Hello there. I am Terry and I am a full-time undergraduate based in Singapore. I take photos, write a blog and design websites.

And no, I'm not a teddy bear.

Revisiting Hwa Chong

Clock Tower Building, a HDR.

Clock Tower Building, a HDR.

I grew up in Hwa Chong Institution – since I very luckily scrapped the bottom for a candidature slot for the Singapore Mathematics Olympiad and found myself in Chinese High School in 2001, I decided that I will spend many years of my future in Singapore. I ended up, again, very luckily snagging a slot in Chinese High School from 2002. I graduated in 2005, moved on to Hwa Chong Junior College in 2006 and then graduated with a Cambridge A Levels certificate in 2007.

In the 6 years in HC, I witnessed many changes made – from the construction of the new boarding school to the tearing down of the ricketty, old, demure hostel that made way for a new CCA building; from the celebration of the 85th anniversary of foundation of the high school section to the ultimate, prized merger of Chinese High School and Hwa Chong Junior College into a single, functional entity now known as Hwa Chong Institution.

I could still remember how terrified I was of my history teacher Ms Teo. I never quite passed a history test in my first two years of secondary school much to her disappointment and my frustration. My English was in shambles when I first arrived, and under the tutor (and frequent scolding and cudgeling) of my English teacher Ms Kalavathi, my English improved gradually over the years. However, she made me hate reading novels – I only regained my love for reading in the recent years after being introduced to White Oleander a few years back.

Another teacher that really left a lasting impression in my mind was Ms Esther Cheong. She first came across as the fierce and loud teacher that scared all the young, immature secondary school kids shitless *laughs* but after she taught my class geography, she’s actually one awesome teacher. She’s a very nurturing and kind teacher inside. Her screams and howlings at bad students still haunt me till today, though :)

College years were marked by frequent and short-lived bouts of depression – an undesirable manifestation of adolescence. I am not ashamed to admit that I felt that I needed counselling, and the horrible thought of actually ending one’s life did, for a very brief moment, emerged from the sea of darkness. For most of the time I seeked solace with my Malaysian friends who have a much kinder demeanor than many others, and that was it.

Ms Kwee and Ms Wong were one of the teachers that made me feel better about college life. Ms Kwee was, is and will be, without doubt, the best mathematics tutor I have ever come across. She voluntarily stayed back on school days, working way past her working hours without any concern of monetary remuneration to help students who were weak in maths. She selflessly conducted revision and remedial classes, dished out maths questions quicker than the fastest printer. Her caring demeanor helped a lot in convincing me to anoint her as the best teacher ever.

Ms Wong was the funny, down-to-earth biology teacher. She gets very strict sometimes (especially on timing, you wouldn’t want to know what happened when we ran late for lectures and tutorials) but then again, that’s what makes her a great one.

In a flash, I graduated and left HC for good. Or that was what I thought.

Soon after, I started to miss my life in HC a lot. I was dumbstruck by the newfound freedom in university – in terms of my life and academic pursuits. No more curfew for the hostel dorm, but I had to make do without a shared refrigerator and a microwave as provided in college dorm. No more compulsory lectures and tutorials, no more attendance taking of sorts. If you don’t motivate yourself in university and watch your back, you’re a piece of dead meat.

So last Friday I actually took the liberty to travel all the way back to HC, just to relive that very few moment of bliss of which I can now still remember.

Just so in case you’re wondering, the first photo is the clock tower building which sits on top of the gentle hill overlooking the tracks and the soccer field. There’s where I spent my last year in high school in – fully air conditioned (but stinky as hell) classroom :)

The central courtyard.

The central courtyard.

This is the place where we had our daily flag raising ceremony in the morning, except on Mondays where we will have to proceed (and we do it very sluggishly, much to the dismay of our teachers) to the high school field. Every morning you’ll see people rushing like madmen towards this very courtyard because after the bell rings, latecomers will be considered as absentees. That day the courtyard seemed to be deserted, besides three guys playing frisbee.

The new administration office.

The new administration office.

You wouldn’t believe this but the new administration office (which also holds the principle’s office) is actually converted from a rather old building on campus. What they did was to totally knock down the interior, build a huge roof extending from the front of the facade, some really decent paint job and voila!

High school section

High school section

The high school section has a really nice water feature running along the blocks of classrooms and it ends up at a fountain near the old administration block. I spent my first two years of secondary school on the block to the left, and then my third year in the white block far right.

Boarding school, a HDR.

Boarding school, a HDR.

The boarding school, containing seven halls of residences, was designed by renowned architect Kenzo Tange in 2005. I believe it is one of the last works of his before he passed away in March 2005. The blocks were clustered around a central courtyard or festival garden, complete with a meandering stream. I spent my first 6 years living in this place. Don’t be deceived by the good looks though – as far as I could remember, the food can only be described by a word – bleagh. We were served the same common fodder everyday, and I clearly remembered how sick I could get by just the mere thought of canteen food, so much so that for most of my college life I actually dined elsewhere before returning to my room.

Looking up a void in one of the halls.

Looking up a void in one of the halls.

The style of the boarding school differed remarkedly from Kenzo Tange’s older style though. I adore the high ceiling heights and generous space in the form of voids that were included in the design – this made the entire complex rather windy, especially during stormy nights. It also helped that the boarding school was located on top of a taller hill behind the school, and many of us actually land a room with a great view of Bukit Timah and the town.

There were rumours circulating that the school was intending to auction this very plot of land off to private corporations – that came at no surprise to me due to the pristine location. Good view, check. Great location, check. Famous school, check.

I left the school around early evening to avoid the evening crowd. With a heavy heart I bid HC goodbye, and I’m sure I’ll return to my alma mater some time in the future again :)

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