1974-5S1-Mah Tat Sing

My experience of Sam Tet – Good, Bad & Ugly

I was asked to reminisce my later years at Sam Tet School, particularly the secondary school years. However being a Sam Tet boy right through from primary to secondary school, it was difficult not to write a little bit about the primary years. I started school at Sam Tet at the age of 7 and I recalled the first day at school well. My mum walked me to the school and I was quickly put into a rather hot and jammed classroom with many parents peering through the many windows making sure their love ones were behaving themselves. One of the first questions was "did you brush your teeth and wash you face this morning?" Many of us, including me, shacked our heads, but I saw my mum nod emphatically, so I quickly followed. The primary years were pretty uneventful except I recalled some excellent female teachers helping me in Chinese language and mathematics. I recalled being smacked in the hand by teachers using wooden rulers for misbehaving, which was rather painful and I soon learned to only misbehave when the teachers are not looking. The primary years were fun as I was oblivious to the academic competition but somehow I managed to remain in second top classes right through.

We have to do a "Remove Class" year after the primary school before we could formally start secondary school since the medium at primary was Mandarin and secondary school was English. For some reason I was placed in afternoon class so my class did not start until after lunch. I remember I have to struggle to stay awake because the classroom was rather hot and the lunch before the school did not help either. The Indian class teacher was excellent in teaching English and a big Chinese guy who taught Malay was comical. Trying to learn two new languages was impossible for me and I have, like many of my classmates, unconsciously "ignored" the Malay language to our detriment until the senior years when I have to frantically "catch up". Sports on Saturday were in the morning and it was difficult for me to get up early on Saturday since I am used to going to school in the afternoon!

The first three "junior" secondary school years were enjoyable as I learned photography from Mr Cheah and spend a lot of time in the school dark room, experimenting different ways of processing pictures. Together with the some teaching from a family photographer and learning from other professional photographers who came to take school photos, photography has remained an important hobby for me. The dark room was very hot as it faced West and if it weren’t for the air-conditioner, I would not have survived. I saved up enough money to buy my very first "single lens reflex" camera and soon I was taking pictures for the school as school photographer, together with my colleague, Mr Foong Thai Kwong. The other good things I learned and enjoyed were history, baseball, chess and working as a librarian volunteer. For boredom I sat in at Religious classes every morning after assembly with Mr Wong. He was a very religious teacher who could recite Bible stories with great emotion. Despite his best effort, I was not converted to Christianity, nor to any religion for that matter. It was not until the year of "Lower Certificate Examination" that I realised the importance of "working hard to get good marks". I was made aware that the "bright kids" will go to science classed (S1 or S2) and the not so bright ones will go to "Art classes". Somehow I managed to do reasonably well to get into S1 for Form 4 & 5.

The senior secondary school classes were quite different to the junior classes. I appreciated the need to perform and the intense competition to do well at the next hurtle, which was the MCE. Mr Chee was an excellent math teacher who I admired and respected from junior years who continued into senior math classes. He enlightened my understanding of mathematics to a very high level. I believe his teaching was part of the reason for me to top the Mathematics at Matriculation in Victoria HSC in Melbourne High School. Mr Lim, physics teacher and School Prefect Boss was quite dry in his teaching technique and humour. He demonstrated high personal integrity, upheld rules and regulations and was admired, respected but at the same time scared by many students. I learned a little bit about Adelaide from him, as he was an Adelaide Uni graduate. It was incidental that I eventually studied and worked in Adelaide, and enjoyed the many aspects of the wonderful environment and culture that I heard from Mr Lim so many years ago. There were many different religious brothers but the most respected was Brother John Moore, the schoolmaster. Through many boring Civic classes, I somehow got the message of the principles of Sam Tet – always have FAITH, never loose HOPE, and always try to be CHARITABLE! The indoctrination to these principles was strong and to these days I still cherish. One thing I hate was the Civic exam, where I was told Brother John allocated marks according to the length of your essay! Mr Koo, the English teacher should have been in politics as he constantly spoke about anything and every thing in English in an attempt to get us used to speaking in English. By this stage most of us would understand English but we were generally poor in spoken English. Mr Koo regular remarks to me were "if you fail English, you can’t go overseas!" The "crime" of ignoring the Malay language caught up with me in Form 4. I suddenly realised I have to pass Malay in order to go to local uni and that placed enormous pressure on me. I overcompensated by studying the Malay dictionary and literature and was eventually very comfortable with the Malay language. I worked pretty hard for the MCE and I did very well at the exam, including a surprising Distinction for Malay, which was a complete shock!

The Form 6 classes were "Pre-U" i.e. pre-university years. For the first time Sam Tet was invaded not only by male students from other schools, but also female students. I did not know how to cope as we never have female students in my class for all these years and suddenly we have to be careful not to upset the opposite sex with the female jokes and crude remarks. I did not have time for romance as I have my eyes to leave Ipoh to study in Melbourne. Nonetheless interacting with the females was not as hard as dealing with the new group of "macho males" from another school. For the first time I realised the important of "playing politics" and saw the ugliness of it. My ambition to study in Melbourne and to do the Victorian HSC exam was a priority. A few of us in the class tried to study at Taylor’s College in KL but I absolutely hated it. I came back to Sam Tet after two months and applied directly to Victorian schools for year 12 entry whilst studying Lower 6. Quite a few of us were successful in being accepted to study in Melbourne. I eventually study Medicine at Flinders University in Adelaide and the rest, as they say, is history!

Dr Edward TS Mah



Director & Head of Department

Department of Orthopaedics & Trauma, Lyell McEwin Health Service, Adelaide

Director, Calvary Orthopaedic & Hand Care Centre, North Adelaide

Head of Hand & Upper Limb Service, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Adelaide

University of Adelaide

Emeritus Visiting Professor,

Second Medical University,

Rui Jing Hospital, Shanghai, RP China.

Article contributed to the 50th Anniversary Magazine of the Sam Tet Old Boy Association Ipoh in Aug-2005

Ted and Jane Mah

Email: Ted Mah

Mr. EDWARD (TED) MAH M.D., F.R.A.C.S. F.A.Ortho.A J.P.


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Head of Hand & Upper Limb Service

Department of Orthopaedics & Trauma, TQEH

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University of Adelaide

Chairman, Heads of Orthopaedic Departments of South Australia

Director of Training

Orthopaedic Outreach, Australian Orthopaedic Association

National Delegate, Australian Chapter

Asia Pacific Orthopaedic Association


Voluntary & Community Services

Instructor for Early Management of Severe Trauma courses, RACS

Treasurer, Australian Orthopaedic Assoc (SA Branch)

Director of Training, Orthopaedic Outreach, Aust Orthopaedic Association

Secretary/Treasurer & National Delegate, Asia Pacific Orthopaedic Assoc, Australian Chapter

Immediate Past President, South Australia Hand Surgery Society

President, Australian Chinese Medical Association

Justice of Peace in and for the State of South Australia

Active participation in SAPMEA, undergraduate medical education, local, and international teaching and research activities.

Publications & Presentations

Author of book chapters and numerous research publications.

Invited guest speaker at numerous international, national and state scientific meetings and conferences.

Organiser and Convenor of numerous state and international meetings.