Friday, 30 August 2013

Parry Secondary School episodes

The "pirate" taxi that took us to school and back. As many as six (sometimes more) could pack into it as there
 would be a wooden bench placed on the back seat.
Wow, an old classmate just sent me this picture of her
report book. She kept all her report books right up till A levels!
The colour of the Parryan report book is the colour of our uniform.
THERE are so many thoughts (and effort) that parents put in these days, so that their children attend the school of their choice.

In my time, my mum had no time to work this out. She left it pretty much to me. So when I suggested to her that I would like to try for Methodist Girls' Secondary School (the one at Paya Lebar), she was fine. She heard that it was a good school. I thought it was a pretty good school myself, because it had a dash of difference -- a white belt! And the school building looked grand to me -- almost like the illustrations I saw in many of Enid Blyton's books -- those series on Malory Towers, Naughtiest Girl...

And think how near it was to Kok Wah Theatre! (The school used to be at Boundary Road, just behind the 5th Mile Market or the Lim Tua Tow Market).

But of course, I couldn't get in. My second choice was Parry Secondary School. I knew nothing about this school except that my best friend put it down as her second choice as well. It was a new school -- with a normal and technical stream. I had vision of myself going into technical stream, doing carpentry or working on machines or whatever. Sounded exciting! But mum wouldn't hear of it. So, I took the normal subjects -- Geography, Literature, Maths, General Science, Biology, Chinese... and Domestic Science. Come to think of it, there were music classes as well.

The uniform, by the way, was considered "smart" at the time. School tie was compulsory even if you were not a prefect. You then pin the school badge on the tie. White shirt, with light green skirt that had two inverted pleats in front. Also compulsory to wear a belt made from the same cloth as the skirt. They were made by a tailor who came down to the school. Each of us had to queue up to be measured. For some reason, my skirt was unbelievably big and long... Had to punch extra hole in the belt to hold up the skirt and had to hem up the skirt several folds before it became the right length.

By no means should you starch the skirt because the cloth was already so stiff. With starching, you would need to place the skirt on the floor, and then hop into it. In later years, I heard, they allowed the skirt to be made of lighter cotton that had a mix of rayon, so that ironing would be a breeze.

The school song started with: "We are Parryans young and strong! Onward and fo-or-ward, we will pro-o-ceed!...."

Domestic Science

Our paos were hard
as rock.
For some reason, everyone agreed that the fiercest teachers were found in DS (short for Domestic Science). They were snappy and impatient. I would have enjoyed the subject very much (especially the cooking sessions) if not for those fierce teachers.

We were paired up for cookery class. My most memorable session was making char siew pao (steamed buns with meat fillings). We had to put the finished products on the rack to show the teacher when the cooking time's up. Just as the teacher walked past our table, our two char siew paus fell from the tray and were hard enough to roll for a distance of two tables. The teacher wasn't impressed, but everyone was rolling over with laughter.

My partner wasn't pleased with me. Everybody's egg custard came out of the mould nicely and could be taken home in a lunch box. Ours needed to be poured into a flask. But I must say it didn't taste too bad as a drink.


There is a town in S America that is called Cheeky Tomato. Today, I can't remember its real name. But everyone in class knew where this town was on the map because of its catchy name. (OK, I just did a Google, and it is Chuiquicamata, the biggest open pit copper mine in the world, north of Chile.)

Gobi Desert was a really famous desert -- among our class -- as this was the nickname for a teacher whose balding head was shaped like this desert.

Sahara Desert was the nickname of another teacher who lived nearby to our school. Her garden was like a desert with only a few thorny shrubs.


Enjoyed lab sessions quite a bit because we can see colours changing in test tubes -- and yes, precipitation! And it was always exciting to light the Bunsen burner and use our platinum wire -- we felt so much like real scientists. But we did have some problem with our pendulum experiment as our bob attached to the spring seemed rather uncontrollable. It wasn't a bob for nothing as it kept bobbing. But wasn't it supposed to swing like a pendulum?

My experiment using blocks of glass to show refraction was pretty successful, I must say.

Then there was mention of cations in one of the lessons -- and my friend next to me on the work bench started asking me whether there were "poot onions" as well. There was a popular girl guide song called "Onion Poot" (I think). We giggled so much that the science teacher asked us "Why so happy?" Yes, he was a very mild-tempered man.


Our Chinese teacher was not particularly inspiring. But occasionally he would stray from making us read from the text book one by one -- and talked about other things like what one must do during job interviews. "Now, sometimes, the interviewer would put a fallen chair in your path as you walk into the interview room. Remember to pick up the chair and put it out of harm's way. This is a test that interviewers use to see your initiative, your reactions," he said during one lesson.

I always thought about this when I went for job interviews later in life. But so far, there have been no fallen chairs to pick up.

Music Classes

The lady teaching us music was a Mrs Chin, and she had only cheongsams in her wardrobe. She looked splendid in cheongsam as she was slim, but had an hour-glass shape. Besides teaching us rhythm and the value of each different music note, we were to sing our hearts out. Songs sung then included Dayong Sampan, Planting Rice, Bengawan Solo, and a Chinese song that went "Lu li, lu li, lu li wan shan pao..." Which translated, means, "Work hard, work hard, upwards we climb..." I really liked this song because it has lines like: "I will not even wipe my sweat as I climb... My toes cling to the rocks... My hands to the tendrils, step by step, I reach the top!" Nothing like barefoot climbing to reach the summit.

There were singing tests too. We had to go to the front of the class to sing a song of our choice. I chose "Bengawan Solo" because I liked its melody. But this was a mistake. "Then running onwards all surrounded..." can be rather high, if you'd started on a high note to begin with. So this line was hardly audible when I sang it. Fail! Should have sung "Planting Rice".

Siok Chew, leader of the Swimming and Dracula Gang

After school, to Dra's castle, hey!
Where are you, the irrepressible Siok Choo? She was the one said what's on her mind, irregardless of who was around. She's the one who would round us up to go for Dracula shows after school. So we sent our bags home through the pirate taxis (contracted by our parents, much like the school buses of today) -- while we gallivanted to town, usually Capitol, to watch Dracula movies. (Mum would be terribly upset to find only my bag arriving home, with a note from the driver to say that the owner of the bag had gone to town.)

She would be the gungho one who made sure we were at Farrer Park Swimming pool on Friday mornings for our swimming lessons -- even when it was raining. She would be the one to organise swimming sessions during public holiday. Although I always got a running nose after each session, I enjoyed them tremendously -- all of us slept on the bus after our swimming as we got very tired. Those were some of the best sleeps I ever had!

Romance in a pirate taxi

How many students and their school bags were able to squeeze into a pirate taxi? Many -- five at least. There would be an "upper" row -- a narrow wooden bench resting on the hind seat where the smaller kids would sit. School bags were stuffed into the boot. If not enough space, the softer bags (those made from cloth) would rest on our laps. Sometimes, the driver was committed to send more than five to school -- especially when one or two were missed out in his earlier rounds and ended up in our round. (There was when the wooden bench really came in useful).

Couldn't really remember the make of this car, but was it an Austin something? (Not a Mini for sure). The driver was a vegetable seller by morning and a driver by afternoon. He had a huge scar on his thigh due to his vegetable chopper accidentally slipping off his hand one day. But he drove with alacrity and precision, taking corners with such F1 skills that would have sent us flying around in the car if it wasn't so packed..

I was usually the first one to be picked up at Brockhampton Drive. The next one would be a boy from St Gabriel's at Tavistock Ave. Then, there would be a Convent girl (with long pigtails) from Huddington Ave. Then, my classmate from Farleigh Ave. The last one was a very big and tall girl (our senior, Sec 4) from Lichfield Ave.

The St Gabriel boy and the Convent girl were soon an item -- they had secret signals, smiles, for conversation in the car. He was a real gentlemanly boy and would jump down to open the door for her (only for her). He must be Sec One  then (as we were in Sec Two and he seemed smaller than us). Soon we found them holding hands and dating at Chomp Chomp! Hey, even in those days, they started young :)

On Saturdays, should we have CCA, there would be no pirate taxi. I would take Bus No. 72 and hopped dow after the junction of Serangoon Garden Way and Yio Chu Kang Road, and then took the long walk in through Philips Ave, past the Japanese Cemetery and then Parry Avenue. I was with the Girl Guides uniform group -- not much marching required unless near National Day.

Girl Guides

Reef knot (the teddy bear's bow)-- a lesson learnt\
 from being a Girl Guide at Parry Sec School
Girl Guides were not known for their marching (when I was a Girl Guide). Especially when you had to turned your head to respectfully look at the VIPs while continuing marching. Somehow, turning the head left or right while marching ahead set the rhythm off, as well as the ability to march straight.

The one who gave the command was Bridget Han. With a thick fringe, she's the daintiest of us, with beautiful bouncy long hair, usually tied up into a swinging pony tail at the back, but let loose when not in uniform).

Her Girl Guide uniform was a wee bit above the length limitation. Her lips when not giving marching commands, were curled up slightly at the corners, with a little pout in the middle. Needless to say, the boys from the other uniformed groups were very much attracted to her.

We had numerous camp fires where we tried to build fires. The fun part was being the torch bearer. There would be four such bearers. And when the campfire was declared open, each would come in from four directions -- North, South, East West -- to light the bonfire.

Besides chants (or rather 'raps' but we didn't have 'raps' back in those days) such as Flee Fly Mosquitoes, Onion Poot, we also sang songs such as On Top of Old Smokey, Tom Dooley... We also sang some pop songs of the era which included Patches (a very sad song of a girl who took her own life because of parental objection to her boyfriend... she was found floating down the river). And Top of the World by the Carpenters, of course!

We had all sorts of excursions to ulu parts of Singapore. Mrs Toh who was also our Biology teacher, was the Guide Mistress. She took us to kampungs at Punggol, Pasir Ris and Changi. Trudging through mangrove swamps, we eventually reached pockets of beach where we had to build a fire and cook. No one really dared to eat anything we cooked. The fire we started usually wasn't strong enough to cook anything. We would later eat sandwiches which we had the soundness of mind to bring (Be Prepared, so goes the motto).

One yucky incident I remembered very well was what greeted me when I poured into the sand, the rice water used for washing the grains. This excited some huge worms who reared their ugly heads from the sand. Some even popped up and showed their full length. I screamed for Mrs Toh who calmly told me "Huh? Just sand worms, Tien. Can be used for fishing. Very good."


Unknown said...

hi, im trying to reconnect my dad to his batchmates if possible, 1972.

Lo Tien Yin said...

Hi, have your dad tried out this website for Parryans? :) I am afraid I don't know of anyone from the 1972 batch.

Anonymous said...

Hi, do you have the database link still? I am trying to reconnect with old friends but I cannot access the link above. Thanks.