Looking back, I’m amazed at how much independence my parents gave me. When faced with the huge decisions in my life, Mum always sat down with me and asked, “So what do you want to do?”. And she wasn’t like some parents who asked their children’s opinion and then turned a deaf ear. Mum really listened. The decisions were made as I wanted them. Wow.
I was eleven, going on twelve. It was one of those major turning points in a Singaporean child’s life - the whole PSLE(Primary School Leaving Examination) exam, and the choosing of a secondary school to attend. For those of you not familiar with the education process in Singapore and a few other Asian countries, just remember this: The child’s entire future is pretty much dependent upon which school he or she gets into.
So when Mum asked me which school I wanted to apply to, I took some time to do some research. You might want to believe that I actually looked up statistics or asked friends who were in the prospective schools. I didn’t. All I wanted to know was which school Faith was in. She, being a year older, was already in secondary school. I just needed to align my choices appropriately.
As we were only acquaintances (much to my dismay) and add to that the fact that I was pretty much yellow-livered, I scoured around for clues much like a scavenger. The opportunity came when she brought a donation card to choir practice one night. It bore her school crest on it.
With a daily allowance of fifty cents, I couldn’t even fake an interest in donating money. I did, however catch a glimpse of the crest. The school name underneath the crest was written in an old cursive font that wasn’t quite readable in the dim lighting.
As we packed up and got ready to go home, I finally summoned the couraged to ask her.
“Which school are you in?”
“T.K.,” she replied.
Not wanting to look stupid in front of the girl I was very much infatuated with, I smiled and nodded.
Back home (that very night, mind you), I pulled out my Panini sticker book that contained within it all the school crests of Singapore. Like most other children, my short attention span meant that I did not finish collecting all the stickers, and many school crests were only empty squares. I went straight to secondary schools that began with the letter “T”.
Telok Kurau! Of course! How could I not have known?
Telok Kurau Secondary School was this rather dilapidated neighbourhood school near the place I lived. It was far from being elite. Their students were often seen at the bus stop in front of my house, smoking cigarettes, their crumpled white shirts untucked. From what I knew, not a very respectable school to attend.
But Faith was there. And I had to be there too.
A little concerned with laying down my entire future in order to win the heart of a girl who barely spoke two words to me, I asked Auntie Soo Eng where Faith went to school.
Good. I hadn’t heard wrongly.
A few weeks later Faith wore her school uniform to church. Wait a minute. It’s not the white blouse - white skirt combination I remember T.K. students wearing. Hers was a weird green pinifore which she wore over a white t-shirt.
You could literally hear my brain scramble as its entire database was scanned for memories that would allow me to pinpoint which school the uniform belonged to.
Like her sister who unintentionally sabotaged my love-letter-writing, Faith had left out crucial information that made all the difference. TKGS(Tanjong Katong Girls’ School) was the full acronym of her school.
Tanjong Katong Girls’ School. There were many things I was willing to give up to be with her, but a sex-change wasn’t one of them. The dream of spending four years of secondary school with her thwarted, my one-track mind moved on to the next optimistic thought:
Junior Colleges were all co-ed.