This period was one of the happiest in my memory, that of carefree boyhood. I attended the government elementary school located at the top of a hill. Different grades were grouped separately in a large hall, with the headmaster sitting on an upraised stand to oversee the performance of the teachers and conduct of the pupils. I remember a lady teacher who described the process of food digestion, how the saliva in the mouth acted on starch to turn it into sugar, and in the stomach, the gastric juices took over and in the small intestine, the pancreatic juice furthered the process of digestion, after which absorption took place. I was enthralled by the subject and later got commended for the best essay on digestion.
My parents had a grocery shop but I did not help them very much except for frying “fritters” to be sold on Saturdays. These were made of a flour paste mixed with pieces of salted fish then deep-fried. They sold readily, being a sort of “fast food” for the buyers.
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Most of my time after school was spent roving around with a local boy who lived nearby; we usually roamed about the excellent northern coast beaches of the bay. He was an expert catapult shooter and taught me how to fashion catapults from forked branches and motorcar tire tube. Although not up to his level, I also became proficient with a catapult, and I remember shooting a small eel-like fish called “Piper” then boiling it with seawater in a discarded tin container. There was one ideal natural swimming pool on the coast between St. Ann’s Bay and Priory to the west that I particularly remember: it was surrounded by a shark-proof circular coral reef, and diving under the surface revealed beautifully colored fishes in the crystal-clear water.
We raised a few pair of pigeons and I never tired of watching their activities and could imitate quite well the cooing of the cocks. My interest in animals may have had its beginning then.
Kingston - Overseas Chinese School - Feb 1941 to Feb 1945
Due to bankruptcy of our grocery shop, my parents moved to Kingston from St. Ann’s Bay in 1941 to open a small shop at 21 Sutton Street. It was rather near to the Overseas Chinese School located at the northernmost end of Hanover Street where I was sent to school, and so I had no need to board, but could come back home for every meal. This period of my schooling was crucial in molding my destiny.
The headmaster Mr. Zeng Gongyi (Chen Gung Yi) was my teacher in most of the subjects, including Chinese language, history, social ethics etc. In teaching modern Chinese history, he spared no efforts in relating the numerous invasions of China by the Western Powers, as well as the indemnities and other unequal treaties imposed on us; in short, his “National Humiliation” education was indelibly impressed on our young minds to ignite a fiery spirit of patriotism. On one 7th July anniversary of the Ant-Japanese War of Aggression, we paraded through Kingston downtown area holding placards with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek picture and “Aid China” slogan on it. I and my classmate buddy, Mr. Daniel Kong of Toronto, used to walk around the school playground making future plans for reconstructing China.
Mandarin as the National Language was taught here based on the alphabetized phonetics developed by an American linguistic scholar. .Mr. Zeng gave excellent lessons, so much that when I first arrived in China, my mandarin fluency was better than that of the local Cantonese.
Other bits of memoirs that come to my mind include: 1. The sight of the headmaster, Mr. Zeng, a rather paunchy man of 40, bending over with straight knees and placing his palms flat on the ground astonished us. This was amazing for even at our age it was not easy to do so. 2. To encourage the use of Chinese (Hakka) dialect, each day a pupil was given the on duty task of supervising oral communication during recess. He or she would be given a small switch, with which anyone found not speaking Chinese would be subjected to a light lash from behind. 3. There was a big Bombay mango tree growing in the school, and in fruiting season, I would endeavor after school to bring down some with a slingshot. 4. Everyday at noon a man from outside would come inside the school gate with a pan of “Bao” (Chinese style stuffed dumplings) catering to the boarding pupils. His business was brisk, but I never bought any since my lunches were taken at home.
Helping at my parent’s shop consisted chiefly of book-keeping of customers’ debts, when payment for goods sold on credit to certain persons would be collected on Saturday nights. As reward for my help, my father usually gave me two shillings every week, which I would save solely for buying books at Sangster’s Book Store. I was an assiduous reader and loved to read novels written by Zane Grey about pioneers, cowboys, Indians of early American West, as well as technical book related to livestock production. Among the latter was one book entitled “Animal Breeding” which I found was the textbook of my university course later in China.
Kingston - St. George's College - Feb 1945 to Mar 1947
After my graduation from the Chinese school, I was sent to St. George’s College in Kingston and was allotted to 3B class. when after one year’s study, I was advanced to 4a class, but was whisked off to China one month later. March 1947. Although I was in St. George’s for only a little over one year, I still retained some interesting impressions of that period.
Being a Catholic school, most of the teachers were priest with only few exceptions, like our mathematics teacher, one Mr. Brown, who was congratulated on gaining a B.A. degree by the 3B class students. Every morning before classes, all the students had to line up in a courtyard to hear the Headmaster speak, but I usually did not pay much attention to what he said, only remembering the ending “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Amen”. Our Spanish teacher, Father Donovan used to give some inattentive boys a light knock on the forehead with the back of his fingers, but these in anticipation would swiftly draw back to avoid the knock. The father solved this problem by stepping on one foot of the offender so he could not retract backward far enough to escape. I remember one boy who got this treatment calling out “Father you are stepping on my foot!” sending a ripple of mirth through the classroom.
Sports events were frequent on the college grounds and I took keen interest in them. An upper class student called “King” because he was a king scout, invited me to enter his House (I forgot the name) and to become a player in the House’s football team. The position allotted to me was left back, and I delighted in making a big rebound kick of an incoming ball to remove the threat to our goal. This fondness of sports developed here persevered through my life, which was very instrumental in strengthening my heretofore puny constitution.
The college library that I loved to frequent had a book entitled “Outlines of Science” in four volumes. I was an assiduous reader and took great interest in reading about the formation of celestial bodies by nebulae, as well as Darwin’s theory of evolution. In class we were given good foundation in language. Basic declension of nouns was taught in Latin and a textbook entitled “Fabulae Faciles” (easy fables) was a good starting point for knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology. Spanish classes kindled my longing to one day master that beautiful “lengua de los dioses” (language of the gods). I have always paid careful attention to writing English composition from elementary school days, and I got commendation for the best composition in the class for describing the photo of a traffic policeman at an intersection. Thus, when someone tell me that my English skill is good, I should remind that person that I went to St. George’s.