by Amelia Chiang Kar Mun
I am a product of a mission school and super proud of it. My primary and secondary school years at Main Convent Ipoh have taught me about the different cultures and religions, and living within a multiracial community. Main Convent Ipoh was opened in 1907 with only eight pupils and today, after 114 years, is still standing as strong as ever! I would like to believe that I am the person I am today because of my convent school background.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, racism and exclusivity were hardly heard of. We mingled freely with each other; different races and cultures appreciating each other’s good qualities, and most importantly I learned the English Language, which has been so crucial to my subsequent career development.
We enjoyed the many different types of food that our friends brought to school; savoury rendang and ketupat during Hari Raya, and spicy crunchy murukku and sweet Gulab Jamun (Indian donuts) during Deepavali. This early exposure has made me more open to other cuisines as an adult.
The persevering and unassailable Convent nuns and teachers did not just educate us girls to excel in academics, but also prepared us for the ‘battle of real life’. They taught us to respect ourselves and our bodies, and to preserve our dignities as young women. Us Convent girls were encouraged to work hard and compete in a healthy manner. Although most of us excelled in different fields, the pride with which everyone had at being the best in school encouraged me to work harder. In sports competitions, we cheered each other on.
Even though we studied in a Catholic school, we were not forced to pray in church or do anything against our beliefs. I was taught to respect others’ cultures and religions and they mine. During Friday prayers or during the fasting month we learned how the Muslims prayed. We learned why our Malay schoolmates wore the tudung and how Muslims performed their fasting. Some of our friends even encouraged us to fast together with them. This was how wonderful it was back then where we never encountered racism in our school community. It is so different now with the current political instability and turbulence. I blame it on social media.
Most of all, I appreciate the friendships created throughout my Convent life. We are all lifelong friends. To this day, one can catch us different races sitting together chatting in our “rojak” language. Nisha will still try to chat with me in her rusty Chinese and I will tease her in my over-confident Tamil. Multilingualism is another trait of us Convent girls, plus we can speak fluently in Malay and English! So true about that old saying, that you can tell a Convent girl from a mile away – if she’s disciplined and well-mannered, she must be a Convent girl! For this I am extremely gleeful and happy to be a product of a mission school. Thanks, Main Convent Ipoh!!
About the author – Amelia is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Science and Engineering, Centre for Foundation Studies (Sungai Long Campus) at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman