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Relentless drilling, fun and success in the end - by Low Hiap Hee Print E-mail

Image“Indescribable,” blurts out Loo Yiap Hee after he was asked to recall the role of Rev. Bro. Alphonsus Chee in his formative years in the 1961 SXBS Class of Std 6A.  “That’s the only word I can think of when recalling the role of Bro. Alphonsus in the formative years of my life. My gratitude to Bro Alphonsus is boundless for without him, I would never be what I am now! The turning point for me was the Std 6 period. During our time, that was a threshold of our future.”

ImageLoo (also known as Low Yiap Hee), an England-trained accountant now working in Perth, Australia was recollecting the critical year (1961) when he was a Standard Six pupil under the charge of Bro. Alphonsus Chee at the St. Xavier’s Branch School, Penang.

Could you imagine that the nationwide examination for entrance into the secondary school was too arcane for us to comprehend the importance of education? I only realised that if one were to fail in that examination, one would automatically be "out of the mainstream system," probably forced to switch to an afternoon, more expensive private school and that landmark failure would be a life-long social stigma.

I only remember all in Bro Alphonsus' class cleared the hurdle. Bro Anselm John's class (Std 6B) had a few failures. I was always in the 23rd to 25th position in the ranking, the top 10 would always be monopolised by the likes of Khoo Teng Chee (later food technologist), Tan Thean Siew (later town planner), Lawrence Loh (later architect) and the late Kenneth Lee Hong Oon (later accountant).

My self-esteem was low. When we were transferred to the "town" school (i.e. St. Xaviers' Institution), we were dispersed to the various Form 1's – mixing with other students from other feeder schools. When term results came, I was surprised that I was among the top 10! Little did I realise that the high standard exacted by Bro Alphonsus through his renowned discipline and drilling had tapped our potential and raised our standard. That truly raised my self-esteem and confidence.  I could never have done it without Bro Alphonsus, but how I dreaded meeting him in class in Std 6A.

Later, I found my memories still fresh, with him drilling us with the standard textbook, First Aid in English. The most cogent chapter Bro. Alphonsus drummed into us was the one about tenses. The opening sentence in that chapter was "Concord is agreement or harmony."  That influence was so great in me that when my son was in upper primary school in Perth – very sadly, the school system here doesn't teach the children about grammar – I scoured the bookshops for our "bible on English." I eventually found the modern edition but, lo and behold, it doesn't command the same aura that I hold dear!

Such was the great influence of Bro. Alphonsus that it spanned a generation! It was fortunate that I met him at the 150th "coming-home" SXI session on Dec. 23, 2002; unfortunately, he could not remember me very well until I mentioned my brother Loo Yet Chee’s name. I did not mind as I was an under-achiever and I bathed in my brother's glory (he was in the same year as banker Soo Kar Peng).

Come hell or high water, I would never forget what Bro. Alphonsus had done for me; without him, I may not have progressed to what I am now. It is Bro. Alphonsus who set me on the right path and for that I am eternally grateful.

I pray for Bro Alphonsus' good health. I know that he leaves behind thousands of grateful students. Yes, I also remember he used to distribute chocolates at the end of each term ... never know how he had the resources to obtain that but it was a real treat. I could never afford to have such a bar of chocolate during my time there.

It was also Bro. Alphonsus who organized our year-end train trip. Lined up two by two, the class took the launch – the precursor of the ferry – to the Perai River to catch the train. In Bukit Mertajam, which is famous for its annual St Anne’s festival, we were given a sumptuous lunch by the aunties of our classmate Gabriel Goh Kee Chye (a UK-trained accountant, now a millionaire industrialist). I still remember Lim Hock Soon (later, a race horse trainer) getting permission from Gabriel’s aunty to pluck the only jambu biji (a Malaysian fruit) from the tree. Oh, only youthful innocence could have made that request and only human kindness could have granted it.

Yes, Bro. Alphonsus, you had it all for us – the relentless drilling, the fun and success at the end.

Acknowledgement with thanks:

Mr. Low Yiap Hee and Mr. Stephen Tan Ban Cheng



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