Let me deviate from the norms of my Sunday postings and write something about life in a different time not too long ago. I am not sure how many parts I could write but this is the first introduction of Morgan's rite of passage into 'Jiang Hu".
The story of Morgan 白面浪子
He was very strongly built. His arms were twice the size of his contemporaries. This physical blessing came from a time when babies were fed with Milkmaid or Blue Cross condensed milk. The poorer brands were Lady General or something else. Morgan was luckier. Born a few years after the war, poverty was the norm everywhere. People were jobless or on call as odd job labourers, waiting in the kopitiam or ‘koolie keng’, a place where the coolies called home where all each had was a bed. The rest were common areas. Landing a full time job was a great contentment. Morgan had the good fortune of being breast fed. Mother was an illiterate immigrant from China, with bound feet and not the type suitable for labour intensive work. Breastfeeding a baby was not as easy as it looked. The mother must have at least decent meals to nourish the baby with enough healthy milk.
When Morgan arrived, the family fortune improved in a strange way. Mother was a ‘chap jee ki’ runner, collecting the bets for the syndicate. After a while she saw the trend. Most bets were losers. She took the risk by not submitting all the bets and pocketed the balance. With more spare cash, she started to plough some into bets of her own. And lady luck was kind. Enough food, lesser worries, Morgan was the ultimate beneficiary of the good fortune. He grew up a happy and boisterous child, fair and unusually sturdy. He was the apple of his mother. And the breastfeeding continued till he was 5 or 6 years old.
Morgan was in a way allowed to do as he pleased. From young he could tell Mother that he was not interested in schooling. And that was it. It was accepted and no pressure was put on him to walk the extra mile to do better in his studies. There was no tuition and no need for tuition. The hope was pinned on his elder brother to do well in school. The father passed away in a traffic accident when Morgan was only 8. His last few words, the brother could do well in school, and as for Morgan nothing was mentioned. It was kind of fatalistic, or the ability to assess the potential of the children and accept their fate. No need high education to know that. A child’s potential was well written before his teens.
The brother’s report card was all blue. That was a great credit and a great pride when the whole neighbourhood’s children were mostly a colourful mix of red and blue. Morgan was one of the statistics. As he advanced from Primary 1 to Primary 6 in Radin Mas, the number of blue marks got lesser while the reds got more. In his last few years in primary school, it was nearly all red. That was his life, his destiny. Mother did not go hysterical and rushed him for tuition classes. A young nonya girl a few doors away was giving tuition. She only completed Secondary Two and was good enough for the job where the rest were unschooled. Maybe money was also a problem by then when the coolie Father was gone. The selling of little satchets of opium as a side income was also sold.
The good part about the educational system then was that one could either get promoted to the next level or be advanced, ie failed but still moved up to the next grade. Morgan was posted to a new neighbourhood school in Queestown, Newtown Secondary School, probably without passing his PSLE. The only thing that he excelled in school was ECA, the official and the unofficial kind. ECA did not carry any weight in a child’s school performance and was incidental, something that was just part and parcel of school. His athletic built and prowess made him a champion in field events where might was an asset. For that, the school was kinder to him and did not really put him under a short lease. He was mischievous but did not get overboard. The disciplinary master, a black belt judoka, the father of a future national swimmer, was watching and assessing Morgan’s every move. Many boys that crossed Morgan’s path were chased and beaten outside the school. Often they were chased all over the school’s neighbourhood and up into the flats across the road. Morgan did not do the chasing. Neither did his sidekicks in the same school. He would call on his support from nearby schools to do the hunt. That kept him from trouble with the school.
He was not entirely an angel though. In the science lab and a lesson in biology, the science teacher was doing a dissecting on the table. The eager students were gathered closely to watch the demo. Many were good students and still wanting to study and do well, unlike Morgan. There was no purpose in him being in school. He was bidding his time and waiting for destiny to unfold, to take him on a path he had to travel. It was he and his life and his life to deal with.
‘Kock’, a loud noise was heard. In full concentration and the quiet of the lab, the knock was a sudden interruption. Everyone lifted their heads wondering what happened. The male teacher also stopped what he was doing. He lifted his hand and started to rub the back of his head. No one said a word. The teacher did not ask either. Then it was back to business. The lesson continued. Teaching in new integrated schools had their little risks and challenges.