Lasting Impressions of our Tie

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Today, like all Wednesdays, we faithfully wore the College Tie again. The last time I did, somebody shot me a question:

“Why are you guys so obsessed about your former school?”

It’s actually a stupid question to ask and a simple one to answer. We won’t be wearing ties or displaying car stickers if we went to some Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Paya Kelubi somewhere. But people would still ask that question, almost like an automatic reaction to our display of loyalty to the great school.

Display of loyalty? You are loyal to God, to your Exalted Leaders, to your Rulers; but to a school? We might not be perfect, but we are loyal to that school. We are so loyal that we would celebrate anything to commemorate something pertaining to that school; be it a particular building, an anniversary of events or even if the number of years since the school was founded seems nice and fanciful. 111 years old? Let’s celebrate! What next? 123 years old, perhaps? Really, we are just hopeless silly romantics when it comes to the school!

To understand a school like the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) requires one to actually experience it. Try bringing somebody to Kuala Kangsar and make a round tour at MCKK, and they won’t see anything special albeit the grandeur of the near ancient more than century old colonial buildings.

I still vividly remember the day when I received the Letter of Offer (LO) from MCKK. My father was very proud, my mum was sad and I was worrying about what brand of hair cream to buy as listed in the required inventory for entry to the Prep School. During my primary school, I never used any hair cream, for my preference was to just comb my hair and let it flow free. Somehow or rather, I picked up the first brand that I found on a shelf at the local emporium. Come to think of it, shouldn’t have got that ‘Old Spice’ brand as I had to live with that name for the rest of my life. Life is as it is but then again, that’s a different story by itself.

Now, I hail from Alor Setar (colloquially known as Aloq Setaq), Kedah Darul Aman (House of Peace). Nothing special about that, I mean; nothing special about me or the town. Just a sleepy peaceful town surrounded by flat beds of padi fields with wallowing buffaloes, selfishly boasting as the centre of the rice bowl of Malaysia, with a train station and its own exclusive ‘pondan’ settlement nearby the railway tracks. An eventful fact of history was that a son of a Sultan of Kedah, born in Alor Setar, became the 1st Prime Minister of the independent nation, though nothing much changed the sleepy hollow. In short, a town living in past glory, and seemingly content with that.

Decades later, a local doctor from Lorong Kilang Ais, Seberang Perak, Alor Setar became the 4th Prime Minister of Malaysia and changed all that. He was an old boy of the College but the Sultan Abdul Hamid College (SAHC) Alor Star. Much later, fate would also have it that a MCKK old boy would eventually became the Chief Minister of the state, and he wanted to change almost everything but many were not receptive to his crazy innovative ideas. Being a Malay Collegian, he was far too advance for the rest.

In the early 70’s, things were pacing up in the town with the implementation of NEP and it being a predominantly poor Malay community. And at that time, MCKK represented the ultimate present glory; a royal school in a royal town; A School for Kings, a King of Schools and comparatively as the Eton of the East. And, understandably, I was in a hurry to leave. I was one of the four candidates from the Iskandar Primary School picked at the end of 1971 to attend the Malay College in Kuala Kangsar. Three accepted the offer, but one decided to decline.

And thus MCKK beckons, and from the moment we set foot, we were transformed into different people; into individuals with strong characters, idiosyncrasies and strong preferences. We were given a five year sentence as a select privileged few to a special place by the banks of the Perak River. At the end of the fifth year, it turns into a life sentence.

I began to realize that when I came back to Alor Setar for term holiday the first time and brought with me a “Tops of the Pops” compilation cassette. I was excited to share this ‘new’ music with my old primary school buddies, but when they heard it, it was not music to them. They were still swaying to the tunes of Uji Rashid and DJ Dave, and there I was with my ‘cetak rompak’ assortment of Bee Gees, Eagles, Queen and Deep Purple songs.

Looking back, each school holidays meant that I went back reluctantly. Holidays were like long winter nights; passive, inactive. Each holiday would mark a significant difference; a huge gap between my home-town buddies and me. To them, I was becoming more and more like an alien. I could be schooling in Mars, for all they care. And we gradually drifted further, and for better or for worse, our friendship paled into insignificance. I just kept close with my newly acquired friends from MCKK. Even my siblings seemed distant to me.

So what was it that changed us so drastically? Why is there that easiness among us all when we have shared experience of school and of life? Maybe it is the tribal instinct within us that wants acceptance by others…., maybe we seek comfort and want to bond with others…., maybe in this world of many billions it is hard to find solace and comfort or even a friendly face when you need one. And so we seek others with whom we can connect on any level at all. After family we seek friends and among friends none are more eagerly sought after than those we have grown up with, ate with, studied with, played with and work with.

We were taught simple, minor things that borders on being frivolous. We were told to match our shoes with our dress (when you wear Baju Melayu you can wear slippers, but put on a samping and you must wear proper shoes), proper conduct (when you wear games attires you can cross the field, but not when you wear your school uniform) etc.

The rules were all too burdensome, even for me, until one day when a group of students from another boarding school (name withheld to avoid igniting civil war) came. The moment I saw them running around in school uniforms and sprinting to the Dining Hall at the first ring of the bell made me realize how the rules have made us light years ahead in etiquette. Not to mention in other areas.

That, however, is not the whole or only reason for wanting to wear the College Tie again and again each time Wednesday dawns. Other people think we wear them to show off, which explains their unprovoked hostile reaction. It is not, contrary to what non-collegians think, worn to tell them we are special (do they really think we need to do that?). Some of us would still wear the tie, or any college merchandise or paraphernalia, even if we were stranded on some remote island or in Timbuktu or even in a galaxy, far, far away….

It’s because we don’t wear it for them, we don’t wear it for each other. We wore it for ourselves. I am constantly surprised by the tie that binds us as Budak Kolet to those with whom we are fortunate enough to have been classmates, dorm mates or even Budak Kolet mates.

MCOBs !….love them or hate them; whether they are reminiscing over a hole-in-one at KLGCC or hopelessly lost in Outer Mongolia – just seem to have that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that makes them stand out from the rest. Come every Wednesday, they magically pop out from the woodwork with their maroon-and-gold badges or the tri-coloured stripes of honour. Despise them or endear them, they are actually nice and hopeless romantic guys!

Don’t you just feel the urge to wring their necks with their maroon stripe tie and let them choke on it.

Fancy a tie, anyone?

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