Chin Yip Keun

Retired Melakan

MiF Oral History Interview

Bukit Katil

03 OCT 18

“During the Occupation I was nearly recruited to become a labourer in the Thai-Burma railway.”

My name is Chin Yik Keun. But many people can’t pronounce the last word, “Keun”. So, they call me by some odd name like Chin Yik Kuan, Chin Yik Koon and all that. It was a laughable situation. But, in the end, they couldn’t pronounce the last word “Keun”, which is very rare in Chinese.

I was born in Gajah Berang, Melaka. At a very young age my family shifted to Pokok Mangga. We lived in a very big bungalow. The rent was as low as RM10 a month. From there I started my primary school education nearby, called the Tranquerah English School. I was one of the earliest students, and eventually became the headmaster of the school. I started school in 1936 and from there I went to high school.

I was born in 1929. From Tranquerah English School, I had to stop my studies due to the Japanese Occupation. That took five years of my life. But during the Japanese Occupation we had a terrific time where food is a very important acquisition. I did a lot of things, I even had to sell goreng pisang those days, and did a lot of planting with my father. We planted all sorts of things. Even sweet potatoes and tapioca, our staple food then. Rice was a very rare thing during the Japanese time.

“I studied very well and passed all the examinations, and attended the Japanese Medical School. But the war ended and I had to start all over again.”

During the Occupation I was nearly recruited to become a labourer in the Thai-Burma railway. But I managed to escape that situation due to the fact that I was the only son in the family. And one condition was that I had to cut my hair short, and study their language, Japanese. I was forced to study the language. I did it, and made a good job of it. I studied very well and passed all the examinations, and attended the Japanese Medical School. But the war ended and I had to start all over again. I was at the Japanese Medical School for two years. That was in Melaka. The school was attached to the Melaka General Hospital now. They had lecturers in Japanese. The standard of school then is equivalent to the present School Certificate today. Not very high.When the Japanese surrendered, we had to go back to school. So, this time, the secondary school at the Melaka High School. And I had to cover five years’ works in two and a half years. So every six months we had an examination to get promoted to the school certificate again. This was Melaka High School was at [Chan] Koon Cheng Road just near Dataran Melaka, Bandar Hilir.

After the school certificate I had to find a job. I became a clerk. I started to work as a clerk at the then Resident Commissioner’s Office. He was one of those people who those days had to write up his speeches – there was no Dictaphone all that. After he scribbled his notes and all that, I had to type his speeches. During those days they had to use a pen and a nib. His writing was terrific, the whole office couldn’t understand what he writes. It takes days to decipher what he writes. But in my case, I managed to cover his speeches within the day. All in English. So when he found out somebody is doing this so well, he wanted to find out who the young rascal is [laughs]. So, he came down the office to find out who is doing this so fast and so well. When he saw me, just a small prat in the corner of the office he said, can I see you? I said, of course Sir, I have to see you. And he asked, where do you come from? And he found out that I have a school certificate and a grade 1 with distinction in English, Mathematics and all that. And he said you should be going to the university. I said my father and I can’t afford it. I have to find a job. So, he said I’ll see what I can do for you. So, what they discussed later on I didn’t know. But he got me transferred, transferred to be a teacher. I asked why did u do that? He said, a teaching job is the best paid job. So, he transferred me to be a teacher. And he said there’s something further for you.

From there, there was a scholarship offered. The Malaysian government opened the Kirkby Training College. He happened to be the chairman of the selection committee. He saw me and said you’ll be going to London to study. So, I was very happy, and things turned out well for me then.

I was in London for two years. All the examinations were public. We were given the status of Diploma in Education. After I came back, I started my teaching career. That was in 1952. I was very lucky in London because 1952 was the Queen’s Coronation in London. We had a very good time.

After that, back in Melaka, my boss then was the Chief Education Officer. He said “You’re young, can I send you to the rural school”? I said I’m a government servant. You can send me anywhere you like because I am a government servant. I said, no problem. So he sent me to Alor Gajah English School. Now, Alor Gajah English School started in 1954. This was the first English School in the rural area in Melaka. That year, and when you go to Alor Gajah today, you can see the difference. In 1952 or 53 Alor Gajah was a rural village. There was no lights, no water. How to take care of the school? But we managed it. My headmaster managed it, I was just a teacher then. And from there, we lived by the gaslight. We go to school by bus from Melaka Town. There were no quarters, nothing. And I was there for a few years.

Then suddenly my boss again came down and asked me. “Do you mind if I send you to another rural school? This time to start as a headmaster”. Huh? I said no, no, no…. I can’t be a headmaster, I’m too young. I was only 30 years old. There were so many senior teachers in Melaka. He said, “Don’t worry. I’ve spoken to all of them and all of them don’t want to go because of the transport problem. But you can go, you’re young. I can give you quarters with your wife. I said never mind, if you can trust me, I’ll go. So, I became the first headmaster in the English school, in Merlimau, 1959. There was no light, no water, as usual. From bad to worse. But I had a good friend in the municipal secretary. I said, please give us water first. So, he put a line from Melaka Town right down to Merlimau, in order to get the school moving. We need water because of the toilets. New building, you see. Everything must be done by me. They just check. (Those days there were no computers just typewriting and all this.) 

So, when I went there, the villagers wanted the water also. So they fixed their own pipes and all that and there was a tussle between the municipality and the villagers, because the villagers didn’t want to build a water tank in their houses; it cost them more money, you see. They want a direct line. In those good old days, water pipes were direct from the mains. Nowadays, you got to build a water tank in every house, that was a new ruling. So the municipality cannot do that for the villagers. So, I said I want water. Everybody wants water too. The lines are ready, but you don’t allow us to use it. But the school has a tank, you see? [laughs] In the end, I went around and told them let’s compromise la, let’s do something about it. So, we compromise. Those who fix the line, fix the tank within six months to one year, whatever you discussed. Eventually, the villagers come to terms. On the 1st January 1959 the villages have a happy day of throwing water all over the place! And the school was very happy to have water. And we started the school in the same year.

“…when the Tranquerah English School headmaster retired, he insisted that I took over as the headmaster.”

And then, after two years, my boss again came to see me. He said, “Oi, it’s time for you to get out and start another school!” I got a bit annoyed because I’m tired of starting schools. But, since he is my boss, I can’t say no. So, I came down and started a new school here, the Datuk Palembang School in Bukit Baru in 1961. And I was there until 1969. Started all over again, new building with new staff, new children. And later on, when the Tranquerah English School headmaster retired, he insisted that I took over as the headmaster. That was in 1969. Tranquerah Primary School. It’s at Lorong Pandan, now its call Jalan Pandan. After that I stayed there for ten years and I retired. Happily, sitting in front of you all, talking as much as possible. Thank you very much!

I was the Secretary of the Melaka AAA [Amateur Athletic Association] for 25 years. I’m interested in sports mainly because I feel it gives you the opportunity to be someone with a very good account of himself or herself. And sports during the good old days is merely to improve oneself, to conquer the heights in high jump, the fastest speed in sprints and all that. But the main idea in sports today making oneself professional. That means they earn rather than enjoy. So what is involved now is a lot of [abusing] of drugs and all that, in order to become the best. So the slogans of the Olympics is all gone. In my days we run for the pleasure of it, for the fun of it, to improve oneself. That’s not what is happening today. Sports has become professional, everyone tries to cheat in any way to be able to get the gold medal. Even the gold medal they don’t want, they prefer the thousands or millions of dollars. That is the problem today.

I’ve been the Melaka Amateur Athletic Association’s Secretary since 1961, it’s about twenty years. Later on, I was promoted to become the President, when nobody wanted… In the good old days we had a company of good people. They would help one another. I wouldn’t have succeeded if I got no help from them. I have friends all over Malaysia. Wherever I go to Penang, Trengganu, Kelantan,  wherever, I got friends. Not because of anything, it’s because of sports. And every year, I’d visit one state or another to help them out in the Malaysian Athletic Championships. I’ve never failed in that. From 1961 right down till today.

My last big work was to run the SEA Games in 1963. The first SEA Games in Malaysia. But most of my time I spend on sports for the sake of the schools. So I was involved with the Malaysian Sports Council since its inception- established in 1961. And the first President then was a Japanese, Timori. He was the headmaster for the Methodist Boys School in Kuala Lumpur. How grand it is,  Japanese! He was a very nice gentleman, very friendly. In Melaka, any sports body will know who I am because I always help them out. Every year the Melaka Sports Council meets, I’m there. In fact I had to be called out of the Kubu Stadium when my first child was born! [Laughs] That was in 1961. I was lining up the Kubu field to run the Malaysian School Championship. That was Kubu Stadium, beside Jalan Ong Kim Wee. That was in 1961.

The stadium is a strange thing. The land was a donation given by three philanthropists. They are local. I don’t know their names. Pamadasa, that’s right. He was one of the workers there. The stadium was given as a playing field for the people of Melaka by three communities: Pamadasa Indian, David or something from the Eurasian, and there’s a Chinese fella. So, three fellas combined to give the land. Now, it becomes a stadium. There was a tennis court beside it. Now it’s another building. That was our field. Then the stadium when I started it, we were all running in inches and feet. Pounds and ounces. No meters, you see. So, we had to change the whole line up to meters (metric system). So Melaka was the first state to run the athletics in meters. That was  in 1961. And we had the SEA Games in meters.

“Kubu stadium was the first stadium in Melaka. Before that it was a marsh, a big marsh.. I used to catch fish there.”

When the Japanese came, they took over the land. Filled up the land with rocks and sand. So part of our job as a punishment in High School, was to go there to cover up the land to make it flat. So, it was actually a big marshland. We can catch fish. It was always flooded, that area. It was totally marshland before. A lot of reeds.  You know the Chinese used to hang some reeds at the door during Kueh Chang Day? All the reeds came from that marsh. 

And beside it there was the Malacca Railway Station. Where the UMNO building is today was the Malacca Railway Station. And it runs from here to Tampin. That was in 1905. And I have got the handbell – which is about a hundred years old – which was looted during the Japanese Occupation, and it somehow or other landed in my hand. [Laughs] Now I kept it. And I use the handbell to ring the school bell – or even in the past the headmasters, when it’s one o’clock to go home…When the electric clock came, they discarded the bell, it was too heavy to carry you see. 

This bell I still have it here. I intend to give it back when the railway comes back to Malacca! [Laughs] I want to see again the railways comes back to Melaka. The line was so historic, yet it was taken it away. The line was not done by the British or anything. It was done by the Japanese. They took away the rails to build the Siamese Railway Station. They dismantled the thing and took it away there. The Burma road la – the Burma road.  A very nice story you see.

The Kubu Stadium was actually a donation of the three people, as I said. It turns out to be a blessing for the people. But it eventually it become a commercial area now. So, our stadium has moved to Alor Gajah side. Which is a better one lah, of course. With the modern [facilities].

MiF: During the Japanese Occupation, did they put prisoners in the Kubu stadium?

No, no. All prisoners are locals, they’re put in jail in Ujong Pasir, there’s a jail there. 

MiF: I heard during the Occupation British soldiers were put in the Kubu Stadium, is that right?

Temporarily perhaps. And the man responsible for the Stadium was Mahindasa, not Pamadasa. TGMG Mahindasa. He’s the teacher of the Saint Francis Institutional. Poor fellow, after the war he became the Municipal Councillor and he helped to build the Stadium. He lives along Jalan Tengkera. His brother was also a teacher. And he was caught for listening to the BBC during the Japanese Occupation. He eventually was killed by the Japanese. He was sentenced to death. He was listening not in the room, but on the roof!! The radio set was hidden in the roof! Every night he goes up to listen to the radio quietly, and yet people reported the matter. I don’t how la. It was brutal. Japanese time was very brutal. When you don’t bow properly, they slap you. Those things happen. There are good Japanese. There are bad Japanese. You cannot say everyone is bad, right?

Photo Gallery

Thank you Uncle Chin