Heart and Soul: Memorable School Days at Ipoh Main Convent

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The Main Convent, also known at the time as CHIJ (Convent of the Holy Child Jesus) on Brewster Road (now Jalan Sultan Idris Shah), Ipoh, was a prestigious school. Studying in a convent gave you the right to a somewhat elitist education, something akin to that of international schools or smart schools today.

The day began at 7 am, with the shrill ringing of the school bell piercing the cold morning air amid the sounds of feet gathering to gather on the open ground. Then we walked in line, taking turns to join the brisk walk to neighboring classrooms. Latecomers would be “retained”, for a warning for first-time offenders or for a more severe penalty for the “hard core”.

The primary school was then adjacent to the secondary block. The school hall was in the primary section, but had a staircase and a hallway that led to the secondary school. The room was used by both primary and secondary.

The glimpses of the events for the elderly were enough to impress and inspire elementary school students to aspire to one day enter the same hall as the elderly.

Music lessons for primary school were held in the hall. I enjoyed these sessions like most of us; they were a welcome break from the routine study program. A cacophony of young voices was heard in waves of soothing sopranos. It was indeed the skill of the music teacher. No musical notes to memorize or write; we just wrote the lyrics of the songs in a workbook that we took with us to the music class. No censorship, because we sang together. After the lesson, we returned to our classroom with refreshed minds and souls.

As we walked past the hall as seniors, familiar tensions reached us and we remembered songs that we had sung as juniors with so much enthusiasm – such as Beautiful brown eyes, Pearly seashells, and My grandfather’s clock. These familiar tunes echoed in our minds and tugged at our heartstrings.

Our main principal sister Saint Fidelma and some of our teachers were nuns.

I remember Sister Saint-Laurent. She taught us in Standard Three. She was tall and looked Indian, and wore a white coat like other European nuns. When you were one of the first three students in the class for the midterm or graduation tests, she handed out rewards that we called “holy pictures” – of saints or Mother Mary or Saint Joseph. . We cherished them because they were given to us with so much love.

High school was different. There were no more music lessons; we had home science and art and a host of other clubs and associations as extra-curricular activities, especially in upper secondary.

There were swimming lessons every fortnight. We walked in pairs, taking a path across Brewster Road past the church in front of the school. We arrived at Chung Thye Phin Road and Ave Marie Convent which housed the swimming pool. These were outings for us and we enjoyed those lessons and workouts.

I remember my art teacher, Ms. Lim. I loved to draw and paint. Ms. Lim often praised my work and put them on the poster board at the back of the classroom to serve as an exhibit.

We were also taught to cook. The cooking classes were fun. We were able to taste and take home the dishes we had cooked for that day. I remember making fascinating dishes like the Victoria Sandwich, a soft, spongy cake that turned into a sandwich, and many more.

Sewing classes, which I hated, alternated with cooking classes. In the third form, we each had to sew a blouse for the exam. I remember my sewing teacher holding my blouse to read it before putting it on. One glance and she burst out laughing. Horror of Horrors, I had combined two types of necklaces into one! The class was in complete silence. She laughed and laughed as I sat behind the desk, wondering how I could fix everything I had done. “Deselect,” she bellowed, and I was relieved that I could save him. It was duly passed as an examination piece.

English lessons were my favorite. Our teacher, Miss Cynthia Thomas, made our English lessons something to look forward to. We had a lot of oral work, exercises in nuances of grammar, comprehension – both written and oral – and essay writing. I loved to write, especially imaginative type stories, narratives and descriptions. I would look forward to the return of the books, eager to read the encouraging comments that were often written below.

Miss Thomas was also our physical education teacher. When I was in Form Two, there was a big music festival and an international folk dance concert in the school hall at the end of the year. Miss Thomas taught us the Maypole dance – a British dance that heralds the arrival of spring – which we performed during the concert, a colorful extravaganza of folk dances from around the world. While participating, we also watched with fascination the performances of the other dancers. The Spanish dance saw the girls waving their skirts to the beat of their partners in tuxedos. There were dances from Portugal, Russia and Holland.

Another of my teachers, Ms. Selvamany (now Datin Seri Selvamany), brought literature to life. His line-by-line explanation of Shakespeare’s text The merchant of Venice brought Shakespeare’s courthouse to our classrooms. She also taught us English and math in fourth grade.

Then there was our prefects’ mistress, Miss Hew. She looked stern and sane. A noisy and rowdy class would be cradled in absolute silence at the mere mention of their name or the sound of their approaching footsteps. As a discipline teacher, she was the flagship of the school. She rarely smiled but, as prefects, we had the rare opportunity to see her in a good mood during our meetings with her.

Then I can’t forget my teacher, Miss Wong, who educated us and sent us out into the world armed with testimonies and our graduation certificates. I cannot forget his patience, his love and his dedication. I remember her fondly.

Although I am now in the fall of life, I think of all my teachers with love and gratitude. I also remember my parents making sure we got off to a good start in life. Their selfless and enduring love for us is forever etched in my heart.


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