Sometime in 1996, I remember being asked to step into the headmaster’s office at my primary school in Subang Jaya. There, I was told that my teachers wanted to apply for a residential school place on my behalf. All I had to do was answer a simple question:
Which school did I want to apply to?
“MCKK”, I replied, without thinking too much about it. After all, I had more important issues to deal with back then. My rival (and also good friend) Wong Wai Kit was in danger of overtaking me in the class rankings. Plus, I needed to figure out what cards to put in my latest Magic: The Gathering deck. Also, the Backstreet Boys had a new song and I still hadn’t memorised it! Ok I’m just kidding on the last one…or am I?
Anyway, it was only in December of 1996 when I started sweating about my spur-of-the-moment answer a few months earlier. I had yet to receive any news regarding the outcome of my application. All I had was an offer from a religious school, Sekolah Menengah Agama Medan Harun (I tried to Google it today but couldn’t find any evidence that it still exists). I was tempted to accept the offer, you know, just for the novelty of it. Thankfully, the long-awaited letter offering me a place at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) arrived a few days later. I was ecstatic!
My parents and I arrived in Kuala Kangsar on 12 January 1997. It was a Sunday, and as we made our way to the Kuala Kangsar Rest House, I got my first glimpse of the school. There it was, the Big School, with its Graeco-Roman columns, looking totally different from any other school building I had ever seen. To a 12-year-old boy like me, it was like a vast castle, one that I somehow got to call home for the next 5 years.
As for the rest house itself, it was cosy enough, and we even met a few other families who were there to register their sons. These days, the rest house has been refurbished and is now known as the Lanai Casuarina, but back then it was a much more modest establishment.
The next day, 13 January 1997, I stepped into the Hargreaves Hall for the first time as an MCKK student. Huge boards on the walls listed down the names of former Best Students, Scholars, and Head Prefects. Our teachers waited eagerly at the front of the hall.
We listened to a speech by the Headmaster Haji Baharom Kamari (who sadly passed away recently on 1 January 2021, innalillahi wa inna ilaihi raaji’uun). Afterwards, I made my way to the Prep School where I was directed to my new home, Dorm B. Dorm B was one of the smaller dormitories there with only 16 boys in it (laundry numbers B27-B42). We slept in double decker beds, complete with mosquito nets that we had to tuck in (perfectly) every morning. My bedmate was a kid from Taiping, Faiz a.k.a Bugs, who always seemed to have a supply of tomato juice in his locker. Knowing what life in a dormitory is like, perhaps that was the only drink that no one else wanted, which guaranteed that he could consume it in peace!
Another dorm-mate, who’s now an Orthopaedic surgeon, wasn’t so lucky; everyone knew he had a steady supply of biscuits in his locker. What usually transpired was that the poor guy would try to open his locker door quietly by just a few inches, and fish around blindly for some biscuits. Someone would inevitably spot what he was doing and a few seconds later those biscuits would be gone, passed around from one person to another in the dorm.
Back to 13 January 1997…
Starting life in a new environment is always a nerve-wrecking event. This was no exception. I looked around and noticed another kid in the top bunk of the double decker bed next to mine. Amid the hustle and bustle of people settling into their respective dormitories, he was busy studying.
I was impressed!
I even remember the exact book he was holding: it was the ‘Sejarah’ (History) textbook, and he was reading it as if it was actually interesting, you know, like a Dragon Ball comic or something.
“Damn!” I said to myself, it’s going to be really hard to do well here! These kids are so motivated! How the hell am I going to survive? Maybe this was not such a good idea after all.
Living The Good Life
Thankfully, all my worries were put to rest by the multitude of self-improvement activities imposed upon us by our helpful Prep School Prefects. Of course, by ‘self-improvement activity’ I really mean torture. And by ‘helpful’, I mean ‘sadistic’! Ha ha ha…
Throughout the year, we were subjected to all kinds of punishments: push-ups, knuckle push-ups, running laps around the dining hall, sleep deprivation, hauling a big-ass roller around the Big School field…we had to do it all! Our bleeding knuckles were testament to the amount of ‘love and care’ showered upon us by our seniors.
Even so, there were many light-hearted moments during these ‘motivational’ sessions. I remember one night in particular when my batchmates and I were doing push-ups in the area next to our dormitory called the Grey. It was probably around 3am or so, and to make matters worse, it was raining and we were shivering as we had been ‘involuntarily exercising’ for quite some time. The cold rain kept on falling, running in mini-rivers around us. That is, apart from one brief moment when the water miraculously turned warm as it flowed around our hands. Someone clearly had neglected to go to the toilet before lights off. And as Dr Ian Malcolm says in Jurassic Park, “When you gotta go, you gotta go!” Until now, I have no idea who the culprit was, but thanks anyway bro!
Times have changed, and I suspect if anyone tried to replicate this sort of educational environment nowadays, they would get in serious trouble with the school. Not to mention the inevitable leak that will go viral in countless WhatsApp groups everywhere. As any modern day philosopher can tell you, Hell hath no fury like a bored netizen!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning the practise of physical punishment just for the sake of it, but speaking from personal experience, neither am I saying that it has no value either.
I sometimes ask myself, do I resent being the ‘victim’ of ‘torture’ at the hands of our Prep School Prefects? With the benefit of hindsight, my answer is…not at all. On the contrary, I am indebted to them for making me, and my batchmates, who we are now. To their credit, it couldn’t have been easy to look after 100+ boys from all kinds of backgrounds. We were the sons of farmers, doctors, rubber tappers, engineers, businessmen, teachers…all forced to somehow learn to become independent, but at the same time, to become part of a larger community, a band of brothers. If anything, the experience taught us to look beyond our petty concerns. We were constantly reminded that being there was a privilege, and that privilege came with a responsibility to contribute towards society.
Didikan untuk semua
Keluar membimbing negara
Maju terus mara
So to Foodle, Zarox, Mon, (Allahyarham) Annuaruddin Mustofa a.k.a Onek, Azam, and Buana…my sincere thanks to you all.
We’re One Big Family
It’s been 24 years since these events took place, and I can honestly say that 1997 was one of the best years of my life. It was the year I got to know a bunch of strangers who would go on to become my friends and eventually, my brothers. Together, we make up MCKK’s Class of 2001. In our WhatsApp group, we sometimes joke about who was in the first intake, who came in during the second intake etc. So in anticipation of these jokes, let me say this once and for all:
It doesn’t matter whether you joined us on 13 January 1997, in February that year, or in 2000. Nor does it matter if you left the school in 1997, 1999, or 2001.
You’re part of our big family. Always have been, always will be.
Fiat sapientia virtus.
13 January 2021
Oxford, United Kingdom