Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The best place to be on earth

New Straits Times
by Roger Tan

Roger Tan, Head Prefect of his school in  1978 Yong Peng is my hometown and I am always proud to be associated with this town in which I grew up.

In 1800, there were only five Malay houses standing on the banks of Sungai Bekok and on Bukit Jambu. The town was then then known to the Malays as Sri Bertam, named after a tree called ‘Bertam Tree’ in Kampong Bukit Jambu.

In November 1847, four Teochews from China, led by Boo Koh Lak Loo @ Ah Loh, came to Sri Bertam by boat after paddling up Sungai Bekok . They then built three houses on the site of the present government clinic and later, with the help of their Malay friends, began to clear some thick forests at the river banks.

When this small settlement prospered and progressed, Boo named the place Yong Peng or “everlasting peace” in Chinese.

The present Jalan Ah Loh was named after Boo, who died in 1907.

But the peace in Yong Peng was shattered when hundreds of Chinese were tortured and killed during the Japanese occupation.

During the emergency Yong Peng was the second most notorious ‘black area’ after Sungai Siput in Perak.

Today, Yong Peng is a bustling district which has two main interchanges on the North-South Expressway. It was also made a State constituency seat in the last general election.

Yong Peng is now known as a ‘Foohow town’ and is a favourite stop-over for highway travellers for its Foochow fried noodles, red rice wine chicken and Foochow biscuits.

With the current soaring prices of commodities, the majority of the town folk, who are rubber smallholders, and oil palm plantations are doing well.

As for me, I will never hesitate to promote Yong Peng.

I remember one day when I was in Form 2, the students were asked to speak on this topic “How to pass your examinations?” in an oratorical contest in class.

I remembered standing up and arguing that students would pass their examinations if teachers did not ask them to help mark the examination papers.

Obviously, I came last in the contest, but not without receiving thunderous applause from my class, much to the annoyance of my culprit teacher.

But then there were many hardworking teachers who had taught me from 1973-1978. Among them were Yap Teong Hoon, Rose Anne Easaw, Lau Yen Fung, Abdullah Hamid and Low Ah Tee.

Despite it being a rural school with poor amenities, the relationship between teachers and students was very good. We hardly had any serious school disciplinary problem.

I still remember during my time, the school premises were shared by students from both the English and Malay mediums. We mixed freely together and there was no such thing as racial polarisation at that time.

Being someone who was more interested in arts subjects, I stayed behind to do my Form 4 and Form 5 whilst students undertaking Science subjects had to continue their studies in Batu Pahat.

In the school, I was also the president of Interact Club, chief pupil librarian, secretary of the Scouts Movement and vice-captain of our Green House sports team.

In 1978, a new school, now known as Sekolah Menengah Dato’ Seth was also built beside the river.

It was under the same school management, and I am proud that I was then the Head Prefect of both the English and Malay streams as well as of the two schools.

If the students of these two schools are reading this article, I hope they will continue to work hard and excel so that they can make a name for our school and our hometown, Yong Peng.

Most of all, may Yong Peng continue to shine in everlasting peace as a fine example of unity in diversity since its founding days.

Note: The writer is a prominent Malaysian lawyer. He is a member of the Malaysian Bar Council.

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