SINGAPORE – Although Tuan Mong High School has been closed for more than 25 years, its alumni still gather to sing its hymn and commemorate the anniversary of its founding almost every year.
This year was no different. On Saturday October 2, former students and teachers celebrated the school’s 115th anniversary at the Teochew building in Tank Road, which had housed the school since 1918.
Founded in 1906, the school began with a small enrollment of 68 students. As a Teochew school that catered primarily to Chinese immigrants, classes were taught in the dialect and the curriculum mirrored the nine-year Chinese education system at the time.
Classes were taught in Mandarin from 1918, with the language of instruction for most subjects switching to English in 1969.
The school grew over the years and, between 1958 and 1980, offered primary to pre-university education.
The decline in the number of students as residents left the area due to urban renewal, coupled with administrative difficulties, led to the school’s closure in 1994.
Compared to the big gala dinners of years gone by that drew hundreds of alumni and teachers, Saturday’s event was a small-scale affair attended by a dozen alumni, former teachers and teachers. ‘guests, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Others joined virtually.
Nonetheless, the day had the same significance, said the president of the school’s alumni association, Simon Goh.
“What has drawn hundreds of alumni to our annual gala dinners is the desire to honor our teachers, and this year has been no different,” said the 64-year-old.
To that end, a 196-page commemorative publication featuring former teachers from Tuan Mong was launched on Saturday.
The book – titled Cultivating Values, Nurturing Generations In English – was designed by Mr. Goh because he felt there was a need to honor the aging teachers of Tuan Mong.
“Over the years we have lost some, and I thought it would be a good move to honor our mentors, many of whom have left an indelible mark on our lives,” said Mr. Goh.
He added: “Seeing the published book, I can say that I have no regrets in this life.”
About 1,600 copies of the book have been printed, mainly for former members, but copies will be given to the National Library Board and higher education institutes.
Mr Lee Kok Leong, a former member of the book’s editorial board, said he and a team of around 30 others spent two years researching, interviewing and writing.
While they had some knowledge of the history of the school, other discoveries were made along the way.
For example, the 60-year-old had heard from former teachers that founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew voted in Tuan Mong in the 1959 election, but had no proof until his research led him to to a photo from the American magazine. Life.
The image, captured outside the school, shows the late Mr. Lee and his wife Kwa Geok Choo lining up to enter. The Tank Road school was close to their Oxley Road residence – a 10 minute walk along today’s roads.
The People’s Action Party won the election and Mr. Lee was then the first Prime Minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990. The search for alumni and school staff also led Mr. Goh from Tuan Mong to enter. in contact with the special guests on Saturday: the family of the security guard of Tuan Mong for four decades, the late Mr. Mohamed Hussain.
When she received a copy of Mr. Goh’s memorial book at Saturday’s event, Mr. Hussain’s daughter, Madame Zeinamboucany Mohamed Hussain, was moved to tears.
She said: “To be remembered by the students and to see my old home was very special.”
The 56-year-old had grown up on the school grounds, where Mr. Hussain and his family were staying after starting work in 1953. He died in 1993 at the age of 70. The family moved after the school closed.
Ms. Zeinam was accompanied by her daughters, Ms. Julaiha Nachiyar Nazir Mohamed, 39, Ms. Fathima Begum Nazir Mohamed, 29, and her grandson Muhammad Ayaan Ariffin Peer Mohamed, 9.
Ms. Julaiha said returning to the school grounds was like coming home.
“It’s been over two decades since we’ve been gone, so stepping into the building again brings back a lot of memories to me.
“To our family, the school represents our grandfather. He was proud of his job and wanted it to be his first and last job. In the end, it really was.”
Ms Fathima and her sister had booked Saturday’s event as a surprise for their mother, who she said still fondly remembers family days in Tuan Mong.
“Until we got out of the taxi my mom didn’t know we were coming here this morning, she didn’t know the alumni association existed and so many students still remember our grandfather – c ‘is a very pleasant surprise, ”said Ms. Fathima. .
Tuan Mong alumni also spoke about the impact the school has had on their lives.
Ms. Leong Sau Hiong, whose father died in the second week she started Secondary 1, said it was Tuan Mong’s teachers who kept her from dropping out of school amid the turmoil of her. dead.
“When my father passed away my life changed. It was very difficult emotionally. I started to become rebellious and difficult, but they were patient with me and kept me on track,” said the 60-year-old, who also contributed to the commemorative post.
Former lawmaker Seng Han Thong, who also visited Tuan Mong, said his students have been exposed to the region’s rich cultural offerings.
Across the road was the National Theater and the Van Kleef Aquarium, side by side at the foot of Fort Canning hill, where physical education classes were held.
Students could also visit the Rebroadcast radio station next door, while the National Museum and the Old National Library were a short walk from Stamford Road.
“The environment we grew up in as students has shaped our minds,” said the 71-year-old.
Mr. Lee joked, “At the aquarium watching seahorses – that’s when I learned that males can give birth.”
Tuan Mong’s longtime teachers Mr. Lim Poon Heok, 78, and Mr. Chang Kwang Wee, 85, said the school community is like family.
Mr. Chang, who taught art and calligraphy, said, “Back then, teachers rarely left school, and over time everyone became familiar with each other, without school closed, I would have retired here. “
Mr. Lim, who himself had been a student at Tuan Mong, returned as a physics teacher after graduating from college.
He said: “We may not have been a famous school, but that hasn’t stopped our students from loving the school and doing our best to give it a good name.”
Mr. Chang remains a well-known calligraphy practitioner and instructor.
It was under his tutelage that Tuan Mong’s calligraphy standards were high, with students winning countless prizes in national competitions, Goh said.
Ms. Leong said, “When friends find out that you are from Tuan Mong, the next thing they will say is,” Show me your calligraphy skills. “”
When asked how he felt about leading an association that would eventually run out of successors, Mr Goh said that was not a major concern at the moment.
He said, “Our priority is to attract Tuan Mong’s youngest alumni to join us, they should be in their 40s and can carry on the school’s legacy for a good three decades.”