaries, crosses and medals. It occupied a half shop lot in the block of shops just next to the Holy Rosary Church. Other landmarks in the vicinity of Brickfields at that period were the Royal Selangor Museum on the site of the current National Museum and a public swimming pool at the spot now occupied by the Police Station along Travers Road. These two landmarks received direct hits during the Allied bombing of the railway marshalling yards in Brickfields and Sentul in 1945 towards the end of the Japanese occupation of Malaya.

Creation
In those days the future home of LSB was a low-lying expanse of swampland. As the land was a foot or so above the canal running alongside it, the land had to be raised before the school could be built. And the cheapest solution for the landfill was garbage and discarded material from the town. Hundreds of lorry loads of this waste were dumped on the future site for the school building.

Layers upon layers of rubbish were sandwiched between layers of sand until the required level was achieved. Bulldozers were used in the operations. Almost immediately after the landfill was accomplished in early 1953, the freshly-laid landfill was promptly dug up, the foundations laid and the erection of the school commenced. Everything was completed sometime towards the end of 1953.

I saw it all happen. I was in my final year in school (St. John’s Institution) preparing to sit for the Overseas Senior Cambridge School Certificate at the end of year 1953.

Growth
In January 1954 La Salle School, Brickfields, opened its doors to welcome its first intake of students who had been housed in St. John’s Primary School the previous two years while awaiting LSB to be built. Together with the new admissions for the year 1954, there were in total eight classes. There were nine teachers. I was one of those nine pioneers.

I joined LSB in January as a temporary teacher while awaiting my exam results. After receiving my exam results in May 1954, I was accepted as a trainee teacher and began my three-year Normal School* teacher training. Thus began my teaching career.

What were those times like when LSB first opened its doors in January 1954? It was a mere eight and a half years after the end of the Second World War.

LSB then had no field for its sports activities. The land in front of the school was still a swamp. Once again, sometime in 1957, the lorries rolled in with their loads of rubbish and the bulldozers set to work to convert the swamp into a playing field. The field was ready for use in 1958. Engineers from the government’s Survey Department measured the field and succeeded in fitting an eight-lane 400-metre running track on it, thus making LSB the only school in KL other than Victoria Institution to possess such a facility. Prior to LSB having its own field, all sports activities were conducted in nearby “Chan Ah Tong Stadium”, a small playground adjoining Chan Ah Tong Street and a Brickfields landmark.

Reminiscences
What were those times like when LSB first opened its doors in January 1954? It was a mere eight and a half years after the end of the Second World War. The country was still recovering from the turmoil, destruction and ravages of the Japanese occupation. Times were still hard.

The country was in the midst of a guerrilla war, the so-called emergency, with the Communist Party of Malaya (MCP). The British High Commissioner, Sir Henry Gurney, had been assassinated by the MCP in 1951 while travelling in his car to his holiday retreat in Fraser’s Hill.

Life was simple. There were no computers or Internet, no TV or mobile phones – just fixed land phone lines and these were few and far between. There was radio but no FM, just AM broadcasts; and there was Rediffusion, a cable radio broadcast with continuous service from 6.00am to 12.00 midnight for a monthly fee of six Malayan dollars.

Fast food outlets were non-existent. The popular meeting places were the coffee shops where you could get a cup of tea or coffee with Milkmaid condensed milk (genuine milk!) for less than 20 cents. Ovaltine was then the popular health drink. Ice balls made from shaved ice, and ice cream potong were available to quench your thirst.

The most popular pastime was going to the cinema. There were cheap matinees and midnight shows in addition to the regular screenings. The first four or five front rows of the cinema hall, directly in front of the screen, were fondly referred to as “parliament seats” and tickets for these seats initially cost only 45 cents. Ticket inspectors with torchlights made spot checks to discourage “parliamentarians” from sneaking into the more expensive sections of the hall when the shows started and it was dark.

A vendor with a tray filled with tidbits and drinks and cigarettes (yes, cigarettes) made a couple of excursions along the aisles of the cinema hall during the show and you could buy things from him. The pickings “downstairs” were rather slim for the vendor. His main takings were from the patrons “upstairs” occupying the expensive balcony seats, the majority of whom were our colonial masters.

Another big attraction was the Bukit Bintang Amusement Park (BB Park) in the area now occupied by Sungei Wang Plaza. It was a brightly lit place with a carnival-like atmosphere. There was something for everyone. It had restaurants and a cinema hall (Rialto) which played second-run films. There were gaming stalls and shooting galleries where you could try your luck and win prizes. There was a cabaret and a joget stage with live music where you could dance with professional dancers for around 30 cents per dance.

Boxing and wrestling rings were erected to stage fights. Small halls offered various performances like Chinese opera and magic shows while those who fancied it could pop into Bali Hall and catch Rose Chan strutting her stuff. To keep the younger crowd and children happy there were Dodgem/Bumper cars, a Ferris wheel, a Carousel, a Roller Coaster and even a Ghost Train to scare the wits out of you.

On the roads, trishaws had replaced rickshaws. Few could afford cars; motorbikes and bicycles were predominant. Aircond was a rarity. Men carried handkerchiefs and wore sleeveless cotton singlets (Pagoda brand) under their shirts, presumably to absorb sweat. The first “skyscraper” was the Loke Yew building, all seven storeys of it, in downtown KL. “Hundred Quarters” and most houses still had the bucket sanitation system (gasp!!). These buckets, made of solid rubber, were emptied daily during the early hours of the morning by workers in their lorries (“honey wagons”).

Children still flew kites and played with marbles and spun tops and climbed trees and caught fighting spiders. An outing to Port Dickson was a treat. Visiting Singapore and shopping at Change Alley and the Arcade was a big deal. Anyone earning a so-called “four-figure-salary” was looked upon with awe.

There was hardly any pollution and the air was clean and the skies were clear. On a cloudless night you could look up and witness a sky strewn with literally hundreds of brilliant stars and you could even identify the various constellations. Today, count yourself lucky if you can spot a dozen stars.

There were fighting spiders, huge atlas moths, lots of different types of butterflies and dragonflies, bumble bees and even the occasional fireflies. The clearing of trees and greenery, all in the name of progress and development and plus all that fogging, took care of them.

Pupils and Parents
The pupils of LSB came mainly from Brickfields proper and the surrounding Bangsar and Old Klang Road areas.

Catholic families from the rubber estates and tin mines in Puchong who wanted their children to attend a Catholic school sent them to LSB. The Catholic families in newly developing PJ did likewise. Federal Highway had not been built and Old Klang Road was the only link to PJ. The land now occupied by La Salle PJ and Assunta Secondary School was then a rubber estate and tin was still being mined in Taman Jaya Lake and its surroundings (A&W Drive-In Restaurant and Amcorp) when I moved to live in PJ in 1956.

The parents were all for their children to do well in their studies so as to get decent jobs and escape the grim cycle of hardship and poverty. It was just a few years after the end of the Second World War and the Japanese surrender in1945.

The majority of the pupils’ families were from the low and lower income groups, many of them with household incomes less than 200 dollars a month. With their meagre incomes, they had to house, clothe, feed and educate their children.

In those days large families of five, six or more were the norm. At that time too, monthly school fees at the rate of two dollars and fifty cents were payable. This was a large financial expenditure, especially when multiplied by the number of school-going children in a family.

The parents were all for their children to do well in their studies so as to get decent jobs and escape the grim cycle of hardship and poverty. It was just a few years after the end of the Second World War and the Japanese surrender in1945. The dark memories and scars of the physical, mental and emotional trauma of the brutal Japanese occupation were still raw. And the parents brooked no nonsense from their children when it came to conduct and application to studies. They supported the efforts of the teachers one hundred percent.

On its part, the school did its best to assist needy pupils. Money was collected through various fundraising initiatives including cinema shows held on Saturdays. The money collected was used to clear unpaid school fees and to purchase textbooks and stationery for deserving students. Food, especially powdered milk, was obtained from charitable organisations and made into milk treats for the pupils.

Teachers
I have taught in only one school: LSB.

I witnessed the landfill on the future site of the school. I saw the school come up brick by brick in 1953. I started as a temporary teacher in January 1954. I was accepted as a trainee teacher in May 1954. I qualified as a trained teacher in 1957. I left LSB and the teaching profession in May 1974, twenty years to the very month when I began my teaching career.

I look back with fond memories of my two decades teaching in LSB. Out of humble beginnings during the final years of British colonial rule in Malaya, there rose a school second to none in its professionalism, dedication and focus on the holistic education of its students. Academic excellence is important but stellar academic results are no guarantee of success in life. Character, values, discipline and living skills are equally important in facing life’s challenges and “the arrows and slings of outrageous fortune”. In LSB there was zero tolerance for indiscipline, disrespect, vandalism, bullying, gangsterism and suchlike anti-social behaviour.

The school provided a wide range of extracurricular activities for the pupils’ participation. In addition to a robust sports and games programme, pupils were encouraged to join one of the uniformed groups such as the Boy Scouts and the Red Cross Society. The successful implementation of these initiatives would not have been possible without the fullest support and active participation of the teachers.

Fine buildings do not make a great school. It is the teachers and especially their leaders who make a school great.

All these extracurricular activities helped develop beyond-the-classroom skills: living skills which are almost impossible to impart with chalk and talk in a classroom setting. Participation in these practical activities instilled in the pupils the concepts and values of team building and co-operation, obligations and responsibilities, courage and true grit and a never-say-die mindset. This holistic approach to an all-round education was a hallmark of LSB.

Fine buildings do not make a great school. It is the teachers and especially their leaders who make a school great. LSB was very fortunate to have dedicated teachers and exceptional leaders. I was asked to highlight the contributions made by some of the teachers but I refrained except for the three stalwarts mentioned.

On my scorecard every teacher contributed, every teacher co-operated and everyone played his/her part, the only difference being that some contributions were highly visible while others ran below the radar. Therefore, to highlight one will be to highlight everyone.

For the record, every teacher was involved in at least one, if not two or more, of the following activities :
 Athletics, Football, Hockey, Rugby, Badminton, Table Tennis, Sepak Takraw. (Note: The scope of work involved all competitions viz. intramural, inter-La Salle; MSSS district, inter-district and finals).
 Boy Scouts, Red Cross, St John’s Ambulance, School concerts, Saturday cinema shows to raise funds for needy students.
 Women teachers who home-cooked delicious food for school functions.

Yes, loads of work, loads of contributions – lots of unsung heroes/heroines.

It was a privilege to be a part of this pool of dedicated professionals drawn from the various ethnic groups of our country. They viewed their pupils with 20/20 vision: each and every one was treated fairly with no bias towards race or colour or whatever. I was fortunate to share my journey with this band of professionals.

I learned so much from all my colleagues, particularly Brother Gaston, S. Ratnasingam and Albert Rozario. They were visionaries and led where others followed, and were largely responsible for the excellence, the unity and the unique esprit de corps that prevailed in LSB. All of them have passed away but their legacy still lives on.
Denis Armstrong
11th November 2017
Revised
4th April 2018

*Normal School
Educational institution to train teachers
A normal school was a school created to train high school graduates to be teachers by educating them in the norms of pedagogy and curriculum.

In 1685, St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, founded what is generally considered the first normal school, the Ecole Normale, in Reims, Champagne, France. The term “normal” herein refers to the goal of these institutions to instil and reinforce particular norms within pupils. Norms included historically specific behavioural norms of the time, as well as norms that reinforced targeted societal values, ideologies and dominant narratives in the form of curriculum. From this beginning in France, the concept of normal school teacher training spread all over the world.
(Source : Wikipedia – Normal School)

DA01

LSB in the mid-fifties. Note that the canal has no embankments. The embankments to contain the water were built later. If you look carefully, you will notice a signboard to the left as you cross the bridge to enter the school. The signboard reads “Catholic High School” (in English and Chinese), indicating the temporary occupation of some of the classrooms by CHS students prior to their school building in PJ being built.

The canal running alongside the school is actually a little stream (Sungei La Salle?!). If you follow it upstream, you will eventually arrive at its source: it starts as a spillover from then Lake Sydney in Lake Gardens. As a small boy growing up in Brickfields, I used to catch fish in the canal. The water was much cleaner then and there were many different types of fish : rainbow fish (guppies), striped tigerfish, arrowan, small prawns and plentiful mira meen.

DA02

LSB sports meet in the mid-fifties held in “Chan Ah Tong Stadium”. Our sports meets were held there before the present field was ready. The prize giving ceremonies for the sports events were conducted in the school hall after the end of the meet.

DA03

That’s me with my pioneer batch of Standard Two students. The class photo was taken in early December 1954. LSB started as a single session primary school. The secondary classes were introduced later.

Note the rather simple, plain “home clothes” worn by nearly everyone. No fancy haircuts (some even sporting “homecuts” done inhouse so as to save money), no neckties, no socks, no school badges and not a single fatty in the group, reflecting the economic realities of those years.

Fourth row :
Third student on my left is Jerry Koh Sek Lee. He now runs a successful private tuition centre (Jerry’s Tutorials) in PJ.
Sixth student in the same row (face partly hidden) is the late George Jansen, brother of Julian Jansen who is also an LSB old boy.
Front row kneeling :
Third from left, shielding his eyes from the sun, is insurance agent extraordinaire George Devan. (His memorable tagline: When you see me don’t think of insurance, but when you think of insurance see me).
All of them in this group should now be in their early seventies.

DA04

An informal group photo of the pioneer teachers taken in front of the school main entrance in 1954.

Standing left to right :
Vivian Sequerah, Francis Fernando, Denis Armstrong, S. Ratnasingam, Kok Yew Weng.
Front row left to right :
V. Thangarajah, Clifford Sequerah.
(Not in picture : Victor Santhanam (photographer) and M. Rokk)

Francis Fernando migrated to Australia. Victor Santhanam left teaching in 1955 and went to Singapore where he started VICSAN, a successful magazine distribution company.
All the pioneer teachers who taught in LSB in 1954 have passed away except for Vivian Sequerah and me.

DA05

Band of brothers…
Another informal group photo taken in front of the school in 1959

From left to right :
Noel Cheow, Victor Nesadurai, Albert Rozario, Mohd. Idris Basri, Denis Armstrong.
I am the last one standing. Sadly, all the others have passed on…

I am seen wearing my Ray-Ban sunglasses (genuine!). I was already a qualified teacher (qualified in 1957) so I could afford those Ray-Bans!
The monthly gross pay for a Normal Class trainee teacher was Malayan $175. Upon qualification, the gross salary was Malayan $375.

To put that salary in perspective, consider its purchasing power in those times :
 Cars (Morris Minor) – Around Malayan $5,000 (approximately 13 months salary)
 Houses (A single-storey bungalow, land area approximately 6,000 sq. ft. in Section 6, in newly developing Petaling Jaya) – Around Malayan $15,000 (approximately 40 months salary)

DA06

An ad in the Pan-Malayan Telecommunications Magazine “MERCURY”. Vol 2 No. 5 September 1955
FAIRWINDS HOTEL was a top class establishment famous for its Hainanese Western/Local cuisine. The building is now a private residence. It is just next to the Avillion Hotel. Food inclusive means Breakfast, Lunch (Tiffin!), Afternoon Tea and Dinner!
Yes, those were the days!

DA07

Another ad in MERCURY.
SI-RUSA INN was managed by Chelliah, an Indian Malayan and his Japanese wife. Japanese food was a rarity in those days.

DA08

An end of the year picnic at the Lake Gardens in 1959 for Std. 6A (Albert Rozario class teacher) and Std. 6B (Denis Armstrong class teacher).
Albert Rozario is in the front row, centre and I am on the left.
The boys were the pioneer batch of Std 1 pupils when LSB first opened its doors in January 1954. They would be 71-year-old senior citizens now.

 

DenisArmstrong170x200px

This is a guest post by Denis Armstrong, one of nine pioneer teachers of La Salle Brickfields when the school was established in 1954.

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17 thoughts on “La Salle School, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur

  1. I sat glued on my bed reading this article. Now and then I would stop, go back and re-read a paragraph or part of a paragraph as it brought back vivid memories.

    Although I am now sitting 1000’s of miles away from Brickfields, it was like the “aroma of LSB”, was around my nose. The smell of the canal mentioned, the smell of the Klang river, the smell of the LSB tuck shop. Oh God how precious, these recollections. I just closed my eyes in nostalgia for a moment and I could hear the pitter patter of raindrops falling on the tin roof of our school tuck shop. Its almost half a century since I left LSB but nothing can be forgotten about LSB and the great teachers we had. I would not exchange a single moment of that in exchange to being a student of any other reputed institution in the world. PERIOD.

    And to you my dear Master Denis, it is now 49 years since I left LSB. But all these years you are not forgotten!!! I can never forget your MMA body and ofcourse never forget your scooter. Your dedication to bring out the best in us has not failed. Nomatter who we are now, we always will be your student. What you have instilled in us by your dedicated efforts still holds good.

    Thank you Master Denis and thank you LSB.

    Vinay Chandran
    Class of ’69
    L.C.E

      1. Ha ha ha. Recess time at the tuck shop was always in a hurry. I think I got only 10 cents or 20 cents pocket money a day and that was enough those days.

        It was our hang out joint too. Very vital and important discussions were held there including our spiders and fighting fish tournaments. 😄

  2. Thank you sir. I left a small comment.

    Vinay

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  3. Lovely write up Dad, love the comments on how life was in the past without the distractions we now have with the internet, devices, etc

    Sent from Mark’s iPhone 6s

    >

    1. It was a different era and a different time. Now through the kind courtesy of Denis Armstrong, all the old boys from that humble school can relive those nostalgic days……if only for a while.

  4. Dear leslie
    After all these you still remember me
    What a pleasant surprise
    Happy 80th birthday
    I am now in Costa Mesa CALIFORNIA
    And I hope to come back to malaysia for good in 3-4 years time
    Please keep in touch
    My cell is 949-295-5666
    And thank you Dr Naga for sending me this wonderful article
    It brought me so many memories of the past
    If some of my classmates are reading this
    Please respond
    Regards to all
    George Devan

  5. What a write up by the greatest athletics master and an exemplary disciplinarian in LSB’s without doubts, a natural HALL OF FAMER, the ever young and evergreen Mr Dennis Armstrong. From the day I started right from 1967 through to 1974, he was there, solid as a rock.
    Almost everything you wrote is news to us, just like an untold story. It only makes us love, respect and of course idolize you much more than we already remember you for. The deeds, contributions, dedications, sacrifices and above all the sincerity you have demonstrated will definitely be cherished right till the end of our lives.
    Thank you very much sir, May God Bless You With All The Best There Is, Always.

  6. I am an old student of LSB . I studied from 1963 to 1968. My father migrated to India in 1968. My class teacher in Std 3 is Mr. Saw Ah Bah. The headmaster then was Mr. Ratnasingam . I am still having clear memories of my school days in Malaysia.My father was headmaster in Govt. school at Bangsar. His Name is Mr.S.Panchaksharam(He is no more), After my father settled in India ie Tamil Nadu I visited Malaysia during 2014 only. I came to my school with fond memories.I am now 62 years old. Please guide me to see my old teachers. Presently I shall visit Malaysia. Thank You. P.Baskaran

    1. Good to hear from you Baskaran. Glad the memories are still fresh. Many old boys have also commented favourably about La Salle Brickfields. Mr Ratnasingam passed away a few years ago. However, teachers like S P Nathan ( School 2 ) and K Raja (School 1 ) are still around. Do contact me again when you are in Kuala Lumpur and I will try to assist you in this matter. I taught in LSB Secondary from 1966 to 1980. My email address is benedict.morais@gmail.com

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