Monday, August 2, 2010

BBGSian Mdm Soh Geok Kim is 97, going on 98!

By Lim Yuet Suan

Mdm Soh getting a kiss from her grand-daughter-in-law, BBGSian Cheah Swee Peng

during her 97th birthday celebration. Her grandson, Stanley (right) is the better half

of our BBGS OGA Treasurer.

Having turned 97 last October, Mrs Oh Cheng Tew nee Soh Geok Kim happens to be our oldest BBGS alumna in town! She started schooling when she was eight and had her first taste of BBGS life (circa 1920) in what was then the Chinese Girls’ School in Brickfields.

Today, she has four surviving children, 13 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren scattered all over Malaysia and around the globe.

Born of Baba Nyonya heritage, Mrs Oh lived in a time when women did not have many opportunities open to them. The fact that she was educated enabled her to delay marriage until she was 22, when most girls would have been married at 15 or 16.

Meeting Mrs Oh for the first time, I was struck by her wonderful sense of humour, humility and graciousness. Although she was using a walker because of a recent fall, she is still full of energy! And she has an amazing memory, being able to remember Miss Glasgow, Miss Prouse and Miss Luke who were among the pioneers of our beloved school! How cool is that? It puts us 40-somethings to shame.

After finishing her Senior Cambridge, Mrs Oh worked as a sales assistant in a supermarket near Robinson’s. As traditional and social pressure would not allow her to put marriage off any longer, she was match-made to a nice young man, Mr Oh, of course!—with whom she would have four sons and a daughter Geok Lan, who is also a BBGS alumna. Some of you may know one of her sons, Mr Oh Kong Lum, a former headmaster of Bukit Bintang Boys’ School.

Even though Mrs Oh did not become a career woman owing to her traditional marriage, she excelled in her role as wife and mother. She could make the best nyonya kaya and kuih bangkit, and would often be invited to school to give demonstrations of these delicacies. Her granddaughter-in-law, Cheah Swee Peng (BBGS School Captain 1985), is now the lucky keeper of these recipes.

Here are some of Mrs Oh’s memories of life in BBGS:

Of her principals and teachers

“I remember Miss Prouse and Miss Luke. They were both very strict but very kind. In my time, children were meant to be seen, not heard. In other words, we mainly kept quiet and did not ask a lot of questions. Miss Prouse was especially involved in sewing. We knitted and sewed clothes (based on paper patterns from Robinson’s), cushion covers and curtains to raise money for the school building fund.”

Of transport to school

We used to walk to the school which was in Brickfields at that time. Going home, we would suffer under the hot sun but sometimes we took the rickshaw which cost 5 cents!

Of the lessons in school

We learned English, Algebra, Arithmetic, Geometry, Geography and History. We sang choruses and hymns and we said prayers every morning and listened to the scriptures. We also did exercises but we did not have a Sports Day. I learned about God and that’s how I became a Christian; my husband did not mind me being one either.

Among Mrs Oh’s friends, compatriots and classmates were Miss Ma Tak Yan, Miss Yeo Kim Neo, Miss Margaret Gibson and Mrs and Mrs David Angus. When asked her secret to her long life, Mrs Oh had no ready answer.

However, I think her philosophy in life—which is to let go of any bitter feelings or unpleasantness and move on with a sense of humour—helps a lot! The lines in our school song, “Teach us delight in simple things, And mirth that has no bitter springs, forgiveness free of evil done, and love to all man ‘neath the sun” reminds me how Mrs Oh is a wonderful example of someone who has lived and continues to live along these lines.

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