The Day Victor Chin Dropped By
70 years old
“Prefect! Not just a monitor, what are you talking about? School captain oh, don’t play play.”
I am Victor Chin, I’m actually from Kuala Lumpur. I came to Melaka to study because in Kuala Lumpur, I come from a very poor family. We would all be living in one room, 8 of us and no room for us, growing child. I was 15, 16, you know. So my mother got to know there’s a cheap boarding school in Melaka called “Dodsworth Hall” just attached to ACS [Ango-Chinese School] in Tranquerah. That’s how I came [to Melaka].
MiF: When was that?
I am 70 years old. I was here when I am 16 years old, you work it out. I came to boarding school here for 3 years, after I escaped from the boarding school, after 1 year I cannot tahan the boarding school life, I went out to live in Pantai 2 and then live in Pantai 1. So I lived in the whole district of Tranquerah.
MiF: How old were you when you started at the boarding school?
Oh, when I was Form Two. 14, 15, 16, 17: my best years of my life in Tranquerah.
MiF: In Dodsworth School or ACS?
ACS lah, I finished my secondary school at ACS. I came from Kuala Lumpur to do Form Two, Form Three, Form Four and Form Five. Form Five I was a chief prefect, don’t play play.
MiF: Chief prefect or monitor?
Prefect not just a monitor, what are you talking about? School captain oh, don’t play play.
MiF: Captain of what?
The whole school, you don’t know anything about chief prefect, right?
MiF: So, you live in Pantai 2 or Pantai 1?
I first lived inside the ACS compound, Dodsworth Hall, and next to that is [a] girls’ boarding school, Shellabear Hall, arghhh those lovely girls lah, lovely girls, hahahahahaha! Those days we just saw the girl lah, we just say they’re beautiful, that’s all. You can see, but not touch. They lived next door to us. So, every Sunday they would walk past the boys’ hostel into the church, which just in front of Tranquerah Methodist Church. Wah, so the boys all lined up [at] the windows from the hostel to watch out the girls. “Eh that one’s beautiful ah, that one mine, eh that’s mine ah.” See, boys’ infatuation, those days.
MiF: During your time, did the Tai Bak stall exist?
Oh yes, it was under a fantastic tree, and this man make that ice ball, he crushed all the ice, then sometimes inside the ice he put some red beans and he crushed the ice again.
MiF: Local name, what do they call it?
Local name is ice ball. Anyway, he put some carnation milk and red syrup, ohh, suck on it – aaahh! That’s my favourite memory of the school. If you have money these days, but if you don’t have money can’t even buy ice ball. We were very poor, even 5 cents we don’t have those days. So, you save lah, do some free-lance work, do some gardening work, do some delivering work to get 1 or 2 Ringgit, to just to have little pleasure like that. So, the store right in front is a very important store. At that time there was a man, a big fat fella whose son is now running the thing la. Those days, my favourite drink actually is still the lime juice with a little bit of salt. I’ve never tasted such delicious combination of a refreshing tropical drink – squeeze the lime and you put some salt, it’s the most delicious drink. Besides that there are so many other things around there la, that’s at the entrance of the gate.
MiF: The shop before was just no shelter or?
It’s a typical shed…
MiF: You are a successful artist, I mean a well established artist, painter. Who influenced you, during your school days? Any special treatment in school?
My school days in ACS was really quite a wonderful time. I was naturally good at art, I was naturally good in looking at beautiful girls and saying that they are very beautiful or very ugly. Anyway, so I am a visually sensitive guy, so pictures and words are things that I try to wrestle with. But as a painter, I was very good in art so every year at school I win an art prize. All the competitions in Malacca at the time, Victor Chin would win first prize you know. And you get called up during the day after school, the headmaster called,” Oh, I want to announce that Victor Chin won the first prize of the water colour competition of all the schools in Malacca” clap..clap..clap. I walk, walk, walk, in front of the school, then I become very well known. So, my early interest or ability to draw and paint paid off, for the school, and then of course when you are good at something, the school respects you and you got teachers also respect you. And they take, as Bert suggests, that I was also taken care of very carefully by certain teachers who really like to nurture you in a certain way. So, there is a very well-known art teacher called Choo Peng Lok. Every class, he’d call “Victor come over here, I give you a special class”. So, he helped me as a young feller, Form Two, Form Three, climb over a lot of, what do you call – learning curves. Because your teacher says nice things about you and you also can win competitions throughout Malaysia, not only Malacca you know. I win the Merdeka poster nationwide, I won the first prize. I went to Parliament house to get the certificate. Those days lah. So he was very proud of us. And we had good teachers who can help us. That’s a real Tranquerah experience.
MiF: Do you still meet Mr Choo?
Mr. Choo Peng Lok, I met him a few years back. He’s moved to Singapore to his son and his family place. I met him together with an old schoolmate friend named Wong Yun Chin who was also a very well-known student in ACS at that time. Wong Yun Chin has known become the Head of Department of Architecture School at Singapore University. But he’s not the head anymore, but he was the head for about 10 years. He was also influenced by Mr. Choo Peng Lok as an artist and also as a teacher and Choo Peng Lok encouraged him to become an architect.
MiF: Before there was a [sculptor], somebody, very famous [sculptor] who was born in Pantai, Tengkera.
I don’t know about that. I think one of my favourite things to do when I was a school kid, when I would allowed out of the boarding school, was to cycle all the way from the school and down Tranquerah road, pass all those wonderful places to eat and then ride on to the Heeren Street, Jonker Street. And then my favourite time was actually by the beach in front of the school, Pantai 1 and Pantai 2. I’d pretend to go fishing, to get fish, but you can’t get anything because it was full of mud. But those days, there were still a lot of coconut trees, and the original waterline, where the Portuguese, and the Dutch and British fought battle after battle in front of you. You can imagine, 16th century, 15the century, 17th century – all those early colonial wars were right in front you. And you can imagine all those sunken ships. One day I want to swim, dive and bring up some very expensive treasure that they looted, they stole from the colonial government. The Straits of Melaka in front of Tranquerah 1 and 2 for me was a really important young landscape. You heard the water come in, the tide goes out, the tide comes, smell shit lah all the time because they still berak inside there, they still do. Terrible.
One time, my time, the pasir goes out really quite a long way, at least 50 meters. When the tide comes in it comes to about 10 meters from my house lah. But when the low tide ah, wah, smell like hell. But when the tide comes in it’s very beautiful, you hear the waves, at night you sleep (because I sleep near the tide). It’s one of those childhood memories I think is very important, growing up in Pantai 1 and Pantai 2. Then cycling around here, all those dear friends. But my memory is the sea, the sound of the sea. Because you’re a kid, you’re growing up, you’re wondering what the hell I’m doing here. And then with all the history lessons you get in school those days, you learn history lessons properly, not now. So you imagine Cheng Ho’s 3,000 ships coming. God. And then you get the Portuguese and the Dutch fighting, and then you get the British and the Portuguese and all those guys fighting. Then you get pirates from Indonesia, you get the pirates from everywhere. It was a wild, wild country. The sea was to me at the time, an impossible kind of.. It was difficult to grasp…
And we are here today because of the sea, actually the Straits of Melaka, the pantai had great significance to me when growing up. That’s my best memory of Tranquerah as I grew up. I go there every day. I sit there sometime or even at night because I berak there, we berak outside, terrible because the toilet brings into the sea. Because it’s such a big sea, on certain days when there’s a storm, the thing rolls over, so Sumatra gets our shit.
MiF: Do you still remember the old pasar near Pantai 1?
Yes, I do.
MiF: Is that the first pasar at Tranquerah?
Ya, I didn’t know it was the first pasar at the time but you can tell because I cycle ride to the inner, you can cycle all the way on Pantai 2 right up to the edge of the temple. So, I can come out from the temple. You were able to cycle and cycle.
MiF: The pasar itself, it was facing the sea before?
It was open air, it was built so that it’s clear ventilation, those simple structure just have a roof. And then people just come in the morning. It was not covered up, it has no wall. Like all tropical good architecture from the Malay understanding of the climatic condition. So they built on stilts. But the ventilation allowing wind to cross and without closing market so it’s very refreshing. I remember – a very busy market.
HH: Along the Pantai 1 and Pantai 2, how many temples were there back then?
I’m not noticed it, because those days I just cycle there, you didn’t notice that. But you notice the fantastic unique mix of Chinese, Indian, Malay and all the races, there was no clear segregation. Only now, because I’m interested in architecture and urban planning, every time I come back, I cycle through. The best is to cycle through, the cars are always crowded, you walk and take your time and I noticed some of the older structures there, some of the old mosques, I don’t know the name, it’s between Pantai 2 and Pantai 1 there’s a very small surau, that it’s where I hang out. Those days you don’t care, you just hang on and wait for you girlfriend to come, hahaha.
And the structure, now I appreciate a bit more. Really appreciate now, now where does it come from? Of course, you get the famous Tranquerah mosque, the most famous one, the oldest one, grand, very grand. With the Chinese tales and then Pagoda looking minaret, that all have a mixed culture influence. But this one is really modest and I imagine it even earlier than the Tranquerah one because it’s modest. If you look at Chinese temple (the one in front of Police station), the smaller it is and the humbler it is, the older it is in the way. Because after, they make money and they build bigger and bigger like this mosque because they got money, the Chinese also do the same you know.
As a young person coming into Malacca in those days, the most memorable thing was coming through the paddy fields. You come from the old road, from Seremban – then as you enter Malacca it was paddy fields, paddy fields paddy fields. Different colours. People ask what’s the best memory of Malacca: it was the paddy fields. And also the sea. For me as an artist and someone interested in visual landscapes, the paddy fields were the most memorable thing. Disappearing now. But I take the Rembia road – you can still see some of the paddy fields now. Please record it. The heritage landscape: in the old days in Tranquerah, after the ACS school it was all farming – flat. The Chinese farmers were not growing rice at that time – they were growing other things. But as you went on, further up, it was all paddy fields. Paddy fields and the sea. Wonderful landscape. One of my best memories.
This morning I saw a couple of buffalo pulling this chariot. And it reminds me – those days, before modern transport, most of us were on bicycles, and you had this bullock cart’s fantastic shape, Minangkabau and of course the cows shit everywhere. But today I saw a chariot and two fantastic handsome looking cows. I thought the cows were so good-looking you know. I could go and hug and kiss the cows. In KL you will never get so near. It reminded me of those cow-dungs. They carried everything – you could take a ride from here right up to Batu Gajah! And they don’t contribute to the carbon footprint as well. The bullock cart represented an ingenious local transport system.
Interviewed on 18 February 2019 at MiF Office, Taman Siantan