Boarding School Blues
April 10, 2011

Seconds before the teacher who owned the motorcycle chased us away

Looking at the letter in my hand, I could only think of the things I’ll miss. No video games, no comics, no biking and most importantly, no live football on TV. Nothing uncommon in the priority list of a 15-year-old. Yet, I was a signature away from forgoing them all. It was a time when the condition of my action figures took precedent over the condition of my report card grades. It was a time when going to school meant doodling cartoons in class and loitering around during recess. It was a time when education meant unlimited enjoyment. And I wanted it to last forever.

Unfortunately, my parents begged to differ. When I received the letter offering me a place in boarding school, the only options I had were to say yes now or say yes later. Within a week, I was on an eight hour drive heading East Coast, to the state of Kelantan, to a place where I eventually called home for two years of my life, MRSM Pengkalan Chepa.

Founded in 1972, the school is the oldest MRSM in the country. Something I could already tell when I entered the dorm. The creaking ceiling fan, the hanging closet door, the random nails protruding out of the wall, I was welcomed into a roomful of vintage charms. Not to mention the artworks of its past occupants i.e. graffiti on the mattresses. From caricatures to words to band logos to unfathomable shapes, every bed tells a story. Mostly profane.

Naturally, the most excruciating part of moving to a new school is being the new kid. Luckily, we were spared. With only form four and five students in the school, everyone was the new kid. Which meant everyone had to endure the awkwardness of living with each other; at least in the beginning. You know, one kid may be perfectly okay with throwing his boxers all over the place while the other couldn’t even bear the sight of his own. And they could be fortuitously placed next to each other, causing conflicts of epic proportions. Such is the beauty of dorm life.

The students came from all over the country with the majority coming from the home state. So for out-of-state students, communication issues were inevitable. Being half-Kelantanese though, I fared well in conversing in the dialect. In other words, unlike my fellow outsiders, I managed to chat for more than two sentences without dropping my jaw in bemusement.

It wasn’t long before everyone was fluent in Kelantanese though. And I think I may have a hand in it. As for a while, I was our dorm’s resident translator; which was not easy. While the Malay word ‘gaduh’, for example, means ‘to fight’ in English, it means ‘to rush’ in Kelantanese. So you can imagine the number of random fights I had to break up whenever we were rushing to class.

Among the many things that we had to adapt to, the most significant one for me was the schedule. Everything was scheduled. For five days a week, it would be breakfast, class, recess, class, lunch, afternoon prep, tea, sports, dinner, night prep, supper, lights out. A far cry from my lifestyle back home. Gone were the days where I’d be pounding on my PlayStation controller in the wee hours.

Nevertheless, we had a total of six meals a day. Six scrumptious meals prepared by the adorable ladies of the dining hall who, in their Kelantanese generosity, were never short of the state’s most important ingredient, sugar. If it weren’t for the two hours I spent on the basketball court everyday, I would’ve graduated weighing a few pounds short of our aging school bus. Therein lies the beauty of the system I suppose. It evens itself out.

Our weekends were on Fridays and Saturdays and students were allowed to go out on alternate weekends. We’d squeeze into a 'prebet' (privately owned, not too legal taxi) and for RM1 each, we’re off to Kota Bharu, the state capital located about 10km away. More often than not, our outings involved reading comics for free at the roadside stalls and bingeing on fast food -- a luxury at the time.

As regimented as life was, most of us eventually got the hang of it. Essentially, it was an early encounter to living independently. Well there were varying levels of learning curves. And I’d be lying to say I’d never witnessed any. A dorm-mate once soaked his school pants in bleach. He later became the first student in the school’s history to come to class in faded slacks. Our teacher was barely amused.

It’s been more than a decade now since our graduation. And through the years, there have been too many instances when I’ll be taken back to my days in boarding school. Mostly reminding me of the wonderful time I had there.

Today, my schoolmates are all over the country. We do catch up for futsal every now and then. And there are the weddings which would usually turn into small gatherings. Those are the times when we’d talk about our lives and expanding waistlines.

I don’t think it would be long before I see one of them talking about their success stories on TV. Perhaps when the day comes, I could tell my children,

“Kids, I went to school with this guy. He used to come to class in faded slacks.”



can I be a troll?

Oldest MRSM is MRSM Seremban where my dad was the first batch (hence they call themselves MRSM Pioneers). Founded in 1972 but officialized in 1975.

Pengkalan Chepa was second, founded in 1973.


Don't worry bro, that's not trolling. :-)

MRSM Seremban had already become Kolej Mara Seremban when I enrolled into MRSMPC. Hence, "the oldest"... in my book at least.

Nice bro!

lama tak baca blog hang



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Photography by Azalia Suhaimi

  • Asrif, b. 1983
  • Subang Jaya, Malaysia
  • asrifomar[@]gmail[.]com
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