MCKK… and beyond

By Professor Anthony F. Harmer

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I arrived at MCKK during 1973. The new HM was already there Dato Nordin Nasir and he had the job of moving the school on. There were two other English teachers, Mr Dick for Physics and Mr Hindly for Maths. I was Head of Science and then Mr Chan took this over and I became Head of Chemistry. I remember the Speech Days with the VIPs and the visits to the Sultan’s Palace.

Things were difficult at the dam at Grik and there was certainly no East-West Highway!! At weekends, students went on trips using the school coach and for example, the Aeromodelling Club queued at the ferry waiting to cross to Penang, where we stayed at the Youth Hostel, prior to visiting the Australian Air Base. I was quite good at squash then and played at the courts at the back of school. Some students decided to see if they could smelt tin ore in the laboratory and with help from (now Dato(!)) Gordon van Praagh set up an oven. They entered the project in KL and won!

I left MCKK at the end of 1977. Immediately on returning to the UK, I applied for jobs and I was very lucky to obtain two term’s work at Whitgift school in South London as a Chemistry teacher. I enjoyed this as the school was well organised and the boys very pleasant. However, I had applied to the Brunei Government from Malaysia six months previously and one of those strange coincidences occurred that I can remember clearly to this day.

I was marking some chemistry when the new physics teacher arrived – from Brunei! Explaining the system there and mentioning that he had had a wonderful time, he suggested that I write direct to the Education Department, Brunei. I received a telegram asking me to start soon and so I arrived in Brunei on Malaysia’s Independence Day 1978.

I worked at the Teacher’s Training College, lecturing in Science Methodology and then I was transferred to the Sixth Form Centre to teach Advanced level Biology. This was an exciting time in Brunei and I attended some functions to celebrate the Independence when Prince Charles was there and Heads of State from many countries. I remember a banquet in the new Palace for five thousand guests. I marvelled as to how the food was served so hot with help from Singapore and Hong Kong.

My most memorable times were when the Geography department organised trips to the interior. About twenty students and staff assembled at the Army heliport at six in the morning, excitedly waiting for lift off for the incredible flight across Brunei Bay and Limbang to Temborong. After following the river south, the flight would climb eastward up into the mountains over the tropical rainforest canopy, hiding the little valleys below. To set us down the helicopter would have to hover and then descend into a tube in the forest. Hovering at about one or two metres we would have about one minute to jump off, collect our barrang and run into the forest.

Then, the helicopter would rise and its sound gradually disappears into the distance until all was silent. Or was it? Then you realise just how noisy the jungle can be and it is not just the animals. Plant fruits popping, leaves falling and the swish of the trees from far above contribute to a sound never to be forgotten. Two occasions remain in my mind: The journey to the highest point, Pagan, with the clouds swirling in and out of the trees and our field course weekend in the jungle. Now I understand how hard it is to live there – especially when you are covered from head to toe with wild bees!!

Instead of returning to the UK during the holidays, we travelled to neighbouring countries and the tour around China was unforgettable. Of course we took advantage of visits to long houses in the Ulu and to the Niah caves long before there was a road to Sarawak, driving along the beach! As at MCKK, I always enjoyed being a little provocative with the students – to stimulate discussion. Once in MCKK, I asked “Where would Malaysia get its energy from in the future and who would have to organise it?” One student told me off for being annoying.

However, I explained that I wanted to inspire the students to realise that THEY were the people who would have this job in the future. I wonder if that student remembers and what is he doing today? I could spend a lot more time going on about our wonderful time in S E Asia, however it all came to an end in 1985, when I returned to Whitgift School to teach Biology, temporarily, until the August 1985.

From September 1985 until August 1998, I taught IT and Science at Caterham School on the outskirts of S E London. Three events occurred during this time: girls were admitted to the school, the school was merged with a local girl’s school and at one point, five of the overseas students were from MCKK! Of course, there were other students from all over Malaysia and we were lucky to meet them when we visited Malaysia later.

Not only that, we were blessed with girls from Malaysia too. That was just before the merger and they were among the first female boarders at the school. As the summer of 1985 was very cold, we decided to save up our money and take holidays in the sun each summer if possible. Two of these were in S E Asia and the trip to Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos was the most remarkable. The other was by rail from Singapore to Chang Mai, revisiting MCKK on the way!

Things are more difficult now. I left Caterham in 1998 for Bromley High School but the journey was too difficult and then in September 1999 I started at St Augustine’s Priory school in Ealing, Inner London. Unfortunately, house prices shot up so quickly during that summer that I could not afford to move there. In addition, the Government increased the amount of tax you have to pay when you buy a house, resulting in over £13 000 expenses incurred when you move!! These increases made local rentals too high consequently, I had to leave this year.

I am very sad about that as the St Augustine’s students were very friendly and I shall miss them all. During September 2000 to August 2001, I taught Information Technology at the City of London Freemen’s School and from 3rd September I shall be teaching at Queen’s Gate School near South Kensington, London. So I shall be able to take up any invitations to visit Malaysia Hall for ‘Bagus Makan!!

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