Sunday, 19 July 2015

WATTOPERS Turn 50's: Celebrating 38 years of brotherhood - Part 9 The Final Year

The final year at the college was very memorable indeed. The finale was the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examinations off course. However, there were many events and incidences which made the year very close to our hearts until today.

As a tradition, those in form 5 will be part of the Parsatuan Pelajar Tingkatan 5 or PPTL in short. While we were already classmates and dorm mates, PPTL enabled us to do a number of activities as the most senior students of the college. We printed t-shirts, organised events and also performed at the Malam PPTL which was the sign off event for every batch.

As it got closer to the end of the year, the preparation for the SPM got more intensified. Extra classes and additional notes were thighs that we were provided with to enhance our chances to perform well. For some, those were also reminders that they had to start studying! I remember Mr. Matthias worked very hard to ensure we all would do well in History, the subject that he taught. Given the diversity of the students that he had in our class, ensuring one-half of the class to pass was certainly very, very challenging. He distributed copies of notes and we were required to answer pass year questions regularly throughout the year.

We were encouraged to start considering our future career. The Career Guidance section which was administered by Cikgu Fatanah was very helpful. It provided us with information regarding options of what we could consider as our career of choice later. I initially wanted to take up aeronautical engineering as I like planes since my younger days. However, I got to know that somebody who I did not fact was going for the same course. I had to consider a different option as I do not want to end up with him in the same course. Then, as fate would have it, I discovered accountancy. I could still remember reading about accountancy information helps in decision making. From then onwards I was determined to study accountancy.

When I was interviewed by MARA officers during the scholarship interview, they indicated to me that I should go to UK to take up law. I was quite talkative during the session and they reckon that would make me a great lawyer. I insisted that I be sent to Australia to study accountancy. I was very grateful to Allah that MARA agreed to sponsor me to pursue the carrier of my choice in Australia and I was sent there even my SPM results were announced.

To be eligible to go to Australia, we had to sit for an English (the Aussies still consider themselves speaking English) proficiency test. Our listening and written skills were tested. We had to listen to statements and information in English (with the Australian accent of course) and answered questions based on what we heard. It was an experience to many of us as some of the topics covered we unheard off before. I managed to convince the Aussies that I deserve a chance tons study in Australia.

The English proficiency test for Australia bound students
This was also the year (if I am not mistaken) when the World Wildlife Funds brought Kamahl, a Malaysian who met his fame in Australia and sang the Elephant Song, to the college. Perhaps that was among the first exposure that we had about the need to us to take care of the environment and its habitants, from ourselves.

When we sat for the SPM exams, the rest of other students were around but they left us half way into the examination season. It was the first of the experience that broke many of our hearts. We were friends (and some did have fellings with each other) and parting ways for the last time was not easy. Many were in tears when they left. We were then left alone to complete the most important mission in our lives, then.

I could recall that this was the year when I studied the most in my entire life. I prefer to go to the class early in the morning when others were still at their dorm. The early morning stint worked very well for me as I could comprehend the subjects without interruption. Even on the weekends, I would do the same thing. When others started to join me, I will go to the dining hall for tea. 

We sat for the SPM exam with the full blessings of our teachers. They certainly gave their best, notwithstanding we were naughty and cunning with our tricks to avoid serious stuff. While many took the examinations seriously it was not that uneventful. I recall Halim Buntal were late for his history paper because he overslept. He studied so hard the night before the exam. We were also eagerly waiting for "spot questions" which were so customary those days. For those who did not have enough preparation, those tips were useful, provided they were true.

After the examination was over, we thought we would be allowed to stay back for a while before returning to the places we came from. However, breaking the tradition again, we were asked to go back immediately. Perhaps, as we were an all-boys batch, leaving us at the college when there was nothing else to do was deemed risky. I know that some of us already went around and did things to the property of the college. That could be one of the reasons that our departure was fast forwarded.

During this final moments, we tried as much as possible to be close to each other. We shared autographs and photos. We took pictures together and some did some planning on what to do next. We did not know whether we would be offered scholarships and where we would be sent to by MARA.

Photo with our librarians
Finally, the end could not be postponed further. It was in the month of December where were left the college for the last time as students. Hugs and cries were the order of the day as those who came from the other states boarded their busses to bring them back home. Even the toughest of us could not pretend that day. Years just came out from our eyes as many acknowledged that the day was going to be the last day that we would be together as a batch. 

I tried to leave the college the latest possible, after most of my friends left. It was an experience that I carry until today. Leaving an institution which folded us from innocent boys to youths who would be given the responsibilities to continue to build the nation was not easy.

We went to the college as strangers, we became brothers. As what is trendy today, we are Best Friends Forever.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

WATTOPERS Turn 50s: Celebrating 38 Years of Brotherhood - Part 8 (Under and overground activities)

We were at the college at the age where we were curious about many things in life, especially when we were not allowed to explore them. Like all schools, smoking was not allowed. I am sure most of the students in our batch did not smoke when we first arrived at the college. However, it did not take a long time before some of us started to pick up the habit, including my dorm mates. To some it was a macho thing to do, amongst other things.

For those who smoke, the most important thing after making sure not to be caught by the wardens was to secure the supply. They would initially get their supply from our seniors who smuggled the cigarettes from outside. The other option was to go out and buy the cigarettes themselves. This was done either during weekends when we were allowed to go to town or by sneaking out through the holes in the fences at the back of our dormitories and procure the supply from nearby shops. After a while, they became suppliers of cigarettes themselves.

The wardens knew about these activities and they did spot checks at the dormitories from time to time. As precautions, the smokers and suppliers hid their stuff at places where they thought would be difficult for the wardens to find the contrabands. The places included the toilets, holes in the mattresses, above the ceilings and other places which I myself could not figured out. Another tactic used was to re-arrange the beds and lockers so that they could have some additional time should they sense spot checks were to be made. Being season wardens, these tricks were not alien to them and in many instances they managed to find the cigarettes. Those who were caught were given warnings or if they were habitual offenders they were canned on the spot and the offences were recorded in their personal files.

The lights at our dormitories were supposed to be off by 11 pm and we were supposed to sleep. However, life did not necessarily stopped. There were many activities that happened beyond the lights off period.

Those who were hungry would proceeded to cook maggie. One of the reasons to do this after hours was because they will be "taxed" less by other dorm mates. Otherwise, the bowl had to be passed around and the actual amount that was left for the owner could be little. One of the tricks that I used was to pass the bowl of maggie around when it was boiling hot. It most instances, the rest would not take it as they could not stand the temperature.

There were students who were more adventurous when they felt hungry at night. One spot to find food was the dining hall. Sometimes, there could be biscuits left in their containers unattended. These boys would bring the containers back to the dormitories and we could happily have our supper. The supply could last for days.

One of the facilities provided to us was our TV room. Lights off meant that the TV has to be switched off and people has to go back to their dorms. This was not strictly followed all the time. Pok Ju could recall that he continued to watch the TV well beyond the lights off time. He and few other friend were comfortable as their rooms were not that far away. Suddenly the wardens appeared and started to cane whoever that were there. The students panicked and went out through the windows. The room was vacated in 5 seconds! Rafi, who was in the room as well ran towards his room by passing through the cloth drying area. Suddenly he realised that his vision was blurred, he dropped his spectacles when his face bumped on the lines. Luckily it was found and he went to his room feeling relieved.

The girls' dormitories were just adjacent to our block. Although fenced, some of the boys thought that slipping into the girls dormitories was exciting and fun. They did not cause any harm to any of the girls but they sneaked into their block to collect souvenirs such as panties, under garments and sleepers which were not that really useful for the boys. I knew a few who wore those staff and were brave enough to show off their collections by wearing the sleepers into the dining hall.

Some took the opportunity to go out and have meal outside the college after lights went off. In fact going out illegally through the most of the time broken fences was not really a big deal. Some even went out to watch movie in Kota Bharu. The warden and security staff tried to stop this by closing the holes whenever they appeared. It became a sort of cat and mouse game until one day one of us got upset and removed one who section of the fence. The gap so big that it could accommodate a car! The wardens gave up for a while and the gap was left unattended for few weeks. Eventually it was closed off and the cat and mouse game continued.

To prevent these sort of activities a number of wardens were required to live at our block. I remember that we had Cikgu Mahmud, our geography teacher, staying in his room adjacent to our dormitory B-6 or more popularly known as Bentoel-6 at that time. By the way Bentoel came from a brand of a cigarette from Indonesia. Some of us smoke that brand, hence that was how our dorm got our name. One memorable incidence was one of us peed on Cikgu Mahmud shoes. He was very upset, rightfully, and shouted madly. We kept quiet and pretended not to know who the culprit was. I am sure I know who did that and the person eventually became a professional. I am not sure whether he has apologised to Cikgu Mahmud or not. 

There were not internet in those days but it did not prevent many of us from doing what many growing up boys would do, to understand more about birds and the bees. One of the popular novel at that time was "Mona Gersang" a sexual explicit Malay novel which was published in the 80's (apparently when I googled this novel, there is an updated version). I was told that this novel was passed around and read by many people. Until today when the name of the novel is mentioned, it would trigger smiles amongst the adult Wattopers.

WATTOPERS Turn 50s: Celebrating 38 Years of Brotherhood - Part 7 (The search for water)

Many of us took the supply of piped water for granted until the past few years where those who are living in Klang Valley started to experience water shortages. While generally we had adequate water supply at the college, there were occasions where we experienced severe water shortages due to low water pressure that occurred over some extended periods.

One way of overcoming the problem was to wake up and get ourselves freshened up very early in the morning when other are still asleep. This will only work if the water tanks supplying water to the dormitories were themselves got replenished overnight. There were instances when only selected bathrooms had running water in the morning. If one were late, one had to queue or had to rush to class without bathing.

When the toilets at the dormitories were totally without water supply, we had to go around the college to bath and clean ourselves. There were a number of options. Some would go to the academic building and do their business in the toilets. Some went to the dining hall. After a while even the water supply to these places became dry.

Under desperation, the next target would be the fire hydrants around the college. It was not a weird thing to see boys bathing using water from these hydrants only with their shorts on. The girls had to carry the water back to their dormitories using pails. Given that their dormitories were closer to the dining hall and sure, it was more convenient for the girls to source water from these places.

The girls hostel, then known as Block A
After a while some of us became selfish and decided to keep the valve openers to themselves. Those who were in possession of the openers became like kings as people would have to get the openers to get water. Looking back, such practice could lead to hazard should there be a need to use the hydrants under emergency circumstances.

Our survival instinct did not limit our efforts to search for water within the college parameters only. Another option was to sneak out through the holes in the parameter fences at the back of the dormitories and wine to the teacher training college nearby to bath and clean ourselves. For security purposes the holes were quickly patched to avoid outsiders from intruding into the college area. Somehow, other holes would reappeared and they were instantly used to search for water and other purposes which I will share later.

Towards the later part of my life at the college, hostel blocks for the teachers training college was constructed in-between MRSM KB and the teacher training college's old buildings. Mahzan recalled that the block adjacent to Block B were women's hostel because they were operating without curtains for a month and caused a lot of excitements especially for the boys who had binoculars. 

As part of the construction, a huge swimming-pool like hole was dug. When it rained, the hole retained water and appeared like a swimming pool. The boys were excited and went to swim there happily. I am sure by now we realised that swimming pools must be maintained and the water must be cleaned up on a daily basis. Then, nobody bothered about the quality of the water even when the colour started to turn dark. I never tried the "swimming pool" myself.

The other consequence of not having regular water supply was the condition of our toilets. As life had to go on and people have to relief themselves, some used the toilet even when there was no water. Surely, whatever that was left could not be flushed away. After few days, the smell became unbearable but the need to go in remained. I could remember covering my head and face with towel when I was forced to use the toilet and it was not an experience you wish to have again.

We had to wash our cloths and it was normal to soak them in water with detergent overnight before they were washed. However, a night can be very long when there was no water. Some cloth were left for weeks in the pails and the smell turned from pleasant into something very bad. When the water supply resumed, proceeding with washing were very testing indeed. When the laundry service was introduced it provide huge relief as at least our uniforms and other clothing could be cleaned when we had water problems.

It was really tough then for us to endure the periods when the water supply was disrupted. However, it also to a certain extent hardened our spirit of survival and was an indirect lesson of overcoming challenges of life. I will not ask for my children to experience the same but I would certainly appreciate the experience and the lesson that came together with that part of life in MRSM Kota Bharu.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

WATTOPERS Turn 50s: Celebrating 38 Years of Brotherhood - Part 6 (Politics and Representation)

One of the experiences which provided me with the confidence in my later life was the student representation system or Badan Wakil Pelajar (BWP). This system replaced an earlier version known as Majlis Perwakilan Pelajar or student representative council. I can only recall that the BWP system has less number of representatives compared to its predecessor. There was no prefect system when I was at the college, interesting.

The representative systems were based on the view that students should be allowed to stand based on what they belief were right, free from any influence or intervention of our teachers. This liberal approach towards truth was certainly different from our main stream culture nowadays where truth tends to be forced by the dominant groups who have power to do so.

My dorm leader when I was in form one, Abang Amin, was one of the pioneer members of BWP. One has to offer oneself as a candidate and the rest of the students community would be voting for those who they felt suitable to represent them. Some form groupings or parties and the campaign period would very interesting. Not only posters were allowed to be hanged but there would be a session where each candidate would be allowed to address the public with his or her manifesto. As there was no direct election for the presidency, we did not have presidential debate. It would have been allowed if there were one since those who want to be leaders cannot have the hearts of chicken, always finding excuses from taking on questions and be publicly accountable.

The BWP was headed by a President and assisted by the Vice-President. There were number of portfolios such as sports, welfare, publication, culture and religious affairs, more or less reflecting areas which were important to the students those days.

I was brought up by my grandparents (the sister of my grandmother and her husband) who were fairly involved in politics in the 60s. As Kelantanese took their politics seriously, they were living in a house in Pasir Mas with few other family members who had differing political ideologies. Somehow, their stories and conversations had provided me with political consciousness. In 1977, when the Asri led PAS state government was toppled, I went to observe few gatherings including the one which led to the emergency be declared in Kelantan. Playing hide and seek with the Federal Reserve Unit who were patrolling Kota Bharu to enforce the curfew was fun and cool back then.

My first attempt for a BWP seat was when I was in form two. A number of my friends decided to participate in the election and we formed the "Saint" party. One of the tradition those days was a private session with the seniors who will ask you questions of what would you do if elected. They will then decide amongst themselves who to support. 

Reflecting on what we experienced, the BWP elections those days were more free than the student elections at our universities nowadays. Maybe there was no stake to anybody, therefore nobody bothered to interfere. 

There was no money politics and we need not worry about have millions to finance our campaign. Our party workers were our classmates and dorm mates who assisted on the basis of friendship. One of the campaign speeches that I still remember until today for the one made by Jeff. He started by saying "I am here to tell you not to elect me, if I am not good enough. However, if you feel I can be your good representative, throw me your support".

Candidates for the Saint. From left to right: Kamarudin, Yeoh, Jeff, Mazni, Hasni and me.
I did not win the election as the number of votes that I got was just below the cut off point. Kamarudin, Jeff and Mazni managed to be elected. I did not feel disappointed at all.

At the end of our Sijil Rendah Pelajaran (SPR) examinations, we were expecting to be sent home as what the tradition had been before. However, the teachers had a different idea. We were asked to stay back and participated in a number of activities. Many were furious and some, including me, went to the teachers to protest against their plan. I remember in one meeting chaired by Cikgu Zin, our principle, where I stood and asked for the programme to be scrapped. The answer by one of them was "You will not understand why we do what we are proposing until you have grown up".

So we had no choice but to stay and endured the activities that was arranged. One of them was a competition to build landscapes using sawdust. Under protest, my team built something beautiful, applying knowledge we attained through our geography lessons. However, a few days before the results was to be announced, somebody destroyed all our work which were left unguarded at the academic building. Interestingly, our efforts were noticed by our teachers and my team was judged to win the first prize in our category. So, we were not rebel without cause after all.

I participated in the BWP election again when I was in form four and got the second highest votes after Mazlan Musa who was elected as the President. Other members from my batch was Fikri, Sam, Mat Zin, Mohamed Ismail and Suhairi. The only representative from my junior batch was Haslan, who was a sportsperson and a player for the college hockey team. It was an all-male cabinet.

BWP 1981-1982. From left to right: Sam, Haslan, myself, Mazlan, Cikgu Zin, Fikri, Mat Zin, Mohamad Ismail and Suhairi.
The college certainly empowered us, the students, to stand on our own feet. This provided us with the confidence in leading ourselves and others as well as exposing us to the risks of our decisions. We were accountable to the community and were expected to deliver all the promises made during the campaign period. I believe we did not disappoint our constituency. The sense of being able to be truth to yourselves was really liberating and fulfilling.

Friday, 26 June 2015

WATTOPERS Turn 50s: Celebrating 38 Years of Brotherhood - Part 5 (The Urban Legend)

The college is located in Pengkalan Chepa, near the Sultan Ismail airport. There are a number of school around this area including Sekolah Menengah Sains, Sekolah Menengah Vokasional and Sekolah Menengah Pengkalan Chepa. Maktab Perguruan Kota Bharu, a teachers training college, was also located adjacent to the college. Eventually, MRSM Kota Bharu was renamed MRSM Pengkalan Chepa, to reflect the town in which it is located. This was to cater for many more MRSMs which were established by MARA. When MRSM Pasir Tumbuh came into being MRSM Kota Bharu had to give way and assumed the PC initials. MRSM Kuala Berang eventually assumed the name of MRSM KB.

During the Second World War, Malaya was invaded by the Japanese army in 1941. They first landed in Pantai Sabak (also known as Pantai Dasar) Pengkalan Chepa. The British had built their defence line near the shore and we could fine cement bunkers around Pantai Sabak, then. Therefore, it would not be difficult to imagine that the British and the Japanese fought each other in Pengkalan Chepa areas at the early stages of the war.

A World War 2 bunker at the Kelantan War Museum
When the college was opened in 1973, most of the buildings, including students dormitories were constructed out of wood. Only later, more permanent structures were constructed. During our first few years at the college, these old blocks were still there in their original state and were used as classes. Later they were refurbished into more modern buildings and some were later replaced with concrete classrooms and laboratories.

Amongst the stories passed down by our seniors were about some scary episodes that they experienced in the early days of the college. We were told that the dorms, which were located at the old blocks, were open and long with beds on both sides. Sometimes, at the middle of the night, some of the students saw headless Japanese troops marching in the middle. Some of them also saw Japanese troops around the college field, which they claimed where prisoners of war were executed.

The other legend at the college was about Nenek Roslin. Many of the seniors claimed that an old lady could be seen to wonder around the college, especially at the old blocks. There were many versions of how she came into existence. One was about a lady who lost her child and she went wondering to find the child. I wonder how could this nenek have a very modern name if she came from the older generation.

Honestly, I never meet any of these urban legends of MRSM Kota Bharu myself. One of the explanations given was that they were around before the Surau was constructed. With the construction of the surau, all these beings seemed to have disappeared, perhaps they could not stand the azan or the call for prayers. However, it did not stop us from talking about them especially when there were blackouts or when we had to attend the preparatory classes in the evenings, especially for those whose classes were located at the old blocks.

Pok Ju could recall a night when one of the boys saw a white figure in the middle of the dark field. They felt scared but then they became curious and wanted to know what it was. A few of them went to investigate and were ready to pick a fight with whatever it was. As they were approaching the figure suddenly the heard a loud voice. The white figure spoke to them. It was Cikgu Mahmud, our warden. Realising that, all of them ran back to their dorm and pretended to sleep. The warden turned up and pointed his flash light. Everybody  shut their eyes although the warden could see they were sweating.

There were cases of hysteria especially amongst the girls. Like any other similar cases in other schools, such incidences could not be properly explained. Not sure whether the Japanese troops or Nenek Roslin did make some special appearance from time to time and whether they knew the girls were their avid fans!

Until today the legend is passed from one batch to another. Whenever I met alumni from the later batches, I would asked them about Nenek Roslin and most of them would know some stories about her.