Thursday, October 16, 2008

What Will Be, Will Be ( II )

SEKOLAH Tun Fatimah (STF) in the 1970s, with its sprawling confines and musty whiff of intellectual aura, was truly intimidating to a naive teenage girl from the backwaters of Terengganu, especially one who had never stepped foot inside a fenced-up academic institution with a stern-looking sentry manning the entrance.

But there was no turning back. Come hell or high water, I had said yes to STF, so this was it. I opted to accept the placement offer for three reasons; (1) to satisfy my own curiosity and inquisitiveness about boarding school life, (2) because my younger sister was already there, and (3) to make my grandparents happy.

Of all three, it was the third reason that mattered most of all. Spurred by the sterling success of Mohd Ali, their son and my maternal uncle, Grandpa and Grandma now latched their hope onto hapless me.

I had impossibly big shoes to fill, for Ayah Cik Ali had inadvertently set the standard by which we, his nieces and nephews, had no choice but to follow and hopefully, surpass.

He had made his parents proud with all his achievements, academic or otherwise. A Colombo Plan scholar, he graduated in telecommunications engineering from New Zealand, joined Telecoms Department as an engineer and rose to become the Director-General of Telecoms before retiring in the mid-1990s.

He was the family beacon and I was to walk in his shoes. In reality, all I ever managed to do was shuffle alongside his footprints. It wasn't long before I realised the impossibility of my assigned task.

The answer was as clear as day; we weren’t cut from the same cloth. I wasn’t born to tangle with science, but to dance with words. Be that as it may, my love affair with STF was doomed from the very beginning.

Life with 400 incredibly brainy (and feisty) girls of all shapes and sizes, age ranging from 13 to 19, was full of surprises. It was also unsettling and dowright scary.

First and foremost, I learned to my utter dismay that I wasn’t as smart and clever as I thought. That realisation, to a certain degree, affected my sway and self-confidence.

Secondly, I had to do my own laundry. All my life, this was the servant’s territory and suddenly it was imposed on me. It took a while getting used to, a humbling experience nonetheless.

Thirdly, my love for the arts had no place in an elite school like STF. Emphasis was placed on the sciences – biology, chemistry, physics, additional mathematics – that any expressed interest for the arts was met with a pitying look, if not a downright smirk.

Newcomers like me (those entering the school in Form Four or Six) were not at liberty to opt for the arts. We were plucked out of our old schools to do science, and do it we must. Opting for the arts was only the privilege of those who had been with the school from the very beginning i.e. from Form One.

My “Form Four Pure Science” journey for the entire year of 1971 was arduous, for I found difficulties coping with Chemistry. It didn’t help that I had an ogre of a Chemistry teacher whose despicable antics only increased my loathing for the subject.

Since then I have yet to meet a teacher like her and have often wondered how a woman with such an unpleasant disposition got to be a teacher in the first place. She had only mean bones in her body. She had a permanent scowl and the tendency to shriek like a banshee.

I was her hapless victim all the time because of my perceived denseness in Chemistry. The truth was my mind went into instant paralysis at the sight of her that I actually forgot every single formula I had ever learned, rendering me completely useless in the science lab.

Her treatment of me was theatrical but cut deep in my heart. She would poke her finger at my forehead and screeched: “Stupid! Stupid! How did you get to be so stupid???” It was a searingly painful year, Chemistry-wise.

I also had problems with additional mathematics but my uncle Ayah Cik Ali, then based in JB, helped ease the dilemma by faithfully turning up every Saturday to give me personalised tuition at the canteen. That helped tremendously.

Off the classroom, I was my usual active self but deep down, I harboured a secret fear. With my self-confidence chipping away due to that troublesome Chemistry issue, I knew if I were to sit tight and do nothing, I wouldn’t be able to get past my Malaysian Certificate of Education (MCE, equivalent to today’s SPM), given the circumstances.

And if I failed, I would not only embarrass myself but also my entire family. For a family as education-driven as ours, failure was not an option. I had to succeed. I must pass MCE at whatever cost. In fact, I was expected not just to pass the exam but to spectacularly score as well.

As predicted, I failed Chemistry – lock, stock and barrel – in Form Four. I flunked every single monthly test and all three term exams. My mark did not rise past 10. I was beyond redemption and hope. Although I did well otherwise, the one subject I didn't stuck out like a sore thumb.

I went home to Dungun that year-end school holidays weighed down by this sense of worthlessness and humiliation. I was so ashamed of my report card that it never saw the light of day.

I kept asking myself the same question over and over again; "Is this what I left DESS for? To be disgraced and shamed beyond reason for my inability to perform to their expectations? Is it worth my time and effort? Am I truly the blockhead as perceived?"

Naturally, no answer was forthcoming that December 1971. But I resolved to do something – anything - to arrest the slide once I returned to STF as 1972 dawned.


Anonymous said...

Komen Pak Malim, kucing ray yang alim.

Saya tipu, kata Pak Malim sambil memegang penyapu. Sebenarnya saya pernah pi sekolah, kata Pak Malim yg masih berkelah. Saya pernah pi STF lawat kakak saya, tahun 1976 kalau tak silap, kata Pak Malim sambil menelan julap. (Ubat sembelit). Masa tu, arwah mak dan bapak saya, rasa amat bangga, kerana STF kan utk pelajar yang cemerlang, kata Pak Malim sambil memakai gelang.

AuntieYan @ Makcik Blogger said...

Salam Puteri,

I thought, I was the only one who experienced such situation....the different was..I was hopeless in Maths...but manage to get a cukup makan marks for monthly test. however, Alhamdulillah, I obtained a credit in my MCE...not bad eh? And manage to get credit also for all the 3 Science subjects.

p/s :ppsssttt...I am your 1 year junior. Dah lama baca your blog, but never leave comment.:-) ;-) :-)

Pi Bani said...

True, masa sekolah rendah kitalah top... masuk boarding school baru sedar langit tinggi rendah! I was also one of those who had to take the science subjects simply because only science stream was offered. My interest was never in science. Still managed first grade though, thanks to my other subjects. Masa form six, although I was still offered science, I insisted nak tukar to arts stream. Nasib baiklah dapat.

AuntyN said...

Kak Puteri

I remember Mrs Mak the Chem teacher. We had a Mr Blashford ( a matsalleh for Chem teacher during form 3 and learnt almost nothing from him, so the first question Mrs Mak asked was" Have you been sleeping with Mr Blashford" We dared not laugh, but she had to turned her back to us to smile at her own question.

She was a nice person despite the fierce exterior actually. When she was leaving STF we got to see the softer side of her.

Kama At-Tarawis said...

Pak Malim, kucinf ray yg alim
STF girls memang cemerlang
cuma kama jer yg mcm telur tembelang!

auntieyan - at least you managed to squeeze through. credits kira ok la tu..:)

Pi - you jatuh dlm category beruntung because you masuk from awai-awai lagi. But it's so true that kita realise kita tak terer mana bila masuk such institutions..:)

Auntyn - by the time she taught you she had mellowed a lot. You know why? dia dah kawin masa tu. During our time masih Miss... lagi, that was why dia biol sket..

kay_leeda said...

Kak Puteri,

I am no big fan of Chemistry either. I just did't find the subject satisfying. Doing the chemical equations was a real pain. In the end my Chem teacher told the class, "Tak perlu faham, hafal saja."

And that was just what I did, I hafal-ed and hafal-ed the whole da*n thing. Nasib baik got credits otherwise, hantuk kepla woo...

kay_leeda said...

Ooo..I meant "didn't"

Kak Teh said...

Am no fan of science as well. and for that matter maths, or geography. looks like the list is endless! LOL!
But we soon found our niche and try to excell in whatever we are good at, kan?

You like my editorial team?
No wonder semalam i dengar ada orang dok selongkar my lemari archives!

Typhoon Sue said...

I think i would've done better academically had i not gone off to boarding school. The alternative would've been S.M Sultanah Asma, which was arguably the best girls' school in A/setar (St Nicholas Convent students wd beg to differ I'm sure). Instead, I went to a boarding school in the middle of nowhere, supposedly elite, yet did not encourage me enough to excel in my studies. I played around a lot. Got cocky too, since even without studying, i managed to not do too badly in my exams (Not in chemistry though. Like you, i was hopeless at it). I wish I had taken advantage of all the facilities and opportunities given to me at that school. I probably would've done very well academically if only I cared enough to open a book every once in a while. That school spoiled me I tell ya that!

Kak Teh said...

sue, berani you kata SAS lebih baik. You berani kata sebab ni blog puteri...mai kata kat blog kak teh pulak! Saya cabar you! nanti ramai lagi budak convent mai chelen you.

So lama betui you raya di Alork Stark?

Sorry tuan rumah, i mai bergaduh dengan sue di sini. Budak convent pantang dicelen.

Kama At-Tarawis said...

kay - lucky you, to hv such an understanding teacher. I think, kalau my chemistry teacher cakap nicedly dengan I and bagi encouragement, mungkin I wouldnt have been so teruk.

Sue & Kak Teh.....OOHHHH..dont mind me!! celen! celen! I suka bab bab celen mencelen ni.. takpa..u can use my blog anytime untuk betengkaq..hhahaha...

Typhoon Sue said...

*tumpang lalu*

I dah tau... budak convent mesti melenting klu i kata SAS is better. They've been rivals since yonks!!

I ni budak Asma setakat primary school aje. but my family and relatives semuanya budak asma, so my loyalty is with them eventhough I went to a different secondary school.

And i maintain, SAS is the best girls school in A/S!!! Hurrah!