Yong Yew Kim1 : Portrait of a Teacher, Principal and Songwriter

 

by Shue Tuck Wong

 

Yong Yew Kim

 

 

            Yong Yew Kim served with distinction for over half a century as teacher and principal of the Seremban Anglo-Chinese School (ACS). He contributed significantly to the growth of ACS and the Wesley Church, to the founding of the ACS Afternoon School and to the construction of the new single storey Primary Section of the school. He was the first lay-person Principal appointed by the Wesley Mission Board to head an English-medium church supported school and made it into an outstanding English government-aided school in Seremban. While associated with ACS, Yew Kim also wrote poems, songs, and translated Christian hymns into Bahasa Malaysia language (the National Language of Malaysia) for people of all ages, and those who love to read and sing at youth fellowships and social functions.

 

Career and Songwriting

 

            Yew Kim was born on May 23, 1900 in Malacca, and died on July 20th, 1990 in Seremban.  He was the son of Yoong Shin Sen and Chung Chiu Ying, Chinese immigrants from “Moi Yan”, Kwantung Province, China.  They settled in Malacca during the late 19th century and opened a family-owned goldsmith shop there.  They had three sons: Yoong Yew Kim, Yoong Yew Moyne and Yoong Yew Kwee.  When the boys were young, they all helped their father run the family business.  They all attended Malacca High School.  At the age of 15, Yew Kim passed the Overseas Senior Cambridge School Certificate Examinations with distinction and was awarded a $1,000 Queen Scholarship to study in the United Kingdom.  (During the British colonial period in Malaya, it was customary for the British Government to announce the winners of the Queen Scholarship awards on Queen Victoria’s birthday, May 24th).  For some mysterious and inexplicable reasons, Yew Kim did not make use of that scholarship.  Instead, he left for Seremban, and on the recommendation of a good friend, Mr. Chin Meow Chong, a math teacher of the Seremban King George V School, he accepted a teaching appointment in the Anglo-Chinese school.  While  a teacher, he enrolled in the Normal Teacher Training Class during the afternoon (after school at 1:00 p.m.).  After two years he became a normal trained certified teacher.

 

            While Yew Kim was teaching at ACS, both his younger brothers went abroad to study in Hong Kong.  Yoong Yew Moyne went on a scholarship to study engineering at Hong Kong University, while Yoong Yew Kwee attended the Far East Flying School in Hong Kong.  During the Japanese Invasion of China in the l937, Yew Moyne was killed by the Japanese.  Yew Kwee, after graduating as a flying engineer, migrated to Taiwan and later moved to the United States. 

 

            The subjects that Yew Kim taught at ACS were mainly mathematics (made up of algebra, geometry and trigonometry) and bookkeeping (elementary accountancy).  His responsibility was mainly to prepare senior students to sit for the Overseas Senior  Cambridge School Certificate  Examinations, for British Commonwealth Students.  He was a conscientious, hardworking, patient and understanding teacher.  As I recall, when he taught math, he brought to class his own repertoire of teaching aids, viz., the big wooden protractor, the yard long bamboo ruler, a long string and a small box of white and coloured chalk.  He drew triangles, parallelograms, rhomboids, using his bamboo ruler.  When he drew a circle, he would tie the string to a piece of chalk and ask a student to hold one end of it and press it against the blackboard, and he would raise his arm and swing the string around to draw the circle.  He was very meticulous and would go into great detail to explain how the various kinds of angles--their sizes and shapes—were formed and what theorems were suitable for solving each kind of problem.  Most of his detailed explanations were directed at the average or slower learners.  Brighter students sometimes thought he was too patient and generous with his time in explaining problems to the class.  Occasionally brighter students might not even pay attention to his teaching, and they would start doing other homework or read a storybook while he taught.  When he caught such students not paying attention to his teaching or his explanations, he would pause and say, “Class, pay attention.”  If the students concerned did not look up, he would repeat it again.  When they looked up, he would smile at them and continue teaching.  Rarely did he ever lose his temper or raise his voice and scold the student who was not paying attention while he was teaching.

 

            In connection with Yew Kim’s teaching, mention might be made of what Stanley Padman, former ACS Old Student and the late Principal of Telok Anson High School, Ipoh, had to say in his tribute to Yew Kim on his 90th birthday.  He said, “Never have I heard him raise his voice or scold any pupil no matter how weak he was in his studies.  Instead, he was a source of encouragement and inspiration to the weak.  No wonder many who had been taught by him remember him with happy and fond memories.”  (A Tribute to Mr. Yong Yew Kim on His 90th Birthday).

 

            Yew Kim in his career was more than a math teacher.  He was also a gifted poet.  He started writing poems in his twenties and thirties.  For instance, he wrote a poem in memory of his younger brother, Yew Moyne, who was killed by the Japanese during World War II in Hong Kong.  And he dedicated a poem to a well-deserved girl.  In 1930, he wrote “Good Wishes for a Gifted Child”, and he republished it in the 1955 issue of the school’s magazine The Silent Signpost.  The reason he republished this poem 25 years later was to show the second generation of ACS students the large measure of emancipation that had been won by females since the Depression era of the 1930s.  Yew Kim wanted the girl to be immortalized so that young men who spoke of her would proclaim they had never known anyone quite like her. 

 

            Yew Kim wrote not only poems but also numerous songs that portray Christian principles and his personal ideals.  His most well-known song was “Our School Song”2, which he composed in 1941.  The song contained three verses written to the music of Adam Geibel’s 1904 song “March with the Heroes”.  It quickly became a hit with the ACS students and became the school’s anthem.  The words of the song stress love for others, care for others, sorrow and worthiness of lessons learned.  They were a testimony of Yew Kim’s personal beliefs and ideals; namely, living for justice and universal peace, truth and honesty, forming lasting friendships and challenging “the hard right” against “the easy wrong”.  Indeed, the refrain best sums up the heart of his message:

 

Bright hope of the future, Ever ‘gainst the wrong,

May we bring thee honour In life’s battle long!

 

Two other songs connected with ACS are: “The Seremban ACS Old Students’ Song”, 1949, and “Our Alma Mater Song,” 1951.  The former came about as the result of the formation of the ACS Old Students’ Association in 1949.  The Old Students’ Association Committee felt that ACS Old Students needed a song of their own.  Yew Kim responded to their need and penned the words of this song, while A.P. Chin of the Junior Technical School in Kuala Lumpur wrote the music.  The song describes them as a happy family which is true to their alma mater and implores them to not forget their debt to ACS.  As brothers and sisters, they were all for one and one for all to help each other out in need, on call.  Finally, they should bind their hearts for a common purpose and task, until the sands of time run out.

 

            “Our Alma Mater Song” was originally intended for the Old Students of the Seremban ACS.  The ACS Old Students’ Association did not adopt this song because it could also be used alike by the Old Students of all students, whether coeducational, boys’ or girls’ schools, and also vernacular schools where English was taught.  As a result of the ACS Old Students’ Association having its own Old Students’ Song, “Our Alma Mater Song” then became the song of Old Students of all schools.  Yew Kim, therefore, decided to dedicate it to all Old Students in the hope of inspiring “a sense of loyalty and gratitude to their own Alma Mater as well as a spirit of oneness among themselves, which will be a first step towards a common citizenship in Malaya.”(The Silent Signpost, 1951,p. 46).      The final version of the song was set to the well-loved familiar  tune of “Auld Lang Syne”.  While all three verses resembled the ACS Old Students’ Song of 1949, importantly, the song differed in regard to the overall theme—that of loyalty and gratitude to one’s Alma Mater and embodying the spirit of oneness as a first step towards a common citizenship in Malaya back then.

 

            The “Flag of Malaya” song followed in 1952.  Once again, Yew Kim wrote the lyrics while choosing the tune “Lest We Forget” by G.F. Blanchard.  He intentionally designed it for schools to sing on Federation Day.  The lyrics espouse such values as pledge of loyalty, happiness to live in unity, fairness and justice among all nations, cherishing liberty, understanding freedom and striving for peace.  On July 30, 1952, the ACS school choir first performed the “Flag of Malaya”, and the next month they sang it again—together with “Our School Song”—as part of a fundraiser for the Seremban Gurney Memorial Library. (Straits Times, 2 August, 1952, p. 5)

 

           

            The “31st August 1957” song was written in English in 1957 and was published in the ACS magazine The Silent Signpost, 1957—the Year of Independence for Malaya—after Great Britain had ruled the country for over 130 years.  Yew Kim wrote this song to celebrate Merdeka (Freedom) and to remind all people of their responsibilities to their new country, Malaya (Malaysia, after 1963).  The Malay language version came out in 1977.  Yew Kim wrote the words and set the music to the tune of the New Methodist Hymnal, no. 191, “God Send Us Men” by Frederik J. Gillimen.  The song called for rejoicing in freedom, aspiring to live in harmony, service in friendly rivalry, granting wisdom to leaders & serving people well in everlasting love.  It was translated into Bahasa Malaysia and reprinted in Buku Nyanyian Kristian, 1977, p. 25. 

 

 

            When the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was formed on 8th August 1967, Yew Kim decided to write an ASEAN song for the region and dedicated it to the original five members, viz., Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philipines.  He wrote the song’s four verses and adapted the music to the New Methodist Hymnal, no. 547.  In 1977 he translated the English words into Bahasa Malaysia and made the song accessible to those who could sing it in the Malay language.  Over time this song was renamed as “Peace Song”, so that people of all countries could sing it.  (Buku Nyanyian Kristian, 1977, p. 8). 

 

            Following the rationale of the “Peace Song”, Yew Kim wrote “Common School Song” aimed at schools outside ASEAN.  He made changes to the first line in the first verse and the second line of the second verse to allow harmonization with the names of the non-ASEAN countries.  The song in three verses stressed goodwill, everlasting friendship, sharing remembrances and sorrows at home and afar.  This song was translated into Bahasa Malaysia and reprinted in Buku Nyanyian Kristian, 1977, p. 8.

 

            In 1941 - 1942, Yew Kim was elected by the Methodist Church in Malaysia and Singapore as the Tenth Principal of ACS.  He was the first lay-person  principal ever approved by the Methodist Church Board.  Prior to this appointment, all the principals of ACS were ordained ministers of the Wesley Methodist Church.  When Malaya and Singapore were occupied by the Japanese Army, February 15, 1942 to September 5, 1945, in the Pacific War, ACS was renamed “Renorojoo” and used mainly to teach the Japanese language to local residents.  Yew Kim was unemployed for a while but later found work at a Japanese kumia rice store, where he served as an accountant because of his skills in bookkeeping.  When the Pacific War was over, after the dropping of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, ACS reopened its doors to the public.  The condition of the school building was so deteriorated and damaged due to neglect during the war that the returning students had to use the Wesley Church building as their classroom.

 

            When ACS reopened in 1947 during the British Military period, Yew Kim returned as a teacher and as a staff member under Reverend Paul H. Schmucker (the Eleventh ACS Principal, 1947-48).  One serious problem they encountered was the imminent shortage of classroom space and the overflow of numerous overage students.  To remedy the situation, Schmucker and Yew Kim decided to set-up additional classes.  They split ACS into two sections: a morning section for regular students and an afternoon section for overage students and those who could not enroll in the regular English schools.  The afternoon section came to be known as the ACS Continuation School.  It made use of the classrooms and facilities of the ACS morning section.  The former soon came to be known as the ACS Afternoon School, due largely to Yew Kim’s efforts.  Eventually it employed its own principal and staff and became known as the Methodist Afternoon School. 

 

            Around this time the American Methodist Mission donated some funds to help with the classroom space shortage.  Yew Kim added a single storey section of ten classrooms to the new building.  However the funds were insufficient to complete the project.  Thanks to the ACS teachers, who donated ten percent of their salary, and to additional public support and help from the local government, Yew Kim’s vision for the new building was well on its way.

 

            When Paul H. Schmucker left for America, Reverend Dudley Ingerson arrived to take over as the Twelfth Principal of ACS, 1948-52.  Yew Kim remained as a teacher and staff member and continued to teach mathematics and bookkeeping in the School Certificate Class.

 

            Yew Kim was particularly passionate about his involvement with the activities of the Old Students’ Association.  In 1949 he introduced a special section in The Silent Signpost dedicated to news about them.  It featured them by name, profiling their activities and any awards they achieved after leaving ACS.

 

            Following Reverend Ingerson’s return to America, Yew Kim was reappointed as principal for the second time.  He continued to plan and oversee the construction of the new primary school building.

 

            In May 1955, Yew Kim retired from ACS.  At his retirement party, hosted by the teaching staff, the Old Students’ and Present Students’ Associations, Mr. Ngui Choon Jin spoke on behalf of the ACS teachers and called it a “double occasion” since that very same day was also Yew Kim’s 55th birthday!  Just as Yew Kim finished his dinner, he was surprised to hear from Mr. Choon Jin again.  Mr. Choon Jin announced that Yew Kim was reemployed by ACS because it needed him to shepherd the completion of the new building.

 

            Yew Kim finally retired in December 1955, after Mr. Choon Jin took over as the Thirteenth Principal of ACS (1955-61).

 

Personality and Legacy

 

            Yew Kim was an amiable, warm, affectionate and compassionate gentleman.  He was rather quiet and generally private, and had a kind disposition.  He was not aggressive nor belligerent or pushy in conversation.  Many of his colleagues and friends found him easy to get along with socially as he was quite witty and possessed a good sense of humour!             

            In his behaviour, he was highly moral and ethical.  He had his own ideals and moral code of conduct.  For example, in education, character development was more important than earning good grades.  He affirmed this on the Principal’s Page in the school magazine, saying, “Subscribing to this view will make the world a much happier place to live than it is at present.” (The Silent Signpost, 1952)

 

            Besides being a regular teacher and staff member of ACS, he was a faithful Sunday School teacher and a treasurer of the Wesley Church.  He was a devout and highly dedicated Methodist.  And he was also an ardent believer in Norman Vincent Peale’s famous book The Power of Positive Thinking.  Being an optimist, he often recognized people’s finer qualities rather than to begrudge them.  In particular, he showed great kindness and magnanimity towards the newer and younger staff members of ACS.  He encouraged their teaching forays and their participation in intramural school sports and social events.

 

            Yew Kim was highly intelligent and naturally gifted, both in literary and quantitative skills.  His humanistic interests were broad and multifaceted.  He had a good understanding of English Literature and loved to read poetry.  Indeed, he fine-tuned most of his mathematic skills and literary accomplishments through years of disciplined self study and the sheer love of learning.  It is almost certain that if given the extra opportunity to pursue a university degree, Yew Kim would have become an outstanding scholar and perhaps even a professor.

 

            Yew Kim was a good family man.  He married his wife, Cheong Chin Kian, through a matchmaker in “Moi Yan”, Kwangtung, from where his parents came. They married when he was twenty years old, and she was sixteen.  Together they had a total of eight children, five boys and three girls.  Since Yew Kim became a Methodist after he joined ACS, he became a member of the Wesley Church and had all his children educated there.

 

            Few others had greater affection and aspiration for the life of the Wesley Church than Yew Kim.  Upon his retirement, he spent his golden years translating Christian hymns into Bahasa Malaysia, the national language of Malaya (before it became independent).  He always wished that these translated hymns (numbering a total of 92 from both the Old and New Methodist Hymnal) would be sung and would “bring joy and comfort to those who sing and hear them, young and old, Christians of all denominations as well as non-Christians and help to promote goodwill, fellowship, understanding and love among all people, leading to universal peace and the establishment of God’s Kingdom in the hearts of all mankind.” (Buku Nyanyian Kristian, 1977, p. iii)

 

            These words demonstrate that Yew Kim was not only a devout Christian but also a loyal patriot and an ardent believer of multiethnic harmony in a unified one Malaysia—an ideal that Dato Najib Tun Razak had been advocating for the one Malaysia since 2009!  Through his poems, songs and translated hymns into the Malay language, Yew Kim greatly enhanced and enriched not only the cultural life of Seremban but also the whole social fabric of Malaysian society.

 

            It is interesting to note that in Mandarin Yew Kim (You Jing) means “to have a view or scenery”.  The Chinese character for Jing is a compound of two words, the sun and the capital.  In the Chinese system of writing, it is represented by the sun over the capital.  When the sun is above the capital, it provides a commanding view of everything in its vicinity.  In a way, Yew Kim who served at ACS for over half a century, now himself holds a commanding view at the very entrance of the primary building that he diligently built.  His name Jing reflects his multifaceted talents as portrayed in his poems, songs and translated hymns.  Indeed, his name befits his legacy!  He was truly a remarkable and extraordinary person who transformed ACS from a beacon, with its “shades of gleaming light”, into a star shining bright over the Sungei Ujong Landscape of Seremban!

 

 

1.   Also known as Yoong Yew Kim

2.   Our School Song

 

 

 

Our School Song

 

ACS  we thank thee: Thou, O beacon bright

That amidst the darkness sheds its gleaming light! 

Bountiful the knowledge Thou hast to bestow,

Greatest of thy lessons: Love for others show!

 

Refrain

 

Bright hope of the future, Ever ‘gainst the wrong,

May we bring thee honour In life’s battle long!

 

On they grounds in cheerful study, happy play

We, all nations’ children, Meet from day to day!

Form we lasting friendships That do bid us all

Share each other’s sorrow, Heed each other’s call!

 

Refrain

 

When at last we leave thee, O’er the world to roam,

E’er shall we remember Thee, our second home!

Well imbued thy precepts, Wheresoe’er we be,

We’ll reflect they teachings, Worthy be of thee!

 

Refrain   

 

 

Acknowledgements

 

            The author is much indebted to Dr. Yoong Yee Phiow, Yoong Yee Loke and Yoong Yee Chit for their assistance in providing family history information.  He is also thankful to former ACS students and friends who have given information on Yew Kim’s songs and translated hymns.  They include: S.T. Peter Lim, Thong Kok Chaw, Heng Pooi Lim, Kenneth Kulasingham and Han Chiang Lim.  In preparing this paper, earlier drafts were reviewed by Sophia Wong and Christina Wong.  Any errors are the responsibility of the author.