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Kowloon Tong Elementary School 九龍塘小學校

Su Wu 蘇五

September 20, 2009

|Letter, SW to LL, September 20, 2009

Lbr WH, using the name Lei Wung Heem§ evoked a stream of vivid memories. Before I forget, I'd like to share with you a few facets of the 3 school years between 1948-1951 - a most beautiful time.

Tai Po Hui, Star Hotel, Chatham Rd, and 4 Norfolk Rd

We first lived in Tai Po Hui 大埔墟 in the New Territories, where we took the train to Kowloon, then by bus; that was a rather grueling journey. Then we lived in Star Hotel 星光酒店* on Nathan Rd (彌敦道) and in an apartment on Chatham Rd (漆咸道). To go the school, we (Nan, you and I) took the No. 10 Bus to go to school from Star Hotel. While living on Chatham Rd, we had to take Bus No. 17 to get to Tsim Sha Tsui 尖沙咀 terminal in order to get on the No. 10 Bus; the No. 10 Bus traveled north along Nathan Rd, made a right turn on Boundary St. (界限街), then made a left turn on Cumberland Rd (金巴伦道) and we got off at the first stop on that Rd. [*At the same address of what was previously Star Hotel now stands a new building and called 逸东酒店 Eaton Hotel.]

After we moved to 4 Norfolk Rd (at the middle on top of the map), to go to school, we walked west to To Fuk Rd, continued down Rutland Quadrant, went south on Cumberland Rd, past Essex Crescent. Then took a right turn into a narrow alley (not shown on map), and reached our school Kowloon Tong Elementary & Kindergarten (next map). The open space between buildings is an athletic field where the schoolchildren gathered to do their morning calisthenics, played during recess, or held football matches. While playing in the field, occasionally, we could see a train go by on the railroad tracks that ran along elevated ground at the foot of a hill.

§ 2nd and 3rd initials of LL's name 李弘謙 pronounced in Cantonese, Lei Wung Heem. Unless otherwise stated, Chinese characters in this piece are transliterated according to their Cantonese pronunciations.

Figure 1. 九龙塘小学 is shown on the left side in the following map.

Jieng Mun Yeen and Fong Wung Yun, my two best friends

I had a classmate Jieng Mun Yeen (郑文彦, who sat next to me in class) whose parents were very rich; they had a big mansion on Essex Crescent; a pack of German Shepards, at least 5, patrolled their huge garden. Also, he had 7 (!) 跑车 bicycles, of the 7 colors of the rainbow.I had another 'best friend' classmate called Fong Wung Yun* (方宏圻 he was an athlete, high jump, long jump and javelin) who had a younger brother that was your classmate 'Fong Wung something'. Fong's dad was a hard-working cobbler; he had a tiny shoe-repair shop on Cumberland Rd, in which his family also lived. [*I consulted the dictionary: is another form of , pronounced 'yin1', same sound as . The word is also pronounced "qi2", as in our hometown in Hubei, 蒲圻].

I don't recall much about the sisters, I surmise that DD, FF and AT were boarding at some Catholic convent operated by nuns, quite likely Sing-bo-law 聖保羅 St. Paul's in HK. In any case, we saw them in, Chatham Rd and Norfolk Rd. As for Da-Ge 大哥, it is strange that my mind draws a blank. He joined our family shortly before Helen passed away, but after Chatham Rd, I don't recall his whereabouts during this period. The only logical place he could have been was in TW under the care of his aunts, or uncle Luo .

My favorite food was lap-cheong (腊肠), served once a week during lunch at school. We lunched at school (搭吃) - dap-sik, during which we would hear a radio program that still stands out in my mind; this was 李我先生讲故事 (故仔) - Lei-ngo-seen-sang gong-gu-zai. I especially liked the music played at the beginning & end of his program - a tune I can still whistle.

In the picture below, we were in 4th grade. This was the 'cooking team' that represented our class in the school-wide tsiu-see bay-tsoi 炊事比赛. The boys chopped wood, carried water or did other menial tasks; in spite of the cooking skills of the girls, we did not make it into the top three.

Figure 3. Top (left to right): -something, ?, Wong Fong Jing, Lei Wung Ngai, Fong Wung Yun, Gong Sew Hong, Dung Tsi Mun (肥仔). Bottom (left to right): Jeong Jun Jü, Yeung Sek Ying, Hong Gum Seung, Lei Hawn Ling, Lau Sing Sun.

When I look at a photo of our 5th grade class (五甲), I can only remember the full names of 20 (out of 37) in the class, although 70% of the faces are familiar. I also remember a few teachers. At least four of my classmates had brothers in your class, so our 'social' activities were more intertwined than it would have been otherwise.

The boys and girls I remember

- 15 Boys: Jieng Mun Yeen (Jieng Mun Yeen a 'best friend'. He had an older brother 郑文德, who was slightly retarded; he was with us in the 4th graded, but remained there for a second try, i.e. 留级). Fong Wung Yun (方宏圻 another 'best friend'). Wong Gwong Fai (黄光辉 we played football; he had a younger brother in your class, called 黄荣辉). Hong Gum Seong (熊锦祥 football teammate). Chun Fat Hing (陈发兴 was a Hakka 客家 , and was frequently bullied, but I was his 'best friend' and sided with him on such occasions). Lai Tsam Lün (黎湛峦 known as hamm-supp-lo 咸湿佬 because he always had a collection pictures of 鬼婆 in swim suits, which he kept in various pockets). Yeung Sek Ying (杨锡英 soft-spoken nice friend, very quiet type). Lei Hawn Ling ( 李汉龄 had the best grades in class). Liu Hung Lei ( 廖亨利 a most relaxed rich kid, Dad was a merchant). Tsui Tsi King (徐子敬 the youngest in the class). Jeong Fat (张法 footballer). Dung Tsi Mun (邓智文 we called his fay-zai 肥仔 (Fatso), had the greatest appetite for food). Gan Tsong Wai (简重巍 had a brother called Gan Wah Jeet 简华捷 in your class); Gan Tsong Wai was a quiet, dedicated artist, he could draw, freehand, characters like 关公, 张飞 and the 108 heroes in 水浒传, resplendent in their ancient outfits and weaponry; he also drew mythical figures like Guan Yin 觀音 etc, but we were less interested in Buddha figures. Gong Sew Hong (龚韶康, a kid from Shanghai who spoke broken Cantonese). Lau Sing Sun (刘诚信, footballer; he had 4 other siblings in different classes in this school).

- 5 Girls: Wong Fong Jing 黄鳳贞, Jeong Gwok Jing 张国桢, Ong Süt Fong 翁雪芳, Jeong Jun Jü 张珍珠, Fong Ying Tso 邝英祖. The girls Wong and Jeong served as 班长 (Class reps) at 4th and 5th grades. Wong was the brightest person in the class. Ong was Jieng Mun Yeen's heartthrob, I heard that they went together to England in1957. Jeong came from a rich Shanghai family, she had the lightest complexion and was very smart; she was the only kid chauffeured to school in a limo. Fong sat right in front of me in class, she was very quiet.

Figure 4. Like bookends, Ms. Lei Yeem Hong 李炎红老师 stands on the left, Mr. Fung 冯老师 stands on the right. Jieng Mun Yeen Jieng Mun Yeen sits on my left, on his left is Ong Süt Fong 翁雪芳; Chun Fat Hing 陈发兴 sits on my right with his head leaned towards me, Fong Wung Yun 方宏圻 is on his right ; seated on floor directly in front of me is 邝英祖. The artist Gan Tsong Wai 简重巍 stands at 3rd row 1st on right, beside him is Gong Sew Hong 龚韶康, behind him in top row is Hong Gum Seong 熊锦祥. Hamm-supp-lo is seated 2nd row 3rd from left, Lum-fei-tsai 林肥仔 is on his left, and Lau-something is on the right of Fong Wung Yun. Liu Hung Lei 廖亨利 is at top row 1st on left. Jeong Jun Jü 张珍珠 stands in the middle of the top row, in front of her is (in 3rd row) Wong Gwong Fai 黄光辉 (tall darker kid) and Dung Tsi Mun (邓智文 (fat kid). In front of Liu Hung Lei stands Jeong Gwok Jing 张国桢, and Wong Fong Jing 黄鳳贞 is to her right. Seated on the floor are Lau Sing Sun 刘诚信 and Lei Hawn Ling 李汉龄, 1st and 3rd from left, respectively.

And the teachers

  • Principal Yip But Chau 叶不秋校长. A dedicated educator and a kind woman. I first knew her when I was 6 and a boarding student in 1st grade, for one semester. Later, upon our return to HK from SuZhou, I started in the middle of the 1st semester of the 3rd grade (插班), and went on to complete 4th and 5th grades. I have the impression that Principal Yip took special care of the three of us. I'm sure that Mom had a chat with her.

  • Ms. Lei Yeem Hong 李炎红老师. She was our class teacher 班导师 as well our English teacher. I had a decent English accent, and oftentimes she had me read to the class. Actually I knew very little English, but had a good ear and benefited greatly from listening to our sisters' conversations, which I was able to mimic and parrot.

  • Mr. Fung 冯老师. Our athletics teacher. From him I learned of the great 'Czech locomotive' Emil Zatopek, who dominated the 5k, 10k and marathon events in every track meet since 1948, which got me interested in athletics. Mr. Fung took a special liking to Fong Wung Yun and thought that he had great potential. Anyway, Fong Wung Yun went to study Phys Ed at the National Normal University 师大体育系 in Taibei as an Overseas Student 桥生, but took sick leave halfway through the 2nd year due to poor health. He returned to NNU later, falling a year behind.

  • Ms. Ng 吴老师 Our Chinese teacher, who said: "If one learned by heart 300 Tang poems, one would be able to plagiarize, even if not write, poetry". 熟读唐诗三百首,不会吟詩也会偷. She taught with a passion, and I enjoyed her class the most; subconsciously, that must have the beginning of my attraction to Chinese lyrics and poetry.

  • Mr. Yip 叶老师. Our unusually enthusiastic music teacher, who was a younger brother Principal Yip, and who taught us songs in mandarin, such as:

Songs we sang


"The western sun sets over the mountain, the moon rises from the east, we sing as the night blackens till day bright, and sing to the coming of a New China ..."

and "四月四日儿童节…莫说我们年纪小 新的中国靠小孩..."

"4th of April, Children's Day... Don't say we are too young, New China will depend on us ..."

and "大板城的石路硬又平呀、西瓜大又甜, 那里住的姑娘辫子长呀、两个眼睛真漂亮..."

"The stone roads in Da-Ban City are hard and flat, its water melons big and sweet... There the maidens have long braids, and their eyes are so pretty ..."

In retrospect, I suspect that our music teacher was a card-carrying commie cardre. One day he abruptly left school, which caused a mild stir. I don't recall the reason, but I wouldn't be surprised if he went back to the new China to 'serve the people'.

The three musketeers always came to my recue

The elementary school period was full of memories, except that I do not recall a single teacher of general knowledge 常识 or math 数学 , or the topics they taught. I memorized everything but I had zero comprehension, which explains the big fat "0" I received in math when tested by the registrar, Mr. Huang Youyu 黄尤禹(註冊組主任), at 師範附中 (now 師大附中, the The Affiliated Senior High School of National Taiwan Normal in Taipei). With an IQ score of 78, I was considered a mental retard and was about to be certified as such, until "the three musketeers" came to my rescue in the nick of time, they were Chinese ("崎岖 bumpy", as in a road), Geography ("鸭绿江 The Yalu River") and English, in that order. I think the first two musketeers even took Mother by surprise.

It was déjà vu with the senior high 高中 and university entrance exams. In the latter case, I scored very poorly in math (10 points out of a 100). Each time, the 3 musketeers, Chinese, English and Chinese History and Geography 中国史地, helped me squeeze through. It wasn't until a very lucky encounter with Prof. hc H.C. in Aachen that I became aware of the existence of an untapped region of my brain. But I am digressing too far away from Kowloon Tong.

Having good teachers is strictly the luck of the draw, and I was really lucky in that respect. To all the great teachers I owe a debt of gratitude, for they prepared me well so that I was able to navigated the bumpy road (崎岖!!) later on in life.

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases

During our Kowloon Tong period, an epochal revolution occurred in China. The tragic loss of Helen was still keenly felt by our parents, Mother had her inheritance wiped out as a result of insane monetary policies and hyperinflation, we fled from our home in SuZhou, Father's import/export business (which employed majors , and ) collapsed in HK, and our parents were practically indigent. And yet, our parents, in spite of all these hardships in the midst of a turbulent transition period in their lives, shielded us from the myriad of social turmoil and their existential anxieties. For that, I am eternally grateful to them for having made tremendous sacrifices in order to provide us a carefree existence, and a most beautiful childhood. Which brings to mind the words of Keats: "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases".

Lei Wah Hing, the grump

Lastly, voici un poème pour mon frère (avec license poétique):

Lei Wung Heem

Su Wu

(Sept 20. 2009)

Heem had a much larger set of Shanghai-accented classmates,

While mine numbered in the 3's or 4's, Heem's was in the 7's or 8's.

There was Gwai Siu Tong, Siu Fook, Jü dai-so & Jü something,§

Who'd self-assuredly (and loudly) call him "Lei Wah Hing"!

Heem would quietly reply,

"Ding-nay-fuy!" to each guy.

Most had tin ears; a few tried hard, others hardly tried;

But when it sounded like Lee Wo Chee, "Dew!", Heem replied.

§季兆桐; 萧复; 朱“大嫂” and her brother 朱厚 something, they were younger sibs of 朱厚仁. †頂你肺. common Cantonese curse, literally, "knee your lung", or "I'm going to hurt you". ‡. Common Cantonese obscenity, literally, "Fuck", but more often used non-aggressively, as in here, then more like "Damn", or Molly Bloom's "Rocks".

Береги себϵ, дорогой брат (Take care of yourself, dear brother), Lee Wung Ngai (the name on my monthly bus pass, ba-see yüt-pew 巴士月票, as I recall)

Copyright © Su Wu 2010