SCMP Saturday, December 9, 2000

Strict habits of the nuns


I can't remember my first days at school, it was too long ago. The kindergarten I went to does not exist any more. It was very small and near my family home in North Point.
I can vaguely recall the class birthday parties, and I remember the cakes. Each child was entitled to a cream cake with 'Happy Birthday' written on it. Parents were also invited. I don't remember any of my teachers though - it was 40 years ago.
I then went to St Paul's Catholic School in Happy Valley for my primary and secondary education. The primary school was in an old building. My six-year-old daughter is going to the same school now and she told me the building used to be an orphanage, probably constructed pre-war. It was a girls' school run by Catholic sisters.
I remember the strict discipline. You had to have a proper school dress, not shorter than the knee. Long hair had to be tied up. No colourful ribbons - only white, black or blue, the school colours. It's the same even now. The sisters wore white in summer and dark habits in winter. They gave me the impression they were very serious.
The teachers I liked the most were my mathematics teachers. I didn't have a particular favourite. I was very good at maths. In primary school, most of my lessons were in Cantonese but in secondary school the teachers taught in English and only half the class understood what was going on. We didn't speak English at home, and it was a difficult time. All the school circulars were in English and the teachers wouldn't respond to you until you spoke English. After about two months, I began picking up the language.
My only contact with nature was in biology lessons. I liked learning about plants and animals academically, though wild animals were very far from me. It is not like today. The WWF's Mai Po Marshes are like open-air classrooms, where students can observe things they have never seen.
I was not a particularly hardworking student. My parents didn't push me or pressure me. They didn't know English and they thought if you got a good education that was enough. I was never first or second in my class, but I was not a poor student.
After gaining my university degree in education I started teaching at Raimondi College, where I worked for about nine years. That's where I met the teacher who taught me to grow up - the school principal, Mr Morales. He was a very intelligent person. He wrote Western history texts that were popular among schools. His secondary English textbook was called East Meets West.
I learned a lot from him by observing the way he handled things. He had good management skills and was open-minded. If he believed something was wrong, he would tell you straight away. He wasn't afraid to tell parents what he thought was wrong with their child.
Raimondi College was a school of around 1,000 boys, and was not easy to manage. Mr Morales was a systematic person, very organised. My learning of how to handle things started with him. It was when I was a teacher and led groups of Scouts to the countryside that I really fell in love with nature.
Winnie Sek, the executive director of the World Wide Fund For Nature Hong Kong, spoke yo Helen Wong.