Sunday, 18 January 2015

The Year I Was School Captain



Three days ago, I uploaded this photo of my BBGS prefect badges on Facebook and watched in amazement as it triggered almost 300 "Likes" and many comments expressing sentiments of fear, terror and even hate! Some kinder souls used the word "legend".  This was all in response to the year 1989, when I served as School Captain, otherwise known as Head Prefect in other schools.

I am well aware that my reputation as a garang (fierce), no-nonsense School Captain became my identity in BBGS and lasted for decades beyond that.

But not many people know that I did not want to be School Captain.  In fact, I didn't even want to return to BBGS for Form Six.  I had no other choice.

This is the first time I'm sharing the story of what really happened in 1989 - The Year I Was School Captain.

Family Finances

My dad lost his job in 1986, when I was in Form Four.  That spelt the end of my dreams of attending private college after SPM.  I watched in envy as my friends registered for Year 12 at Taylor's and A Levels at Prime College, with plans for further education abroad.  That was no longer an option for me.  If I wanted a degree, it would have to be from a local university in Malaysia.  That meant facing the dreaded STPM exams and competing for entry on the race-based quota system.

In order to make ends meet, my dad started a business supplying barbecued seafood to supermarkets and every family member chipped in to help.  It was very hard work.  My dad drove to Selayang wholesale market at 3am every morning to buy seafood supplies, with only a few hours' sleep after closing our outlets at midnight.  There was always the fear of near-miss accidents on the road if he was too tired and fell asleep at the wheel.  

My mother was a super-hero who held down three jobs.  She taught in school during the day, came home to help my dad prepare supplies for the next day, and continued giving private tuition at night to supplement our family income. 

My sister Julie and I also did our share of physical labour.  At the end of the school day, we would drop our bags, change out of our uniforms, eat lunch quickly before starting to clean and prepare hundreds of kilograms of seafood for the business.  Once all the supplies were packed in the late evening, we would start our homework and get ready for school the next day.

That was our routine day in, day out.  Seven days a week.  Even on public holidays.

Some of my classmates knew about our changed circumstances and reacted in different ways.  One kind friend lent me her SPM revision notes and books so I didn't have to buy any. Another less-sensitive soul asked me if I bothered showering after cleaning all that sotong (squid)!


Academic Excellence

I had always been a good student up till that point.  However with the family pressures and making the unfortunate choice of entering the Science Stream, which was not my forte, my grades suffered. I failed miserably at Add Maths and Physics, which dealt a huge blow to my self-confidence.  My SPM results did not live up to many people's expectations.  I remember sitting dejectedly in Miss Yeap's office the day the results were released.  She shut her office door, pulled out a box of tissues and gave me a big hug.  That simple gesture opened a floodgate of tears.  I have never wept so hard in my life.  Miss Yeap cried too.

After the tears subsided, she advised me to switch to the Arts Stream for STPM, and offered to petition the Ministry of Education for my transfer to BBGS.  This meant I had a lot of catching up to do especially in subjects like History, English Literature and Accounting, which I had not covered in the Science Stream.  I was determined to focus on my studies, without the distraction of extra-curriulur activities.  

Upon my return to BBGS in Form Six, I did not even want to be a prefect, let alone School Captain.  When I was elected for the leadership role at the end of 1988, it was Miss Yeap who persuaded me to take it up.  But, I had to get my father's permission first.  

After a long discussion, he agreed to put me on a 3-month probation as School Captain on two conditions:
1) That I top the class in Upper Six for term exams.  Second place was not an option.
2) That I continue to help him with the family business operations, as well as taking on the added responsibility of book-keeping.

My father made me draw up and sign a contract, which was pinned up on the wall in front of my study desk throughout 1989.


Personal Insecurities

I was an overweight, pimple-faced teenage girl surrounded by pretty girls half my size.  That did nothing for my self-image and added tremendously to the insecurities of adolescence.

The only thing that made me feel good about myself during those years was the power and authority that came from being a school prefect.  And so when the opportunity to become School Captain came along, I responded the only way I knew how.  With an iron fist.  I got the job done by putting on a stern demeanour and ensuring that everyone followed the rules strictly.  That did not make me the most popular girl in school.  

While I was protected from negative sentiments by my position, my poor sister Julie was not so fortunate.  She often became the target of insults and brickbats from resentful girls who could not "touch" me.  Fortunately, she formed a close bond with a handful of friends who shielded her from much unkindness.

The year 1989 went by very quickly.  I studied hard while serving my term as School Captain, and continued to help my father run the family business.  I emerged top STPM student in BBGS that year, went on to study Economics at University of Malaya and graduated with first class honours.  That led to a British Council scholarship for an MBA in England, and an international career in HR strategy and consulting.

I am forever grateful to my parents for working so hard to ensure that I received a good education, and for loving and supporting me in difficult times.  To my sister Julie for the courage to live as "Joanna Yeoh's sister" and going on to become a success in her own right.  To my teachers, especially Miss Yeap, for her compassion, encouragement and love.

And so dear friends, 1989 was indeed a watershed year in my life.  

It was not only the year I was School Captain.  

It was the year I grew up and became an adult.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

BBGS@Singapore Reunion 2013


The last time BBGSians in Singapore got together, we headed out to the high seas on board a yacht.  This year, we decided to stay ashore and return to the charming hospitality of our warm hostess, Jillian Lee, who owns  Lee Tong Kee - a decades old restaurant that's guaranteed to delight the tastebuds of homesick KL-ites.  From the sign on the door welcoming BBGSians, to the balloons and crepe paper decorations that surrounded the upper room, it was undoubtedly an act of love and service born of a true BBGSian.  Thanks so much Jillian.  We love you! 

Class of 1975
Class of 1986

Class of 1987

The different generations of girls wasted little time getting to know one another.  Introductory questions like "What year are you from?", "How long have you been in Singapore?" and "What do you do?" quickly gave way to "Remember what happened when Miss Cooke/ Miss Yeap/ Mrs Choe/our classmates did....", which opened the floodgates of schoolgirl stories that left us clutching our sides with laughter while gasping for breath.  Story after story poured feverishly from our memories proving once again that "you can take a girl out of BBGS, but you can never take BBGS out of a girl!"

Ong Jin Kar (Class of 1986) with her family from Perth

Doreen Oh Craig (on the right) from the Class of 1986 joined us from Glasgow

This year, we had two girls from the Class of 1986 who flew in specially to join us.  Ong Jin Kar brought her family from Perth to say a quick "Hello" before they scooted nervously out of the venue, as most husbands and sons of high-spirited BBGSians have been known to do. Doreen Craig was on holiday from Glasgow and flew into Singapore specially for this reunion.  Thank you for making the special effort, ladies. We really enjoyed your company!

Last but not least, here's a group photo of all the attendees taken just before dinner.  We were kind enough not to make anyone kneel, as in our old school photos, just in case aged joints prevented anyone from getting up again! :)

All in all, a highly enjoyable evening.  Thanks to Moonlake Lee for organising the reunion and to everyone for coming.

Till we meet again, remember Nisi Dominus Frustra.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Game and Watch

To those of us who went to school in the '80s, it wasn't always about "five stones" or "catching" during playtime.  The electronics games industry was in its infancy and we wasted many hours glued to the screen playing games too.  In those days, Nintendo came up with a series of Game and Watch playthings that were all the rage.  Any girl who owned one of these gained instant celebrity status and became very popular especially before school and during recess. It's a wonder these weren't banned.


This version of Game and Watch called  "Octopus" turned me into a serious addict!

I posted this picture on Facebook and asked my friends for responses.  Here are some nostalgic (and hilarious) responses:

Vasanthi: I loved playing "Manhole" as well

Jin Hui:  I remember the one with the chef trying to catch food in a frying pan.  Was it called Chef?

Kar Hue:  Haha...I remember them all!  Twas one with Mickey Mouse collecting eggs

Patricia:  I remember playing, and playing in class too   (Joanna says: Hor..hor..Pat...I tell teacher then you know!)

Jenny:  I loved all these Nintendo games


Friday, 28 September 2012

Sexy Spaghetti Song

I made a trip back to KL on Friday 14th September for a very special event. Juwita Suwito was staging a concert at the Pavilion and dedicated the first night to BBGS. Under Mrs Abraham's guidance, Juwita and her amazing band conjured up magical music for the many BBGS girls and teachers who turned up to enjoy the evening. She even managed to surprise Mrs Abraham with a birthday dedication.

My favorite song of the night was the very sexy jazzed up version of "On Top of Spaghetti".


Monday, 3 September 2012

Sailing around Singapore

Last Saturday afternoon on 1 September 2012, sixteen BBGSians boarded a yacht at One Degree Fifteen Marina at Sentosa for a reunion with a difference.  Thanks to the brilliant organization of Patricia Chang (hip hip hooray!), the Class of 1987 had a wonderful 25th anniversary and were fortunate enough to have the company of other BBGSians living in Singapore.

There was no talk of diamonds, boob jobs or investment banker husbands.   Just plenty of genuine laughter and unfettered delight in each other's company on board a rented yacht.  This is exactly how 25th year school reunions should be celebrated.

Ladies, I salute you!

============================================

Quotes from the girls:

"It was a wonderful afternoon. Thank you all for reminding me how fortunate I was to be at this school and to have grown up with you." - Tomasina Oh

"Good fun.  My spirits lifted just being with you girls for one afternoon!  Energized to face the daily grind. We must meet more often." - Jeninder Kaur Gill

"Let's not wait another 25 years!  What a blast.  Could have yakked for another 4 hours." - Chen May Yee

"Had a really good yacht outing with BBGSians today. The experience was priceless and I will remember this event for the rest of my life."  - Patricia Chang

Xiao Ling - our very own yacht. For four hours only lah!

All aboard for a sun-soaked bubbly reunion

Lu Meng, Tomasina and Joanna chatting on the deck

Our very own HOT MAMAS - May Yee and Jeninder


From L-R:
1. Sweetest choral speaking conductor
2. Prefect.. Vice Captain.. School Captain
3. Superb portrait artist

4. Model rule-abiding BBGS student
5. Kongsi Gelap gang
6. Maths extraordinaire (kneeling)

Photo caption courtesy of Tan Lu Meng 

Spice Girls from Class of 1987
(Standing L-R) Joanna, Siok Chu
(Sitting L-R) Lu Meng, Patricia, Yee Git

Spicier Girls - Jessica, Melina & Moonlake

Cyndee & Joanne

School Captain passing out champagne.  Oh...how the mighty have fallen, or rather, have grown up.  CHEERS!

Beautiful cupcake presentation by Elis Chan (Class of 1995)

True to form, BBGSians cleaned up as the yacht was docking.  The crew rushed in saying "It's ok, we will clean!", to which I replied "It's alright, we are from BBGS."