Thursday, 30 August 2007

Joanna's Story

As I begin packing for my re-location to Singapore, I chance upon more old school photos and just can't resist reminiscing about my beloved BBGS.

None of us really "leaves" BBGS. We carry her with us throughout our lives. We treasure her memories; be they bitter or sweet. We live and hold dear to the principles ingrained in us through years of discipline and tradition.

As I walked past the wire-fence gate for the first time in 1983, only one thought filled my mind. I was continuing the tradition of being a third-generation BBGS girl in my family. My mother had left these gates in 1961 after completing Senior Cambridge and my grandaunts before her.

In my first year, one teacher left a vivid impression on my mind and she is none other than Mrs. M. Aziz. I am eternally grateful to her for teaching me to appreciate the beauty of the English Language despite all its complexities. I still remember the time she shared an extract from one of Gerald Durrell's stories. It went like this:

We had little compunction in foregoing its hypothetical amenities as an annexe for our embryonic zoo.

Can you imagine how stupefied I was to hear that sentence? To top it all, we were told that this extract was taken from a textbook for 13-year olds in the UK.

Mrs Abraham was another of my favourite teachers whom I'm privileged to call a close friend and confidante. English lessons were so much fun! We composed limericks, wrote advertisement captions and sang the Animal Farm anthem at the top of our lungs. Among the witty creations churned out by my classmates was this advertisement jingle coined by my close friend, Usha Panchapakesan, for an optometrist:

Come to Sunlight Optician and see things you've never seen before

Other advertisements included Rest-in-Peace coffins and Please Release Me tablets - the ultimate cure for constipation!

We practised Choral Speaking with and almost religious fervour. I am very proud of the fact that my English class entered the finals of the competition every year without fail and won on four occasions.

BBGS also gave me numerous opportunities to develop leadership and interaction skills. I shudder in amazement every time I recall the Herculean tasks accomplished. When I sat for my SPM in 1987, my list of responsibilities included: Chief Editor of the school magazine, Vice Captain of Cooke House, Senior Prefect, Patrol Leader for the 32nd KL Girl Guides Company and cell group leader with the Christian Union. Needless to say, my SPM results were way below expectations.

And so it was with great trepidation that I returned to BBGS as a Form Six student. I wanted only to excel in the STPM examinations so that I could enter university. No more responsibilities for me. Instead, I was landed with the heaviest task of all --School Captain! It was indeed an honour to serve the school for the 1988/89 term. In spite of the hard work involved, it turned out to be one of my best years in BBGS.

All in all, my years in BBGS can only be described by listing almost all the superlatives in the Oxford Dictionary. We have been moulded by the same traditions and disciplined by the highest codes of conduct. And this is what BBGS has contributed to society. Multiple generations of women have carried her high standards all over the world. We do this because we have pledged our love and toil in years to be and taken our places as loyal women with our race.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

BBGSian wins Pulitzer Prize

Malaysian with WSJ bags Pulitzer

BEIJING: After just 10 years as a journalist, Malaysian Fong Foong Mei has achieved what most others can only dream of – win the Pulitzer prize.

She is one of seven members of a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) team that won the 2007 Pulitzer international award announced on April 16 for a series of reports on capitalism in China last year.

"It was pretty unexpected but luck has a part in it. It's nice to have the highest journalism prize, the prestige counts a lot but life goes on as usual.

She does have her feet on the ground. "You still have to do the next story and it doesn't get any easier," said the 34-year-old former Bukit Bintang Girls School student who writes under the byline of Mei Fong.

It took two months to find someone who would talk and the construction workers were touched that someone was interested in their story. Fong had written about the difficult living conditions of migrant construction workers in Bejing and co-authored a second piece on a Chinese doctor who was inspired by the "Erin Brockovich" movie starring Julia Roberts, and fought to save his village from environmental pollution in eastern Fujian province.

The migrant workers report also earned her a first prize in the 2006 Human Rights Press Award given out by the Hong Kong Correspondents Club and Amnesty International earlier this year.

Fong recalled the time spent on the stories.
"It took two months to find someone who would talk and the construction workers were touched that someone was interested in their story," she said.
"For the report on the doctor, it was difficult because we didn't have the freedom to travel and do interviews without official permission.
"The waiban (provincial foreign officers) found out about us towards the end of our reporting and chased us out of town. We took a car down from the mountain at night and they followed to make sure we left.

Fong studied at the National University of Singapore under a scholarship from Singapore Press Holdings. She worked with The New Paper for three years.

She went on to complete a masters in International Relations at Columbia University under a Lee Foundation scholarship.

When she graduated in 2001, Fong undertook a three-month internship with WSJ which then led to a job offer.

In 2003, Fong was transferred to Hong Kong and came to Beijing last year.

Married to an American-born Chinese, she returns several times a year to Petaling Jaya to visit her mother and sisters and have her fill of Hokkien fried noodles and roti canai. – Bernama

Monday, 20 August 2007

The Complexities of Choral Speaking

It's been a month since I started polling our favourite BBGS traditions, and it appears that Choral Speaking is the runaway favourite! So, here's another dose of nostalgia for all you BBGSians out there ;-)

Before choral-speaking gained nation-wide popularity among secondary schools in Malaysia, it was the pride (and pain!) of all BBGSians. The art of reciting poetry as a group, focussed primarily on pronunciation, expression and volume. Where appropriate, we would introduce special effects to highlight a particular mood within the poem.

I recently found a poem, written by Mak Mei Ling from Form 5 Science 3, in the 1983 School Magazine. The poem so accurately and humourously describes the annual pilgrimage of BBGSians to the altar of the Inter-Class Choral Speaking Competition.

The Complexities of Choral Speaking

Oh help... That particular time of the year

Has inevitably arrived -

It's Choral Speaking time again.

Choral Speaking?

A certain aura of panic surrounds

The usually stable BBGSians

The very word

Sends chills down our spines.

Librarians in the city

Are naturally mystified

Over the sudden popularity

Of their poetry books

As we comb and rummage

Through them in our zeal.

After days and days

Of searching, reading and rejecting poems,

We come to the conclusion

That no one has yet to produce

A poem striking enough

To suit our sophisticated tastes.

Having no alternatives,

We turn to our class' budding writers

And beg, cajole and even threaten them

To produce a top notch poem

In exactly 24 hours,

No matter how empty or void

They claim their heads to be.

Having secured our Tennysons and Kiplings,

We now struggle to choose a prize winning topic.

"What shall we speak on this year?"


"I know, our PTA toilet project!"

"Uh-ah" "World War Three?"

"How about banning Choral Speaking forever!"


After many hours of brain wracking

And hair tearing sessions,

Our self-proclaimed geniuses

Complete their royal assignment

But, the heartache is far from over

As up crops a totally new problem -

How exactly do we pronounce

All these lip twising

Tongue rolling

And mind boggling words?

Everyone has their own version

Of how the poem should be recited

"...this way...."

", that way..."

Insults are thrown

Egos are bashed

Reducing our poor Choral Speakers

Into nothing but "Quarrel" speakers

Amidst the catastrophe

A star is born - our conductor.

See her face twist

See her hands fly here and there.

She calms our frayed nerves

And reassures us that

We do not sound as terrible

As everyone says we do.

Yet, it is she who tortures us

With countless hours of practice

Turning our lovely, harmonious voices

Into miserable, pathetic croaks.

After what seems to be

An eternity of voice projection,

We are forced to go on stage.

Behind the shaking knees,

Cold fingers and chattering teeth,

One comforting thought

Remains in our hearts -

For we know that

If we never pull through to the semifinals,

The 38 of us overworked, underpraised

Angels in Bata shoes

Need never, ever go through

The complexities of Choral Speaking again.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Meeting up with Dr Irene Teo

Shu Ling and Irene

Shu Ling was back in KL last week, and mooted the idea of meeting up with Irene. We got together at Dragon-I at the Curve, and had a long chinwag over copious cups of Chinese tea.

The fact that our Irene Teo became a doctor comes as no surprise. She used to sweep 50-70% of prizes on Speech Day. Irene graduated with an Australian medical degree and is now attached to the corporate sector. Irene's sisters, Diana, Karen and Selena, also attended BBGS.

Our conversation was lively and candid, filled with anecdotes of past antics and sharing of information re former classmates. Some topics of conversation did remind us that 20 years have passed since we left BBGS. Marriage, kids, cholesterol levels and the solemn realisation that some of our classmates were no longer with us. We've lost two to cancer, and one on the ill-fated SQ 6 flight. Sigh...

Nevertheless, we were happy that we managed catch up after such a long time. Shu Ling & I will no doubt be touching base more often, as I'm relocating to Singapore next month.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

You School 1 or School 2?

"You School 1 or School 2?" is a question that sounds like gibberish to most people, but makes a world of difference to a BBGSian.

Firstly, it's a way to establish if someone is pure-bred, meaning that she attended BBGS from Std One right through to Form Five. If she did attend BBGS primary school, then the "School One vs School Two" debate is one she'd be privileged to take part in.

BTW, it's ok to be a "mixed breed". This debate carries no weight once you've been through the cleansing rituals and loyalty-building traditions of secondary school.

You see, the primary school was divided into morning and afternoon sessions. School One would start in the morning for the first half of the year, and swap to the afternoon session for the remainder. Vice versa for School Two.

The old frangipani tree that stood for decades outside the primary school is one that we all remember well. And that's probably the only thing we had in common. In all other fields, School One and School Two were intense rivals.

I remember us competing in:-

  • Public examination results - It was an annual race to see which school could get the most 5A's in the Std 5 exams and get our faces published in the newspapers. (For the record, it was School 2 in 1981 with my little face amidst the throng of pint-sized overachievers ;-)
  • State-level choir competition - we would make faces at each other from across the hall
  • School mural - which school produced the artwork?
  • Prefects duty noticeboard - which school had the best decorated noticeboard

On one thing however, we would always stand united. Come hell or high water, we had to beat CBN or Convent Bukit Nanas - our arch rivals

My mother, sister and I were from School 2 and we were definitely the BEST. Anyone care to disagree?

Feel free to post a comment :-)

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Women of Vision

This tribute is taken from the 1983 School Magazine.
It was written by Lim Poh Lian (Form 5 - 1982), and read during the 90th anniversary celebration in 1983.

Dense equatorial jungle ruled the land,
Stalked the Main Range and the foothills,
Green and lush and wild was the Malaya of 1893.

Away in the blue distance snaked the Klang,
A mighty mud-brown serpent stretched lazily Coiled in the mid-day sun.
You could almost hear the cries of the dulang-workers
Calling to one another as they stood
Knee-deep in the swirling water,
Harvesting the rich lode from the rust-red earth.

Over such a scene must the gaze
Of that small missionary band have travelled.
And as they contemplated their task,
Were they, perhaps, dismayed?
Daunted by the enormity
Indeed, the folly, of that colossal undertaking they had attempted.

They lived in the strait-laced Victorian era
which was to last eight more years,
And the British Empire was in the noon-day of its glory.
Women in England would not win the right to vote for another thirty-five years, And many prestigious institutions of higher learning
Would remain bastions of male chauvinism for eighty more years.

A woman was regarded as a man's belonging,
His chattel, his slave,
Her value somewhat above that of a servant,
Somewhat below the price of a good cow.
A docile home-maker,
A submissive creature who ministered to her man's needs,
With no opinions, no individuality, no mind of her own.
A baby-factory.

What hope did they have?
Against the inflexible decree of society "A woman's place is in the kitchen."
A pipe-dream, a ridiculous fancy!
What earthly good could learning to read and write possibly do the creatures?

But 90 years ago, these women came.
Women of foresight, Women of vision.
And they saw the need for girls to be educated.
It is because of them that Bukit Bintang schools exist at all today.

Yet, had they been women of vision only
Nothing may have come of it.
The world has enough dreamers,
enough visionaries, enough shaggy-haired leaders with faraway looks in their eyes,
And not enough men and women who are prepared to work to put solid foundations under those castles in the air.

Well, these women were women of action as well,
Women of great faith and courage.
They bulldozed their way past objections and obstacles,
Tranformed impossibilities into realities
Through sheer uncompromising determination, toil and prayer.

Money needed? They went out and worked for it.
Ingenuity and resourceful wits made up for the lack of rich backers.
Teachers? Well, they were qualified, were they not?
Pupils? They went out and persuaded
Reluctant, dubious, openly sceptical parents,
Calling on each family in person.

Slowly, surely, the dream took shape
And our school began to grow.
There, in the desolate place in Brickfields,
Miss Betty Langlands planted the seed of education for girls
(though boys were admitted as scholars too!)
That seed grew for nine years under Miss Bessie Maclay's care
Even while it was uprooted and moved to Petaling Hill and Davidson Road.

Miss Maclay was a strict woman,
Her word was law.
But she was loved by all who knew her
And when she left for the US during World War I
And her ship, the Lusitania was lost at sea with all aboard,
Great was their grief.
But her memory lives on in Maclay House.

After her, Miss Shirtliff continued the work of the women of vision.
Then, Miss Ruth Lewis and Miss Molly Ham,
Who kept the school going during the difficult war years.
When they left, Mrs W.H. Green took the helm till Miss A. Luke arrived in 1919. Green and Shirtliff Houses are named after these two sisters.

Miss O'Connor was here in 1922.
Then in 1925, Miss Eva Prouse came to join the growing family of BBGS.
Three years later, she presented the first BBGS students for the Cambridge School Certificate Examinations.
Among them, Mrs Chuah Kim Neo,
later Headmistress of the Primary School.
Truly, a milestone in our history.
Prouse House carries her name
And Prouse Wing was built with the savings she left the school.

In 1930, Miss Mary Glasgow relieved Miss Prouse.
The school, then 250-strong, moved to its location in Bukit Bintang
The School on a Starry Hill.

Then came the war.
BBGS was commandeered by the Japanese,
Used as a military camp.
Lessons had to be suspended, classes disbanded,
Some of the teachers were imprisoned.
Miss Glasgow survived the internment in Sumatra,
Miss Prouse did not.

By the time the British returned in September 1945,
All Malaya was in a sorry state.
The economy was in shambles,
The banana-notes of the Occupation were not even worth the paper they were printed on.
Transport was at a standstill, unemployment rife,
Food was scarce, medical supplies even more so,
And BBGS suffered with all the rest.

But even in that dark hour,
The legacy of the women of vision did not dim. Resolutely, Miss T.M.Too set out to restore what was left
And to rebuild anew.

By the time Miss Glasgow returned in 1946,
Things were really starting to move.
She was awarded an MBE for her loyal,
whole-hearted service in the field of Malayan education.
By the time she retired, she had spent 31 years with BBGS.

1950 was a golden year in many ways.
Prouse Wing was opened, traditions were in the making,
Foremost among them, the Choral Speaking Competition.
Societies and activities were mushrooming
Including the Literary and Debating Society and the Badminton Club.
1951 was the year of that eagerly-awaited 'baby'
Our very own School Magazine.

It was also a time of significance for the women of vision.
For as they grew older and had to lay down the great task,
New women of vision were rising to answer the call,
Accepting the challenge to build on the foundations already laid.
But there was something special, something familiar about these young women.
Why, yes! They were old girls,
Pure bred BBGSians
Who had now returned to pass it on,
The flame of dedicated service and love.

By 1958, the mantle of leadership fell to Miss Elena M. Cooke,
Bringing with it, responsibility for a school of 520 pupils and 20 staff.
Years before, her parents were in the school
And Cooke House was named after her father.

Her era was to last 20 years,
She was the master-builder of the age,
Hers was the era of building,
The School Hall, the new Home Science Block,
Our brother school, BBBS,
The excellent library, The school fields, the Science labs, the Canteen block,
And the Gymnasium.

During that time, the school grew from strength to strength.
Food sales, funfairs, class cleanliness and a floral arrangment competition, toilet cleaning.
Then she retired, having earned an AMN and a KMN for her service.
Her place was taken by Mrs. S.K. Ang
And then, Miss G.K. Yeap
The school now stands at 1800 pupils and 67 staff.

All this time, the vision has never stopped growing,
Expanding bigger and wider and greater.
It is no longer limited to achieving literacy among girls,
For look! A 17-year old has produced this historical poem.

We have produced doctors and lawyers, nurses and teachers,
Successful careerwomen, yes.
But also, successful housewives - home-makers, mothers,
the ones who are entrusted with the care of
The Tomorrow-People, today's children.
Women who are no less important
Though what they do may be less glamorous and receive less recognition.

The vision has grown very wide indeed.
Where do we go from here?
The sky is no longer the limit.
Possibilities abound.
All the world lies ahead, waiting to be explored.
But our motto holds us to our purpose.
NISI DOMINUS FRUSTRA - Without God, all is in vain.
And in some ways,
Our vision today is the same as that we had 90 long years ago.
To produce upright young women who will know what is right,
And do it.
Women worthy of this nation.

All the girls who have passed through BBGS,
Though each is different,
Though she may live in different eras,
Be scattered to all corners of the earth,
In all walks of life,
Yet - Every girl has felt the touch of BBGS,
The shining heritage of The Women of Vision.