Malay College & Kuala Kangsar Revisited

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Kuala Kangsar, or Kay Kay as it is more affectionately referred to, is not the greatest but, like everything else, it’s there. Lacking the metropolitan glitz of Kuala Lumpur, or the tranquillity of Kuala Ketil, it tugged its forelock and somewhat despondently between the two. In the Pre-PLUS days, it was just another town one has to pass for those North-Sound bounds and vice versa. It is a royal town and a sort of town more conducive to bitching – the narrow roads, the heritage shop-houses, two small roundabouts, a quaint clock tower and the ‘what-me-no-worry’ car drivers. But there was, and always will be, the Malay College Kuala Kangsar.

Now, that’s a school to be proud of! Any Malay Collegian would certainly swear by it. The Malay College is not just any ordinary school. It is THE school. Although there were other schools, they were generally pretenders (rumour has it that there is another school out there in Tiger Lane, Ipoh trying to stake equal and similar status but most people only confessed to be its alumni under duress). The star school is the Malay College, the premier school in Perak (some people say in Malaysia) and anything else was generally perceived and encounter with a sneer or, worse, pitying looks of mere mortals.

You could never miss MCKK if you pass through KK, unless you are one of those ignoramuses who use the KK by-pass. MCKK stands grandly in the middle of Jalan Stesen (changed to Jalan Tun Razak in 1974), a stately whitewashed colonial structure, gazing serenely out upon the vast green playing fields. It dripped age, a school that knew its history and hugged discreetly its secrets.

The Malay College’s architecture is indeed regal, majestic and astounding. The Big School stands majestically overlooking a vast green carpet-liked field. Behind it in the distant is a backdrop of tree-covered hills. The Big School is the nerve centre of activities in the Malay College – and over many years, a home for the Collegians. This two storey building, with its classical colonial entablature and pediment is indeed a fine heritage of the past. Indeed, the Big School has been declared a National Heritage building in 2009.

The two wings, East and West, of the Big School serve as the living quarters for all Budak Kolej alike. The spiral staircase at each end of the Wings added to its own stately ambiance. These wings reminds you of the wings of the Obama’s White House in Washington USA.

To the right of the Big School is the town Mosque, Masjid Ridzwaniah. At the back are the teachers’ and staff derelict wooden quarters, the Scout Den (no more there), the Suraus (the old and bigger New Surau), the mini canteen, the Basketballs, Fives and Squash courts, the gelanggang silat (no more there), the newly minted IB complex, the school bus garage and the one and only one ‘dry cleaning swimming pool’. Heading toward the New Hostel are 2 wooden staff quarters, one was known as Nada’s house and the other Norton’s house or Rumah MI. I’ve heard that Nada’s house has been demolished and next in line is the Norton’s house.

Immediately next to the main gate leading to the Big School is the Pavilion, which used to house the Sixth Formers in the hey-days. The Six Forms are now extinct. As you walk along the covered walkway from the Pavilion towards the Big School, you come across the swimming pool with its tranquil clear blue chlorinated water. This pool made Physical Education more tolerable and wet. At the back of the swimming pool, in what used to be the quarters for the non-administrative staff is a five–storey concrete new teachers quarters. Beside the swimming is the HM’s quarters and beside that is the Arena 72, a Futsal court donated by the Class of ’72.

On the other side of Jalan Tun Razak is the academic centre aptly named the New School as it was newly built in 1955. In this mazed-complex are the classrooms, the school’s office, the laboratories, the library, specific rooms, a state-of-art newly built Auditorium (AudiTAR) on the old site of TAR and industrial arts blocks, a sprinkling of ‘wakafs’ and of course the old Hargreaves Hall (used to be centre of congregation, entertainment and embarrassment).

The main block of the New School come complete with its astonishing clock tower which no collegian remembered it chimed, let alone tell the time. Rumours had it that 3 millionaires Old Boy donated for its restoration in 1993, it worked a while and then it went kaput again. The class of 1982 tried to resuscitate the clock but time ran out again. Heard another attempt to bring the clock to life was made and it seems its alive for now. For how long, only time can tell.

Tucked in one corner is the Prep School, the preparatory hostel for First Formers. This building serves as the stepping stone for life in MCKK and the architect of this building is the same as the one that did the Big School. It has also reached its 100 years birthday in 2013. However, it has yet to be declared a National Heritage building. However, a standard JKR design box-type Dinner Hall and toilet was added in 1978 to replace the previous dilapidated wooden structure. Adjacent to it is the run down Gymnasium; the venue for a many PE lessons. There was also the Green Nature Reserve in the form of the Science Garden. Sadly it is no more there and in its place is this 2-storey JKR standard plan monstrosity building for the teachers’ rooms.

Yonder in what used to be Cikgu Razak Jepun’s house (behind Underwood Clinic) is another JKR standard plan building called the Form Four block. As if that was enough, at the end of the Prep School field is another similar building built in 1973 called the Form One block. Why can’t anyone design buildings to blend with buildings like the Prep School, the nursery for budding First Formers collegians, is anybody’s guess. This type of box-looked building could also be found at the New Hostel, tucked along Jalan Kuala Kangsar-Ipoh, which houses the Second Formers.

A Form Two block of similar design was built beside the Form one block sometime in 2006 but after much fuss from the stakeholders, a false facade that looks like the external facade of Prep School was built to hide the box building. This is akin to the Hollywood backdrops you find in Universal Studios. So, if you are driving along Taiping you would see two similar facade buildings.

I am perplexed at the way the development of the Malay College is done without proper planning or zoning. It looks as if it is done haphazardly without due considerations. Just find an empty space and plonk comes up a building. If there is no empty space, demolish old buildings and make space. The need to conserve is very much lacking.

There are perhaps 3 reasons why we need to conserve the best of our buildings; archaeological, the artistic and the social. Archaeological being the instinct to preserve something of historical interest. Artistic stems from the desire to preserve something of beauty which was built with the skill and care of the craftsmen. Social stems from the unease at the pace of change and the nature of change. All the reasons apply to the buildings in the College.

At the Malay College, all of us care if a well loved feature disappears after all the years of familiarity; even if it was just a Big Tree. We lived with it. It was part of our being. Without it, we feel a little less whole, little less comfortable. Suddenly, we wish we could have prevented it going.

To this day I am still struck dumbfounded by my first impression of the College. I was stung by its stunning beauty and was overwhelmed with sadness on parting with it the last day in College. Well, that’s how I felt and I guarantee, the feeling is shared by thousands of other Collegians.

However, there was not much that can be said of Kuala Kangsar. Thousands of Collegians came and went, but K.K. is still Kuala Kangsar – the cowboy town. For a Collegian from the rural outback, this town would not be so much of a culture shock but to a Collegian from the glitz and glamorous townships, there were a lot of adjustments that needed to be done.

As such, a fresh Budak Kolej would not strike a meaningful attraction to the town on his first close encounter. To him, even the trees are ‘pale and mundane’, but after being completely indoctrinated as a Collegian, the feelings towards KK would readily change. Moreover, this was the only town that the Collegians spend their ‘town leave’ and spent their money. Other towns were out of bounds. When the time come for him to leave the College for good, he will understandably uphold the town’s honour from any sneering ‘pagans’. And, more often than not, the Collegian will someday, somehow return and transit back at this town.

However, strangely enough, every Collegian will admit that there is and will always be a love-hate relationship between them and the townspeople. The Pak Kassims, Pak Idris (favourite joints for the Collegians of pre-80’s, now gone), Yeop Helmi, Double Lions, Saudiahs, Yut Loys and the Swammis would attest to this relationship of which the Collegian patronise the commercial growth of the town.

I remembered watching a group of present MCKK boys haggling over the price of mothballs at the quaint ‘everything-you-need-is-here’ newspaper-cum-convenience mamak stall at the Bazaar (also no more there). I then realised that this spirit of give and take between MCKK and KK had given rise to a symbolic synergy that shall prevail for a long time. MCKK is not MCKK without KK town. The consolation is that MCKK do not need to shift numerous times to other towns unlike some other boarding schools. Somehow, Malay College Kuala Ketil (MCKK) does not ring a bell. Not amiable enough.

As for the school, it is indeed a grand school and its reputation well deserved. It has a certain tradition and culture and some may even swear that College has its own way of life. The idiosyncrasies and diversities of each Collegian were the main ingredients for the MCKK’s recipe in it’s huge cauldron (kawah) of its history. In fact, when you made the cut in MCKK, the world was really made for you.

In College, you wear the best white shirts, the most fashionable white trousers, sleekest maroon ties and the smartest leather shoes. Those below Form Three would only gaped at you in awe only daring to utter their respectful “Assalamualaikum, Abang” greetings. One walked with a certain swagger and even the teachers treated you with respect , envy and maturely.

Funny enough, for it seemed like only yesterday that I had my first taste of the Malay College way of life. The specifics and the accurate day-to-day routine are now just notes in my torn diary. But it is part of me and thousands more; we’ve lived through it, over sad, mundane and joyful moments.

It has been nearly 44 years since that fateful first day of bedlam at Prep School, extended through another 4 madcap years in Big School which culminated at the tearful final departure on Platform One (there was only one, anyway) of Kuala Kangsar Railway Station. That Railway Station that I knew has also been replaced by a modernized station. It was 40 years ago, on that fateful starry night, where promises of allegiance, reunion and communion were made. As years goes by, everything changes…friends change, families change and the College itself is still changing (be it for better or worse). I have definitely changed but deep within me I still look forward to attend any sort of reunion.

However, despite these changes, I’m sure every Collegian would inevitably look back with nostalgia to “their days” in College and Kuala Kangsar. Spending one’s teens in a place like the Malay College and Kuala Kangsar is one hell of an adventure. I’m sure every Collegian has their own tale to tell, time and time again to the utter amazement, disbelieve and disgust of their spouses and non-believing outsiders.

There is a sense of pride amongst us in having been to College, sharing the same dormitory life, eating the same nasi kawah and utterly enjoying the spirit of camaraderie. Old habits die hard and the old times only get better with age. Maybe, we are like those dinosaurs in Jurassic Park – giant reptiles of a long past glorious era.

I’ve been back to the College a couple of times since I left the school. In these PLUS collecting tolls days, I’ve made it a point to digress into KK on my ‘balik kampung’ trips up north. A pit stop at the College would always be on the agenda where I would proudly declare and proclaim to my wife and off-springs, “Ini-lah sekolah ayah!”. The New School Toilet and canteen serves well as the R&R facilities after a 255 km non-stop drive up the N-S Highway.

The toilets are pretty much the same (though not quite as pretty as one Collegian could expect), the “Mat Kutu wuz ‘ere” graffiti is still there, the toilet cubicles are still full of undesirables, and the water supply is still doing it’s “sekejap ada sekejap tiada” number. So, what’s new in MCKK?

During one of my stops as I faced the urinal fully loaded (the fingers fully grasped), a present boy beside me remarked: “Pak Cik ni Old Boy ke?”. Huh! Does it really show? Somehow, some things will never change! Alhamdullilah.

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