Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Coaster stories

At 50 years old, STAR could not be considered as an old school. You could tell from the architecture of the buildings. We don’t have have any impressive edifices built in pseudo Greco-Roman style like those of our rival in Kuala Kangsar (though God only knows why they chose to repaint them pink) or any buildings having elements of Moorish and Gothic architecture like that of St. Michael's Institution, nearer us.

I joined STAR in 1982 when it was only 25 years old but I already felt that it was crumbling. One did not have to try hard to imagine how the 1st batch students lived in the hostels because we were still using their beds and lockers!

But today I’m not going to talk about old buildings and fixtures in STAR but rather about something else which is old but more mobile. I’m going to talk about that very venerable STAR institution – the school Coaster.

I must say that as I left school all thoughts of this nippy mode of transportation were flushed out of my mind but memories of the good times we had in this 21 seater vehicle (the reason I remember its capacity so well will be apparent later) came back when I saw a post in a blog called John’s Universe.

It was written by John, an English teacher in SERATAS, Taiping who put forward his observations during an English drama competition trip to Perlis. This is how he described his first encounter with our beloved Coaster:

“When we got up around the tollbooths near Butterworth, I put down my paper, and noticed a strange little vehicle between us and the bus from MCKK. We seemed to be in a convoy. It looked to be a van from another SBP school, but I couldn't really be sure. If it was, it was barely big enough to hold the fifteen students that would be taking part. There was absolutely no room for any props or backdrops. Hell, if they had any luggage, they would have to be holding it on their laps.

The paint was worn and faded, and the windows were open because there was no air conditioning. I was surprised that the back tires weren't wobbling like drunken belly dancers, or that there wasn't thick black smoke pouring out of the back.

In the back of the vehicle were a couple of signs: One saying, 'Go Pablo', and the other, 'Wowee' or something like that. One of the guys in the backseat was playing a guitar, and either had a big curly hairdo, or was wearing a wig. The others were dressed in colorful shirts. It gave the rather startling impression that we were following a destitute itinerant Mexican Mariachi band up to the Thai border.”

LOL! That sounds about right!

The ridiculousness of the situation was well summed up by this picture he posted:

Why is it called a “Coaster”? I only remember that the word “Coaster” forged in aluminium was affixed in plain view next to the passenger door. Only through googling I later found out that it was manufactured by Toyota. (See Wikipedia).

Anyway, it seemed like everybody loved the Coaster and if I’m not mistaken it was driven by one Pakcik Zain. It was the mode of transportation of choice for any outbound excursions: trips to the clinic, inter-school matches (only players had the privilege of riding in it) and visits to other schools. I remember that the most attractive feature of the Coaster was that it had an excellent sound system and anybody who boarded the Coaster did not forget to bring along their bootleg "footprint" brand cassettes or compilation tapes (courtesy of Melody Music Centre) to play at full blast, never mind that they were half conscious from fever and had to be given medical attention at the clinic immediately.

However, I suspect that the love for the Coaster was borne out of necessity as the other available mode of transport – the school bus - was deemed unreliable. I’m not so sure how old the school bus was when I was in STAR but frequent breakdowns and refusals to start only proved that it was past its prime.

The Mariachi Van syndrome was not a new phenomenon unfortunately. I’m sure I can claim that I (and 19 others) hold the record for the longest time spent on the Coaster at a stretch. This happened during the 1986 PPM tournament where it was held in Kota Bharu (obviously we couldn’t bring the bus and risk being stranded on the East-West Highway). With better roads today I’m sure no one could claim to have spent more than 8 hours straight on the Coaster. Due to the capacity of the Coaster our PPM contingent was decidedly small – 10 basketball players, 4 English debaters and 4 Malay debaters plus 2 hangers-on (which included Cikgu Sharifuddin). This was in marked comparison to other contingents who came in buses with whole teams of researchers complete with their groupies. But due to the spirit of camaraderie, the excitement of a road trip and the prospect of meeting women at the tournament (which really is the whole point of the PPM) we didn’t even realise that there was no air-conditioning. The crowdedness of the Coaster also afforded another excuse for one of our numbers (Long John, the basketballer from Green House) to ditch us and hitch a ride back to JB on the STF bus. I wonder what came out of that?

Apparently things have improved and the school has better modes of transport (although I’m not sure if the older bus in the photo is the same one we had in the 1980s).

Some of us have probably wondered about the fate of that trusty old Coaster but from John’s post I see that it is still in use and I could sense that our boys are still fond of the old beast even if the bigger SBP bus is “comfortable, with air conditioning, captain chair type seats, and a TV and dvd player,” as John describes. Just like many ancient STAR relics and traditions, this one can’t be discarded so easily.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Interviewing the interviewer

Do you remember ever getting good career advice in school? I don’t even remember getting any career advice, let alone good career advice. True, there was a Kelab Kerjaya but as I far I could remember the members were more preoccupied with turning their room into some sort of exclusive clubhouse and organising the next trip to SSP or TKC (STF was too far away). Whatever career inspiration we got was through the examples of seniors or advice from well-meaning teachers who invariably would like to see us become doctors, engineers, accountants, architects, bankers or lawyers.

But once in a while we do come across Starians who have embarked on unconventional careers. Look hard enough and you would find that we have pop stars, actors, novelists, musicians and film-makers amongst us (corrigendum: and clowns *smacks forehead for forgetting*). It made me think: Was there anything about their STAR education which inspired them, against normal expectations, to earn their livelihood in a creative way?

I couldn’t remember anything in school which could really could have provided such inspiration. OK, we had the marching band, but with sounds resembling imitations of strangled animals it could have hardly inspired future musicians. The ‘combo’ (where do they come up with these terms?) might have had a better chance at producing future rock stars but Mr. Ng Hee Sang, the intense band advisor could hardly be described as a creative influence. Kelab Wayang Gambar? Well, if you could count blurring the projector at timely moments as a kind of film editing technique.

It was with this question in mind that I set up a lunch appointment with Zan Azlee (Fivers 1995), an up and coming independent film maker whose latest work, a documentary called “Pandang Ke Timur” was seen recently on NTV7 a few Sundays ago. I first became aware that there existed a Starian film-maker when I noticed his blog being linked on some Starians’ blogs and have quietly followed his projects.

We met at the Dome at Suria KLCC and it was only natural that I turn lunch into a quasi-interview for a blog post. This fitted in with this blog’s mission in making Starians appear more cool than they actually are. I was already familiar with his work as he’s put up quite an extensive CV and his blog really tells it all. So I cut to the chase and asked him about whether there were any influences in STAR that caused him to take up film making.

Zan corrected me by saying that he’s not just a film-maker but also a writer. Film is just another medium to tell his stories (In fact if you pick up SURF! magazine, you would find that it’s full of his articles. I found out that he’s written a book too - A Guide to Effective Internet Use). It’s only recently that he’s becoming known as a film-maker with an edge due to an increased interest in independent documentaries (He was featured in the November 2007 issue of Off The Edge which covered documentary film-making).

So I guess the better question would be: What did he experience in STAR that inspired him to take up journalism (which led him to film-making)? Probably none as it turned out. He went through the same experiences as I did – Set S English class, PPM debates (well that didn't do it for me). He liked writing but he performed his filial obligation by going on to do a degree in accountancy from UiTM (how more uninspiring could that be for a creative career?). However upon graduation he followed his heart and joined the Sun as a journalist and then studied Broadcast Journalism for his Masters Degree in the UK before becoming an independent film-maker and freelance journalist.

I think he could sense that I was disappointed to learn that his experience in STAR was not inspirational in his career decision. “Aku belajar kencing kat STAR,” he suddenly volunteered.


He went on to explain that he joined STAR in Form 4 and it was only in STAR that he learned how to live by his wits to survive (you would too if you want to prevent 5 other hungry mouths from taxing your midnight Maggi mee). When he left STAR, he said that he acquired a high degree of persuasive skills and that carried him through in his career as a journalist and film-maker.

I could see what he meant. I’ve seen his documentaries and what impresses me most is the way he manages to get his interview subjects to be candid and forthcoming on camera. I guess that counts for a lot in a job where interpersonal skill is at a premium. (Check out Zan's other films on Youtube)

From the the interview I conclude that STAR has not done much to nurture the creative talents of our boys. It’s a shame. It would have been the best time to polish those talents. It’s more likely that the entertainers and writers amongst us are doing what they are doing despite having studied in STAR. Perhaps the teachers could look into organising activities which bring out these talents or at least open the students’ eyes to non-mainstream careers.

Perhaps even I could have become a writer or a film-maker in different circumstances. Ah well, I’ve just got to make do with blogs and Youtube for the time being.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Fifteen Five minutes of fame?

A couple of days ago Kurtul from my batch sent me an SMS saying that I should check out a magazine called E@Siswa (I'm not sure how you are supposed to pronounce it). Apparently it covered the Golden Jubilee Celebrations and my photos were "all over the place".

Perhaps this was my shot at fame? Feeling curious I went to a newsagent to inquire about the latest issue but was told that they don't sell it. Five newsagents later, it was still the same story. Hmm, it didn't look like I was going to be famous at this rate.

Finally the E@Siswa crew turned up at the Staroba function last night (a thank you dinner for people who contributed in the Jubilee celebrations) and handed out free copies (since no newsagent wants to sell it). I was pleased to see that we were covered quite extensively.

Ahem, there were even some photos of yours truly although I had to share the limelight with my brethren Starians.

Segak dan tampan? How could I disagree with that?

Even the back page featured STAR students.

But wait a minute! Starians are not usually that ugly. Let's look at the photo more closely:

No wonder .......

I'm not so pleased now. Surely it's not on to put up photos of Really Ugly Mugs and say that they belong to Starians. I wonder if we could sue E@Siswa for defamation?