Following the resumption of classes after the "General Strike" in 1925, Wah Yan has had a spell of successes. Enrollment in the school growed steadily. With the capable assistance of Mr. Lim Hoy Lan, my father had the spare energy to attend to an ambitious expansion scheme. With the consent of the Diocese's Procuratory, my father was entrusted to supervise the building of an extension of the Mission owned school premises at Robinson Road to provide for 4 additional class rooms, a science laboratory for Physics and Chemistry, and additional modern toilet facilities for a grossly enlarged student population. The enrollment of Wah Yan College Hongkong was swollen to over 800 students by 1927 As the student population of Wah Yan swelled, the Portuguese tenants hitherto occupying the St.Joseph's Mansion right next door to the School building on Robinson Road, began a wholesale "migration" over to live in Kowloon; thereby making it possible for Wah Yan to take over the entire St. Joseph's Mansion, a 6 storeyed building for the rapidly expanding school. Two and a half floors of the St. Joseph's Mansion were converted into a hostel for boarding students. The St.Joseph's Mansion ( what is now the Valtorta House of Caritas Hongkong ), the first ever reinforced concrete building built in Hongkong, was originally built as a 6-storey block of flats, with three separate staircases each leading to a 3-room self-contained flat on each floor. Because they were designed and built with three separate staircases, each such staircase was given a number by the Rating and Valuation Department. Thus the St. Joseph's Mansion was in fact, numbered as 2,4 & 6 of Robinson, and the orginal custom built school premises for the previous St. Joseph's College had its house no. changed from No.2 to No.8 following after the completion of the St. Joseph's Mansion. The rooms and hallways of the flats in the Mansion were quite spacious, and the flats were provided with flush toilet, a kitchen and one or two servants rooms. To convert these flats into a school hostel, all that were necessary was to knock open a passage way at a convenient spot through the partition wall between Nos. 2,4 & 6; modified the varieties of rooms domitories, dining room and other utilities, and there were sufficient space for about 100 boarding students.
Without waiting for me to complete my Primary VI at Tsung Him School in Fanling my parents decided, at the end of 1928, that it would be in our long term interest to make a change in my brother Mark's and my own education by switching to Wah Yan College on Hongkong Island, where English was the medium of teaching. It was a year earlier in 1927 that the curriculum at Wah Yan was adjusted with a view to recruiting students who had completed primary IV in a vernacular primary school for placing in the bottom of the ladder Class 8, where they would be taught beginners' English starting with the alphabets from ABC onwards, but the curriculum for Chinese studies was to be adjusted at the level approximate to primary V, to maintain a sense of continuity. My brother Mark and myself were placed as boarders towards the end of 1928.
A majority of the boarders were young boys who came from ( ) where many families had connections with oversea Chinese in places like New York or San Francisco, to which places the young boys were hoping one day to migrate; and for which reasons they had to learn English. Others were young boys of ethnic Chinese parentage from Bangkok and Malaya, whose parents charished the hope of their children could be expposed to a good dose of Chinese Culture in a place like Hongkong. In addition there were a few locals too, my brother Mark and I were amongst them. The Warden in charge was Mr. Wong Tuen Po ( ) himself a native of Toi Shan County, and he was assisted by one of his cousins Wong Chow Shiu ( ) and also by another teacher Joe Wu ( ). The latter eventually married my sister Agnes. The hostel was not run like one of those over disciplined missionary boarding schools, and we were left quite free to do as we pleased. We could go out any time as we might feel like, so long that we returned in time to answer the roll calls at the "private studies" evening home work classes, and at 10 pm when the warden or assistant warden came round to count the heads as lights were switched off for the night.
Because of our relatively young age, my brother Mark and myself were allocated our beds in a room closed to the Warden's room. The room had a French window open out to a verandah towards the east overlooking the Botanic Garden across the deep ravine of the Gleenary. It was always an impressive sight watching from the verandah on the 5th floor down at the bottom of the Gleenary Valley where hundreds of boys were either climbing slowly up the steep path coming to school, or rushing rapidly down on their way home after school. From Central via Wyndham Street or Ice House Street on to the Gleenary was not the only way to come up to Wah Yan; one alternative was to climb the gentler slope which was broken by a few flights of steps built by the side of the Cathedral for the occupants of St.Joseph's Terrace and the St.Joseph's Building. The other alternative was to take the route via Cockrane Street, Old Bailey Street, Caine Road, Shelly Street and Mosque Street on to Robinson Road from Central Market; or alternatively via Wing Wo Street, Aberdeen Street, Hollywood Road, across Caine Road on to Peel Street then to Mosque Street to Robinson Road from the Sincere Co. Departments Store. Whichever way we took, we always ended up puffing breath incessantly minutes and sweating pursistently for at leat 5 minutes if not 10 or 15 minutes to recover. If I were to take any of these routes to-day, I would have to take a 5-mins rest after taking every five steps, and if I do not die of heart failure half way it would take me more than an hour just to complete the journey upwards, and I would be puffing my breath for at least another 30 or 40 minutes to recover. Believe it or not it took me less than ten minutes to complete the journey by any of the 4 or 5 alternative routes in those my younger days.
The extension of the school premises at Robinson Road in fact followed shortly after the completion in 1928 in Kowloon of a custom built school building at Nelson Street in Mongkok for the Kowloon Branch of Wah Yan College. The Kowloon Branch was in fact started way back in 1924, when classes were started at the rented tenement premises at Portland Street in Yau Ma Ti. The teaching staff for the Kowloon branch was headed by Mr. ( ), one of Wah Yan's earliest recruited teachers, Mr.Wai was assisted by Mr. and to start the Kowloon branch. When the new premises at Nelson Street was completed, the teaching staff was strengthened by the addition of Mr. and , two Mr. all four were recent graduates of Wah Yan College on Hongkong Island, in addition to Mr. ( ) (formerly headteacer for Tsung Him School in Fanling), ( ) who subsequently becamne my other brother- in-law, and Mr. for teaching of Chinese. To conform with the requirement of the Grant in Aid Code, for the post of the Principal, Mr. a university graduate, was recruited, and he was supported by a British returned student, Mr. ( ). At a later stage, Mr. swapped places woth Mr. from mother school in Hongkong. Mr.Joe Wu was transferred back to the mother school on Hongkong Island.
I recall my first day in Wah Yan was on 1 December, in late 1928 I was then just a little over 12 years old. In those days, the school year started on 1 December, not 1st of September. Why? I have never bothered to find out. Like all others I was enrolled at the bottom of the ladder, not Form 1. At the top of the ladder in those days, we had the class for or (Both were names of Public Examinations). was the class for , the then equivalent of todays's . The text books used, were the Crown Readers, Book 0 and Book 1 for Class 8. I recall vividly the text for the Lesson I in Book 0 was about a child and an Ox, entitled: "Am I by my Ox ?" For Recitation, the First Poem we had to learn by heart was: "Goodbye Little Birdies, Flying in the Sky, Singing and singing, A merry good bye" Another poem for recitation I can recall read as follows: "Three Little kittens, One stormy night, Began to quarrel And then to fight.....etc". As can now be seen the contents were more like nursary rhymes and were, I believe, meant for small children of 3 or 4, rather than for a Twelve year old boy like me who had read Chinese classics and learnt to write letters in sophiscated Chinese, or the Thirteen year old like most of the rest in the class. We also had the Forster's for our penmanship. In addition we had a thick text book for Arithmetic, which we could continue to use for 4 years up to and include Class 5.
In Class 8, however, we were made to recite the multiplication tables in English, even though we had previously learnt them by heart in Chinese in the vernacular schools we had attended earlier and elsewhere. Luckily, for Chinese, we had The Republic Kwok Man Readers ( ) for Primary 5, the First lesson of which was a fictitious story about an imaginative tug-of-war between an Elephant on land and a Whale at sea; and the text was taught in Mandarin - the Putunghua of today. The content of the Chinese text book fitted my mental age much better. My Form master was a cheerful Mr.Chow Shu Ki ( ), himself a graduate of Wah Yan; and my Chinese master was a Mr.Kam ( ), whose other names I have since forgotten.
As I had already had my lessons in English while still in Tsung Him School, using the same Crown Readers as Text Books, I found the English lessons from Book O of the Crowr Reader quite dull. For my arithmatics, the first month was devoted entirely to redering figures into words and vice versa. For me who had already done fractions as well as HCL LCM in Chinese, such changing figures into words and vice versa was equally dull and uninteresting. But my form master Mr. Chow would stand no nonsense, and would insist that I must do everything as I was told. That did not make me feel happy either. I grumbled and soon my grumblings reached the ears of my father, and I was summonsed before him in the Headmaster's Office. To come to think of it now, I think at that interview. I told my father that I already knew all was taught in Class 8. I asked that my knowledge and ability be reassessed, and my placement in Class 8 be reviewed and reconsidered. Little did I realize then that my foundation in the knowledge and usage of English was weak, so weak that I was never able to follow the lessons taught in English in the higher classes then and there after. By January early next year (1929), as a result of my own request for reassessment and review, I was placed to Class 7A instead. There and then I had Mr. Joe Wu as my Form-master, and he certainly used English as medium of teaching. I soon found I had difficulty in following closely what he was saying when he used English in teaching the class the varieties of lessons. I was too proud to ask to be reassessed once again, and the thought of going back to Class 8 was too bitter a bill to swallow. Thence onwards, I found myself trailing in the class year after year; quite unlike what I was, when I always came First in the four years of my primary school days at Tsung Him School in Fanling. I am pretty sure that my subsequent life long weakness in the proper usage of English particularly in English grammar and sentence structures had its origin in this misplaced personal pride of mine. Had I eaten my humble pie and gone through the mills in Class 8 for beginners, I might have obviated most if not all of my linguistic problems.
From Class 7 onwards, in addition to "Crown Reader Book 2", we had "Britain and Her Neighbours" as text book for History. Through the latter I came across names such as "King Arthur", which I always had it confused with "King Alfred". Terms such as Anglo Saxon, Vikings, Norsman, Battle of Hasting etc. meant very little to me, and interested me even less. . We also had an "English Grammar Made Easy", designed to help us, foreign students, to understand better the structure of the English Language. However, we were taught to learn by heart, the definitions for "noun", "pronoun", "adjective", "adverb", "preposition", "conjunction" etc. We were also made to learn by heart, the present, past and past perfect tenses for many English words; such as "Go, Went ,Gone", "See, Saw, Seen", "Take, Took, Taken" etc. We were also taught the comparative table, such as "Big, Bigger, Biggest","Tall, Taller and Tallest" etc; the gender, such as "Dog" vs. "Bitch", "Ox" vs "cow", "Horse" vs "Mare" etc.,the numbers, singular and plural, all of which we don't have in the Chinese language. All these I found quite fun, but couldn't understand why it was necessary to differentiate a cow from an ox, or a calf, or why a group of oxen, cows and calf should be referred to as cattle. To us, in Chinese, one single word "Ngau" ( ) was quite adequate. Lesson One in Crown Reader Book II was about a boy by the name Horatio Nelson who was reputed to know no fear and who eventually rose to become Admiral of the Fleet and ennobled a Lord. However that did not cut any ice in my mind in those days.
What was more memorable to me was the socially humiliating family "decree" , of a pocket money in the princely sum of not exceeding three cents a day for small eats, handed down to Mark and me shortly after I was enrolled in Wah Yan. At the time when Wah Yan was expanding rapidly, it attracted quite a number of relatives of my father. Heading the list was his elder brother, my uncle, ( ), who for family connecetion, was granted the franchise for selling exercise books which bear the school's name and other stationaries in the school's stationary. Next senior to the list, was a younger brother of my father, ( ), who had recently returned from Shan Tung Province where he did not finish his medical eduaation at Chee Lu Unversity, who was giving a teaching post to teach Manderin. He was soon transferred to the Kowloon Branch of Wah Yan. In was in the year 1928 when the custom built school premises for the Kowloon Branch of Wah Yan at Nelson Street with increased capacity for more students was completed, officially opened. The 3rd senior in the list was my cousin, ( ), whose name appeared as the First student to be registered in the School's Register, was given the job as Secretary and Accountant for the School. The family council was chaired by my father, but greatly influenced by his elder brother my Uncle . They met and decided that Uncle would be responsible for seeing to it that all we need (e.g., towels, shirts, shoes, socks, soaps, toothbrush etc, would be acquired with his advice and approval and paid for out of the money held by him, but for small eats, such as a piece of cake or a cone of ice-cream, or a couple of candies, only three cents for each of us per day was allowed. Three cents was in fact just the price for one piece of cake baked by the then well known Ching Lung Bakery, sold by the hawkers selling them outside the school. If we chose to have a cake, we would have to forego a cone of ice-cream or 6 pieces of coco-nut candies, or three cups of sweeten fruit juice for jelly. So every day, we had the agony of Helmet for having to decide whether to have a cake or a cone of ice-cream plus two pieces of candies, or three pieces of other sweet meat or preserved fruits. It made me feel very bad watching others having several varieties all at the same time; and could not resist the temptation when someone else bought an extra and offer to give me one as a gift, thus making me feel somehow obliged. Occasionally, the temptation was so great that I indludge in asking the hawker to allow me credits, knowingly that I was not able to pay him the amounts I owed ! I have no doubt what soever that my Uncle's intentions were for our own goods. To be thrifty was eternally a virtue, and to eat indiscriminately junk foods obtainable from hawker could be hazardous to health. But socially it was very humiliating. Luckly the amount was later reviewed and revised, and the result made me feel much more dignified.
For us teenager school boys, the dress of the day in the late Twenties was: Chinese style upper jacket - buttoned from the throat at the neck down sideway along the right leading to a point under the arm pit and then further down to the hip; as for the trousers, the ordinary European style slacks - tight fit full length legs with pockets on both sides - was popularly adopted for convenience. White was the most popular colour, woolen material, particularly flannel, were widely used for the winter; cotton - poplin, the thinner the better - for the summer. The proper European style suits would only be used for special occasions, and I had my first European winter suit made in the year 1929 at the price of HK$14.-
In so far as a private enterprise was concerned, 1929 could be said to be the most successful, prosperous and proud year for Wah Yan and for my father. For the senior classes, we had a team of well known teachers, headed by the late Mr. Lim Hoy Lan, who was very effective in teaching English to Chinese students. We also had Mr Lui Sun Iu who had a reputation of being a genius in mathematics. We had Mr. Bill Yangsaye, who made the teaching of Physics and Chemistry as interesting and enjoyable as if he were telling a story. We also had Mr. Peter Dragon, who could draw free hand a map of the world on the black board within a minute, teaching Geography. He could also illustrate graphicallty the structure of a complex English sentence with adverbial or adjectival clause in addition to a principle clause on the black board. A Eurasian Mr. Bill Zimmern who taught English, was also the Scout Master for the newly formed HK 28th. At the medium and junior levels we had a strong team of hand picked star pupil-teachers, who were graduates of Wah Yan, who were being trained, or who had already passed the qualifying examination for Teachers Certificate with distinctions at the Technical Institute.
It was in that year, on the 16th December, the school celebrated its 10th Anniversary. The the entire complex of two buildings; -namely The St. Joseph's Mansion at 2-6, Robinson Road (now the Caritas Valtota House) as well as the custom built old School Building at No.8 Robinson Road, -were fully lit up with electric lights (like the Banks do at Christmas in recent years) for the occasion. Two Banquets; one for the "Old Boys" on 15 Dec, and another one for the "V.I.Ps" on 16th Dec were held. We, who were boarders in the hostel, had a specially enriched Menu on both days to celebrate. In that year, and in the two years preceding, Wah Yan Boys did very well in the Public Exams, scoring many Distinctions and winning a few highly coverted scholarships tainable at the Hongkong University. Our graduates were whole heartily welcomed by Administration of the the Chinese Maritime Customs, because they had adequate knowledge of the Chinese language and spoke Mandarin, in addition to knowing how to read and write English. The enrollment was over 800 for the "mother school" on Hongkong Island, and over 300 in its new custom-built Kowloon Branch at Nelson Street. We were good in Sports, with Mr. Mauricio successfully training a very impressive gymnastic team, putting up very impressive shows to entertain the Guests. We had an all round sportsman in the person of winning many prizes in Inter schools Tournaments. We felt very proud to be students of Wah Yan.
Another memorable aspect of life in Wah Yan College Hongkong in those days, which still stuck in my mind, was that we enjoyed an unobstructed view of the Victoria Harbour. We could see very clearly, shippings coming in, via the main fairway from Lyemun. By the different shapes of hulls and superstructures, and by the flags they flew, we were able to identify readily the respective country of registry and owner of the ship. With ease, we could tell an Empress Ship of the Canadian Pacific Line, from a President Ship of the United States Line. We could differentiate a Japanese Nippon Yusing Kaisa Liner from a British Blue Funnel Liner. We were more impressed by the bright Black and White colouring of the French ship than the dull Yellow and black colour of the British P.& O. ships. We loved watching Men-of-war of different countries coming into the Harbour from Lyemun, firing their Guns in salute, as they inched their ways in, to be followed by saluting guns fired un return from Black Head Hill at Tsim Sha Tsui. We loved seeing the men-of-war dressed up with colours in the day time and lit up with lights like wearing a necklace at night.
Traffic was so light in those days that we could easily snatch a short game of mini football on Robinson Road, every now and then. There were very few cars in the whole Colony. Along Robinson Road, we could easily tell the names of the owners of the few cars by their respective Licence Plate numbers. (As for instance, No.77 was the car for Robert Kotwell (later Sir Robert), whereas No.482 was the private car of Mr. Ma Chui Chiu, chairman of the Tung Wah Hospitals. In the evenings on days before the school sports days, we used to practice our running on the stretch of Robinson between the Gleenaley Bridge (Mang Kwai Kiu) to the School at 2 Robinson Road after 9 PM on finishing our "home work classes" for the boarders. We were great friends to the Ice cream or cooked food hawkers who brought along and exhibited their wares always at the time when we felt most hungry. When we were short of cash, we could negotiate credit purchasing, extending the time for payment to commencement of the next term.
To be frank, in those teenage years, I had much more outside interests than what the lessons or subjects in the text books could offer. I didn't do well at all in my class work nor in my exams. I loved going to the cinemas, I must have seen all the films there were to be seen. I knew the geography and the price ranges of all the cinemas there were in those days. The cheap ones like the Tai Yat Theatre in Yaumati, the Yaumati Theatre at Waterloo Road, the Koon Chung Theatre at Jordan Road, charged only 5 cents for a front-stall seat for Shanghai made silent films, dapted with Cantonese dialogue. The Majestic Theatre at Nathan Road and the Star Theatre at Peking Road, showing 2nd or 3rd run films, charging 20 cents for front a stall seat. The Queen's and the Central Theatre on Queen's Road Central, showing first run "talking" films, charged 50 cents for a front stall seat. The King's Theatre was not yet built until 1932, and before it, there was an old one on Wyndham Street (its name I have since forgotten) showing silent films. But I could only afford to go to the cheaper ones and and frequently patronized (i) the World Theatre next door to the Harbour Office on Des Voeux Road, Central, and the Kau Yee Fong Theatre half way up the Aberdeen Street, where they show 2nd or 3rd run American films and sometimes the first run Shanghai made films, charging only 10 cents for a front stall seat. It was from the World Theatre on the Des Voeux Road that I used to be able to rush my way up to Robinson Road to be in time for evening home-work classes at 7.15 pm in less than 10 minutes , taking the route via Wing Wo Street, through Aberdeen Street, then Shelly Street and Mosque Street to Robinson Road, after the 5 pm matiny, finishing at 7 pm.
I loved to roam and explore the streets, tasting different food at different restaurants, for which I had the company and in fact a beneficiary of the generosity of one of my very close friend Cho Cheuk Chi ( ) who, by my standards at the time, had a lot of money to spend because his father was regularly remitting money back from New York for his education. His family apparently had a share in a silk store at Jervoirs Street, where he was a lodger, and every now and then I was a guest at dinner in the shop, located right next door to a snake shop. Frequently the an odd snakes from the cages next door would visit the hostel on the 2nd floor of the silk shop, creating quite an excitement in their attempt to capture it for a free treat at the shop's dinner. I loved to travel on trams and on board the Ferries too, where the fare were quite cheap. For travelling as deck passebger on board a Yaumati Ferry crossing the Harbour either to Shamshuipo or to Mongkok, or to Yaumati, it cost only two cent each. In the latter, one could enjoy listening to the ways, different salesmen convincingly selling different brands of patent medicines. To travel right down to Shaukiwan from Central on a tram, at one time it was reduced to 3 cents travelling 3rd class down stairs, and 6 cents travelling First class upstairs. We had to use the trams to take us to at North Point to the Swimming Pavilions at Tsat Chi Mui (near what is now the Hongkong Funeral Parlour), and the tramway from Causeway Bay eastwards was of a single line, with bypassing points every quarter of a mile all the way at which the trams had to wait for the other tram coming from the opposite direction. It was not until 1933 when buses became a popular service on Hongkong Island; before that there was two "Coach" routes operated by the Hongkong Hotel Ltd., one route from the Blake Pier to the University via Garden Road, Caine Road and Bonham Road; the other from Central to Repulse Bay Hotel. I do not recall I ever travelled on one of such black coloured coaches. With the consent of my mother and a financial grant from her, I once ventured a journey by boat to pay a visit to my friend in Canton during the Ching Ming Holidays in early 1930. At one stage, the fare for deck passengers on board a River boat to Macao charged only 10 cents; and the deck passenger fare to Canton was only 30 cents. The 3rd class fare for the KCR trains from Kowloon to Canton was only $1.00. There was then a Casino at Lo Wu, just across the Sino Brtish border. Gamblers who lost all his money could claim a 3rd class train free ticket to take him or her home.
In Class 6 in 1930, we had a reputedly very fierce Form Master, in the person of Mr.Wong Cho Fun ( ), who later started a private school of his own, bearing the name Chung Hwa Middle School ( ). He was succeeded by an equally strict From Master, Mr. Wong Yuk Shu ( ). For our Chinese we had Mr.Law Wang Shun ( ), whose Mandarin had a recognizable strong Hakka accent. In Class 5, we had Mr. John Fung, nicknamed Handsome Fung, as our Form Master. He was always well dressed, quietly spoken, and friendly - a perfect gentleman. For our Chinese, we had Mr. Law Yee Shun ( ), an elder brother of Law Wang Shun, who had a lot of stories to tell to illustrate the morals of the lessons he taught from the text book.The hostel had a library for the boarders, and amongst the books in the collection were fictions, including the Stories of the Three Kingdoms, the Stories of the Heroes of the Water Margins (Chinese equivalent of the ever likable Robinhood), the Stories of Tazan the Ape Man, etc all of which I took the opportunity to have happily read from cover to cover, and had thoroughly enjoyed reading them. It was also at this stage of my life when I acquired the taste of seeing every movie film there was to see for which I would save every cent I had. It was also at this stage of my life when I spent a lot of my spare time in and around the Cathedral, which was almost right next door to the school. It was through such contacts that I learnt to know so much about the Cathedral, its Pipe Organ, its huge Main Alter, its many side chapels and their respective smaller alters, its Belfry, and other annexes, including the Catholic Young Men's Societiy and the then Holy Spirit Seminary.
It was not the custom of the day for my father or my mother or my uncle to take us out to a in one of the restaurants in those days. On one of the rare occasions, I was taken by a distant cousin of mine, who paid a visit from Canton, to the Ko Shing Tea House (then at the same building which was after wards the Golden City Restaurant. The floor which you paid the highest price for the TEA was on the first floor, called the Pat Sin Tien where they charged 8 cents per head for TEA alone. As you climbed higher up, the price of tea would be correspondently reduced. There was no Lift to serve the different floors then. The then Cha Shiu Pao cost 2 cents, The sweet Tau Sha or Lin Yung Pao cost only 1 cent; a dish of Chicken Chau Min cost 30, Pork or Beef Chau Min cost only 20 cents. I do not recall ordering Shiu Mai or Ha Kau, as they were to delicate and not substantial enough for a growing boy like me. There were not that many Tea Houses round the Town.In the smaller restaurant the best buy was a Chicken served in three different tastes at about 50 cents good enough for 3 or 4 persons. At the Food Street at the end of Stanley Street in Central, the best buy was , without meat", which cost only 1 cent for a plate. For the "deep fried flour sticks" we could get two for a cent, and the round deep fried flour cake cost 1 cent each. A big bowl of congee or a substantial bowl of cooked rice cost only 1 cent. A plate of tasty "Left overs" from the restaurants also cost only 1 cent. A platefull of well stewed tripes also cost 1 cent. One of my cousins, , who eventually rose to become a master marina, used to walk all the way from Robinson Road down to the Food Street for breakfast every morning and similarly returning for his dinner in the evening, - possibly the cheapest way to keep oneself fed when living on one's own. Another feature of the day was the large number of Chinese Herb Tea shops, particularly in the more crowded district like Sheung Wan near the Tung Wah Hospital. In those Herb Tea Shops, one needed only to spend cent to buy a cup of hot bitter drink, and enjoy sipping it for which you could sit there for an hour if you felt like doing so, and listened to the music and news broadcast blarring out from the loudspeakers of the then rare Radio sets specially set up by the Herb Tea Shop over to attrat customers.
It was not until I was 14 years old that I had in my hand, cash for than a dollar ! Even at that age, I hardly had much more than one to two dollars to spend as I wished at a time. Such cash that I had were mostly in copper coins of one cent denomination; and occasionally, I might have one or two 5-cents or 10-cents silver coins. The 5-cents silver coins were thin and small, and were usually referred to as means means one hundredth of (a tael), and means ; togehter it meant the coin which weighs 3.6 percent of a tael or tael. For a dollar should be the equivalent of of a teal in silver; piece should therefore be of a tael, and half that would mean . When going to have Yum Cha in a Chinese Tea House, the waiter would sing out loudly to be audible at the counter, how much in term of weight in silver, one were to pay to the cashier at the counter and they had codes terms to indicate that exact amount. In amounts greater than a dollar, bank notes were used. However, in the year 1930, for reason I had never been able to figure out, suddenly , weighing 0.72 tael per coin and bearing the minted image of Britanica, were fully in circulation; the one dollar notes issued by the HK and Shanghai Bank, the Chartered Bank, and the Mercantil Bank gradually disappeared from the market. The one to tell whether the dollar coin was a genuine one or a dud, was to hold the coin between two fingers and blow hard a breath on the the edge of the coin, and then hold the coin in your two fingers, bring it close to your ear, and listen to the winging sound. If it sound winging and clear, it was a good coin, otherwise you should turn it down and said it was no good. Another point to bear in mind was, one should only accept the Britianica coins and not the Mexecan Silver Dollar coins, which I was given to under stand, had better silver content that the Brianinca silver coins. One further point to bear in mind was to refuse to accept any coin which had been chipped. The problem of using silver coins was, they were so heavy that they weighhed down your pocket, and wore out your jackets very quickly.
Along with the use of silver coins was the great depression in the turn of the Twenties to Thirties, when times were hard, business was not good, and prices of goods were very cheap; particularly wages for workers. I recall trying my very best to help a pal of mine in the village in Fanling to get a job in my uncle's tug shop in the school. After a tremendous amount of efforts in talking and in string pulling , I eventually succeeded in securing for my pal a job as a shop assistant at the princely wage of $2.- a month plus food. I had to asdditionally and personally intervene in order to enable him to get the conmsent of allowing him to sleep an the top layer of a multeple bunker bed in the annexe to the kitchen for the boarding school deparment. Never could I forget that unique experience of my being naively trying to be helpful to a pal of mine. Wages for the No.1 Boy in school whose duties included the ringing of the Bell was, I gathered at the level of $14.- per month feeding on his own.
I recall it was in that year also, that my father started to invest money to start a rubber plantation in Jesselton, British North Borneo. To pay the wages for the indentured labourers recruited in Hongkong, my father had to buy Malayan currency bank notes from Money changers in Hongkong. When those Malayan Banknotes which could, at the time, be bought at par with Hong Kong dollars from Money changers in Hongkong, they were so crushed that an iron had to be used to dry and smooth the dirty and crushed bank notes before they were to be taken to Borneo.
In the summer of 1931 when I was half way through my Class 5, my father arranged for me to be transfered to the Kowloon Branch of Wah Yan. As it was from that September onwards in that year, the Jesuits Fathers came, and were in the process of preparing to take over the management of Wah Yan on Hongkong Island, from the hands of my father and his close friend partner, Mr. Lim Hoy Lan. It also marked the end of two-and-a-half years of a rather unorthodox type of a care free boarding school life-style for me.
After spending Two and half years at the Kowloon branch of Wah Yan College, I returned to Wah Yan Hongkong in late 1933. We were handicapped as we did not have classes in Sciences (Physics and Chemistry) in the Kowloon Branch. Despite the short coming, I managed to secure a place in Class 2C. 1934 was a year in anticipation of a change of system. Hitherto the terms at The University of Hongkong commenced in January each year. As from 1935 onwards the system was to be changed to admitting First Year students after the long summer vacation in September. The Junior Local Public Exam and the HKU Matriculation Exam were abolished. In their place, a common School Leaving Certificate Exam was to be held in early summer. Admission to the HKU was to be based on the results in the newly introduced School Leaving Public Exam. To meet the requirements of such a change, the course for Class 2 was cut short by three months (one term)in that year. Such a short cut no doubt helped the few bright boys who were not required to complete a full 8 years to make their way to the University, or to obtain the "School Cert," a qualification for job seekers; but it did not help those like me, who were not "very bright" in school. I certainly felt the pinch trying to cope with the pressure of a shortened Class 2 course on top of having to make up for lost time in Physics and Chemistry. With a young Irish Jesuit Scholarstic, who assumed that we all understood the English Language adequately, teaching us formulae in mechanics, such as "29ft per second per second" or "Mass multiply by Velosity equal to Momentum", it was certainly not easy for me to cope with the pace. On top of that, we had a Mrs. Millard teaching us English Literature, on an extracts from "Tom Brown's School Days" based on a game of cricket in an English Public School, it simply did not interest me the slightest. Thus, by summer in 1934, I did not do well in my exam. As result, I failed to secure a place in the elite Class 1A for the cream of the crop. Instead, I was allocated a place in Class 1B, for the less hopefuls. By my results I could have been allotted a place in Class 1C, which was intended for the "sportsmen" or "playboys". Such a way of separating the goats from the sheep, apparently was the new system adopted after the Jesuits took over the management of Wah Yan. Prior to 1931 there were no differentiation between those placed in A, B. or C classes.
Having been allocated a place in Class 1B, I soon found that I missed a lot. As the school's most favoured students those in Class 1A had a great deal more in the various forms of additional extra curicula instructional programmes. They were privileged to have, as for example, special interest lectures such as the Travel Talks on the impressive architectures and beautiful decorations that could be found in certain European Cities; e.g, Rome, Venice, Paris, Greece etc; special interest groups initiating students in music appreciation.; special tuition on how to prepare a a good speech for a Debate, and so on and so forth. For those who were allocated places in Class 1C, they had other organized sporting activities, which were very exciting and enjoyable in their own ways. In our mediocre Class 1B, we had neither of these.
Be that it may, I didn't do so badly after all. I enjoyed my last one and half year at Wah Yan. I enjoyed the Debating Society, even though I was never really good at it. No one taught me the Rules of Debate which had to be observed in the proceedings. But I enjoyed listening to the substance of the well prepared speeches, notably those presented by bright boys like , who later became Director of Medical and Health Services of Hongkong Government, and subsequently took up the Chair as the Founder Professor of Medicine at the Chinese University. I enjoyed even more, my participation in Amateur Photographic Society, which had the able leadership and painstaking tutoring of Mr. Peter Dragon, who later gave up teaching to became a professional photographer. The Photographic Society not only taught me how to use the camera, choose my subjects, and try to set an artistic composition of my picture, it also taught us how to organize the frequent outings for photo-taking safari. Such frequent excursions brought us out to the remote and often inaccessible parts of the Territory. It also staged Photo Exhibitions of its own at least once a year, and often encouraged us to assist others who were staging Exhibitions of their own. The school provided us with a dark room complete with red lights, running water, wash basins etc., and we subscribed between ourselves to buying an Enlarger for experiments. Through all these, I came to know well the geography of Hongkong and the New Territories. I also learnt a great deal about organizing "Outings" and "Excursions" which involved ascertaining the personal interest of the participants, as well as ensuring of their having the free time available. In enlarging photographs and in mounting the enlargements of photoes for an Exhibition, it demanded a lot of patience on the very exacting work. In organizing an Exhibition we had to negotiate for the free use or otherwise hire a Hall, arrange for the service of receptionists and attendants, besides putting up the frames, and pinning up the Exhibits. We also had to classify the Exhibits. We had to be very tactful with people and very resourceful with the use of materials. All these went a long way in making my tasks later in life so much easier; particularly when my tasks it was to organize the Field Intelligence Group for the British Army Aid Group in War Time China, where and when I had to direct, from my base in China, the activities of teams of underground agents who had to operate in enemy occupied Hongkong and the New Territories and in War time conditions. I would go so far as to say, had it not been for such down to earth practical trainings, - e.g., getting used to be resourceful, applying plenty of common sense, never accepting no for an answer, accepting and respecting the views of others, quietly learning what were wise from those who were better than yourself, - received under the ever considerate guidance of an able and resourceful tutor teacher in the person of Mr. Peter Dragon, I don't think I could ever made the grade of an Intelligence Officer as I did during World War II Days. I have no hesitation in admitting to-day that I owed more than half of the M.B.E., which was awarded to me at the relative young age of 28 (in November 1944) for my service with the British Army Aid Group during World War II. It was the latter which led to my receiving my Commission to the British Army, and which in turn paved the way for my eventual gaining admission to Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service, - a career which had proved to be so colourful and gave me so much job satisfaction.
In singling out Mr Peter Dragon as target of my expresssion of gratitude it is not my intention in any way, not even the slightest, to belittle the good work of the Jesuits Fathers, many of whom later became my life long friends. Collectively the Jesuits have raised the status and the reputation of Wah Yan to an new height. A height which neither my father nor his partner Mr. Lim Hoy Lan, with the best of their intentions and efforts, could have attained. Their ways of teaching have certainly broaden my horizon and enhanced my expectations in my career and in my life. They brought to my mind a new meaning in religion and a new dimension in religious practices. They impart upon my mind, a new set of values, which not only rendered my life so much fuller and richer, but also gave me a great deal of self confidence. For all these I am forever grateful.
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