Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar (1 of 3): The Basics; What to Bring

This post is reflective of KTJ from 2014-2016. It is meant to be a balanced, unbiased description with both the good, and the not-so-good. If you have any questions, or want details of things I cannot in good conscience write in this post you can email me ( or leave a comment below.

The Daily Grind
My typical day starts at 4:30 a.m., but for most people it starts at around 0830 (0800 on Fridays) when our first lessons start. There is quite a complex system where school starts and ends at different times depending on days of the week.

Events are held on Saturday evenings at the Auditorium. I hardly ever attend them (I use this as my quiet time) but these can range from club/society events, plays, movie nights and competitions.

“Weekends” are a lie – you really only have Sundays off. I often wished that lessons could start at 7 and end at 1, but my friends (some of whom like to sleep in till 10 or so) were usually horrified by the suggestion.

Classes are much smaller than in government school  (10-15 people on average, compared to the 40-50 that I am used to). This makes it much more difficult to sleep, although I did manage to sleep through half a year of Economics. I do have friends who game or online-shop during classes as well. You are expected to speak quite a bit more (something which I did not appreciate but eventually got used to).

The teachers are a lot more permissive than in government school and it is much easier to get away with skipping classes, not doing homework, tardiness and the like. Often excuses such as minor (non-existent) ailments, technological failure, and Apple apps not running on Windows are sufficient to at the very least buy you some extra time on homework. Do this often enough and the teachers will, understandably, get annoyed; but no one ever gets screamed at or sent out or beaten (presumably not allowed in international schools) for anything.

There are eight boarding houses, each with their own colours and animal mascots (although even a child could tell you that dragons and phoenixes aren’t real animals).  The pictures on the school website are of Alia (the newer, bigger house) – the other houses look very different.

  • Irinah (F) – reputed to be the competitive house (orange; dragon)
  • Jawahir (F) – reputed to be the “chill” house (purple; dolphin)
  • Alia (F) – the really nice new girls’ boarding house (red; phoenix)
  • Naquiyuddin (M) – (green; sheep – but they insist this is a ram)
  • Nadzaruddin (M) – (dark blue; shark)
  • Nadzimuddin (M) – (yellow; wasp)
  • Imran (M) – (pink; panther)
  • Naquiah – junior house for both boys and girls (light blue; scorpion)

Air-conditioning is timed. Being in a second floor room on a hot afternoon is like being in a furnace. No matter what you do to try to cool off, it’s not going to work. You’d be better off hiding out in the library, the common room or somewhere air-conditioned.

Food is all paid for under accommodation fees. There is a running joke that we are served chicken every day (too see for yourself, click here). The dining hall was renovated in 2014 and now besides the normal food and fruit, there is a panini station, noodle station (lunch) and grill (some dinners and brunch).

There is a vegetarian option, which I much prefer because there isn’t as long a queue and you can control your portions better. The dining hall staff have a tendency to either give you too much or too little. The latter is fine by me but if they give me too much I feel obliged to need to eat everything on my plate (I am quite obsessive about this).

But be careful not to take both the normal and vegetarian foods as you may get told off by the dining hall staff if you are unlucky. It sometimes still happens even if you don’t eat meat.

Tru-cape apple, picture taken from its good side.

Potato wedges, chips, frankfurters and mashed potatoes are things you tend to see fairly often. There are salads every day, but sometimes they have meat or mayonnaise in them, so thankfully there is still the fruit (usually watermelon/pineapple/bananas/ apples/oranges/papaya).

Juices tend to be from a selection of lime, orange, apple, some green unidentified juice, or mango; sometimes air bandung (some sort of pink syrup) or ice lemon tea is served.

At tea, they tend to serve a variety of pastries or local kuih along with coffee/tea/teh tarik. You can generally expect something deep fried or sweet or with coconut. Some things which have made an appearance: various cakes, doughnuts, currypuffs (fairly often), panggang (warning: they tend to put some sort of prawn filling in these), kaya/red bean buns, onde onde, kuih puteri ayu. I don’t go to tea very often so this is not an exhaustive list.

“Brunch” is a relatively new phenomenon, served from 10 to 1 on Sundays and exeats. I was actually quite upset about it at first – breakfast used to start at 8 a.m. on exeats and this delay meant having to wait an extra two hours.

Typical brunch food includes: muffins (chocolate/vanilla/both), fried eggs, roti canai, pancakes (regular/banana – you can tell which is which because the banana pancake tends to stick to the griddle), some form of processed meat (patties, frankfurters), fish (either grilled or salmon), croissants, yoghurt; in addition to regular dining hall food.

In addition to that there is now also Cafe Diem, where you can buy overpriced coffee, pastries and frozen yoghurt. I have never understood the hype about frozen yoghurt. It’s basically an ice-cream, isn’t it?

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Some kids eat a lot of instant noodles. Instant noodle parties are a thing in my sister’s year  group. She claims to eat 1 or 2 bowls of these a week.  I don’t personally enjoy instant noodles, but they seem to be a KTJ staple.

There is a remarkable range of ECAs (aktiviti kokurikulum/KK) to choose from. Some of them (e.g. fencing and horseback riding) are fee-paying activities. You can even set up your own club provided you have enough members and a supervising teacher.

There is an Olympic-sized swimming pool (I am not sure what this means but it is pretty big). My favourite is still the climbing wall (you need a certificate to be allowed to use it during ECA time). I think I’d probably be happier living in the Art room than in the boarding house.

Sixth Form and university support
Students are given extensive help with their university applications. Those applying for medicine and Oxbridge are taught separately (their deadlines are earlier). There are also IELTS preparatory classes complete with mock speaking tests (which I opted out of because I don’t like having to talk).

What to pack

  • Alarm clock – or maybe not, because the walls are paper thin
  • Flip flops
  • Your own food/drink if you’re likely to get hungry outside of mealtimes
  • Container for food
  • Padlocks – at least 2 to lock up your valuables (opportunistic thievery commonplace)
  • Storage box – to leave things in the house store over the holidays
  • Permanent marker – to label belongings
  • Torch – it can be dark early in the mornings; there may also be power failures
  • Hair dryers/kettles – some people bring them but for certain reasons it might not be advisable
  • Files, enough stationery
  • Your own mug/bowl/cutlery
  • Detergent
  • Toilet paper – tends to run out
  • Dishwashing liquid – tends to run out
  • Insecticide (trust me on this)

See Part 2 for life in general and Part 3 for survival tips.


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