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Dear Sir Mr Dicom

DEAR SIR MR DICOM WITH LOVE If I were about to die and had time to regret certain unfinished business, I know one of the foremost things would be to formally thank the one person who changed the course of my life altogether. Because of him my twin and I became the first persons in my family, and one of the very few in my generation from the rough Batu Road/Chow Kit neighbourhood in Kuala Lumpur that I grew up in, to graduate from university. He was not my first teacher nor was he the most brilliant, but in my heart he shall endure and be epitomised as my teacher the one teacher that comes to mind when one hear Lulu singing her hit song To Sir with Love. His name is or was Vincent De Paul Dicom. I am not sure whether he is still alive. In the rest of this memoir, I shall reverentially refer to him as Sir. A Tamil Indian and a Roman Catholic by religion, he was my class master when I was in Standard 6 at Batu Road (English Medium) Primary School II. We had become acquainted a little more than a year earlier in 1959, when my twin and I started private tuition under him for English. My mother had a way of procuring or arranging tutors for language subjects that she thought we needed additional tutoring in. She assumed that being Chinese we should be good with figures and therefore should have no difficulties with mathematics and science, but that somehow we needed extra help with the English and Malay languages. Such were the strange demands of the National Examinations held variously at Primary 6 (High School Entrance), Secondary Form 3 (Lower Certificate of Education), Secondary Form 5 (Cambridge O Level) and Secondary Upper 6 Form (Cambridge A Level), that if you were to fail either of these compulsory language subjects, you fail outright, no matter how good you were at mathematics or at your vernacular mother tongue. Thus these compulsory language subjects were the bane and scourge of many otherwise mathematically clever and bright Chinese pupils, particularly those who attended Chinese language medium schools. In the generations after me, when Bahasa Malaysia became the National and the sole compulsory language and also the medium of instruction, the immediate impact was to substantially reduce the percentage of Non-Malay students entering secondary and tertiary education. This was further augmented by a racially-based quota system favouring and providing for a lower pass mark for Malays under the Bumiputra Preferential Policy. Bumiputra means Son of the Soil. The archaic British-styled examinations system was especially designed to vet out non-academic students as early as possible so that the majority ended up in vocational and technical colleges. I could not help but observed that when I got past O Level, that most of the survivors were children from a rich or English-speaking background. Students, like me, from a poor or nonEnglish speaking background were a small percentile. I should in utmost shame or guilt confess that I have not seen Sir since 1967 or thereabouts, and that I only saw him very infrequently between 1963 and 1967. Quite frankly he had quite completely disappeared from my mind altogether from 1968 onwards, a simple case of out of sight, out of mind, except on the odd occasions when I came across a particular picture or painting or saint card replicating the framed picture of Holy Mother Mary holding Baby Jesus that Sir had in his house, where I went for tuition classes. However on one occasion, he came back to my mind, without the aid of a memory trigger. In 1996, when I suffered a heart attack in Hong Kong, and while unconscious in an ambulance trapped in a gridlock traffic jam on the way to hospital, I mentally experienced a life review. I felt as if I was hovering in the air and watching a movie of my life from childhood, encapsulating the poignant moments or events of my life. In one particular reel, Sir was sitting next to me, both of us watching me on this ethereal screen. The strange thing was that he was not one of the subjects or characters on that

Dear Sir Mr Dicom/VC/29/06/11

Page 1 of 16 Vince Cheok

Dear Sir Mr Dicom

particular ethereal reel. These people (on the screen) were my father and mother and others in my childhood days, most of whom Sir had never met or seen or vice-versa. No words were exchanged between Sir and I, as we watched the reel in this sub-conscious encounter; just nods and glances. Another peculiar thing was that there was no mention or even a thought of my heart attack, which was what I was actually in the state of going through, or for that matter that I was going to or might die. It was a very sedate, peaceful, tranquil floating, or a sense of hovering, in the air. Sir was just there like a close friend, and we were like friends at the movies together. So, there he was, in my unconsciousness or maybe my sub-conscience, just briefly next to me, watching an episode of my life. Then he just disappeared as quickly as he came. Nobody else came to replace him as my movie companion in that ethereal theatrette after that. Sir, as I knew him was a handsome young man in his early 30s. He looked like an Indian version of Rudolph Valentino, the famous movie idol of the 40s. In particular, he had the same hairstyle, fine shiny straight black hair, curled at the ends, combed back straight (in the brylcreemed look), with a parting not quite at the middle of the scalp. I would describe Sir as thin, but not skinny or scrawny. He was only a foot taller than I was at 12, so in adult terms he was slightly below average for an Asian man. A fairly quiet, solemn and shy man, he was not the type to start a conversation or the type to crack jokes or instigate hilarity. However, in good friendly company he showed he delighted in humour, often grinning profusely or giggling childishly like a young boy, at others jokes and pranks. Sir wore 2 faces, in a dress sense and in terms of demeanour. He had a public face and a private face. I knew both faces, given that I had to face him at school and face him in his house outside school. In public, that is, outside his house, whether at school or whether at the local shops, Sir was always in his sartorial Sunday best, he was immaculately, neatly and spotlessly dressed. He was not a fashionable dresser by any means, nor did he wear expensive clothing. But he always wore laundered and pressed long sleeved white shirts and black pants and glossy polished black leather shoes; and at school a tie, firmly kept in place with a tie pin. The fact that he had his clothes laundered and ironed at the nearby dhobi (Indian laundry) shop across the road from his house would explain why his clothes were well starched and crisp. In an effeminate sort of way, he was very careful not to dirty himself or sweat unnecessarily. He wore elastic metal braces at his upper arms, adjusting the braces and the shirtsleeves appropriately when writing on the board or having to do anything with his hands, and presumably also when eating (with his hands). He walked slowly and sheltered under a large black chettiar umbrella, rain or shine. The chettiars are Indian moneylenders. One of their customary trademarks is the large black umbrella they carry everywhere like an English gentleman. In the tropics, the temperature drops significantly in the shade. Thus you are less likely to sweat, walking slowly under the shade of a parasol umbrella. In sharp contrast to how he dressed outside the house, at home, when he gave tuition classes to my twin and me, he wore only a sleeveless singlet and a sarong and walked bare-footed. Considering the way Sir dressed and his educated and civil disposition in public, you would have thought that he would have at least a comfortable well furnished and furbished home. This was not the case. In fact he had very simple lodgings. First of all, Sirs house was not his house as such. It was government quarters provided to his cousin Mr Albert Anthony Dicom, who worked at the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital. These hospital quarters were linked-terrace wooden houses, within the extensive hospital compound, but at the rear of the main hospital buildings, but accessed through the Princess Road side frontage. The hospitals main frontage was at Pahang Road. Both Princess Road and Pahang Road ran into and met Batu Road at the Princess Circle. The hospital quarters were simple standard government 2 bedroom worker housing. Sirs house was roughly in the middle of a terrace block of 8 houses.

Dear Sir Mr Dicom/VC/29/06/11

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Dear Sir Mr Dicom

You entered via a small flight of (5 or 6) concrete steps, (tropical housing are built slightly elevated, supported by concrete columns to provide for convectional ventilation), to a front verandah (facing west). At the front-door doorstep inside the verandah, you took off your shoes, as was and is the Asian custom. No shoes were allowed inside an Asian house. In the wet area or the inner cloistered indoor courtyard, you wore indoor Chinese wooden clogs or plastic sandals or thongs. There was a window to the left of the front faade and the front door was to the right. Above the front door was a framed picture of Jesus Christ, dying on the crucifix, with the inscription INTI above his head and the heavens breaking above to shower golden rays of glory on him. Christianity in the Far East cannot remove the Asian superstitious belief in protective charms. Most Asian houses display protective charms at their front door, (the way Westerners hang out mistletoe laurels at their front door at Christmas time), to ward off evil. Thus the crucifixion cross has become more than a religious symbol, it had or has become a protective charm. So much so that in many cases there are non-Christian Chinese girls wearing the crucifix as amulets. This was often in addition to jade Buddhas and other lucky charms and birthstones or pendants. You entered straight into a small sitting and general-purpose room, almost bare but for a rattan settee and 2 wooden chairs, each of which was probably salvaged or procured separately, for none of them matched. The only dcor in this common room was a framed picture of The Last Supper on the wall. To the left of the sitting room were the 2 bedrooms. The one (with a window) that faced the front and west was Sirs and the one (with a window) that faced the rear (courtyard) and east was his cousins. I still remember my first visit, and, for someone who at that stage was not used to 'elevated' timber flooring, I noticed or noted the creaking of the floor boards, when I walked across the verandah, sitting room and in Sirs bedroom. The furniture and furnishings in Sirs bedroom were scarce and purely functional and utilitarian. First of all, near the front window of Sirs room, there was a wooden rectangular table, the type you would normally find at a caf. Here, it served as a study desk, and also served as a bookshelf and also the tuition desk. Then there was a cane chair, which also served as a clothes hanger. When tuition was in session, the 2 chairs in the sitting room had to be appropriated for our use. On the wall facing the desk was a framed picture of Holy Mother Mary holding Baby Jesus. There was a solitary almari (clothes cupboard) against the back wall at the eastern rear corner of the room, one side leaning against the eastern wall, with a small mirror hanging on the exposed side. The mirror was used by Sir when he shaved and for other moments of human vanity. A mosquito net hung from the ceiling somewhere near the front window and at the western end of the back wall. This mosquito net was strung up during the day, and unfurled only at bedtime. Sirs bed was a fun poh chong - a portable trestle canvas camp bed, which could be folded up and stored leaning against the back wall during the day. You made the bed at night; by simply unfolding the canvas by separating the wooden trestle bars, and the canvas, like a hammock, then would hang suspended in the air from the trestle bars, which were supported by two divergent pairs of wooden legs. Each trestle bar was about 6 foot in length, and 2 square inch crosssection. Each leg, is about 3 feet long and of the same cross-section as the trestle bar. In my adolescence, I also spent a few years having a bed like this, sleeping out in the common area of the house every night, when the 2 bedrooms at the old house in Batu Road got overcrowded with the new siblings joining the family. Sirs room, and in fact Sir himself, had a very distinctive delectable Indian aroma of coconut oil and bay rum. He used coconut oil, like many Indians to groom his hair, and the bay rum as an after-shave. When you add on the smell of curries and other spices that often seemed to emanate from Indians, particularly when they perspire, and if you have an affinity for Indian company, like I do, you find this exotic aroma congenial and agreeable.

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Page 3 of 16 Vince Cheok

Dear Sir Mr Dicom

In the sitting room, an exit (a door frame without a door) which was directly in line with the front door, led to a very small landing and a flight of concrete steps down to an open concreted cloistered courtyard at ground level at the back. This down-flight of steps and a side passage of the open courtyard formed a covered walkway to the toilet/bathroom and kitchen (both at ground level) at the rear of the house. There was a backdoor in the kitchen, directly in line with the front door, which took one to the common back-alley between the rear of Sirs house and the rear of the adjacent block of terrace houses. Usually, when someone was at home, all the windows and doors were left open to facilitate convectional cooling and cross-ventilation. Often I would be quite hot and flustered by the time I got to Sirs house (which was a half hour quick walk from my house in Batu Road), so I would take off my thongs at the front door and head straight down the back flight of steps to the bathroom at the rear of the house to wash my face and feet. I mention this habit to explain my experience of there always being a draught flowing right through from the front door to the covered walkway. Credit must be given to the British for their architectural ingenuity. A Chinese would never build a house where the front, inside and back doors were aligned on the same axis, as this would be bad fung shui. All the good luck flowing in would simply flow immediately out. Further, traditional Chinese housing were at ground level and were never elevated to provide for convectional ventilation. The only exception, and then only in a partial or limited sense, is when a room were to be used as a bedroom in the traditional village way, that is sleeping on straw mats on the floor. Then that room would have raised wooden flooring, about 5 inches from the ground. This was to prevent foong sup (rheumatism) rather than to facilitate convectional ventilation in any case. The bathroom was the ideal example or illustration of the simple spartan conditions Sir lived under. All there was (in there) were a tap over a large earthen dragon pot and a bucket (a recycled tin container, with an old broomstick off-cut nailed across the mouth). To take a bath, you would simply scoop a bucketful of water from the dragon pot and splash it over your entire body. At the rear of the bathroom, a door led to a squat-toilet. I do not know how best to describe a squat-toilet. To put it limbly (pun), you squat with your feet positioned on a couple of parallel starting blocks (metaphorically speaking), with the target flush hole smacked right in the middle between them. You then answer natures call and sort of, jettison - bombs away- your faeces. As an aside, the sarong may not be a fashion statement for men, but if you had to use a squattoilet, a sarong is definitely much more sensible and practical than long pants. You just roll up the sarong to your torso and just hinge or grasp them there as you go about your business. Also, and I am making a serious statement now, the sarong is the coolest and most comfortable garment to wear in the hot steamy tropics. It is oppressively muggy in the tropics, but confined spaces, like toilets, tend to be muggier. The sense of impecuniosity continued in the room next door. Sirs kitchen was barer than Mother Hubbards for, simply put, it was totally bare no larder, no stove, no wok or other kitchen utensils; just the kitchen tap and sink and the raised concrete platform where you would normally place your portable stoves and braziers, and a couple of stools. The hollow beneath the concrete platform, which would normally be filled with firewood or charcoal in other households, was empty. On the concrete platform was a tray, with a terracotta jug (filled with tap water) and a few glass tumblers. The concrete platform had been transformed into a kitchen dining table! Asian (particularly Indian) bachelors do not cook at home, and any food eaten at Sirs house (home to 2 bachelors) would therefore have to be takeaway food. Sir, like a lot of Indians drank water straight from the tap, without first boiling it. The reticulated water, being chlorinated, is quite safe for drinking, by world health standards. However at certain times of the day, water would be

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Dear Sir Mr Dicom

quite warm or even hot. And so, water was kept in a terracotta container to cool the water down. The Chinese, in contrast, would boil the tap water and brew Chinese tea. The tea is kept warm in an insulated wicker tea caddy. For the traditional Chinese do not believe in drinking anything cold. I can only speculate on why Sir and his cousin did not furnish their quarters more adequately. I think the economy or frugality was necessitated partly by pecuniary circumstances, neither Sir nor his cousin Albert, earning a good salary as lower grade public servants, and partly by the fact that it was not their permanent home. Teachers and other public servants were often transferred or posted out to other towns or States at short notice. But the relative bareness of Sirs house and the fact that his cousin was usually not home when we were there, gave it a sense of open expanse and tranquillity, disproportionate to its actual size. Very much like the effect of a small indoor courtyard Japanese rock garden. In Sirs house I found a certain degree of peace, tranquillity and serenity, which I never found at my family home, which was at the rear of a welding/panel-beating workshop. My family home was incredibly noisy from the number of residents and workers and endless activities and pursuits under the one roof and suffocating from the multitude of things and objects cluttering up the limited space. The Chinese seemed to be hoarders of things, for nothing ever went to waste. There was this senseless fear of karmic retribution if things are or were wasted. In particular, it was criminal to waste food. Thankfully, this was so; for otherwise I would never have grown up eating pigs blood, skin, ears, tongue, intestine, heart, liver, kidney and trotters, among other exotic delicacies. My sisters were always told to finish consuming every grain of rice in their dinner bowl; or else they would be punished by ending up having a blemished complexion or an ugly pockmarked face husband, the bane of every young girl. My father was one compulsive culprit, when it came to hoarding. Although he only bought things, (other than food, which he bought on impulse or out of gluttony), when absolutely necessary, once something was acquired, it was never thrown away or discarded, even when broken or otherwise had lost any utility value. For instance, my father often attended liquidation or army surplus auctions. At these auctions, if he had successfully bid for lots that had items he could use in the workshop, he would also quite often end up with additional items that were quite useless to him. Yet he could never see fit to discard these additional items. A case in mind was when he ended up with 2000 jars of shaving cream as additional items from an army surplus auction. For years they sat reposited in the passageway leading to the toilet. Metal off-cuts and discarded dented mudguards, bumper bars, car door panels and exhaust pipes were similarly hoarded in a scrap metal heap next to the house, and they stayed piled up until such time when the local scrap metal merchant offered an acceptable price to my father for the scrap metal. Because of the quiet and tranquillity we found in Sirs house, my twin and I often stayed back beyond tuition time to finish off our homework. Or, if it should rain after tuition time, we enjoyed the opportunity provided by the incumbent weather, to stay back and read story books, sitting on the back stairs and watching, and entranced and enchanted by, the rain as it pitter-pattered down onto the compliant void of the rear courtyard. I mentioned earlier that Sir did not cook at home. It would have been silly for him to do so in any case. There is and was no shortage of food in Malaysia (or Malaya as it was then). If I may say so, Malaysia is the most egalitarian takeaway and eating out food paradise in the world; and in my childhood days it was a door-to-door food paradise as well. For if you could not go to the food hawkers, you still had other mobile food hawkers peddling their food to your doorsteps, at different times of the day and even during the night. You find hawker food stalls everywhere in the towns and suburbs, and given the cosmopolitan and multicultural Malaysian society, you have

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Dear Sir Mr Dicom

food hawkers catering for the different races, ethnicities, religions, dialects, parochialisms, sects, social classes, castes, tastes, fancies and peculiarities. It would not be egalitarian however if only the rich could eat out. But it was a case of everyone, rich or poor, all eating out. Hawker food was so cheap or reasonably priced that even the poorest labourers could eat out, though their fare might be more vegetarian than meat based, or they would have lesser cuts of meat or have viscera like innards and gizzards. The tropical climate is such that the daily weather (rain or shine) is a never changing sweltering hot, torrid, humid day and equally oppressive muggy warm to hot humid night. Day or night (until the advent of air-conditioning) you are compelled to break out of the stifling confined spaces to enjoy the comfort and airiness of an open shade, like those provided by the capacious canopy of a raintree or an open space building (with no walls), with a dozen or more ceiling fans whirling overhead, which are what most food-hawker centres and kopitiams [coffee shops] were. Once the ambience was set, 3 additional factors then played a part in the genesis of the Malaysian psyche or habit of always eating (and I stress, this is an addiction in particular with the Chinese) that is, basically eating all day and eating all night, on the slightest excuse, whim or fancy. Firstly, there is an Asian tradition of offering food to visitors to your house. Now that the meeting place is outside, and in a sense neutral territory, the custom was modified to, when friends get to congregate or meet; taking turns to treating each other to a meal. Westerners in the same situation would buy a friend a beer instead of food. However a bottle of beer in Malaya is equivalent to 3 to 4 bowls of laksa noodles or fried kway-teow. Further, in Asia drinking is considered a personal addiction or otherwise a religious taboo, except on birthdays and weddings. Secondly, most Chinese are inept at holding a social conversation or discussion without eating. This may be due to some ingrained Asian sense of reticence or insecurity, when it comes to opening up your heart and soul. Conversations, unless at the intimate spousal or family level, are shallow and superficial and never run deep or get academically serious. For Asians tend not to reveal or talk about personal matters for fear of embarrassment or losing face. They will however talk about money matters, sex, food and ghosts in general terms (depending on the company of course and not necessarily in that order of preference). Consequently in polite company, you would end up eating and talking only about food; about what interesting food and hawker stalls each other have discovered recently. Over time, as if self-perpetuating, a food culture or society had or has thus developed. Thirdly, the convenience of eating cheaply outside and being waited on required an essential quid pro quo. You need to be a customer to occupy a table. After all you are impinging on someones livelihood. You need to pay occupancy rent by way of food or drink purchases. If you need to stay longer you learn to stagger your meals or drinks. Unless it was raining, the dining tables and chairs were set up al fresco out in the open. Of course, the rich could if they wanted to, dine at expensive air-conditioned restaurants. But these were for special occasions like birthdays and weddings. Otherwise, I think it would be true to say that, rich or poor, all would dine out al fresco at their favourite hawker stalls. This fact is attested to by the presence of Mercedes Benzs, or whatever luxury cars are the call cards of the rich, at these hawker stalls or food centres or kopitiams. Further, restaurants open only till about midnight. Many hawker stalls however ply their trade right to dawn or until they are sold out. It may seem outrageous a claim but personally I have found that the best time to dine out al fresco is after 2am in the morning, when the roads are deserted and quiet and the madding civil crowd are in deep slumber; when you have the vigilant stars as compliant companions in the heavens and the cool balmy air shares and savours every single succouring puff of your Indonesian kretek cigarettes. There was a time in my life when I led an unsavoury nocturnal life with the local Batu Road triad brotherhood a sort of sleep all

Dear Sir Mr Dicom/VC/29/06/11

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Dear Sir Mr Dicom

day and party all night proposition. I saw and learned things not taught at school about the frailties and vicissitudes of human life. But food wise I also learned that there is nothing more delectable than Hokkien Mee at 2am in the morning, and Bah Kut Teh at 5.30am at dawn. I have digressed. Sir, being a Christian Tamil Indian, would have gone for his meals at one of the Banana Leaf hawkers or restaurants nearby his home. Although predominantly a Chinese district, there were a few of these Tamil Indian eating places in the neighbourhood; as a lot of the menial hospital workers were Tamil Indian. The Tamil Indians ate or still eat with their hands, and the banana leaf serves as a disposable plate; and it is said that when you put hot rice and food on the banana leaf, it imparts a nice aroma and therefore adds to the flavour. Most of the Tamil Indian workers, even though they are not prohibited by caste, even if they might be Hindu, from eating meat, because most are in the lower castes, are forced by impecunious circumstances to eat vegetarian. Sir, although, not otherwise prohibited, would likewise be mainly a vegetarian, except on special occasions, for reason of frugality. Thus his normal meal would comprise of white rice, choice of curry gravy and chutney and sambal [chilli paste], and different pulses chickpeas, lentils and peas; and cooked vegetables like okra, brinjal, potato and spinach; accompanied by Indian bread pappadums, roti or dosai, idli, poory, chapati or naan, of his choice. He might have finished his meal with milk tea, locally known as teh tarik, and have some type of sweet like laddu, jeleby, gulab jamun, puttu or even morru [yoghurt]. He might even have bought snacks like samosa, curry puffs and masala vada to take home. On festive occasions, he might have spoiled him-self and had fish, chicken or mutton or even prawns; whether curried, deep-fried or grilled. However no beef was or is sold. Cows are sacred to Hindus. I am obviously speculating, as sad to say I have never partaken in a meal with Sir. So sad, not to have the private moment of a meal to cherish with him! In a sense, looking back, I surmise that Sir might have been suffering a little bit from an inferiority complex syndrome, brought about either from his low Indian caste status or from coming from a poor Indian background. I say this objectively, without any intention of belittling someone I consider a personal saint. Let me explain. You see, most Indians who became Christians came from the lower castes, particularly the Harijans or the untouchables. Christianity offered spiritual relief from caste oppression and ingrained poverty, since all were equal before the Christian God. The idea of Christ as the Son of God, all omnipotent and omniscient, loving and merciful, and as the Saviour, dying for and granting absolution of all your sins, and answering all your prayers and needs, and giving you new Life was a powerful religious panacea impossible not to accept when you felt like a wretch in a purgatorial world. After all the subscription fee was simply to accept Christ as your Lord and Saviour and to have complete faith in him. Sir was a very devout Roman Catholic, although in his case he appeared to lean towards benediction by way of Hail Marys. Again this was or is not unusual, since in the Asian tradition, the love and respect for ones mother or the motherly figure in the spiritual sense transcends one inner filial sense. He attended Church on Sundays regularly and did not eat meat on Fridays. While under Sirs tutelage, I too was attracted or enticed by the quick cure offered by Catholic Christianity. My mother had no objection, having been educated by Catholic nuns. My father had no problem either being sort of Hakka Christian without understanding what Christianity really meant. In traditional Chinese beliefs, comprising of an amalgam of Taoist, Buddhist and Confucianistic ethos, there was and could be no running away from poe ying or the karmic

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Dear Sir Mr Dicom

retribution or consequence of ones deeds or misdeeds. Sins could not be expunged, remitted or otherwise forgiven as such. When you further consider the conundrum posed by the Buddhist belief that we continue to be born and reborn to until we exhaust all our karmic residue from all of our previous lifes, that is, when we attain the purity of Enlightenment, there seem to be no distinct hope for salvation. Like a form of single entry fidelity bookkeeping, all the merits and demerits in your life, like debits and credits are faithfully and correctly recorded; and the reward merit or demerit points or sentence accorded you at the end of the day must correspond and match these fidelity records. Simply put, you reap what you sow in this life or next or more, no more and no less. I thought it was not fair for anyone to live in gross uncertainty, not knowing whether good personal circumstances may come to an end because karmic conditions have become ripe for karmic retribution to occur, or alternatively the anxiety of not knowing when current hardship and tribulation may ever come to an end in the present life. It seems so generously kind and unselfish and simple that one can be totally forgiven for all of ones past sins by just joining the Christian faith. To put it euphemistically, through knowing Sir, I became a Christian in due course and survived the blinkered dogmatic theological indoctrination; but I have now partly reverted back to arduous Buddhism, in the form of Zen meditation, in my old age. However I still retain spiritual Christian values and would be one of the first to eulogise practical Christian spiritual concepts of Christian charity, grace, humility and love and kindness, but unfettered by sworn doctrinal belief in the virgin birth or the resurrection of Christ from the dead, each time we take bread and wine communion. Sir being a Christian, or more to the point, Sirs ancestors conversion to Christianity might have set him and them free from the strictures and bondage of the Indian caste system, but Sir and his fellow Tamil Indian Christians are and were not really free in an Indian societal sense. It is very much like the situation with the American Blacks, free in name but not free in reality; for by and large, and speaking generally, they still remain subjected to racial prejudice and cross-cultural and other forms of insidious discrimination from the Whites. For the main body of the Malaysian Indian population still believed in and practised Hinduism. Sir for instance could not marry into the higher castes or contemplate mixing with them intimately or at their private homes, although he could work alongside them or be acquainted with them publicly. In particular, Sir faced both intra-racial and cross-racial barriers as far as romance was concerned. I mentioned this last point because I think he had a soft spot for a certain Miss Ng, one of the Chinese teachers at Batu Road School II. But still for whatever it was worth, since Sir still had to meet his own race when he frequented Indian shops or food-stalls for Indian provisions or food, the wearing of a necklace with a crucifix provided a sense of fortitude against caste intimidation. And when you are well dressed and spoke Tamil with a sprinkling of polished English, it showed you were not only educated but that you could possibly be a wealthy sahib, despite your caste! After all, whatever the caste, money talks! No Indian shopkeeper was going to offend a rich Indian, whatever his caste. But did Sir consciously intended to convey the false impression that he was educated and rich? This would seem out of kilter with his humility revealed or shown privately at home. Maybe it is innate shyness or possible embarrassment of being poor, so that when you put on a public face, you would want to demonstrate an indelible mark that you not poor, out of fear of being looked down upon or subjected to public humiliation. Some local shopkeepers are known to embarrass and rudely ridicule an obviously poor window shopper by openly querying whether the poor soul had money to buy the item that he or she was looking at or just wasting the shopkeepers precious time. I wonder if Sir would have dressed up to go to his local Indian grocer or Indian eating-

Dear Sir Mr Dicom/VC/29/06/11

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Dear Sir Mr Dicom

house in his hometown Taiping, up north in Perak State. Maybe the simple fact was he was a stranger in Kuala Lumpur and out of shyness he did not want to create a bad impression. Still, the Batu Road neighbourhood is not the part of town where you needed to dress up. Being smartly and immaculately dressed and armed with an umbrella will only make you stand out or may give an impression to some that you have airs, that you are being snobbish. I am lucky that as a Batu Road local, I just have to be myself when I am back in familiar territory. Like in my childhood days, I dress casual (short sleeved Hawaiian or golf shirt and cotton drilled pants) and I usually wear sandals or moccasins (no socks). Sometimes, if it is very late at night and only the local residents are about, I even go walkabout to my usual supper haunts in my sleeping attire singlet and sarong! But I would be too embarrassed to go out wearing Chinese bathroom wooden clogs. Nobody wears them anymore these days. Mr Vincent de Paul Dicom Dear Sir, This is Cheok Hong Chuan, the elder of the Cheok twins writing to you in your absentia. The letter will be dated and posted to you as soon as I know you are still around and I locate your current address. It has been nearly 40 long years since we last met. Where was that? I think it was near the Princess Circle. You were on the way to the Bilal Restaurant at Ipoh Road, where you often had your daily meals. How are you Sir? Are you well? I trust you are in the best of health for a sprightly over 80 years young man! What I mean to say is that, for someone who does not smoke or drink, and who plays badminton regularly and lead a simple quiet life, God willing, you should stay forever young. Sir, by chance I ran into Mr Cheah, the Assistant Deputy Headmaster at Batu Road School II, at the National Museum in Taipeh, Taiwan, back in 1982. He said he thought you had been transferred to Rawang or Batu Arang. I have over the years made many trips to these towns, particularly Rawang, to enquire as to your whereabouts, but was unable to locate you. Batu Arang is predominantly Indian, and if you are or were there, in all probabilities, they should know or have known of you. Sadly, that was not so. Surprisingly, many of the Indian children there do not speak English. Knowing that your Bahasa was not so good, I wonder how you would have coped with the changes to using Bahasa as the medium of instruction. I think most of the Chinese teachers would have resigned. I encountered one of the teachers, Mr Tan, working at a motor spare parts shop in Batu Road, which you know has been renamed Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, when they renamed all the roads in Bahasa and replaced Imperial and Colonial street names with those of Independence leaders. There was an Indian music store proprietor in the main street of Rawang, who bore a strong resemblance to you, when you were young. I got friendly with him as a result. Unfortunately, he has never heard of you. He was so touched by the story of me looking for you, who looked like him, that he gave me a good discount on the Hindi CDs that I bought of him. I was interested as to whether you got married and have a family, so I asked Mr Cheah when I met him. He said he thought you ended up marrying a Chinese girl, but did not know whether you have any children. I presume that your good wife, if you are married, cannot be Miss Ng, the teacher at school. Otherwise, Mr Cheah would have mentioned this fact.

Dear Sir Mr Dicom/VC/29/06/11

Page 9 of 16 Vince Cheok

Dear Sir Mr Dicom

Sir, I have adopted your Christian name Vincent Paul as mine; but without the de in the middle. So, in a way, I have adopted your full name as mine. In Australia, where I now reside, I am known as Vince Cheok. My full name of Vincent Paul Hong Chuan Cheok would be quite a mouthful! In Malaysia, I am still known as Hong Chuan or simply Chuan by friends and relatives. Coincidentally, Say Chuan, my twin brother adopted your cousins name. So, he is now known as Albert Cheok. Sir, please forgive for my lack of manners. I should mention, before I continue reminiscing, that I have not enclosed any gift with this letter. This is because I want to deliver my thanks and gratitude to you personally, when we get to meet. In any case whatever gift I make can never fully repay or demonstrate how much I owe you for putting me on the road to a good education. If it were not for you, I would not be the person I am today. I suppose you would be interested in who finished university among my batch of your students. I cannot vouch that I have a complete list. Let me start with the students that made it to the top high school Victoria Institution. I became an accountant and lawyer. Say Chuan became an economist and banker. To your credit, if I may say so, we both obtained university scholarships in Adelaide, Australia. Say Chuan came top and earned the Joseph Fisher Medal. He is now, Chairman of Bangkok Bank in Malaysia. I did the same in Accountancy and earned the Australian Society of Accountants Medal. For a time I was Assistant Commissioner of Internal Revenue and Customs in Papua New Guinea. I returned to Australia in 2001 and am currently with Australian Quarantine. I keep myself busy writing, mainly on Jesuit Christianity and Buddhism. Kok Ann, the son of the managing director of China Insurance, became an engineer. He now owns the Dunkin Donut Chain in Malaysia. Kang Shen, the son of the managing director of Malayan Banking (now Maybank) became a cosmetic surgeon. Rajinder Kumar, the top student, when we were at primary school, later became a doctor, and has since migrated to Adelaide in Australia. Long Shin (now called Victor); my foster brother eventually got a degree in Finance, after stints at various universities in UK and US. He is now the managing director of the family concern, Wing Constructions. Under the bumiputra policy, the company is now only a shadow of it former stature, as the No1 foundation piling firm. You will probably remember Wing Constructions did the piling for, among other things, the Muar, Batu Pahat and Klang Bridges, Subang international Airport and Miri and Penang New Ports. Of those who went to Maxwell High, Siew Hock, whose father owned Fom Lom Electronics in Chow Kit Road, became an engineer. Kok Thye, whose father is the dentist at Campbell Road, went to Methodist Boys School and later became an engineer. Azman, from Kampung Baru, went to Malay College Kuala Kangsar and later became an engineer. Of the others, Hoo Ben, whose father owned the Chinese kopitiam and hotel near the Prince of Wales Kindergarten, ventured into different types of business, one after another. At one stage he even opened a Chinese restaurant in Paris! I think he is now into counterfeit motor parts. Kee Kuang, whose father owned Hwee Lai Batteries and Tyres at Batu Road near my grandfathers house, and the nephew of Dr Tan Chee Koon, the local doctor near the school and the leader of the Socialist Workers Party (and for your information, one of the local triad chieftains as well), migrated to US. Moon Fook and Moon Thong, the other pair of twins in the school, joined the navy and later migrated to US. I think Moon Fook is back in Malaysia and is working in one of the Robert Kuok companies. I last saw Thameen, the fastest runner in school, at his uncles sarong shop near Malay Street. But that was almost 40 years ago. I met Gopal Singh, whose father was a shepherd, near the Central Market once; he was peddling milk from his fathers cows. Again that was almost 40 years ago. Mahendran, whose father was a cleaner at the General Hospital, was said to have migrated to Singapore. Of my relatives, Thean Cheong is now

Dear Sir Mr Dicom/VC/29/06/11

Page 10 of 16 Vince Cheok

Dear Sir Mr Dicom

a partner in an air cargo agency. Ming Ming works in a spare parts shop. Theam Swee, whose father owned the Esso station at the junction of Ipoh Road and Maxwell Road, now owns his own Esso station in Damansara. Leong Swee went back to Penang, where his father came from. Do you remember the Indian pen pal in Mauritius you arranged for me to have to encourage me in letter writing? It never got beyond 2 letters and I did not learn much of Mauritius beyond the extinction of their giant Dodo bird. Still, that small beginning got me started and interested in prose and later poetry; and if I might add, very useful when having to write essays after essays, when I was reading Law. Later in life I befriended Marc Koo, a Hakka-Chinese businessman born in Mauritius and, what a small world it is, the brother-in-law of Michelle Yeoh, the James Bond girl. Marc owned a furniture factory in Kuala Kangsar, in which the company I worked for had an interest. As Kuala Kangsar is only half an hour from Taiping, I would often visit Taiping to find out more about your hometown. I would stay at the Government Rest House, which is across the road from King George V, your former school. These frequent trips in an endeavour to find out more about your background have made me very fond of Taiping. I like the Hokkiennese about the town. The Hokkien spoken there is closer to the Hokkien dialect I speak, than say the Penang Hokkien or the Singapore Hokkien. Most of all I enjoy the majestic beauty of the gigantic raintrees at the Taiping Botanical Gardens. Do you miss Taiping? I would not mind retiring to Taiping one day, although my personal preference is one of the smaller Chinese towns like Ulu Yam (Selangor), Banting (Selangor), Tanjung Tualang (Perak), Kampar (Perak), Bukit Tambun (Penang) or Kulim (Kedah). Where were you during the inter-racial riots on May 13, 1969? As you know the killings first started along Princess Road, near your old house, and near the junction with Jalan Rajah Abdullah and opposite the soccer stadium. The raving Malay mob, enraged to the point of being murderous by the Chinese victory at the elections and spurred on in their fury by bloodthirsty Malay extremists, left the Chief Ministers residence, about 300 meters down the road from your house at Princess Road, armed with parangs and bicycle chains with clear intent to kill the first Chinese they came across. The first Chinese they encountered and killed were those in the vicinity of the row of Chinese/Indian shophouses opposite the road from your house. Strange isnt it? The Tengku when he conspired with the Chinese leaders during the struggle for independence often met clandestinely with them at the cheap Chinese hotel/brothel (I note that it is now called Rumah Tumpang Muda) opposite the road from your house. Then 12 years later, the same spot is the scene of racial carnage. The racial violence spread quickly that night to Batu Road, Ipoh Road and Campbell Road. 2 of the best Hokkien Mee cooks ever died that night. One operated the Hokkien Mee stall at Jalan Raja Laut. The other operated the Hokkien Mee stall at Campbell Road. I can only say that many Batu Road neighbourhood childhood friends and acquaintances went missing after the May 13 riots. Many may still be in detention or deported for life to various restricted rehabilitation zones or centres right around the country for known triad members, although I must say many may have died through drug overdose or related ailments. Anyway, let us return to more sombre things closer to school and education. I never became a prefect at Victoria Institution, unlike at Batu Road School 2. This was even though I did well in studies and represented the school in rugby, and Thamboosamy House in every sport except swimming, hockey and cricket. The fact that I was a bit of a rebel-rouser and rumoured to being a Batu Road gangster did not help. The school was a bit of a posh college, most of the students coming from royal, wealthy or professional backgrounds. You attend board meetings in Kuala Lumpur these days and at least 25% of the directors are former Victorians. The present Sultan of Brunei was 2 years my senior. Dr Jegathesan, the fastest man in Asia was 5 years my senior. You get ex-Victorians as the elite in government, politics, industry and commerce, medicine,

Dear Sir Mr Dicom/VC/29/06/11

Page 11 of 16 Vince Cheok

Dear Sir Mr Dicom

defence forces, arts and all areas of public life. Sir, I must confess that I was a bit of a delinquent at Victoria Institution. I am not proud of it. All I can say is that I have learned from my past misdeeds .I got caned, trying to be a conscientious objector, when I refused to line up, at the schools allocated section of the motorcade route, to flag-wave to President Johnson when he visited Malaysia. My father was very anti-American because of the Vietnam War. I got caned again when I organised a petition protesting against the teachers strike arguing that like Florence Nightingale they should put dedication before self-pecuniary interest. I got caned again when I wrote a submission arguing against the promulgation of Bahasa as the National Language. I argued that English should be the National Language as it was common to all the races in Malaysia and that it would facilitate academic and economic development. How very young and nave I was! When they said my shorts were too short, I started wearing Bahamas. When they said my socks were too short, because I folded them down, I started wearing long walking socks, up to the knees. When they said my hair was too long I ended up having a very, very short crew cut. I did anything and everything, to test the limits of the schools strict discipline and dress code. Can you imagine! At assembly, the headmaster still wore his academic gown and mortarboard! We were supposed to have abandoned all relics of Colonial rule! The geography master once made a remark I found offensive. So I gesticulated in a rude way, when he was writing on the blackboard and had his back towards the class. The whole class burst out laughing. He asked who caused the laughter. I immediately stood up and said Sir, you were rude. So I did this. I gestured in the same rude way again. The whole class burst out laughing again. For the rest of the year, I had to sit on the floor during his geography lessons. Now that we are both old and can afford to look back at life and have a good laugh, do you want to know what the gesture was. I suppose that you know the Chinese way of gesturing f..k you. You clench your left fist towards your protagonist, and then hit it with your right palm, making a clapping sound. I was never ever physically violent or destructive at Victoria Institution. Unlike at Batu Road School I never got into fights. Or should I say, Say Chuan always got into trouble, and I always went to his defence. I cannot say the same of some others who were in my clique at Victoria Institution (we were all more or less the same age, and relatives by blood or fostered). I think you might be able to guess who they might be. One hint not Say Chuan. One scratched the entire side panels of a teachers car - Thean Cheong!. Another decided to practise karate on the study desks and chairs during a swot back period, for the exams Long Shin [Victor]. Quite a few chairs and tables were broken in that demonstration of physical prowess. Sir, I love to be able to meet up with you again. Not only to personally say a long belated thank you, but in particular to feel the warmth of your presence and take delight in your infectious smile and your gentlemanly charm. You are the greatest! May Jesus bless you always, and I thank Jesus for letting you into my life. Yours obediently, Cheok Hong Chuan Vince Cheok

Dal Curry Recipe From www.ifood.tv/network/roti_canai_curry/recipes This Dal Curry is a simple, quick and tasty dish.

Dear Sir Mr Dicom/VC/29/06/11

Page 12 of 16 Vince Cheok

Dear Sir Mr Dicom

Ingredients 1. Toor dal - 3/4 cup, 2. Onion - 1 (finely chopped), 3. Tomato - 1 (Finely chopped), 4. Tamarind paste - 1/2 tsp, 5. Garlic Clove - 1, 6. Turmeric powder - 1 tsp, 7. Asafoetida powder - 1 tsp, 8. Green chilli - 2 (Slit lengthwise), 9. Mustard seeds - 1 tsp, 10. Cumin seeds - 1 tsp, 11. Fenugreek seeds - 1/2 tsp, 12. Curry leaves - 1 string, 13. Salt - as per taste, 14. Oil - for frying, 15. Cilantro for garnish. How to make Dal Curry 1. Steam cook the toor dal adding the fenugreek seeds, few cumin seeds, turmeric powder, asafoetida, garlic, onions and tomatoes for 3 whistles(or till cooked). After done, mash them and keep aside. 2. Heat oil in kadai, splutter the mustard and cumin seeds. Add the curry leaves and green chilli and saut a min. 3. Now add the mashed dal. Add little water if needed. 4. Adjust taste by adding salt and tamarind paste. 5. Leave for a boil, and cook till needed curry consistency. 6. Garnish with cilantro and serve. Tastes great with plain white rice with ghee, roti and chapati. Enjoy!
Roti Canai (Authentic Malaysian Recipe) By Malaysian`Chef on December 09, 2007 Ingredients: Servings: 4 2 cups all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon salt 1 cup water 1 cup cooking oil

Directions: Prep Time: 10 mins


Total Time: 20 mins

Dear Sir Mr Dicom/VC/29/06/11

Page 13 of 16 Vince Cheok

Dear Sir Mr Dicom

1 Mix the salt in the water. 2 Put the flour in a mixing bowl. Add the salted water gradually. 3 Mix the flour into dough. Knead until smooth. Make sure the texture of the dough is not too sticky and gooey. 4 Oil your hands with cooking oil and then make the dough into palm sized balls. 5 In a bowl pour some oil so that the dough doesnt stick to the bowl. Put in the balls, coating it with oil as you put one on top of each other. After it is all in a bowl, totally immerse it in oil. Leave over night. 6 Oil your kneading space. Take out one dough ball; flatten it out into with your palms until the size of a dinner plate. 7 Flip it like a pizza (I put a link below to show you how to flip it). 8 Flip the dough a couple of times and spread it out until paper thin. 9 Take the one edge and fold it to the middle. Do this another three times so that it will turn into a square. 10 Grease a flat pan or skillet with cooking oil and cook until golden brown.

STIR FRIED LADIES FINGER / OKRA malaysianfamousrecipes.blogspot.com/ Ingredients 250 gm ladies finger sliced 1/2 teaspoon thick tamarind juice 1/4 cup water 4 tablespoon cooking oil Ingredients to blend or pound 125 grams small dried shrimps 1 pip garlic 8 shallots 4 red chillies - remove seeds 1 small piece compressed fermented shrimp paste (belacan) 2 teaspoon sugar A pinch of salt. Cooking Method Heat oil in a pan and add blended ingredients and stir fry. Add sliced lady's finger and toss for about 1-2 minutes. Add tamarind juice and let it cook in low heat for another 1-2 minutes. Garnish with slices of red chillies and serve while hot. Posted by selvia GHEE OR BUTTER RICE malaysianfamousrecipes.blogspot.com/ Ghee rice is one of the most famous rice recipes in Malaysia. If you feel you do not like the smell of ghee you may replace with butter and it will taste as good.
Dear Sir Mr Dicom/VC/29/06/11 Page 14 of 16 Vince Cheok

Dear Sir Mr Dicom

Serving for 4. 2 cups long Basmati rice. 2 cups water 1 cup low fat milk 1 screwpine leaf -knotted 2 small cinnamon sticks 5 star anise 1/4 table spoon turmeric or you can use yellow food colouring 1 large onion sliced 2 table spoon full ghee or butter. Wash and drain rice. Heat ghee or butter in low fire and saut onions, add cinnamon sticks, star anise. Add turmeric powder and mix gently until it blends with the ghee and turmeric powder. Dish into rice cooker. Add water and low fat milk. Put the knotted screwpine leaf and salt to taste. Garnish with fried onions, fried cashew nuts and raisins. Serve hot. For more recipes visit http://recepiesevergreen.blogspot.com/ Posted by selvia POTATOES AND SESAME CURRY malaysianfamousrecipes.blogspot.com/ INGREDIENTS 3 table spoon sesame seeds 4 large potatoes 2 red chillies , 2 green chillies - cut into two and remove seeds 1 small bunch coriander leaves - chopped 1 table spoon fenugreek roasted without oil. Dry blend and keep aside 2 tablespoon chilli powder 1/2 teaspoon turmeric 2 tablespoon pounded ginger 2 cups thick coconut milk. (You my replace with full cream milk) 2 tablespoon lime juice 4 tablespoon minyak (oil). Salt to taste. Cooking Method Roast sesame seed and blend smoothly. Add lime juice. Boil potatoes, remove skin and cut into pieces. Heat the oil, add pounded ginger, blended fenugreek, chilli powder, turmeric powder. Add chopped coriander leaves and halved chillies until you get an aroma. Add blended sesame, cut potatoes, salt and coconut/ full cream milk. Let it simmer and thicken. Remove and serve hot with rice or bread.
Brinjal (Eggplant) Potato Curry Recipe Aug 4th, 2010 by jadhavmanisha

Dear Sir Mr Dicom/VC/29/06/11

Page 15 of 16 Vince Cheok

Dear Sir Mr Dicom

Eat with hot rice or chapati. Ingredients : - 3 chopped medium size brinjals (eggplant) - 1 chopped potato - 1 chopped tomato or tomato paste - 1 chopped onion or onion paste - 1 tbs ginger paste - 1 tbs garlic paste - 2 to 3 tbs chicken curry powder - 1/2 tbs turmeric powder - 2 tbs chana dal (optional) - 2 tbs peanut powder (optional) - few coriander leaves - salt to taste - few curry leaves - vegetable oil Preparation : 1) Heat oil in a thick bottom pan or kadai add curry leaves, ginger-garlic paste and fry for 2 to 3 minutes in a low flame. 2) Add onion and fry till golden colour. 3) Add turmeric powder, salt, chicken curry powder and stir again for 5 minutes in a medium flame. 4) Add tomatoes, potatoes, brinjal pieces and fry them for a while and cover the pan, with a plate. Put some water in the plate. 5) Add water if needed and let it simmer for 15 minutes in a low flame. 6) Cook till there is a little water left. 7) Sprinkle the coriander leaves and serve. 8) Serve with hot rice or chapatti. Written by jadhavmanisha Freelance Writer

Dear Sir Mr Dicom/VC/29/06/11

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