The new village school was scheduled to start shortly after the Lunar New Year, but the new building was not quite ready, and the newly recruited teachers had yet to arrived from the Ng Wah county up country. Two weeks had already gone by after all the fuss for the Chinese New Year, Children, of course, should not be left wandering all over the place, the school must start half a month after the Lunar New year. As a interim arrangement, on the 16th day of the First Moon, the old and outdated one room village school house at the foot of the hill had to be used. The service of the already retired old fashion teacher, who was concurrently the Village Preacher Mr. Cheung Wo Bun ( ), had to be re-employed at least temporarily. Mark and I were both enrolled, but proper classification had to await the arrival of the new teachers. My experience on the First day at this village school was indeed memorable. To begin with, the Hakka dialect (not Cantonese) was the medium of teaching. Secondly, as the kindly old Mr. Cheung did not feel like overdoing his part as a temporary overseer, did not do any teaching. After taking the roll call and jotting down the names of new comers (like my brother Mark and myself) he directed that the entire one room school should best start the first day with "private studies". Whereupon, I was shocked to find that every body soon began to ó‚é‚î‚ç‚ ï‚õ‚ô‚ at the top of their voices, the different texts from their respective different books - some of the grade 4, some grade 3, some grade 2 and some even of grade 1. Some were reciting Chinese classics, some chanting the multiplication tables, some reaing loudly the texts from the (Hongkong Government published) Chinese Readers. All singing (more appropriately shouting) out very loudly, but far from being clearly, in a way not un similar to a symphony orchestra having the respective instruments simultaneously being tuned prior to the start of a concert. Never before had I experienced anything like that, but I was assured that this was the way, lessons were taught and revised in all village schools in the days of old. Memorable indeed, were symphony of loud cross singing (or shouting if you so prefer), and the use of Hakka dialect for reading or reciting the different texts from a variety of textbooks all at the same time, if not the apparent disorderliness of things. If my memory serves me right, we carried on like this for well over a week before our new teachers from up country arrived. Thereafter, we were marched uphill to the spacious newly built school on top for the proper commencement of the new school year.
The new teachers included a young and energetic Mr.Liu Ki Ming ( ), who was top of his class from the Basel Mission Normal School in Ku Chuk ( ). He happened also to be a son-in-law of Tsui Yan Shum, an elder brother of my father. He had a reputation of being very resourceful and innovative. He was appointed the head teacher. Within a short while after his arrival, he quickly demonstrated that he certainly had a lot of initiatives, and had a tremendous capacity in changing or adapting what were old to meet the needs of a new situation. He certainly wrote a good hand of Chinese penmanship. Assisting him was a Mr. Cheung Kau Chi, ( ) who was more elderly, with a relatively quiet and mild personality. The two teamed up quite well. Soon I was placed in Primary II, which shared the same classroom with Primary III, under Mr. Cheung. Mr. Liu took the most senior class (Primary IV) along with the most junior (Primary I) occupying the other class room. Common subjects for the whole school, including "sing songs", "physical education" and daily "assemblies" with "pep talks", were taking by Mr. Liu. Additionally, the elderly Village Preacher, Mr. Cheung Wo Bun, took up 2 classes weekly teaching religious knowledge, which in effect, meant that he would be telling us the many fascinating and interesting "Bible Stories", which he knew them all by heart; he knew them so well that very often, he simply closed his eyes and told the stories straight from his memories.
The new teachers adopted new methods of teaching. They did not encourage the traditional loud-voices symphonic cross singing type of reading and recitation. As they had to hold two different classes in each of the two class rooms, they had to organized it in such a way that when one class had a lesson to be taught orally, the other would first be kept busy in a form of quiet written work of a kind - be it composition or penmanship or drawing or doing sums of arithmetic in exercises. The whole school classes of sing songs or physical education and "Assemblies" were invariably held in the late afternoon as the last period of the day. Through the sing song classes, we learnt quite a few of the latest patriotic songs of the day. We sang a song commemorating the success of The Double Tenth Revolution. We also learnt to sing the revolutionary march for the Northward Expedition, featuring "Down with the Foreign Powers and Out with the War Lords". We also learnt to sing other popular songs, such as "O Come All Yee Faithful", "Silent Night", etc, In teaching us singing all these "modern songs", Mr. Liu was very imaginative and innovative; he could adapt new verses for an old tune and turned it for immediate purposes. He was able to change the wording of 2 militant revolutionary march songs, and adapted both of them to become our Songs of Welcome and of Thanks, for the Ceremonial Opening of the new school, in May that year (1925). Such choral singing was skillfully integrated into a military parade type of a "General Salute", complete with a band of 4 bugles, two small drums and a big drum, a pair of percussion cymbals and a "time-keeping" baton, to welcome our guests on the occasion. The innovation was so successful that it simply thrilled, not only our guests of honour, but also the entire village community. It soon became the "Talk of the Town". All these were made possible through the shear personal determination of Mr. Liu. He won such an acclaim for the show, that by the end of the same year (1925) when Sir Cecil Clementi, who was formerly a District Officer for the Northern District of the New Territories, returned to become the new Governor of Hongkong, we were specially "invited" to stage a sort of "Command Performance" before the new Governor, by singing a "Song of Welcome" specially adapted, to commemorate the occasion, at a Unique Welcoming Function staged by the Rural Communities of the new Territories at Taipo Market.
Uncle Pang who later become the First Chairman of the Heung Yee Kuk, newly established in response to a specific suggestion of the new Governor, was so proud of his new school, that he earlier on in the month of October 1925, ordered a special "Flag Parade" type of a picnic for the entire school, just to show off. I recall in that parade, we had to march to the timing of drums and bugles from Shung Him Tong via the Fanling Village of the Pangs, thence to Sheungshui Village of the Lius, then turned to Shek Wu Hui for light refreshment, and then marched back southwards all the way, bypassing Fanling and Wo Hop Shek but stopping at the friendly village of Nam Wah Po for another refreshment, thence onwards to the final destination of Taipo Market for a 3rd Refreshment, before returning to Fanling by Train. It was a whole day affair, covering some 6 to 7 miles on foot. I myself just made it, but it was quite a strain for my younger brother Mark and his classmates at Primary I who were then hardly 7 year old. Nevertheless, that unique experience cut deep into my mind. I felt proud to have done it at the time, and I still remember it fondly even to this day - 64 years after the event. While reading, writing and arithmetic formed the standard content of my then school work, I must mention several subjects of significance and of particular interest. First and foremost, I should mentioned the Bible Stories I heard from the kindly old Village Preacher, Mr. Cheung Wo Bun, starting from the Creation of the Universe, through Adam & Eve in Paradise, Noah Ark and the endless pairs of animals, then Abraham and his wives, then the Dreams of young Joseph and his brothers, then Moses and Pharaohs of Egypt to the wandering in Sainai and the Ten Commands, then the story of yuong David against the giant Goliath, then the all wise King Solomon and his Temple, down to the Life , Parables and Miracles of Jesus, etc. which must have given me the most solid of foundation for my Christian Faith and Christian set of Morals. In point of fact they had also provoked many questions of Faith, Hope and Charity in my mind, which remained unresolved if not confused for most part of the rest of my life. At home, and since my father's conversion to Catholicism, I was brought up, strictly in accordance with the conventions of the pre Vatican II orthodox Catholicism,
My mother, however, was a staunch Protestant, educated and raised by the missionaries of the Basel Mission, her personal views had always been puritanically inclined. She was morally very strict and would suffer no nonsense. She respected Catholic practices, but tolerated no hypocrisy. As Catholic, we made our Signs of the Cross before and after meals, she would bow her head and meditated her short prayer. We observed our abstinence on Fridays through out the year and our fast during Lent and on the Eve of the Big Feasts, such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost etc., while she could have her meat, but she would prepare and share with us, the established fish dishes. In the mid Twenties, we had to travelled all the way by train to Kowloon, crossed the Harbour by ferry, and walked our way up to Caine Road for Masses at the Cathedral on Sundays and on Holy Days of Obligation, while my mother would go to her Services in her Protestant church right next door in the village. Now and then when we had our family celebrations, she might have in the party, a Pastor or two from her church, who invariably were all our very close family friends of long standing. They would be asked to say Grace in the Protestant way, and we would bow our heads in support. When asked to say Grace, a Protestant Pastor would stand up, speak his mind freely and loudly, saying something very pleasing to our ears in Praise of the Lord for His Blessings. For us, we had a very bright sister, Agnes, who would without fail, lead an assembly of all of us brothers and sisters every evening, kneeling in her spacious bed-room, reciting together the set evening prayers from our Prayer Book. In the months of May and October, she would insist that we told together, the Rosary Beads in Honour of The Holy Mary Mother of God; and in the month of June, a special set of additional prayers in Honour of The Sacred Heart. On Fridays in Lent, we would have to read through the 14 Stations of The Ways of The Cross. All these set prayers from the Prayer Book were very well written in classical Chinese, some were so well written that they suited well for Verse Speaking. I would however confess that I understood little what exactly they meant. My clever sister Agnes somehow managed to learn all the difficult words in these master pieces of Chinese Literature, while she was still very young studying Chinese in the Cannosian/Precious Blood Sister's primary school of Pui Ching. In later years (1926 onwards), frequently we had Catholic priests, notably, Fr. Brooks, and Fr. D'ayla of the PIME, coming to say Mass in our house (because the nearest Catholic Church was 4 miles away in Taipo). Mother always welcomed them warmly as true friends of the house, and would unfailingly feed them well after Mass. My mother had a very good voice, and she sang very well. Not only that she loved singing, particularly the Hymns (hundreds of them) she learnt in the Church, she would go out of her way to encourage us to sing along with her in praise of the Lord, particularly at the Christmas Season. For us the singings, at High Masses and at Benedictions, were in Latin and sung by choirs. We had little or no part of it. We always had our Christmas Tree in the house, which we selected the best from our own crop planted in our "Licensed Forestry Lot" nearby. I always took an active part in decorating the Christmas Tree.
I had a conflict in that as Catholic, I was told that Martin Luther of Germany was a defrocked Catholic priest who, wanting to marry a nun and for personal reasons, started his Protestantism. King Henry VIII of England turned Protestant so that he could marry his 8 wives which the Church would not approve. On the other side, the Lutherans accused the Papacy for the pride of building the St. Peter in Rome, raised money by way of selling Tickets for Indulgence thus indirectly condoning immorality of the rich at the time. The presence of many statutes and pictures in a Catholic Church smack idolatry, which the Ten commands forbade. There were other reasons given, which I have since forgotten, to suggest that the Papacy in Rome should have been condemned. Neither side would concede that the other's was legitimate or their way of worship would please God which would ensure salvation of the soul. For my private prayers at my First Holy Communion, I was told to pray for the conversion of my mother so that she might soon be a Catholic, as we would not want to see our beloved mother condemned to the eternal fire in hell, simply because she did not become Catholic. Off the lessons, the Lutheran poreacher once said to me, that we the Cathodic, couldn't expect our sins to be forgiven, simply by going to Confessions. It was not in the Lord's Commandments that priests should not get married; the opposite was the truth. At times all these were quite confusing particularly for a young mind like mine. My mother never condemned Catholicism as such, she insisted that we should sincerely practise what we were taught and what we believed. My father never condemned Protestantism as such either. He might laugh at certain human follies or certain oddities of individual personalities. Thus it might rightly be said that we were (or at least I myself was) literally brought up, dually and simultaneously, both as a Catholic and as a Lutheran. Perhaps, it was precisely this that I might have had the best of both of the two great traditions. In a way I have been very Catholic; but in another way I have always appreciated the strength and weakness of Protestantism. I am glad to say that much of the conflict have since been resolved by the Great Debate and Deliberations of Vatican II and of the Ecumenical Movement in the recent years.
Secondly, I should mention the teaching of Chinese classics at primary school levels. I was taught to learn my classics by heart without having to bother about finding out what exactly the texts in the good books really meant. For primary I, the set Book for Chinese classics was the "Tsang Kwong Yin Man" ( ) or the "Immense Wisdom of Widely Quoted Sayings". Sayings such as: "There are trees of over thousand years old in the mountains, but there is hardly a human of a Hundred in this world"; or "The people of the old days could not have seen the Moon of to- day, but the Moon of to-day had once shone on the people in the days of old" , "One rarely lives up to the age of a hundred, why worry about the problems of a thousand years", "Should you wish to get rid of your drinking habit, please open your sober eyes and see clearly, how the drunkards behave" and so on and so forth. I was placed in primary II, I did not have to learn by heart the quotations from this excellect book of wisdom. However my brother, Mark, who was placed in primary I, had the unenviable task of having to memorize every one of the several hundreds of such unrelated but rhymed "quotations". For an adult who had experienced the ups and downs in life, every single one of such rhymed quotation is meaningful and instructive; but for a child of 7 or 8, they were really tough nuts to crack. I recall my brother Mark sweating through, often in tears, trying to memorize just one such irrelevant quotation every other day. But for me, just because it was not my job to have to learn it, I had no difficulty in picking them up on the way simply because they were rhymed. Thus I soon learnt to know them better than my brother, whose duty it was to have to learn them by heart - poor Mark.
For primary II, the set book was "Hau King" or "Hsio Jin" ( ) "The Principles and Practices of Filial Piety", according to the teachings of the Great Master, Confucius. This I had to learn by heart. The subject matter was most uninteresting and so unrelated and irrelevant in real life, that I cnanot now remember even a single verse in that book, which I once learnt by heart. What a difference when compared to the book of the "Wisdom of Selected Sayings" which I didn't even have to learn, but which I simply picked up on the side because the couplets were rhymed and the contents were directly relevant to real life.
The set book for primary III was the "Book of Mencius", a book containing brief and precise dissertations of great political wisdom fit to counsel a King on good kingship, emphasising dthe importance of winning the hearts and minds of the populace within the limits of the Four Seas, thus assuring a peaceful ascendancy to the Throne of a Kingdom extending to cover all corners of the universe. The prose in this Book of Mencius was well smoothe and readable, the arguments were convincing and well backed up with good logic, the analogies were well drawn in down to earth simple parables to illustrate the abstract theories, and all illustrations were simple easily understandable. While I could not say I fully appreciate the significance of every thing said in the good book, I should at least say that I have enjoyed reading the book (in fact reciting half of it) even at my primary III level, and I could learn to recite them without much difficulty.
The set book for primary IV was the "Lun Yu", ( ) Confucius Analects, the philosophical depth of many of which I was unable to fathom. After a whole year's efforts, I was able to remember a few sayings selected here and there, but not much ekse otherwise. Thus, of the 4 set- books of Chinese classics, taught at the primary school level, I could say, I managed to enjoy reading two of them; namely, the "É‚í‚í‚å‚î‚ó‚å‚ ×‚é‚ó‚ä‚ï‚í‚ ï‚æ‚ ×‚é‚ä‚å‚ì‚ù‚ Ñ‚õ‚ï‚ô‚å‚ä‚ Ó‚á‚ù‚é‚î‚ç‚ó‚¢‚ and the ¢‚Â‚ï‚ï‚ë‚ ï‚æ‚ Í‚å‚î‚ã‚é‚õ‚ó‚¢‚, an effort which I never regret.
Indeed, they formed the very foundation of I might consider to be my Chinese Culture, if indeed I can claim to have one.
Thirdly, I should mention the fact that we were taught "Mandarin" or "Putunghua" in the school when we were under Ten. (This, I still believe, is the surest way of ensuring the correct pronunciation and accent in learning an acquired language or dialect). Thus from age 9 onwards I have learnt to read and speak three Chinese Dialects; namely, Cantonese, Hakka and Putunghua, for which I have always been proud, an effort I never regret and feel forever thankful.
Fourthly I was also taught to write letters. The text book used gave a lot models, and had, as its first lesson, a model letter to one's grandfather, its 2nd lesson, a model letter to one's father, then a letter to maternal grandmother, then a letter to an uncle on the paternal side and then another one to an uncle on the maternal side, before coming to a model letter to a cousin, one on the maternal side, and one on the maternal side. A letter to a friend - school mate or otherwise, came in very low priority down the ladder. Old fashion Chinese letter writing had to conform with very strict discipline, particularly in the polite usage of salutations. For example, one may only address once parents and grandparents as "Sut Ha" ( ) i.e., "beneath his/her knees" ( as it has always been beneath the knees of parents or grandparents that children grew up to keep the former happy), but to an Uncle or Aunt, the address should be modified as "Jeun Tsin" ( )i.e., "before the respectful presence of" (for children should also respect members of the family who are sendiro in rank ). To a good friend, one may express the writer's endearment by addressing the firend as "Tsuk Ha" ( ) "beneath my feet" - taken from the classic story of the Marquis of Tsin who had inadvertently overlooked to award an appropriate reward to his most loyal effective supporter Kai Chi Tsui ( ) after winning a decisive battle, thus so disappointed his most loyal supporter that the latter hided himself in a forest kand refused to appear in Court; on discovering Kai Chi Tsui absence, the Marquis realized his inadvertency, and to compensate that the Marquis proceeded to find his loyal support from the forest, but the loyal supporter simply refused to come out to greet his Marquis in response. In desparation, the Good Marquis set fire to the forest in the hope that Kai Chi Tsui would come out, however the loyal Kai Chi Tsui refused, and was thus burnt to death. Afterwards to commemorate his own shortcomings, the Marquis of Tsin ordered that a pair of clogs be made out of the wood from the tree adhering to which Kai Chi Tsui was burnt to death, so that he would be constantly reminded of his loyal friend and his own weakenss. Not unlike the English way of addressing a senior official as "His Excellency", the Chinese way was not to address him personally, but to the "front of his desk" "toi Tsin" ( ), or the "corner beneath the roof of his office" "Kop Ha"( )..... and so on and so forth.
I had not much of a chance of making good use of these models, because my grandfather lived with me, and both of my grandmothers were already dead. I did not have to write to my father or my mother because I lived with them in their house. I hardly knew any of my uncles on either side of the family, nor had I much to write about in any such letter, if I were to write one. Those of my cousins who I knew well, were living too close to us to warrant writing a letter. I did not have many, whom I could call friends, who was living sufficiently far away, to have make it worth my while communicating with letters. These model letters however, indirectly but effectively, taught me the correct order of precedence for the extended Chinese family structure, the right etiquette by which I might address my relatives of the various ranks within and beyond the extended family, which culturally, is still very valid in the Chinese social usages even of to day.
One other subject which was taught, more in the form of a series of lecture than as lessons to be learnt, was Hygiene. We were taught then, that in the atmosphere we had a gaseous substance called oxygen, another called hydrogen, yet another carbonic. We were also taught that there were some very tiny living organisms, called germs, which could cause diseases of one form or another. We were taught it would be safer to drink boiling hot water than cold water from the streams or wells. We were also taught that woollen and cotton-padded clothings were more suitable for winter wearing than thin silk or cotton. We were taught that food stuffs consisted of starch, fat and protein. We were encouraged to wash frequently, our limbs, our hands in particular; and also to bathe ourselves frequently. We were also taught how important it was to have good ventilation for the houses in which we lived; how to avoid over exposure to saunlights or wintry cold. Strangely, all these, which we were taught in the form of lectures, stayed in my mind for well over 60 years, whereas others which we had to learnt by heart or otherwise, have long slipped past my mind.
Broadly speaking, I learnt to make sentences in primary II, write simple compositions in primary III, write simple essays in primary IV, and was encouraged to read story books, recite poetry, and also to write sophisticated notes, essays and letters. Additional I learnt simple English from Book O, of the Crown Readers series in primary V. Thus by the time when I left the village school, the Tsung Him School I was, in a way, mentally quite sophisticated.
The more interesting aspects of my life in these formative years, age 9-12, were not what we learnt or didn't learnt in school, but what we had picked up outside the home and the school. Just imagine what the excitement of a 9 year old city-boy could be, when being thrown out to the wide open country side. Free as a lark, he learnt to imitate others who were walking and running bare feet, on rough grounds, up hill and down dale. It was a challenge. It hurt a little, but I soon overcome it, and could do it without difficulty.
Preparations for the Lunar New Year started shortly after the Feastival of Winter Solstice, when harvesting of the second crop of paddy was all over. A supplementary crop of sweet potatoes or taro might be grown in a few chosen pieces of paddy fields close to the villagestead, for which some extra labour would be required. When even that was over, the women could take things easy, and began to indulge in somthing nice to beautify themselves. Getting married just in time for the New Year was quite common and in fact fashionable. Hardly any of the winter season would be allowed to pass without a Wedding preceeding the New Year. Thus Winter was the time of the year when shopping in the nearby market towns, not only for weddings but also in anticipation of the New Year. Wnating items of the household furnitures or implmenets would be replenished. Chickens and pigs must be fattened in good time for the occasions. New piece goods for clothings had to be bought and if she happens to be a born seamstress her service would be much soought after and her work would be much admired. Every girl would try her hand in weaving the colourful patterned ribbons for headdress as well as for waist belts. They would also learnt from each other, how best to cook certain dishes. As New Year Day was fast approaching, boiled rice would be puffed (like pop corns) and specially prepared syrup would be used for caking the "caked pop rice", and a special giant size sweet "New Year Pudding" would be steamed all to be ready by New Year Eve. On the day before the wedding or the New Year, one or more pigs would be killed and shared to serve as the principal dish for the feasting, the relative sizes of the fowls would also be subject of comments or comparison to indicate which particular woman in the village is most capable and competent. Every one would know how many catties of pork or how many chickens were used for the Feasting.
of 25 Jan 1990