Indeed this is not the typical account of an ex-Almanar pupil. The subject of this entry is an old friend, one I would like to remember as a successful individual. Lee Chong Leng went through a long and dark tunnel and emerged to see beautiful sunlight and finally ended his day peacefully, leaving behind a legacy of success.
My friend Lee Chong Leng
Chong Leng was, obviously, not a Malay, nor was a Muslim. But that did not stop us from being friends. We started as Malayans and ended as Malaysians.
Chong Leng started life in a rather isolated fishing village of that time. Today, Batu Rakit is no more than 25Km by road, not more than 10Km as the crow flies, from Kuala Teregganu city centre. But seventy years ago there was no road link. Chong Leng, who belonged to a Chinese family living among the Malay community of fishermen, grew up in this remote locality which is, ironically, my home today, also the home of Almanar.
Like those Malay children in that area, he attended the lone Sekolah Rendah Batu Rakit. Today this area boasts of colleges and more than half a dozen schools of various categories. He used to boast of his childhood torturous journeys to Kuala Terengganu. Setting off from home on foot would take him a good five hours to reach a quay-side in Seberang Takir, from where a boat man would paddle him across the wide estuary of Sungai Terengganu. What a trip it was just to get to the state capital. And today, I take no more than half-an-hour in my rickety vehicle to reach the same place.
Life brought us together when, in 1952, I joined him in Standard 7 (today’s Form 3) of Sultan Sulaiman English School. Unlike me he joined the school immediately after his five years of primary Malay school in Batu Rakit. I went through a different route before joining him in Standard 7.
I think I was drawn to him by his ability to speak Terengganu native dialect as well as his exceptional ability to write Malay in Jawi script. He was proud to show me how he could write my name in reversed Jawi script; from left to right instead of right to left.
Hassan in reversed Jawi script
That was the beginning of our friendship. And I cannot help believing that his mastery of Malay language was instrumental to that friendship. In the course of conversations it was natural to hear him use such terms as Alhamdulillah and InsyaAllah.
Chong Leng and I were probably the only two candidates (of 37 boys and 5 girls ) who used Jawi script in answering the Malay papers in our Senior Cambridge School Certificate (just SC – the like of SPM today) examination at the end of 1955. Unfortunately he could not satisfy the minimum number of passes from the eight subjects we sat for. In those days, nevertheless, passing Standard 8 ( current Form 4) was good enough for one to earn a clerical job. The standard of English of that era was more than adequate for that purpose. I think one may find it hard today to imagine that in the Malay subject SC exam question papers a candidate had to answer a question which asked a candidate to translate into Malay a short given passage in English, and likewise to translate into English a short given passage in Malay. Perhaps the schools were not called ‘English’ School for no reason.
Shortly after knowing the SC examination result Chong Leng succeeded to get a clerical job in the judiciary department where he worked for many years.
Although Chong Leng could not achieve a simple Grade 3 in the SC examination, he never lacked the determination to see his children perform better. When he was a child elder members of his family, worked hand in hand with local Malays, in making keropok. But his parents, instead of making him an apprentice in keropok industry, sent him to school, to finally succeed in make a living working comfortably at a desk with pen and paper – no longer necessary to clean oneself of scales and smell at the end of each day. Given that chance Chong Leng was determined to improve his children’s lot in life. His son won a coveted scholarship in Singapore to do architecture; a daughter works in a bank after graduation, and a second daughter is a specialist English teacher in one of our country’s top premier colleges for girls.
Would that not be a dream realised? Yes, we joked and laughed the last time I was in his home, though his health was failing him.
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Our last picture
We could no longer enjoy lunching out. But Chong Leng could not be a happier person – knowing that he was out of the long dark tunnel.
Berkhidmat kerana Tuhan untuk kemanusiaan