Sekolah Kebangsaan St John’s (1), 1978. That was when I got the offer to enrol at the Malay College in Kuala Kangsar. Given the life I had at home, I accepted the offer without giving any thought, except to show the offer letter to my class teacher, Mr Tham Kam Peng, and classmates Rafidi Aris (who is now a Taekwondo instructor), Zamri Ridzwan (Hj Zamri now, a businessman, and an UMNO branch head in the Cheras division), and Andri Aidham Ahmad Badri (co-founder of Kadir, Andri and Partners, a legal firm in KL somewhere). Only two of us got the offer (the other person was Megat Kamil Azman of Darjah 6 Kuning), one got to go to RMC (Mizan Yahaya), a few more to MRSM Pengkalan Chepa. The others like Harith Iskandar Musa (yes, that Harith), went on to do their secondary at SMK St John’s across the road.
January 1979 – armed with new stuff like my own pail, black “leather” shoes, new games shoes, PE attires, school uniforms, kitchen sink, I reported to the Prep School, a hostel reserved for the First Formers (isolated from the rest as this would be where we were to be shaped by the Prefects and Wardens entrusted to mold us). My parents sent me there – a long 6-hour drive from KL. I got there, andwe were met by the District Special Branch Officer, Uncle Ismail Ibrahim (retired as the Kedah Special Branch Head later in the 1990s). After having arranged my stuff at Dorm ‘A’ of the Prep School, I went for a bath at the gym (the bathroom and dining hall was not ready yet then), then went for mass Maghrib prayers. That was when my parents left me to go back to KL. I was chucked into Form 1D (Commerce) with the late Johan Ismail (of Joeblogs), while Megat Kamil went to Form 1C. Form 1 life was mostly uneventful except for the frequent visits by Special Branch officers to ensure I was okay, or the occasional hideaway I had to undergo at the house of the Commandant of the Northern Brigade, Police Field Force (now General Operations Force) in Hulu Kinta. Those were the times when communists activities were rife in Perak, and Perak had its own electricity company called Perak Hydro (Perak) Sdn Bhd. For extra-curricular activities, I joined the Pasukan Kadet Bersatu Malaysia and we were trained by the 26th Battalion Royal Malay Regiment, then based in Ipoh. It was also in Form One that I challenged a senior to a fistfight – but I was no match against 5 Form 2 boys then. I had to learn a lot of things by myself and I had to learn them fast. I didn’t know how to tie the sarong, or samping, or even the necktie then, and I always looked silly.
When I was in Form 2, I was in Dorm 9 of the New Hostel. Saifuddin Abdullah (now YB Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, a deputy minister and MP for Temerloh) was my Headboy. There were some Form 3 students there as well, sharing dorms with us, as a preparation for us to assimilate with the rest of the senior students. Ragging was there, but the Prefects, mostly 5th Formers and in Lower 6, made sure that the ‘naughty’ seniors were kept at bay. We also made sports headlines that year because all of us ran amuck when a cheerleader was beaten up by supporters of STAR (Sekolah Tak Ada Reason) when we beat them at rugby during the state finals. Apparently, the reporter who wrote the article is also a loser from that losing school. At the end of the year, I got to go on my first round-the-world trip with the family.
The following year, I was again at the New Hostel in Dorm 3. Those from my batch were Farid Nawawi (now CEO and ED of MIMB Investment Bank Bhd), Shahrir Md Noor (a partner of a legal firm in Jitra, Kedah) – I cannot recall who the other person was. Those in Form 2 were Niju, the late Azam Tot, Cerpelai, Zulbokh, Azizi Siang-Siang Di Malam-Malam, Shahril Azwar Jimin (Paqia), Mas Adi and a few others whose real name I cannot remember. This was probably the starting of the best year because from this junior batch, I made friends with Gemgem, Badak, Bawang, Jawa, Adlan, Droid (with the latter five then joining the college’s swimming squad). We all had a common enemy and nemesis in the form of a prefect called Hj Adlan, who was probably disliked by the whole community of Collegians during that time, save for a few. It was also the year I broke my left arm during rugby, two weeks before a swimming meet in KL. At the end of Form 3, my father thought of sending me to the UK and had me packing ALL my stuff, ready to leave for the UK. However, the plan came to a halt and I went back to the Malay College for my fourth year.
1982 – the best year ever. Droid, Jawa, Adlan, Bawang, and myself, got closer because of swimming. And once the overlooked or forgotten, both the swimming and water polo squads (they were the same people as there were about ten people doing both) became the State champs for the first time, beating giants like St Michael Institution and the Anglo-Chinese School, both from Ipoh. Not only once, but twice – once during the MSSPk, and then the Age-Group competition. I remember how we all had stacks of medallions to show. It was also the first time I had won a Gold for 100 meters freestyle in a competition that ran during the second term holidays. All of us did not know where to store the medallions that we had to make a trip back to KL to send them back home for safekeeping. This was also the year I first scuba dived – in Tioman.
Form 5 – the critical year. We again excelled in swimming but came 3rd in water polo. This was also the year we had to train juniors to take over and some were literally forced to join the team. I became the President for the Lifesaving Society, and captained the Ahmad House swimmers to victory in during Sports Day. I led the Speech Day parade, commandeering the various guards-of-honour contigents. On that day, the school administration recognised our efforts and three of us were awarded the College Colours for excellence in the fields of swimming and water-polo; the only sport to have had more than one recipient in the same year.
I left the Malay College two days after my last SPM exams paper, and ten days later was on a flight to England to further my studies. It was sad to leave my alma mater when the rest of my batchmates were still holidaying after the exams.
The Malay College is still very much in my heart, only that I would prefer to stay away, not wanting to get caught like some who cannot leave the college and have to return to the college, or attend every single do related to the college, or to the old boys network. No, I am NOT a MCOBA member, because I prefer my private life to remain private – not subjected to being the subject of discussion amongst old boys. I only returned in 1985 to get my SPM results, then in 1996 (we beat the college team at waterpolo during the Old Boys Weekend), and last in 2003 when my batch celebrated its 20th anniversary of leaving the Malay College.
The Malay College shaped me into what I am, mostly, and as I was in the swimming squad, I was exposed to girls much earlier than the other boys were – so, no, I have always been straight, unlike some. Thank you. But the best part is, our local rival, Clifford School, wanted to emulate us and went by the acronym SMCKK – Sekolah Menengah Clifford Kuala Kangsar.