Monday, 24 October 2011

Pre-Merdeka Malay Schools in Penang


There were 2 Malay and one religious (Islamic) schools in Penang in Malaya before Independence. I returned to Penang (19-23 October 2011) to try and locate where the schools were and to find out if they still exist today, 54 years post-Merdeka.

Malay schools in Penang 

The 2 Malay schools in Penang are Sekolah Melayu Chowrasta in downtown George Town, and Sekolah Melayu Pulau Pinang in Ayer Itam. Three early Malay doctors attended the Malay schools in Penang. They were Datuk Dr Haji Abdul Aziz bin Omar, Datuk Paduka Dr Abdul Wahab bin Mohd Ariff and Dr Che Lah bin Md Joonos. All three graduated as medical doctors from the King Edward VII Medical College in Singapore.

Sekolah Melayu Chowrasta / Chowrasta Malay School, George Town (established 1878) 

The full story of this school is told in the present day school website:

Sekolah Kebangsaan Melayu Chowrasta adalah nama asal bagi Sekolah Kebangsaan Sri Tanjong. Sekolah Melayu Chowrasta ini ditubuhkan pada tahun 1878 dengan Bahasa Melayu sebagai Bahasa Pengantar pada ketika itu. Ia adalah di antara sekolah Melayu tertua di Pulau Pinang. Tapak asal Sekolah Melayu Chowrasta ini adalah terletak di persimpangan Jalan Transfer dan Jalan Phee Choon (kini tapak Ibupejabat Polis Kontinjen Pulau Pinang – Headquarters).

Di bawah pentadbiran Guru Besar yang dikenali dengan nama Pak Hitam, Sekolah Melayu Chowrasta mula mengorak langkah dalam meneruskan pendidikan pada masa tersebut. Pelajaran yang diajar hanya melibatkan kemahiran membaca, menulis, mengira dan juga sedikit pelajaran mengenai hal ehwal tempatan yang digabungkan dengan pelajaran Ilmu Alam.

Pada tahun 1928, Cikgu Mustafa Arshad (Guru Besar pada ketika itu) telah mula mengharumkan nama Sekolah Melayu Chowrasta dan memperkenalkannya ke seluruh pelusuk negara. Di antara tokoh yang dilahirkan di Sekolah Melayu Chowrasta ini ialah Allahyarham Doktor Aziz Omar (doktor Melayu yang menempah nama di negeri Kelantan), […] – Sekolah Kebangsaan Sri Tanjung: SEJARAH (2009). Retrieved 19 October 2011 from

The original school, Sekolah Melayu Chowrasta, was at the corner of Transfer Road and Phee Choon Road (now Jalan Phee Choon). The present day school is Sekolah Sri Tanjong in Jalan Hatin (former Hutton Lane). The school is across the road from Masjid Jamek Jalan Hatin. This is the only mosque in this road.

Chowrasta is Tamil for a junction or crossroad from 4 roads.

Pasar Chowrasta (Chowrasta market) is in Jalan Penang (former Penang Road).

Pasar Chowrasta, Jalan Penang, Georgetown, Penang

Two early Malay doctors attended Sekolah Melayu Chowrasta in Penang. They were (Datuk Dr Haji) Abdul Aziz bin Omar and (Datuk Paduka Dr) Abdul Wahab bin Mohd Ariff.

Both doctors were born in 1919 and attended the Chowrasta Malay School from 1925 to 1929.
Both Abdul Aziz and Abdul Wahab attended Penang Free School from 1930 to 1937.
Both enrolled into the Medical College in Singapore in 1939.

Their medical studies were disrupted for four years when the Japanese Occupation of Singapore occurred and the Medical College ceased operation on 15 February 1942 till 19 June 1946.

When the war was over, Abdul Wahab and Abdul Aziz resumed medical studies at KE VII in Singapore on 20 June 1946.

Dr Abdul Aziz bin Omar, Dr Abdul Wahab bin Mohd Ariff and Dr Omar bin Din, graduated from the King Edward VII College of Medicine, Singapore with a Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery (L.M.S.) in the Class of December 1949 (Lee 2005: 114). There were 28 graduates in 1949.

Dr Abdul Aziz had previously worked at the Merican Dispensary in Kota Bharu, Kelantan (possibly circa 1949-1953) before setting up his own private practice in the early 1950s, after the war ended. His clinic was the Aziz Dispensary (Morais 1963: 30) in 1856-58 Jalan Pendek, Kota Bharu, Kelantan (Morais 1965: 44). His clinic was beside the Kota Bharu bus station. [More in TEMD]

Dr Abdul Wahab bin Mohd Ariff joined the government service in 1950. He held several posts under the British Malayan, Malaysian and Brunei governments. In 1950-5, Dr Abdul Wahab was Medical Officer (MO) in Penang, Butterworth, Perlis and Kuala Pilah. He brought a lot of changes at Kangar Hospital whilst in Perlis. His efforts were appreciated by the British High Commissioner in Malaya, General Sir Gerald Templer. In 1954, Dr Abdul Wahab was responsible for the eradication of gastroenteritis epidemic in Perlis. [More in TEMD]

Hutton Lane is famous as it once housed the private clinic of Sir Dr Kamil Mohamed Ariff.

Jalan Hatin (Hutton Lane) - Jalan Penang (Penang Road) end
Masjid Jamek Jalan Hatin (Hutton Lane)
Sekolah Kebangsaan Sri Tanjong, Jalan Hatin (Hutton Lane)

Sekolah Melayu Pulau Pinang / Penang Malay School, Kampong Melayu, Ayer Hitam, Penang

I have not managed to follow up what became of this school.

Directions to Air Hitam (formerly Ayer Itam), Penang

(Dr) Che Lah attended the Penang Malay School located in Jalan Kampong Melayu in Ayer Itam where he completed Standard IV. He then attended the Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) in Penang where he completed Standard VII Senior Cambridge at the Annual Government Examination in December 1919.

(Dr) Che Lah entered the King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore as a Federated Malay States (FMS) Government Medical Student in June 1923. Dr Che Lah passed the Final Medical Professional Examination in March 1930 and was awarded the Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery college diploma (L.M.S. Singapore, Class of March 1930). The Principal of the College of Medicine at the time was Dr DWG Faris. His name is also present on the board as Pioneer Student at the National University of Singapore Medical Faculty. His rolled paper transcripts still exist but are faded and very brittle but his clothed documents are still safely kept. His medical books can still be found within his house in Cangkat Minden, Penang and some have been donated to the Penang General Hospital.

Religious schools in Penang

The only religious school that I have on record is Madrasah Al-Mashoor, which is now the Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Agama (L) Al Mashoor and the Sekolah Menengah Agama (P) Al Mashoor.

Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Agama (L) Al Mashoor 

This school was started by Syed Sheikh (1867-1934) who became its first headmaster. It moved a few places before this location. The history of Madrasah Al Mashoor & the progress of the modern school today can be read at its present day website.

Malayan Saturday Post, 23 May 1931, Page 25
THE VISIT OF HIS HIGHNESS TENGKU IBRAHIM, THE RAJA OF KELANTAN TO THE ALMASHOOR ISLAMIC SCHOOL, PENANG ON MAY IST, 1931. Tengku Ibrahim who was the Sultan of Kelantan visited the school  on 1 May 1931. Among those present were: Messrs. S. Md. Almihthar, SA Mashur, S Ali Bawazir, SM Elidrus, Dr KM Arif, Mr Nik Abdullah, Dato Bentara Dalam, Tengku Indrapetra, HH Tengku Ibrahim, Tengku Abdullah, Messrs. SM Md Hanif, Nik Mahmood, S Hashim Alsagoff, Shekarai Rawther, Shaik Mahamed, Sini Rawther, Messrs. S Mahmood Rafie, S Hussain and Shaik Abbas Rafie (Principal). Newspaper article link

The boys' hostel is in front of the school and closest to Jalan Air Hitam. The Chung Ling High School is across the road from the boys' hostel. Further up the street from the boys' hostel is another boys' school, the Methodist Boys' School (MBS).

SMKA (L) Al Mashoor, Jalan Air Hitam, Penang
SMKA (L) Al Mashoor boys' hostel, Jalan Air Itam, Penang

Sekolah Menengah Agama (P) Al Mashoor

We drove past this school but I did not have time to take photos of it or visit the school.

External link

The Arabs in Penang (1)

The Honda Story of Penang


This is the fourth time someone related the story about Boon Siew and Honda to me - my dad, my mum, a research officer then with USM and Prof Syed Mohsin. After many years of being told about how Honda became a success story in Penang, I have decided to pen down my story of the Honda success story in Penang to share with you. Little did I understand the humble beginnings and the opportunistic franchise that came to Penang. That opportunity was overlooked (blinded to the Penang Arabs) but the Chinese saw the $ behind it and made it big. It led to the Chinese success in taking over the economy of Penang island. This is my version after listening to many people. Of course there is still the Honda Penang Chinese story to listen to and the Japanese Honda story to follow up before my story too can be complete. Here's my story ...

Post WWII 

The Japanese lost the war in Malaya in September 1945. The Japanese army surrendered. From a TV documentary, I learned about the Japanese difficulties faced whilst still in Malaya. Before they left for Japan, the soldiers had to scrounge for food and survived by subsisting on tapioca (manioc; Malay ubi kayu) which they had to grow since their supply of rice ran out. This was in Rompin before the Japanese soldiers were finally taken home to Japan. It was a sad documentary that I watched. Watching the Japanese General beri hormat a tapioca on his prayer shelf can be heart-breaking. War is war. Survival is for the fittest. 

A Japanese lady in post-war Penang 

The Japanese war did not end without any trace. The war left a lot of things behind. They are traceable as the things they left behind are not Malay but Japanese. What things are Japanese? A lot of things. When I was a young child, there was one Japanese lady who frightened me and that memory has lasted a lifetime. I had heard of Japanese atrocities from my mother but not from my father. My mother's father (my grandfather) was tortured by the Japanese army but survived the ordeal. However, his voice changed considerably - he had a gruffy voice; maybe because he was old. He had a human voice but a different human voice. That memory of his voice has lasted in me till today. It feels sad when humans are tortured but that is reality. On the other hand, my dad's people enjoyed the Japanese presence in Malaya. Anyway, this Japanese lady whom I met at my dad's Ami Aziz's shophouse, she looked to me like she had a lot of untold secrets locked in a cupboard. Who was she? Was she a spy? Why did she appear in Penang when she is Japanese? Did the Japanese bring her to Penang for a reason? For what reason? Who is she really? What is the meaning of her existence in Penang? These were the questions that played in my mind throughout my growing up years and whenever I passed by Jalan Anson (Anson Road) in Penang. Even if I forget the roadname, the characteristic whitewashed building will always remind me of my dad's Ami Aziz and this Japanese lady (who is Nenek Jepun to me, for lack of a better name).

Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Sheikh Muhammad 

Sheikh Abdul Aziz is Ami Aziz to my dad. Sheikh Abdul Aziz is Arab but not a Syed. Prof Syed Mohsin tells me that the Arabic word "Ami" is brother (abdooss said it means 'uncle' or 'my uncle'). As I recall Ami Aziz, he was a short tan man. We sat at a table with generous helpings of Hari Raya Aidilfitri cookies - Japanese style! Hahaha ..... yes! Hari Raya cookies, Japanese style! They were prepared by his wife, Nenek Jepun! Goodness. This Nenek Jepun prepared the Raya cookies and even the drinks. And guess what? I tasted the colorful sugar crystals on the sugar-coated cookies but I refused to drink the green-coloured drink, poured and served by ..... Nenek Jepun! Such was my unreasonable childhood fear of this lady! I was frightened that she would "poison" me with the "green juice" that Raya. In the mean time, my dad enjoyed the conversation with Ami Aziz. Who was Ami Aziz? Everybody tells me he was a great man in Penang, but who is he really? After many years of trying to make sense of stories I've heard and trying to fix the jig-saw puzzle, yesterday, Prof Syed Mohsin told me who this Ami Aziz was and the real story behind the Honda motorcycles and cars we see today in Malaysia. It all started in Penang.

[My dad's blood link to Ami Aziz is in my other blog. Try search for 262 Banda Hilir.]

The Honda story 

After the Japanese war, Japan's Honda offered a franchise to Penang to sell its motorcycles. They practically "gave" the franchise to the Penang Arabs, and Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Sheikh Muhammad @ Ami Aziz reluctantly took up the offer, as there was no market for motorcycles in the post-war. He did not know whether the motorcycles would sell. I can't recall what Prof Syed Mohsin said. 

Loh Boon Siew

The young Boon Siew was a Chinese night soil collector (kutip tong tahi). When he heard of the Honda franchise and the Penang Arabs had no faith in it, he offered his interest in the franchise. He took over from the Penang Arabs. To promote sales of the Honda motorcycles, he organised a 50-man motorcade to ride the length of the west coast of peninsular Malaya. The motorcyclists took off from Penang, to KL and on to Singapore and returned the same route. This ability of the motorcycles to withstand the long journey took the Malayan people by surprise and attracted them to buy Boon Siew's Honda motorcycles. Sales of the motorcycles rocketed and instantly Boon Siew's fate changed, from a poor night soil collector to a millionaire. To motorcycles were added Honda cars, a symbol of prestige. Sales rose even further and Boon Siew became super wealthy. So wealthy was he that he alone could "buy" the entire strip of Malaya! Such was his unusual twist of fate. Prof Syed Mohsin tells me that Honda still pays its surviving motorcycle riders a stipend as a symbol of gratitude for making that motorcade a great success which then snow-balled Honda's success in Penang and Malaysia. I don't have the list of names of the 50 motorcyclists, maybe Honda does. You can try and ask Honda Penang and maybe interview the riders too.

Boon Siew Ltd in The Who's Who in  Malaysia 1963

External links for Loh Boon Siew and Boon Siew Honda: - Tan Sri Dato' Loh Boon Siew (1915–1995) also known as “Mr Honda”.

Penang Chinese and the Penang Arabs 

Now that Boon Siew is rich and the Penang Arabs remained status quo, Penang's economy laid in the hands of the rich and influential Chinese. Penang grew and the economy of the Chinese rose higher from the demand of Honda products - motorcycles and cars. Both were much sought after in the Malayan/Malaysian market. Had the Penang Arabs jumped on the band wagon and gone on like what Boon Siew did, Penang's economy today would be in the hands of the Penang Arabs and Penang would remain largely an Islamic island. What lessons have we learned from the Penang Honda story? Yes, never to let an opportunity go by untouched. Opportunities come only once - either take it or lose it. I hope this story of a missed opportunity will never happen again to anyone, be it a Chinese, Indian, Malay or Arab. In historical lessons of this nature, we cannot blame anyone nor is there a need to point fingers. A missed opportunity has reasons and we must take the lessons and move on. Life is such. 

Ami Aziz's family 

From Prof Syed Mohsin's story, Ami Aziz married Nenek Jepun and they have a son. Prof Syed Mohsin tells me the son was a police inspector. They also have an adopted Chinese daughter, Muzlifah. Both are my dad's cousins. I have not met the son nor the daughter. I can't recall where Ami Aziz's shophouse is anymore or whether it is still there or demolished. I have vivid memory of his shophouse alone but not its location. 

Update 22 August 2013: Nenek Jepun had married another man (I don't have his name) and was widowed before marrying Ami Aziz. It was Nenek Jepun's second marriage and also the second marriage for Ami Aziz. Ami Aziz's first wife lived in Jelutong Timur - Nenek Rahmah who kissed me so much when I visited her house by the beach for Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Nenek Rahmah made very tasty putu kacang - sand-dry biscuits - the only putu kacang I would ever eat as a child. The Chinese daughter Muzlifah had married and was widowed before she married a policeman. The mother and child (Nenek Jepun and Muzlifah) were close. According to Tok Chu, the house is behind Masjid Jalan Hatin. See post on Tok Chu.
Ami Aziz's elder sister (kakak) is Patma @ Fatimah bt Sheikh Muhammad. Patma married to Haji Mohd Sharif bin Ismail, and their only son is Mohd Yusope. Mohd Yusope is my father's father, my paternal grandfather. See 262 Banda Hilir for more stories. 
Haji Mohd Sharif is my great-grandfather. Patma is my great-grandmother. So Ami Aziz is my great-granduncle.

Ami Aziz's car shop 

Ami Aziz ran a foreign car trade business at the corner of Jalan Dato' Keramat and Jalan Anson in Penang. The car shop & showroom is a big whitewashed building with the showroom facade on Jalan Anson. The business is varied today. I don't know who owns or manages the place today. 

Ami Aziz's car showroom - facade on Jalan Anson in Penang
Car showroom - facade on Jalan Dato' Keramat


I re-visited the village in Jelutong, Penang on 10 October 2011. The village is behind Masjid Jamek Mukim Jelutong. There were 2 Arab families left, both of the Yamani clan. Some of the old houses that once occupied the shoreline have been demolished and new high rises have been constructed on the reclaimed lands beyond where the giant Chinese junks (tongkang Cina) went aground. Will update at another blog of mine - 262 Banda Hilir.