Life

Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar (2 of 3): Life in Mantin

See Part 1 for the basics or Part 3 for survival tips.

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 (callixa96@gmail.com) or leave a comment below.

Some people are initially apprehensive about going to a school in the “middle of nowhere”. Strictly speaking it is still quite accessible, given that in Peninsular Malaysia there is the general advantage of a better developed transport system. The school is located near Mantin, Negeri Sembilan, about 40 minutes away from KLIA.

One of the reasons that I picked this school was because I was hoping that the (rather sparse) jungle near the boarding houses would give me some semblance of normalcy. I grew up surrounded by relatively thick jungles complete with snakes, monkeys and bats.

The A-Levels.
I found the A-Level a bit lighter than SPM in terms of workload, but the A-Level exam questions do generally require a bit more thought. If you’ve done Additional Maths and pure sciences at SPM and are continuing these subjects at A-Level you will have a relatively cushy time compared to those who did IGCSEs. I do not speak from experience but this is what most people tell me.

The subject combinations offered differ from year to year. Most people take Maths (comprising 6 papers), but as I am mathematically challenged I decided not to bother with the Maths placement test. One advantage to not taking Maths is that you tend to have free periods when others don’t, and your exams end in late May/early June instead of late June.

Boarding life
I have never been very comfortable around teenagers, and perhaps never will be. But KTJ boarding life generally does wonders for anyone who isn’t misanthropic. You do tend to be judged and “observed”if you do not quite meet with some extrovert ideals.

During first prep we are made to leave our doors open. 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.

I spent a lot of time in the common room. I have free periods when everyone else has Maths so the timings work out quite well for me. There is a TV (which I’ve never used), a pool table (which I’ve never used), treadmills (which I’ve never used), a punching bag (which I’ve never used) and an upright piano (which I used for about 8 hours a week).

The rooms tend to be a bit on the small side. Each person gets a bed, a cupboard and a desk with shelving. My house had a laundry system where you can only use the washing machine and dryer on days allocated to your year group. You can generally avoid the hassle of this system if you handwash your clothes.

The boarding houses are often considered a “second home”or a “home away from home”, but I am not as liberal with these terms. Boarding life is reasonably pleasant. Some people get quite homesick when they first arrive but they settle in eventually. Homesickness was generally not a problem for me, partly because I knew that I had no way of getting home without spending at least half a thousand ringgit. I think the best remedy to homesickness is to tough it out and find something productive to do.

Pros Cons
  • water heating (I don’t get this at home)
  • getting bugs in your room (fun!)
  • living with friends?
  • living near the jungle (bugs, snakes, monkeys)
  • microwave (didn’t have one at home)
  • the kids are generally nice
  • the apparent aversion to knocking
  • not being able to lock your doors
  • your chocolate is not safe
  • air-conditioning is timed
  • no stoves or kettles
  • being told, at 20, that you have a bedtime
  • blackouts – pretty frequent
  • distracting trivialities

School life in general.
The national anthem and school song are sung with a light staccato piano accompaniment. The tune sounds a bit like what you might expect to hear our of a pianola/player piano.

Note: I’m going to be posting piano covers of them here at some point.

Fights don’t seem to be a thing here. It was nice at first but after a while I found myself missing the chaos of a good fistfight or screaming match.

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. If I had known about this beforehand I would’ve probably decided to stay in government school instead. Frankly I quite hated it: the singing, the dancing, the makeup, the costumes, the late night practising. It just really isn’t my thing.

I actually prayed a whole rosary, on my knees, to suffer some injury so that I could pull out of performing, but this only happened after the competition. I tripped on one ankle, rolled down the very steep asphalt hill outside the auditorium, and landed on the other ankle – effectively spraining both. After finding my glasses (which had been flung three feet away), I had to drag myself to the stairs of the multipurpose hall (MPH), where I sat for a few minutes before hobbling home on the less injured ankle. Well played, universe.

There is an array of house sports, but the big one is the cross country. This is a 4.4km run/jog/bored walk around the school. I missed it the first year because I had my IELTS exams. The second year, I sought help from the universe once more and this time, my prayers were answered. On one of the practice runs I tripped on the far end of the main field, which is quite uneven. The only problem with this was that I sprained my good ankle. I was the last person on the field, probably because I stopped twice midway for coffee. It was a very hot day but I was momentarily immobilised so I couldn’t move to the shade. I eventually decided to hop on one foot across the field. I had to skip church the next morning because I could barely walk. On the bright side, I did learn how to go up the stairs sideways on one foot by supporting myself on the railing.

I was still asked to run on the day anyway, despite my health centre note, which apparently were “not being accepted” that year. Didn’t do it of course – I already had the intense daily pain of an uncorrected fallen arch in addition to the sprained, bruised ankle and I wasn’t about to allow myself to be made to limp 4.4 km on uneven terrain. We were also set to go home two days after, so I wanted a bit more recovery time before having to go back to working on the farm.

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.

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 are allowed to 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 and have your house seniors sign a sheet every couple hours or so. You could also get your phone confiscated, which would have no impact on someone like me – at the time I did not have a smartphone and the sole purpose of my phone was as an alarm clock. I still don’t understand some of the rules so I kept to my own: obey and enforce the rules that aren’t stupid.

Mantin.
Mantin is a small Hakka town. There are many other colleges in the area: Linton, Manipal, Lagenda to name a few. There is a mamak stall in Mantin (apparently these are quite popular in West Malaysia), Chinese hawker centre (best place to get pork) and a KFC. You can get groceries at Zemart, the 99 Speedmart or the 1 Malaysia store; and of course there is Rainbow World which has a good selection of mugs. There is also a liquor store which I like to stare into on Sundays.

On the weekends there are many Chinese-speaking aunties who sell fruits and vegetables. To this day I am quite proud of the fact that I managed to buy Australian carrots in Chinese.

I go to the St. Aloysius church on Sundays and other holy days of obligation. It is a very inclusive parish and it takes an interest in the welfare of the African and East Malaysian students in the vicinity. I did the church readings a few times (I am slightly better at speaking in front of a crowd of 200-300 than a class of 10) and took part in the washing of the feet – the first time the church allowed girls to do it. I actually really miss it – I like it better than the churches at home.

We get to go to Mantin unsupervised, but the Protestant kids follow one of the teachers to the church in Seremban. Their group is much bigger, and their bus leaves about an hour later.

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On days when I don’t feel like speaking Chinese, I use photographs to make my order.
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Shaved ice from the hawker centre

Mantin is great – none of this big city skyscraper stuff. I honestly don’t think I could survive in a city environment.

Things I did that I probably shouldn’t have

I was actually a very good kid in terms of work ethic (compared to my younger self). Not once did I cut a class (without good cause). I always had my work in by the deadline, even that time my History class decided they were all going to lie about it and say that the deadline was 2 days later. I had a lot going on in my life at the time and decided that I couldn’t deal with this sort of nonsense – but I did not rat on them either. Quite surprisingly, they managed to get away with it.

Drink
I didn’t do drugs (despite having the opportunity) but I did do a fair bit of drinking. It is fairly easy to get away with if done in moderation and alone (witnesses and co-conspirators are liabilities).

Explore all the out of bounds areas
I did this with a friend one morning. None of these places were particularly impressive. The ‘Out of Bounds’ area near Jawahir just leads to a concrete structure that the school lake drains into. There is also a big monkey trap among the vegetation somewhere.

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The water tower.

Climb the water tower

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The view from atop the water tower. Not worth the trip.

I had to observe the guards’ movements for a week before I did this. The structure has no flooring until you reach the top, the railings are dusty and the steps are quite steep. You also risk getting caught because it is quite easy to spot someone on a structure that is all sticks and no walls. I should have listened to my friend when she said the view from up there wasn’t that great.

Break into the MPH
I did this almost every morning for my last few weeks in school. It is usually pitch black at around 6:45 and the only light you have are the red LED numbers on the clock next to the climbing wall. The only time that I was (almost) caught was on the last day of school when some school groundskeepers came in and turned on the lights. Thankfully there was a whiteboard to hide behind.

Break into the auditorium
I used to do this before every sixth form assembly and sometimes before school assemblies on Monday mornings. You can usually get in via the backstage entrance, but it can be quite dark if the cleaners and guards haven’t come round to turn on the lights yet. I do this for the grand piano. If you play the piano, you will know that the touch of a grand and that of an upright is very different. And you will hopefully see the logic behind this.

Attempt to cartwheel
Really. I can’t do it.

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