teach, do something worthwhile with your life

[drawing coming up later...]
In the absence of books, films, art and daydreams that inspire during these past few weeks, I find myself enjoying more than usual these casual, meandering, sometimes nostalgic conversations with my family. And of the many stories about her childhood that my mother has told me (and re-told), this remains my favourite.

Mrs L cannot remember when the Health Sciences class became her responsibility. A honours (distinction) graduate from the Malayan University in geography, there are days when Mrs L wonders how it is that she has fallen from high mountain tops to the darker, unclean regions of the human body and its earthly abode. But the principal did not fancy any of the male teachers teaching the young girls the correct way to wash their hands and brush their teeth and keep god-knows-where-else clean if their mothers had not already told them to. So here she was, an educated young woman of her time, called to join the men in leading the nation's charge from third world darkness to first world light. And if health science was what she had to teach, so be it. Mrs L would do her utmost to make tomorrow's class one that will be remembered by this generation - and the next.

Perhaps fourteen year old Siew Gek heard this passionate timbre in Mrs L's voice and was moved.

That afternoon, with Mrs L's instructions noted in her little 555 blue notebook, Siew Gek set out to prepare for tomorrow's health science class.

Her first stop was the coffeeshop at the corner of a long row of shophouses. There, she asked the kopi-su if he would let her have one of the empty ABC Stout bottles at no charge. He waved her away. This, she took as a "yes". Next, she took a shortcut through the coffeeshop to the back of the shophouses and headed in the direction of her kampong. Just by the edge of the squatter was a drain, about one meter wide and deep, its sides narrow to a V. She bent and balanced herself with one foot on each side. There were only leaves and trash. It was dry. Thank goodness there has not been any rain the past 2 days. Slowly, Siew Gek advanced towards a hole by the side of the drain that was the outlet for drainage from some other place, taking care to avoid an especially slippery spot of moss. Once there, she could see their shiny brown bodies, barely camouflaged against the grainy concrete.

It was not difficult coaxing them into the bottle.

The smell of stout was still strong. And perhaps because they have never been harassed much, except maybe by boys on a hunt for spiders, their instincts were yet developed to sly human traps.

After a couple of minutes, Siew Gek counted the number of cockraches in the bottle and was pleased. There was just about enough to go round the class if two girls shared one cockroach and one dissecting blade between them.

Y: Why did you bring so many cockroaches to School?!?
Mom: Aiyah, I was kind-hearted. A lot of those girls I know won't bring any.
Y: Oh I see... [though not quite convinced]
M: I'll always remember that stupid teacher. Until today I can remember her name! That Mrs Lim! You know what she said to me?
Y: What?
M: In front of everybody in the class, she said so loudly, "wah, Jenny, your house is so dirty!" I tell you, I was so angry. All my kind intentions. And I purposely went to the drain to catch... I will always remember her name, that Mrs Lim!


wahj said…
I love this story. Wonderful piece of writing.
monk said…
yeah, and teachers always seem to leave us with one of two polar impressions.

and mrs. lim, unfortunately, probably left most all of her students with a memory like yours.
Unknown said…
cockroach story makes me rmb my pri sch chinese teacher .. her name was zhang lao shi, n she was quite strict so nobody really liked her. then one day someone wrote zhang lang on the board n she cried.. then we all felt really bad =(( primary school kids are kindof cruel
ampulets said…
chinese teachers in primary schools seem to be the terrors.
I've never managed to make one cry though...they all seemed to have come from China and are survivors of the cultural revolution or something more terrifying than a class of 40 imps. 1 of my chinese teachers in primary school, however, broke the stereotype. She was kind, smiley, never raised her voice and had these weird blue eyes.

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