|The badge which|
we had to wear
on our ties during
school assembly day,
but on the left hand
side of our blouse
on other days.
I did feel a little like an outsider at first. Most of the girls in my class were from Tg Katong Girls Secondary (interesting blouse with fine green stripes and a green pinafore). So they were family. I was from Parry Secondary and nobody heard of this school much. Luckily, there were a few girls who came from other schools such as Crescent Girls (liked their uniform, a pale yellow blouse with light blue pinafore).
But I soon got to know the Tg Katong girls. There was Rosie who sat beside me. She was very bubbly and as bad as I was in Economics. We bonded when we both had to stand for the rest of the class when we couldn't answer questions on National Income. We were totally lost when it came to formulas and charts. But we totally understood the Law of Diminishing Returns. We loved this law to bits.
Rosie always made fun of my economics textbook (the one written by Hanson). It was passed down by my dad to my brothers and then to me. The cover was cloth-bound (a washed out royal blue) and its pages had oxidised brown spots. All the rest of the class had the paperback version! I was very happy when we progressed to the one written by Lim Chong Yah as nobody in the family before me owned an old version, I got a paperback, just like everybody else.
There was Literature and Rose was constantly nudging me when the teacher "got sentimental" during Shakespeare's Othello. "Look, look, she's crying..." whispered Rosie fiercely when the teacher was reading out Desdemona's part (the bit when Othello accused her of making him a cuckold). I looked hard and didn't see a single tear drop rolling down the Lit teacher's face. But I appreciated Rosie's added drama as I was never one for Shakespeare.
Short cut to playWe soon formed the "ape" family -- it started when I was called "ape". I fell off from my bike one day and broke my left collar bone. I had to keep this itchy kapok bandage wrapped round my shoulders for about three months. I did look a bit apish. Rosie became the "monkey" and another good friend of ours became "chimpanzee".
Anyway, we three apes soon went places. There was one day in the week (was it Thursday?) when we had no lessons for the last period. So we would take the short cut through an opening in the fence behind the school which led to Haig Road -- and from there we fled to Katong Shopping Centre.
Sometimes, we would go to Rosie's place for lunch. She lived in Geylang -- a wooden house with zinc roof standing on stilts on the edge of a marsh. Rosie's mum was a great cook. The other girls in the class lived nearby too -- at Wilkinson Road and Branksome Road. Then there was a row of shophouses opposite the school with a few Indian stalls selling magazines and comics. While waiting for my bus home (No. 72), I could flip a few pages of some of the magazines stealthily.
Chain survey and rift valleysRosie's maths was better than mine. But still, like me, she didn't quite like chain survey (part of Geography). Until today, I only knew that it was a form of measuring the landscape. We spent a few days dragging the chains around...but I really didn't know what was going on.
I was ok with contours. In fact, I like contours. I am ok with physical geography too. Remember Monkhouse? This was another cloth bound book (green) I inherited from my brother. Rift valleys, faults, fjords... volcanoes... oxbow lakes... I like them all.
Biology's ok too, especially when I had friends who reminded me that the diagram of the heart with all the ventricles and stuffs is shaped like a "soon kuay". Come to think of it, wouldn't it be more of an upside-down pomelo?
Kim, the air hostessAmong the Ape family, Kim was a "celebrity". She certainly spoke very well in class, with a lot of confidence. She was a national swimmer when she was in secondary school. And she was the first one among our group who had a boyfriend. Her mum was a tailor but she was always complaining about her mum's sewing. She would say "Aiya, I wanted this and she sewed for me this..." I looked at the nice mini velvet skirt that her mum had sewn and found nothing wrong with it at all. Her dad used to have a bicycle shop at Joo Chiat Road. Kim became an air hostess when she finished her A levels. Wow!
I discovered later that several of my classmates were already dating. (And here I was, still wearing socks with my go-out shoes.) One got married even before she finished schooling. Sometimes, she got picked up from school by her boyfriend. "I wished he wouldn't drive a purple car. Purple is an ok colour for a pen, but not for a car," she would go. But we were all envious. Her hair was always cut the latest style -- she started the "moon look" -- rounded fringe framing the face. Then Rosie got the moon look too. Then me. It's the rage in the 70s.
Neema, the dancerShe can dance. There was a school concert and she got us all dancing to the song "Long, Cool Woman in a Black Dress". We were rehearsing in secret corners of the school almost every other day. I could remember the moves for years after. I have forgotten the steps now, but I could still remember how Neema (who is very tall) moved to the grooves. By the way, none of us eventually performed -- after all those rehearsals. Neema did a solo.
High school dramaThere was another classmate who got into an accident. She was absent for weeks. And when she came back, she got stitches on her face. But when she narrated the incident to us, there was a happy glint in her eyes. The driver who knocked her down had become her boyfriend.
Such were the stuffs school life was made of then... good enough for a drama serial, no?