Paul Tsui Ka Cheung's Memoirs 6

My Days at Wah Yan College

(From Dec 1928 - July 1931 and again from Dec 1934 - June 1935)

I recall my first day in Wah Yan was on 1 December, 1928. I was then just a little over 12 years old. In those days, school term started on 1 December. Why? I have never bothered to find out. I was enrolled at the bottom of the ladder, Class 8 - not Form 1. At the top in those days, we had Class 1, the class for Matriculation or Senior Local. (Both were names of Public Examinations). Class 2 was the class for Junior Local, the then equivalent of todays's School Cert (?). The text books we used, were the Crown Readers, Book 0 and Book 1 for Class 8. The text for the first lesson 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 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 meant for a small child of 3 or 4, not for a Twelve year old boy like me, or a Thirteen year old boy like most of the rest in the class. We also had the Forster's Copy Books for our penmanship. Luckily, for Chinese, we had The Republic Kwok Man Readers for Primary 5, The First lesson of which was an imaginative fictitious story about a tug-of-war between an Elephant on land and a Whale at sea; and we were taught in Mandarin (共 和国文教科) - the Putunghua of today. We also had a thick text book for Arithmetic, which we could continue to use for 4 years up to 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 primary school we had already attended. My Form master was a cheerful Mr.Chow Shu Ki (周基), a graduate of Wah Yan; and my Chinese master was a Mr.Kam, whose other names I have since forgotten.

I did not stay in Class 8 long. By January next year (1929), at my request, my knowledge and abilities were reassessed and I was placed to Class 7A. There and then we had Mr. Joe Wu as our Form master, and a Manchurian, Mr Wong Lun Shu (nicknamed Ko Lo Wong - because he was over 6 feet tall) teaching us correct Mandarin. Mr. Wong was, apparently, a part-time policeman. He always carried a pistol underneath his jacket, which fascinated me immensely. From Class 7 onwards, in addition to "Crown Reader Book 2", we had "Britain and Her Neighbours" 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" supposedly to help us to understand the structure of the English Language. We learnt by heart, the definitions for "noun", "pronoun", "adjective", "adverb", "preposition", "conjunction" etc. We were also made to learnt 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. 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" (牛 ) was quite adequate.

In Class 6, we had a reputedly very fierce Form Master, in the person of Mr.Wong Cho Fun, who later started a 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, who had a lot of stories to tell to illustrate the morals of the lessons he taught from the text book. To be honest, 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 charging only 5 cents for a front-stall seat; while the more expensive one, charged 50 cents for first run films in a Front Stall seats. I loved exploring the streets, tasting different food from different restaurants, travelling on buses, trams and on board the Ferries. In the latter, one could enjoy listening to the ways, different salesmen convincingly selling different brands of patent medicines. I even ventured a journey to visit my friend in Canton during the Ching Ming Holidays. In September, 1931, the second half of the year when I was in my Class 5, my father arranged to transfer me to the Kowloon Branch of Wah Yan, as it was from that September onwards, the Jesuits Fathers came, and were in the processes 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.

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. For the top 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 a map of the world on the black board, freehand, within a minute, teaching Geography. He could also illustrate the structure of a complex English sentence with adverbial or adjectival clause, in addition to a principle clause, graphically, 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 Fung Kwok Wah, winning many prizes in Inter schools Tournaments. We felt very proud to be students of Wah Yan.

One memorable aspect of Wah Yan College Hongkong in those days, which still stuck in my mind, was that it 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 hulls and superstructures, and by the flags they flew, we were able to identify the respective country of registry and owner of the ships. 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 N.Y.K 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 returning saluting guns from Black Head Hill at Tsim Sha Tsui. We loved seeing the men-of war dressed up with colours in the day time and with lights 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 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, at 9 PM after finishing our "home work classes" for the boarder. 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 the commencement of the next term. (In between these times, there was a break of 3 years during which I was enrolled as a student in Kowloon WahYan, instead of Hongkong Wah Yan)

After spending Two and half years at Wah Yan College, Kowloon, 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 of Wah Yan.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 of 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 both 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, a term, in that year. This 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 qualification of a School Leaving Certificate holder; 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. With an Irish Priest, teaching us formulae in mechanics, such as "29ft per second per second" or "Mass multiply by Velosity equal to Momentum", who assumed that we all understood the English language perfectly, 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 from an extracts of "John Brown School Days" all about a game of Cricket in an English Public School. it 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, 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 forms of additional extra curicula instructional programmes. They were privileged to have as additions, special lectures such as the Travel Talks on the impressive architectures and beautiful decorations that could be found in 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. Even for those who were allocated places in Class 1C, they had many 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 Gerald Choa, 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. But 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 organized frequent outings for photo taking or safari. Such frequent excursions brought us out to the remote and often inaccessible parts of the Territory. It also staged an Exhibition of its own at least once a year, and often encouraged us to render assistance to 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 to buy 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 photographs for an Exhibition, it demanded a lot of patience on the very exacting work. In organizing an Exhibition we had to negotiate for the use, or otherwise hire a Hall, arranged for the 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 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 proved so colourful and gave me so much job satisfaction.

In singling out Mr Peter Dragon as target of my gratitude, it is not my intention, in any way - not even the slightest, to belittle the good work of the Jesuits, 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 efforts, could have attained. Their ways of teaching have certainly broaden my horizon and enhanced my expectations, in career and in 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.

Vancouver - August, 1989.