by Inez Tan
‘Actually, all boys need to belong to a gang,’ theorises Mr Siu Kang Fook (RI, 1968), a former 02 Raffles Scout. ‘The patrol is a gang system. You feel the affiliation, you have somebody to look up to, and that somebody becomes your dai gor (big brother), who mentors you.
‘When my mother asked, “What are you doing in Scouts, all those naughty things?” I told her that I had somebody to look after me.’
Mr Siu has recently assisted in publishing the first edition of a book, To SIR (Scouting in RI) with Love, which chronicles the history of scouting in RI.
It was through working with the Raffles Archives & Museum (RAM) that Mr Siu came to discover the many untold stories of the Raffles Scout Groups. He has been working with the museum since May 2013—one serendipitous day, he had boarded a bus and found himself chatting with an old boy of St Joseph’s Institution, who informed him that Mrs Cheryl Yap (Head/RAM) was trying to get the museum up and running. Mr Siu decided meet Mrs Yap, who showed him a large album of old photographs.
‘She asked me if I recognised the people in the pictures, and I said, yes, I do. And she said, “Good!”’ he laughs. As Mr Siu delved deeper into our school’s archives, however, he realised that there was still much he didn’t know about RI and scouting in Singapore. He uncovered scout reports in old issues of The Rafflesian, as well as a report dating back to 1922, in which K Sabapathy wrote about the founding of the 02 Raffles Scout Group and how he had organised the boys. Latter-day publications like Rafflesian Times and RInspire also featured stories written by scout leaders.
‘I know more about the 02 Scouts, so as I looked into 01 Scouts’ history, I discovered a lot more stories! They organised hikes with RGS girls; we also organised hikes with RGS girls! The girls get to choose whom they wanted to hike with, so sometimes we had to get SCGS girls! Or Crescent Girls! But for our campfire nights, the RGS girls will come for both lah.
‘So I was thinking: Since there are so many stories, why not compile them and make a book? Meanwhile, Roney Tan (current Chairman of the Singapore Scout Guild, Raffles Chapter) also wanted to make a coffee table book, but I thought we should just make it small scale. I started in July, August 2013. Whenever I found an article written a scout leader about camping, or why he has become a scout—which could be in the ’30s or ’40s—I would put it into the book, because the article would be reflective of that era. I also went to the National Archives and found some RI Scouts photos. All of us [old boys] also contributed through oral interviews or Facebook, and we compiled all these interesting stories about our experiences. I also counterchecked with the book written by Kelvin Tan (RI, 1979), Scouting in Singapore: 1910-2000.’
Of course, Mr Siu has a multitude of fond memories of his own. He was the only secondary one student in his patrol (each scout troop comprises four patrols with eight boys each), and all the older scouts treated him like a younger brother, checking his schoolwork, introducing him to second-hand textbook sellers, passing him past-year exam questions, and explaining what the phrase ‘two legs good, four legs bad’ in Animal Farm meant.
‘Our scout den was the British ex-principal’s garage, and it was a place where we really congregated; a place we always went to besides our classrooms,’ Mr Siu says wistfully. ‘When I went to the scout den I could meet my seniors and juniors, and we all had something to talk about.
‘Through this gang system, we went hiking. An adventure! But through hiking we also learnt to use a compass, read maps, camp in MacRitchie, and cook. We learnt first aid, swimming, how to repair a punctured tyre.
‘We also learnt to be naughty; that’s the paradox. But we learnt it from school prefects and future Presidents’ Scholars. When we went camping, my seniors would bring out copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Playboy magazine, and James Bond: Goldfinger. Then they’d tell me “Whoa, you must read this book!” and I replied that Lady Chatterley’s Lover was very cheem (hard to understand). When night came, I was very tired but my seniors said, “We’re going night hiking!” So we went on a night hike and peeked at couples in MacRitchie.’
Besides nostalgia-inspiring tales, To SIR With Love also captures the RI scouts’ spirit of ambition. One prime example is the 01 Raffles Scout Group’s climb of Gunung Tahan in 1971, where they broke the time record previously held by the Malaysian Army. ‘It’s not just a matter of badges, or becoming a Queen’s Scout, but also about the kind of challenges our boys went through,’ explains Mr Siu.
However, the 01 Raffles Scout Group’s second attempt to climb Gunung Tahan was marred by tragedy; one of the scouts died on the return journey, when the group was only 400m away from the base camp. His fellow scouts were very distraught; when they returned to school following that incident Principal Philip Liau personally counselled them. Although this story was not included in the first edition of the book, Mr Siu intends to include it in the second edition, which will also boast an improved content and layout.
‘It’s quite interesting, these teenagers’ growing-up stories,’ muses Mr Siu. ‘But if you ask any counsellor, they’ll tell you that teenagers are going through a really rough patch of life. And during this phase, it’s very dangerous if their parents are unable to give them proper guidance. But thank God we were in Scouts, and in RI! My mother was thankful that although we lived in Chinatown, which was full of gangsters fighting, all her children were able to grow up quite well. Scouting was what made the difference.
‘As younger boys look through this book, they will realise what their fathers have gone through. Scouts from other schools can read it and realise that they, too, have similar stories about camping at Tanah Merah and Ayer Gemuruh.
‘Through our recollections, you can see that we have really benefitted from scouting, and now that we have gained, we look back and realise that we really love scouting in RI. We say that “Once a scout, always a scout”. But what does it mean? We continue to help other people at all times. On our scarves we tie a knot, and this knot reminds us to do one good deed every day. Fifty years on, I still hold dear all these things.’
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