Thursday, January 8, 2015

Chua Chu Kang Secondary School - The Three Heavenly Princes

December 1993
Before the news of the posting of new pupils were announced, some first year pupils already began to tell us stories of possible scenarios next year. From their friends, siblings, etc they told us that a particular famous primary school nearby was encouraging their 'weaker' pupils to join CCKS if they wanted a 'new beginning'. The pupils told us to expect some teen-gang leaders to apply to join us. They spoke especially about the '3 Heavenly Princes' who were already very notorious in that primary school. Even parents knew about them and their street gangs!!!!!

Thus on a December morning when the new pupils came to report, I stationed myself on the second level to scan the registration action. Sure enough, the three 'Princes' strolled in with aplomb but separately. It was very easy to recognize them.......they walked with a swagger, wore slippers, shirt tucked out, longish hair unlike most pupils who wore their primary school uniform proudly. Their parents were not with them. I could only manage to talk to one of them, enquiring about his attire and grooming and asking him to tidy up when he starts school next year. Surprisingly, he was not confrontational....The others disappeared just as quickly as they arrived.

Meanwhile, some parents were already enquiring  about the classes these 3 'Princes' were in and looked relieved when they realized that their child was in a different class. A couple of them requested change to separate their child from any one of the 'Princes'. Anyway, the three were placed separately into the three NT classes....yes, we had THREE NT full classes.

We were really overwhelmed by numbers this year. There were a total of 19 Secondary One classes, 3 NT, 8 NA and 8 Express ( I might have gotten the actual allocation wrong). Proportionally, the number of teachers also bloomed. It was a really explosive year. Teachers hardly knew each other. The reason why the explosion in the number of classes was that CCKS was supposed to be a holding school for the new Kranji Secondary. However, the decision was made to absorb all pupils into CCKS under one Principal. There would not be a split later on.

As expected, host of problems cropped up. It was like fighting fire after fire. There was a time when the three Princes tried to exert their separate influences. 'Gang songs' were often heard along the corridors. There was an occasion that I had to run to the classroom block to diffuse a situation when chairs were used as weapons in a fight. The secret to diffusing the situation quickly was to identify the main culprits quickly and stopped them, anyone of them would do.
However, the Princes generally brought their conflicts, problems, recruitment, etc,  out of the school premises...usually at the Teck Whye blocks, market and Lot 1 (MacDonald & Burger King at ground level). There was an occasion when the OM went to a coffee shop under one of the Teck Whye blocks to talk to a 'headman' requesting them not to involve our pupils in the after 'school activities'. Maybe that was the reason why the 'activities' shifted elsewhere, no more waiting at the outdoor staircase outside the school and there were less 'settlement' talk in classrooms.

The Three Princes

They were rather different in many ways, in behavior, outlook and level of operation. They belonged to separate 'gangs' ie either 369 and SKT.

Prince 1. Andy, the biggest in size,  well built, dark, fearsome looking and looked like a grownup man. He was very quiet but the aural was there. He could just sit like a king and no one dare to approach him. He seemed to have a problem with speech and could not write/complete simple sentences. Almost every pupil feared him when he passed by. However, he seldom give teachers any behavioural problem, besides not submitting work and not listening during lessons. In my few encounters, he was calm and aloof. I could see that he did not want to confront teachers. I did not see the explosive part of him as I heard that he threw chairs and tables in primary school. After school, he would sit at the staircase opposite the entrance of the school, with his followers. It was a form of territorial domination and meant to intimidate the others. We would call the police whenever he was there. Later on, wisely, he would usually disperse his group when police approach to investigate.
Around the middle of his second year, he just disappeared from school totally. I heard that he had problems with the law, arrested and placed in an institution. Since he was 'very averaged ' I guessed he thought it was useless to continue school. Till now, we have not heard anything about him, whether he became a kingpin or changed to be a law abiding citizen.

Prince 2.  Lim C S looked nerdy when he put on his round gold-rimmed spectacles. He had a centre parting hairstyle which would got him in trouble on grooming most of the time (yes, we also dictated the way they combed their hair then). Though he was average in size and built,  he was more vocal than Andy. Surprisingly, they always avoided direct confrontation and ignore each other most of the time. When he heckled, the class would become silent immediately. He used Hokkien dialect most of the time but have better literacy than Andy, at least he wrote better and coherently. I was told that he often helped his fishmonger father in the wet market. He always had one or two followers around him. He was difficult to gauge, expressing very little. He hated having his hair cut and would be absent when he knew the time was up for a cut. C S also disappeared from school one day in his second year.

Prince 3. Peter T was the fiercest, loudest, thinnest (but he was very strong) and the most disruptive Prince of all. His lack of proficiency in English and Mandarin (just wonder how these pupils get through 6 years of primary school education) made him a frustrated person sometime. He used Hokkien most of the time and teachers have had a hard time making him learn, least to submit work. He was confrontational towards all and would always look for a fight, having anger management issues. Wherever Peter went, there would surely be a problem. When he was all,worked up, his eyes would narrow, neck veins showing, mouth shouting, hand in a clutch, etc. He would use anything that he could get his hands on in a confrontation. There was a few times that I just managed to hold on to him tightly enough so that the fight would not escalate further. He would listen to me and quieten down. Maybe he knew me through the many conversations I have had with him since day one, at times not necessary about his behavioural problems.
He has a brother in Lim C S's class. Tan K K was total reverse of Peter. Like black from white. He was a calm, polite and articulate boy, neatly dressed and groomed most of the time.  He was seldom involved or want to be involved in his brother's problems.
There was once I caught Peter with a packet of yellowish substance when he acted strangely, stumbling along the corridor. I knew he was on drugs. Ms Sum handled that case after I reported the find. From then on, I believed he was clean.  
Peter was an enigma. He became the only 'Prince' to complete 4 years of secondary education. On every Teacher's Day, he would present an orchid stalk to every teacher. His father owned an orchid farm in Lim Chu Kang, so I was told. At those moment, how not to love him? At certain time, he would defuse situations for teachers but could also be confrontational to some if they did not know how to handle him. Once you gained his respect, he seldom failed you.
The best moment for me was when he came back to school after he graduated. He wore the army uniform so proudly. He told me that he would be joining the Commandoes. It was a teary moment for me to hear that! A supposedly 'rotten apple' turned good!!! For a couple of years after,  he would still bring flowers for teachers personally on Teacher's Day. I heard that he is still a Commando now. Way to go Peter!!!!!

By the way, we never get the chance to meet their parents even though we tried calling. They just would not come to school. Once we went to visit Peter's father at his farm. He just said, 'do what you need to do'. I believed that their parents are all hardworking people who just wanted to leave their child in the hands of the school, believing that the school is a good place to transform them into useful and good people.

Even if we can change only ONE, just ONE, we have done the job as an educator...... Peter was the case.
                                  Cycling Trip to Pulau Ubin with Mr Tan Suan Tien 1993
                     Pulau Ubin 1993 Cycling - going to Ubin was a must during the initial years

Some of the pioneering NA pupils who made it to 'O' levels - notice the centre-parting hairstyle? A rage during those days.

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