Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar (1 of 3): The School

The Daily Grind
My typical day starts at 0430, but lessons do not start until 0830 (0800 on Fridays). There is quite a complex system where school starts and ends at different times on different days.  Events are held on Saturday evenings at the Auditorium. I hardly ever attend these but they are usually society events, movie nights, plays or performances. “Weekends” are a lie – you really only have Sundays off.

Tuition
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 have friends who game or shop (online) during classes as well. You are expected to speak quite a bit more (something which I did not appreciate but eventually got used to).

KTJ is much more permissive than 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.

On my first week in the 6th form we had placement tests for IELTS and Maths. I skipped the Maths one because I don’t like Maths and am terrible at it.

Accommodation
There are 8 boarding houses, each with their own colours and animal mascot (although I would hardly consider dragons and phoenixes real animals).

We are made to have nightly study sessions known as “prep”. In Irinah, we leave our doors open during first prep. If you are in Upper 6th you might get away with not bothering. I never really do anything useful during prep. I generally use this time to unwind, read topics of interest, draw, daydream, quietly sip Milo, hang upside down, or take a quick unauthorised nap.

The rooms are a bit on the small side (compared to the ones at KYUEM). Each person gets a bed, a cupboard and a desk with some shelf space. There is a laundry service that I personally do not fully trust, but there is also a washing machine and dryer.

Boarding life is reasonably pleasant. Some people get quite homesick when they first arrive but everyone settles in eventually (not that you have much of a choice).

Pros: water heating, critters in your room (mostly bees and lizards but there is the occasional rat or huntsman spider).
Cons: the apparent aversion to knocking, not being able to lock your doors, not having stoves or kettles

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

Rules.
People often refer to the school as “KTJail” which I am assuming has something to do with the rules and the fact that you can’t leave without  your Departure/prisoner card. But honestly, I think the rules here are generally quite lax. You can wear shorts on school property (but no sleeveless shirts in the dining hall). You get to bring phones and laptops to class – what more can you ask for?

Irinah is supposedly the house with the strictest rules. This is somewhat true considering all the ridiculous things you can get grounded for. Grounding is when you have to wear your uniform, with tie, all day (until bedtime) and have your house seniors sign a sheet every couple hours or so. It doesn’t seem very hygienic/pleasant. You could also get your phone confiscated.

Competitions and stuff.
One of the biggest events of the year is House Singing, which you pretty much get thrown into the moment the school-year begins. Had I known about this beforehand I might’ve decided to stay in government school instead. Frankly I quite hated it: the singing, the dancing, the makeup, the costumes, the late night practising (against the rules).

There is an array of house sports, but the big one is cross country which everyone is made to join either through top-down orders or peer pressure. This is a 4.4 km run/jog/bored walk around the school.

I remember being asked to run despite a sprained ankle and a doctor’s note excusing me from the event (these were “not being accepted”). I refused, as I wasn’t about to allow myself to be made to limp 4.4. km on uneven terrain on a bruised, swollen ankle. Others are not so lucky.

House spirit is a very big thing in KTJ – there is even an award dedicated to it. It’s all a lot of peer pressure when you think about it. I’ve never been the very spirited sort. You get in trouble for not attending interhouse competitions (even if your A-Levels are less than a week away). I managed to skip quite a few without repercussions as I am virtually invisible – both my presences and absences tend to go unnoticed.

Dining
Food is all paid for under accommodation fees. We get fed fairly often. 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.  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).

img_5610
Tru-cape apple, picture taken from its good side.

Potato wedges, chips, frankfurters and mashed potatoes make frequent appearances. 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.

img_5603 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 (allergy warning: they tend to put some sort of prawn filling in these – I learnt the hard way), 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.

 

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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.

ECAs
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 – make sure you get the sort with traction
  • 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 blackouts
  • 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 on surviving the wildlife.

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