Selerang Primary School was the place where I learned about deception and fakery. Each morning after breakfast my brother and I would stand outside our house in Singapore and wait for the ten-ton army truck to arrive. That was how we were taken to school – in a huge khaki-coloured ten-ton army truck. We wore light cotton shirts and white shorts and our satchels were full of bits and bobs – as well as pencil cases and note-books.
When the lorry arrived the large brawny driver would get down from the driving seat and hoist us up and then manoeuvre us into the back of the truck. The back of the truck had two benches on either side and there was so much space in between the two benches that we were free to mess around and play all sorts of games. We used to kiss the girls and they would mainly shriek – with a mixture of delight and horror. Not all the girls were exactly the same; one of them really liked to be kissed – but in the main they were more restrained and ladylike. In fact, it wasn’t easy kissing the girls because the truck would bounce over the bumps ands fissures in the road and we’d arrive at school well-shaken and stirred. Our kisses would be aimed but often miss the mark.
School was light and airy and fun. If we did what the teacher wanted we would be given stars. The stars had three colours – gold, silver or bronze. I liked the silver ones best but we were encouraged to go for gold. I wasn’t that interested in the disciplines of learning but I did once get a gold star – although the circumstances in which I got it were rather odd: A singing class was taking place. I had (and have) no talent for singing; none whatsoever. But the signing teacher was full of enthusiasm and she urged us to sing with our mouths wide open. I tried this – but after a while I ran out of breath. So I carried on opening my mouth as wide as possible even though no sound was coming out. The teacher suddenly saw me and expressed her delight at my efforts. ‘Well done,’ she exclaimed and at the end of the lesson I was given a gold star. But it worried me: I knew that I did not deserve the gold star but simultaneously I also learned that people could be taken in – and that appearance was not reality.