Wednesday, May 16, 2012

When RM1.00 was worth more than gold

"OK, time's up. Please exchange your answer paper with your neighbour and we will go through the answer together."

With her as a teacher, it was never ending class tests. If my life nowadays revolves around the two certainties in life (that is tax and death), in 1978 it would be geography tests. Each week we would be preparing ourselves for her geography test. It would be Australia, it may be Japan or Thailand; by test day I would have memorized all the important towns and cities in the respective country, and anything you would need to know about that country.

She has a way of teaching us Geography. I found her teaching methods very interesting, and inspiring. Her tests were no chore at all. I looked forward to all of them. At 3 am on test day, I would be wide awake in my dorm, using torch light to go through my Geography book, while others would be snoring in the bed.

It didn't bother me at all. All I was thinking was how to score in her exams. I don't need that extra sleep; I need that extra mark I can get

A particular classmate normally would booked  his place next to me everytime we had Geographhy tests. He would try to copy my answers. I did try to prevent it, but I was only successful only to a certain extent. Obviously I would not want anyone to outscore me; what's more by copying my work.

If only there was a short cut method of studying for him

"Ah, of course. It is easy for the boys to remember Nakhon Ratchasima," she exclaimed, while sporting big wide, smile. "They would only have to remember it as Nakhon Roshaima!"

Most laughed, while yang empunya diri must be blushing.

I guess back then she was one the favourite girls in class and in school.

Fortunately I did not have to resort to such trick. As I have said, I have not had my sleep since 3 am that day, so my study method then was conventional. I have to swear Shema, it has nothing to do with me! ;) It must have been Birin or Azli, hahaha. May be if I had known such trick, I would be able to study smarter and not necessarily harder.

But I knew it too late. Simply I could not change my study style and methods.

After going through the test on Japan that day, she announced that whoever got 100% for that test, she would present RM1.00 to him/her. I smiled knowingly, confident that I am going to be that recipient.

But it was not without hiccup. One of the question was about the population of Japan. The answers that one can select were very close, and depending on your reference point, they would be correct answer (say 120 million, 125 million, 130 million), so in the end she conceded that she would accept any of those answers.

In the real exam, she contended, there would only one answer and that all the choices would be distinct.

I was extremely proud when she gave me RM1.00 for getting all correct answers in the test on Japan. For someone who was on RM10.00 a month for pocket money (sometimes, nothing, I must say) from bapak, I was rich that day. Immediately for the break, I headed to the cafe on top of Dewan Makan, and bought myself roti telur (for 30 cents) and drinks (can't recall what).

It was a good meal that morning, much better than what was on offer at Dewan Makan. It was so pleasurable.

Waking up at 3 am preparing for her test, it had been certainly worth all the effort. The freshly made roti telur was perhaps the best I had ever tasted in my life.

That's for sure.

For a 15-year old with little pocket money, if any, that RM1.00 note she gave me that day was worth its weight in  gold to me. Otherwise I would not have remembered the details after 34 years. 

And that was not the only ringgit I had gotten from her.

In 1979 she rewarded a bunch of us with another ringgit each for getting A1 in geography for SRP. Somehow she had been generous with us. I don't recall what I spent it on then; certainly the first ringgit, and being the sole recipient, would stuff memories are made of.

(How important was this in the overall scheme of things? Very very important. It was the only present I got for SRP 1978. The promise the Pengetua made to me when I called to get my results did not materialize.)

When I first met her again in 2003 after a lapse of 23 years, obviously she would still remember me. I have no doubt that that would be the case.

But my first sentence to her, while in introducing myself to her at her MRSM Jasin quarters, would be to remind her of the ringgit I got from her. "You gave me RM1.00 for getting 100% on a geo test!" I told her.

"Rahman, tentunya," she smiled broadly.

Immediately my grin grew wider!

That's Dr Fatanah Mohamed for you, a Maal Hijrah recipient at the national level. Obviously since the 70s, she had gone on doing very well with her career, perhaps something I would be unable to match myself. Knowing how she had motivated me to study hard for my exams, it was no surprise to me.

But to me, after all these years, she is simply Cikgu Fatanah, a teacher, firstly and foremost.


She would always oblige my invites. At times I do feel guilty as I thought as her former student, I should be the one crossing valleys, and climbing mountains to fulfill my teachers' invites (or visiting them) and not the other way round.

But then again she is a different breed of teacher.
Nov 2007 at my office warming party. Here Cikgu is seen with the host
and blogger and former student who still think very highly of her and would
bring the RM1.00 memory to his deathbed. 
These pictures were taken in 2006 during the Raya Open house at my place. She can be seen with her former students. She stayed on for quite awhile that day with the steady stream of her former MRSM students dropping by that day.
Once a teacher, always a teacher...Going through the pros and cons
for Arif to consider in deciding whether to follow
his father's footstep in heading to MRSM or not
Cikgu Fatanah must have some stories to tell her former students - the
Darwin 3 (1978) girls. Nakhon Ratchasima is on her left, while
Zaharah and Soraya listen on in this Raya 2006 open house. Eh I mean to
say Roshaima lah.
Cikgu Fatanah with her two daughters and her former students at my house
for the Raya 2006 open house celebration.


  1. Thanks for narrating this episode of your life-story. A beautiful story indeed. That is why I always say that Teaching is the noblest of all profession. To me the title Chegu would be for life. Dan siapalah kita tampa Chegu.

    Have a nice day.

  2. Thanks Pak Idrus for visiting. I totally agree with every single word, and every sentiment that you have written. Nicely put, Pak Idrus.

  3. Being first time here I have flicked quickly through the pages. I see interestings postings to read. Here I find something that tells me that you value people who played their roles in your life in your growing up years. You do not wish to change your past, accepting and grateful for that.

    I will come again to see your past entries, hoping to learn a bit more of your other than an ex-MRSM pupil and an engineer. For sure I can join the class of your pakciks, nothing less!

    Salaam to you.