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.