For someone of my lowest education level attained — thrown out of school at 14, and from an Anglican school at that — the capital letters QC at the end of my name must confound you somewhat. She’s a Queen’s Counsel?!
Unlike the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Walt Disney and Albert Einstein, Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg, who all dropped out of high school in their teens (many of their own volition), I was summarily superannuated. Kicked out. Quite simply from not passing any exams.
Well nobody ever led me to the belief you had to, pass exams, to have a continuing education.
So I was turfed out from the Church of England Zenana Mission School (CEZMS), affectionately (not by me, sister) known as St Margs.
I did nurse but a singular regret as the gates closed behind me. That I had so let down the Vice Principal, who also taught Geography. By gum, Mrs K could freehand draw the world map on the blackboard. Yes, young people, I am from the Chalk Age.
I was so ashamed to have dashed her hopes, as she had made me a school prefect, certain in her wisdom that I had something in me.
It was the X-factor. X in just about every subject in the syllabus.
Beachcomber, Roti Peranchis (Loafer geddit), Samseng Kia (today this would be K-pop), you name it, I fitted the bill.
Long story short, one morning I was in the Paris townhouse of Mr David Marshall. The late Mr Marshall was Singapore’s Ambassador to France. If and when Ambassador Marshall took you to lunch, you’d have the best meal in Paris. On his own dime, centime rather, mind you.
His number one daughter by way of small talk asked, “Paik Choo, are you Oxford or Cambridge?”
By the time they picked me up off the carpet, the lunch hour had passed.
Today, I literally live within the environs of Cambridge and Oxford roads, and to re-dress my embarrassment, I earned and added those all-important letters to my name, QC.
No lah, not Queen’s Counsel, you ninny. My QC is “Quarrelsome Cow”.
A moniker a snap to come by. Be curious (busybody), be helpful (busybody), be talkative (busybody).
Listen, if no one complains, nothing will improve.
The supermarket is a field of dreams for a QC.
A horde of China visitors were tossing and upturning cartons of 3-in-1 coffee into their trolleys, cacophonous in their shopping.
HULLO! Cannot do like this here! (Remember I failed Chinese.) To their credit, they quietened.
An Indian lady said, I’m supposed to get three bags for the price of two, but there’s none left.
Of course I took a trio of packets from one of their trolleys and said, here, take these.
Courage and daring don’t figure here. You have to do the perceived right thing.
A woman and her young son were checking out their groceries when I heard the woman scold the cashier. “You don’t speak English? You don’t work here!” and she continued to harangue the poor girl.
Came my turn, I said to the anxious girl, who clearly had done nothing wrong, don’t worry, here is my number, if that woman complains, ask your manager to call me.
At an outdoor food court one time I spotted a cleaner shovelling down her boxed lunch, placed on top of one of those heavy-duty trash bins. I said why are you eating here? Come and sit down here and eat.
She was timid; “Boss won’t like, wait I be sack”. I reassured her that would not happen, and that when seats at tables are available, she should sit and eat properly. And if the boss appears, I would talk with him.
On a night bus from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur it had to break down midway at a late hour.
After foot-tapping some 20 minutes, and then a half hour, I stretched to my full frame and sought out the driver. The lackadaisical fella was sitting and waiting for fate to take over.
“WHAT? You never call your office? You never inform bus breakdown? You just going to sit here? Aeroplane coming to fly us from here to KL? MAD or what?”
He then made the calls and we rolled into KL at 3am.
More than anything I wanted to slap and pinch and strangle every last passenger in the bus for not twitching a lip, for not clearing a throat, to get up and find out what’s next!
How does anyone do that? Not do anything, in a situation, hoping someone else be the cat’s paw?
Situations do vary. In a fight, street brawl, say, with weapons in sight, like a knife, one needs to stay clear. But do call the police. Outside Wheelock Place one time two men were toughing it out over a girl.
I asked the cafe to call the police. The cowardly custard of a scaredy cat barista claimed “the phone is spoilt”. I told him off, someone else made the call and the cops arrived.
So I’m a so-and-so of a busybody, but back of my mind lies the thought: What if it was a family member abroad and in a spot of bother, and nobody stopped to help?
(By the way, if any of you ever video me QC-ing, I will know where to find you….)
And then again one can kaypoh (busybody) a length too far. An old Caucasian couple were looking towards some building on Orchard Road. Naturally I thought they were lost.
“May I help?”
“Oh no, not at all, we’re just wondering which window of that hotel is our room.”
On a happy note, decades after having to leave my alma mater (laughahaha) I bumped into Mrs K in a bank. She actually recognised me.
“Sylvia, we are all so proud of you!”
(By the time I’d realised I was a failure, I had become famous.)
I never felt more vindicated in my life.