Simon T. and my old teacher, Ms N

Reading this post, I am reminded once again, of a local champion for our own civil society, who was my school-time role model I once thought to emulate – Simon T.
And invariably, my thoughts return also to my former teacher, who undoubtedly influenced and infected me with her liberalism and defiance, and forever imprinted in my mind the phrase:
“There are only two kinds of people in the world. Queue-followers, who line up docilely in long endless waiting lines outside the Temples of Establishment. Or queue-jumpers, who would be throwing Molotov cocktails at the temples of Establishment.”

I know of Simon T. from my General Paper tutor Ms N, who was acquainted with him back then. Ms N, who was somewhat of an anti-establishment rebel who also happens to be a president’s scholar (and who turned down an elite Admin Svc position in ISD, to serve out her 8-yr bond as a teacher, just because its the right thing to do), used to speak highly of Simon T; saying how as a student, he avoided taking up any government scholarships because he knew he wouldn’t be able to bend his principles and himself to serve the civil service during the bond period.

[And later everyone could also see how he demurred from joining politics on the government slate despite repeated invitations to pap ‘tea sessions’. It was obvious the powers-to-be feared losing him over to the opposition. To his credit, he stayed true to his goals of building up our local dismal civil society by remaining as non-partisan as he possibly could, and led the efforts of the research think-tank SIIA towards this end. But as to how really successful he was in this regard, I reserve my doubts…

I was delighted with Ms N’s verve and defiance then, and she was by far my favourite teacher. On her account, I read Simon T’s first book of short stories and poems and my teenage self was particularly moved by one story of the clash and pressures between the traditions and expectations from Family and the individual Self.

But strangely, many of my classmates didn’t take to Ms N or Simon T the way I did. While they would be attentive and participate fully in her class, privately they were disdainful of her views and especially of her behaviour and many idiosyncrasies, which they found unbecoming of a teacher (besides being our GP tutor, she was also our Civics tutor, or what is also known as Form Teacher or Homeroom teacher; but she hardly ever shows up for morning school assembly to take attendance, or even for our first-period civics class – which, the perennial latecomer and absentee that I was, absolutely loved!).

The girls in class, especially and overwhelmingly, disliked her. I discovered this during a class gathering we had some years after we had left JC/high school, when most of us had just started working or were finishing up post-grad school. I wanted to find out if anyone knew what Ms N had been doing since finishing her bond as a teacher. The lackadaisical and indifferent response surprised me, with most saying they don’t know and don’t really cared, and with some biting remarks about how she wasn’t fit to be a president’s scholar and especially not to be interviewing us for our applications to her Oxbridge alma mater.

But in front of Ms N, my classmates never showed their disdain. After all, she was a president’s scholar with a double First in PPE from Oxbridge, and the appointed resident recruiter and interviewer for Oxbridge in Singapore then: ALL A-level students in Singapore who wanted to apply to Oxbridge colleges for university studies had their application essays vetted by her and had to go through a first-round interview with her. Basically, the dean of admissions will only consider the applications from Sporean students who had first obtained a recommendation from Ms N.
[Yeah, we thought we had it good too…having access to the recruiter/interviewer teacher. But maybe because of our proximity, she was especially honest and harsh to those among us who wanted to apply to Oxbridge about their chances. My classmates thought she was cruel…

And for the majority of my classmates who were aiming for government scholarships and fast-tracked careers in the civil service, Ms N’s anti-establishment and anti-institutional exhortations probably did not go down too well (15 or 16 of the 20-odd students in my class took up government scholarships).
I eventually did find out that Ms N after leaving teaching, had true to form, took up volunteering work in the region, including teaching English in Vietnamese villages; before returning to Spore as a research fellow in a few local research institutes and think-tanks, including the SIIA and ISEAS.

It was really good to know…
A few times in the last few years I had really wanted to, but my unpredictable circumstances had prevented me from committing to, doing some more worthwhile work…

If things stay more or less as uneventful on the home-front as they have been recently, I am hoping that this time, I can really commit to a medium-term SIF stint in a regional S.E.A. country with real needs.



3 thoughts on “Simon T. and my old teacher, Ms N

  1. Just when you think things are uneventful and peaceful, and you let your guard down and begin to give yourself some hope and to even make some plans beyond the next crisis and middle of the night emergency… SHIT happens.

    I am tired. So tired.

  2. “It doesn’t interest me
    to know where you live or how much money you have.
    I want to know if you can get up
    after a night of grief and despair
    weary and bruised to the bone
    and do what needs to be done
    to feed the children.”
    – Oriah Mountain Dreamer …

    Be strong D. “This too shall pass away.”

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