In Memory of Ong Yen Chong – the class of 1959, Batu Pahat High School

Shortly after lunch yesterday, my classmate Pek Teck Soon messaged my daughter, Hui Ying: “Sorry to inform that Ong Yen Chong passed away last night. His wake is at Nirvana KL but no visitors allowed. This message just relayed to me by his niece. RIP”

It came completely out of the blue. No one expected Yen Chong to leave so suddenly as he appeared to be as fit as a fiddle.

My classmate in Canberra, Michael Ong was philosophical and sent Yen Chong’s son, Chen Yi, the following poem which he composed:


We live as if it’s forever
and so it seems
Never a thought
the Leveller
will enter
shattering all our dreams!

How supremely confident
when plans are made
of happiness yet to come
Foundations so meticulously laid
as Ozymandias would have done

Yet embracing earth awaits us
in each out appointed time
Fulfilling fate
which is yours
and also will be mine!

There need not be guilt
there need not be pain
there need not be fear
nor grief
for our return to earth again!

Yen Chong was part of the gang in the class of 1959 High School Batu Pahat who would roam around town on their bicycles, dreaming of the challenges beyond – a time when we did not know how high was the sky and how deep were the oceans, when we dared to dream great dreams of the future. It was the genesis of the Malaysian Dream.

In the idealism of our youth, we celebrated a world where there is freedom, justice, equality, humanity, national unity and purpose, inter-racial and inter-religious understanding, harmony and peace.

In our naivete, during a stop at the Batu Pahat High School during our roam-abouts on our bikes while waiting for the MCE examination results, I said we should go out into the future to set up political parties to change the world, and we should return to compare notes as to the success of our endeavours.

We wanted – to use the words of Bapa Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, when Malaya became independent on August 31, 1957 – for the country “to be a beacon of light in a difficult and distracted world”.

Both Pek Teck Soon and another classmate Tan Tik Seng were pillars of the Batu Pahat DAP in the sixties, but I remember my shock when Chian Heng Kai told me in 1971 that his election expenses as candidate for the Johore State Assembly seat of Bandar Penggaram in 1969 General Election was less than a thousand Malaysian dollars – probably one of the lowest for state assembly candidates.

The blood, sweat and tears of DAP diehards like Pek Teck Soon and Tan Tik Seng for Chian Heng Kai’s campaign were completely voluntary.

I tried to draft Yen Chong into the DAP battle for a Malaysia where there is democracy, social and economic justice, national unity and harmony, inter-racial and inter-religious tolerance, understanding and harmony, and Yen Chong was interested.

I remember announcing before the 1969 General Election a nucleus of young Malaysians who would form the youth wing of the DAP, but the May 13, 1969 riots and emergency put paid to these plans.

We grew up in tumultuous times. The bicycle trip I made with Alan Goh and Tan Tik Sing from Batu Pahat to Malacca in 1955 when we were in Form I occurred during the exciting days of the Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung, bringing together for the first time Afro-Asian leaders, like China’s Premier Chou En-Lai, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Indonesia President Sukarno, United Arab Republic Gamel Nasser, Ghana President Kwame Nkrumah and Yugoslav President Josip Tito.

This bicycle trip is now immortalized in a painting in Theatre Impian in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur.

Before the heady days of Malaya’s Independence on August 31,1957, there was Nasser’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal and the Hungarian Revolution against Soviet Union Communist rule and the subsequent crackdown and repression.

It would not be wrong to say that the Malaysian Dream of the country as a world-class great nation took root in the class of 1959 in Batu Pahat High School.

1959 Batu Pahat High School Form V had made a signal contribution to Malaysia. We had doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, academicians, corporate figures, bankers, teachers. journalists, pilot, priest and businessmen.

We have had a Minister, Dato Mustaffa Mohd; a Deputy Speaker Dr. Hee Tien Lai and Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Lim Kit Siang.

We have a classmate, Dr. Tjoa Hock Guan, who taught himself Mandarin via IT and wrote The Battle of Chibi (Red Cliffs): selected and translated from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms; another classmate, Professor Chong Guan Chok who retired as Australian National University (ANU) Medical School foundation Professor of Surgery and was honoured by the ANU Medical School as Distinguished Clinical Professor; and another class mate, Professor Chan Soh Ha, Emeritus Professor of National University of Singapore who is executive director Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory, Singapore.

We had more than our fair share of excellent teachers normal trained and a few graduates like VK Moothy, Arumugam, S.P. Vadivale, K.M. Mathai, K.K. Perumbulavil, George Koshy, Yap Beng Teck, Ang Hock Meng, Chanan Singh and most notably, the artist Syed Ahmad Jamal who drew Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s “Eye” symbol and was the director of National Art Gallery (1983-1991), winning accolades and art prizes locally and internationally.

Batu Pahat has produced many political figures for Malaysia and Singapore, like Dato Onn Jaafar, who formed UMNO in Batu Pahat; Ong Eng Guan, first mayor of Singapore and brother of Yen Chong; S. Woodhull; Syed Husin Ali; Syed Esa Alwee (second Speaker) and Tan Sri Syed Nasir bin Ismail (fifth Speaker).

Michael Ong probably says it best in his poem composed during the 50th Reunion of the Class of 1959 High School Batu Pahat, as follows:

Class of 1959 High School Batu Pahat

Recalling life decades ago
Triggers an avalanche of memories
Of carefree childhood, days of gold
Forgotten by our current stories

Unknown to us we were in transition
Towards a new Malayan era
UMNO was already in position
Soon shouting ‘Merdeka!’ a new mantra!

In the midst of that change
We gathered in the attap huts
Coming from families which ranged
Rich and those with bitter luck

Fresh from the warmth of families
Thrust into the world beyond
Some in fear and uncertainties
We met in Life’s initial pond!

We learnt “A” was for “Apple”
From strange women and men
Who taught our tongues to be supple
Despite our varying mien

The school as befits a British colony
Was divided into Houses
And despite the cacophony
We competed well, sans grouses!

In every sphere we made our mark
Our Rugger team was Johore’s best
Our plays we performed were no larks
In exams we were no less

As into manly youth we grew
Joys and pangs of love began to intrude
From among us the lucky few
TIGS partners found, others exclude

Of teachers we were greatly blessed
For among them, over the years
We were taught and stressed
With dedication, despite future fears

Others we chose to forget
For their actions hurt and maim
Causing private pains and regrets
Potent silences still remain!

From this crucible we emerge
Each playing our present roles
For better or for worse we merge
Our lives with friends and foes

We serve no matter where we are
In our little corners of Life
Each contributing near or far
Our triumphs and personal strife

Scattered now though we may
By Life’s dice we cast
We remain and always say
Our friendship will always last!

So to one and all the Class of ‘59
We gather today to commemorate
Those present and gone in ‘09
Of Fifty years we celebrate!

Come let us arise and toast our lives
For past years and those yet to come
May we all enjoy and survive
And sing “Auld Lang Syne” as one!

That was Michael Ong at his best but it was already twelve years ago.

As Henry Wordsworth Longfellow said:

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

In conclusion, let me say that it is a great privilege to grow up with Yen Chong, Teck Soon, Tik Seng, Michael, Sze Foong, Soh Ha, Chay Foo, Padmanathan, Guan Chok, Bobby Chua, Hung Kee, Guan Bee, Jin Siew, Ah Yoo, Kang Sung, Teow Heng, Jamal, Khalid Bidin, Palani, Roland Thomas, R. Ravindran, Patrick, Joe Arumugam, Yeow Tong, Chong Meng, Kim Soon, Kai Seng, Huan Hooi and all the others in the Class of 1959 in Batu Pahat High School to learn from each other as well as the lessons of life.

We will not be able to pay our last respects to you, Yen Chong because of MCO but its time to say adieu. RIP.

(Statement by DAP MP for Iskandar Puteri Lim Kit Siang in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, May 19, 2021)

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