28 September 2014

Books over the Years ( Part 1 ) -  Pearl S Buck


The Good Earth

It was around 1954, my second year in an English School, when I began to make myself enjoy reading English books. Until then it was all Malay periodicals and novels. The need to catch up with English language became important when I realised how poor I was, having joined the English school a year earlier fresh from  a religious school where I hardly had a proper English lesson.

To begin yet another new seires (Books over the Years) for this blog I have a choice of old books which have left deep impressions in my memory. For a start I have to weigh seriously between a school text book, Charles Dicken's David Copperfield, and Pearl S Buck’s The Good Earth. I have decided on the latter, for its more worn out appearance. I am lucky for having this copy in my possession over the years since I purchased it on 13th March 1954 - for RM 1.80! That makes it 60 years ago and it is likely to outlast its beloved owner.

                                                         Pocket Book - 1953 edition


Noted in long hand: 1.80  
Hassan Abdul Karim 
S S S K Trengganu
13th March, 1954

I was fortunate to have two qualified English ladies teaching us in Form 4 and 5.   They were in K Terengganu following their husbands holding certain seniors government posts like heads of JKR, Education Department, etc. Those were the years before Independence when certain schools benefitted from expatriates’ wives who were qualified.  I remember it well that one of them was qualified with MA in English. Perhaps she was the one who introduced The Good Earth to us. To get the book I had to place order by post from a book store in K Lumpur. There was no bookshop selling English book in town.

 Author of The Good Earth
Pearl S. Buck

The author, Pearl S Buck, born in 1892, followed her American parents  to China on their missionary work. Sshe earned her master’s degree in English Literature from Cornell University,  and later married an American in China where they spent  the best part of their life, as university lecturers and voluntary workers.  Pearl had special love for the local Chinese peasants, about whom she wrote in a number of her books.

Pearl had her hall of residence in Nanking named in her honour. President Bush paid his respect there on his visit to Nanking.

For her work, Pearl S Buck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature 1938 , cited "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces".

Pearl was honoured in 1983 with a 5¢ Great Americans series postage stamp issued by the United States Postal Service. 

 “Wang Lang, rising from humble landowner, glorified in the soil he worked. Had it above his family The back page of the book in Pakcik’s possession, carries the following tribute to this book ‘The Good Earth ;

“Wang Lang, rising from humble Chinese farmer to wealthy landowner, glorified in the soil he worked. But soon, between Wang Lang and the kindly soil that sustained him, came flood and drought, pestilence and revolution ….

Through this one Chinese peasant and his children, Nobel Prize winner Pearl S Buck traces the whole cycle of life, its terrors, its passions, its persistent ambition and its rewards. Her brilliant nover – beloved by millions of readers throughout the world – is a universal tale of the destiny of men.”

I am never tired of going through this book. It is all about simple and innocent human and humanity, an environment not dissimilar to that I have been associated with the last twenty years.

Perhaps school children of todays, those in Form 4 would breeze through this wonderful book and enjoy what Pakcik had to struggle through – with my prized copy of Chamber’s Twentieth Century Dictionary and all!



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20 September 2014

With a Sigh ( Part 22 ) – Kertas Bocor!! Leak in exam papers.

Now it leaks ! What's next?


It saddens me that I have not in this blog written an entry crediting on our country’s system of education. I moan and sigh whenever the ‘gods’ of education speak with high praise for their endless plans and blueprints, to make our universities more of ‘taraf antara bangsa’(world class) than those in other countries. They talk about importing Indian English teachers, American peace corps etc. etc. to help in teaching of English. This reminds me of a conversation I had with then the director of a state education department. When I casually asked him why there had hardly been one scholarship given to  an outstanding student in the state to study English  at a university in England, he went to a great length to convince Pakcik that England was no longer the best country to study English language! Fortunately India was not his best choice either. I found no reason to waste my breath in arguing with that self-proclaimed expert. He must have been convinced by the ‘gods’ up there, those who found him deserving to be promoted to run the state education.


I have never heard of a suggestion from our wizards in education that, perhaps, it is of immediate advantage to the country to invite experienced teachers, those trained in Kirkby, Brinsford and locally. Many of them would be too happy to come out of retirement to help our failing system. In the local dailies several readers did voice suggestions to this effect without being given any notice by those in authority who were bent on listening to the expensive consultants from overseas. 


And now we hear about the leak (bocor) in certain UPSR question papers.


In my part of the world I have, over the last ten years, been hearing rumours of leaked examination papers just about UPSR examination time.  Many teachers are convinced of that and I am inclined to believe them, too. Deep in my heart I know there is some truth in the rumours. Coincidentally, over the years my state is proud of holding a record of sort in achieving the highest percentage of children obtaining all A-grades in UPSR examinations.  


I thought the current unfortunate situation (of leaked UPSR papers) would hasten the replacement of UPSR examination with the new system publicised  not long ago. On the other hand, the minister categorically stated that UPSR would stay.

What does an A grade in UPSR mean?


The three girls pictured above are from a small group of Form 1 children attending tuition at Almanar. Two of them achieved 5A’s and the third 3A’s in their UPSR examination last year.  They decided to join Almanar a week ago. All the three girls excelled with A-grade in Mathematics and two with A-grade in English. It is not easy for them to come to Almanar , about ten kilometers away from their homes. But they do with their elders’ support.


Nine months into Form 1 these children claimed to have completed their Form 1 Mathematics for the year. That is encouraging. But I cannot take it for granted. They are at a disadvantage learning Mathematics in Malay as Pakcik would want children at Almanar to learn technical terms in English.  


The first chapter of Form 1 Mathematics is all about numbers, the odd, even and prime numbers, factors and multiples, etc.  It is enlightening to these children to learn to say; Ali is an odd boy; he is at odd with so and so; the top of a billiard table must be perfectly even; Their score at half time were even; He did not even open the envelop, etc. When asked what they guessed a ‘prime number’ would mean they looked totally puzzled. When asked what ‘prime minister’ meant, their faces sparked with delight – perdana menteri! I do not wonder why people like our Dr Mahathir feels strongly for English to be used in science and technical subjects.    


Like in many cases, it is most disappointing to see what a calculator has done to these children. Pakcik cannot help recalling the years I was in standard 2 and standard 3 seventy years ago. We had to commit to memory the multiplication tables up to 12. We would get a cane for not being spontaneous in giving an answer to say, 7x6.  These children are good at using the gadget but failed to divide 69 by 3 without one.


Hopefully our standard of education will remain at ‘taraf antarabangsa,’ and I say it with a sigh.



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06 September 2014

Just a Reflection ( Part 13 )-Who am I?




What a creation that is -
The SAND , the SEA and the SKY.
In perfect harmony


And the boats are idling, peacefully on the beach.


Because their owners know


Soon, a STORM is coming, and their boats are no match to face the wrath of nature.


  I see this often.  And I reflect -
                                            Who am I ?



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