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Souvenir Magazine Department of Zoology 40th Anniversary
National University of Singapore
Dept of Zoology, Nov 90
Introducing the
Zoology Honours Class 1990 ...


Sivapithecus
Drawings by K. Humchnek


I wondered what life with the Department would be like when the first message my class received from anyone was about the absence of tea bags in the tea room. Then I found out that not all the Honours students are well known away from the vicinity of their lab - some are mistaken for 3rd years working on Congress projects. Hence I felt a little information about them will make it easier for the rest of you to approach them when you need to give them bad news. Besides, the only introduction we've had so far has been 'the people standing' in a room full of standing people.
The first thing that impressed us was the appropriateness of the timing at which we start our lessons - 10 am. After 3 years of early morning lectures, we are finally beginning at an hour that guarantees full attendance. To which we are grateful to our classmates in Botany for occupying SR2 during the wicked hours of 8 and 9 am.

But we are more nocturnal and the general rule is that nine out of ten things that go bump in the night is a Zoology student (presumably at work). I think we are rather subtle about our intelligence; offering a probing remark during a lecture is the exception rather than the rule.
guess who?
Guess who?
We keep the keenness of our intellect well disguised by indulging in what can hardly be called inspirational activity like playing bridge on a little boat in choppy seas to fight seasickness.

Eunice
gets the unanimous vote as 'Mumbler of the Year'. She mumbles to a tape recorder on the ridge and mumbled to the white board during her presentation after we started making faces at her. If you visit the museum at night, you can bear the companionable BBC radio mumbling away. There are many aspects to her appearance . If you see an Ewok peeping out of the museum at 4am, don't worry, it's just Eunice thawing herself out. During a recent field trip, it suddenly struck us that the towel around her neck and the sling bag she carried approximated the once familiar scene of a grumpy SBS bus conductor. Eunice spends her time planning the doping of unsuspecting mynas, capture of delinquent ones and demise of younger students. During the eventful boat ride to Pulau Tioman, she sat in a corner of the boat, breaking the monotony of the trip by throwing up every now and then. You must realise by now that the boat ride to Tioman was the stuff horror stories are made of.

Veronica (who injects several 'like's in every sentence) was like, perhaps the most unfortunate. She like, slowly realised she was like, quite ill when we were like, well out at sea. She had to tolerate double-sickness during the journey that put her to bed for the next two days. When she is healthy, she walks around her neighbourhood looking for mynas with a pair of binoculars causing comment amongst the residents of the unlikely appearance of this 'peeping tom'. This was duly reported by another classmate who was up a tree when he spotted her.

Mynas are not very popular birds amongst the rest of us and David claims some of Eunice's birds have been eyeballing his fish and making them upset. My earliest recollections of David are of the Arts-Science debate we took part in when we were both first year students. He proved that he had a voice that carried well and it is still as strong, as any one of the first years he demonstrates for will tell you. His volume can sometimes prove unfortunate as during the occasion he was telling us how he was going to inseminate his fish in a very cold laminar flow. The thoughtful faces of the people around us led me to believe they were interpreting the scene quite differently from us biology students and were wondering how he was going to fit into the laminar flow.

We Khoon was in my first year bench for Zoology practicals and we used to secretly call him 'grandpa' because of his prevalent white hair. We occasionally gave our demonstrators (Giovanni & Siew Khim) a hard time by reading up Barnes' Invertebrate Zoology from which they got most of their material from. As if in retribution, that's exactly what our students are doing to us now, all the time. We Khoon is quite enthusiastic about 'music' and a familiar early morning scene in the LT last year used to be one of him listening to a transistor radio. This was amidst general abuse hurled at him by the class. Nowadays he does not bring his radio with him but we still hurl abuse at him occasionally just for old times' sake (he is very abusable). His other problems include his head which bicycle helmets can't fit.

Kenneth, codenamed KLEK, showed me around his lab where he makes fish fry fry. His less organic pursuits include computing. Many think I'm the 'computer wizard' but don't know that KLEK too is another who evolved from the Apple 11 generation. We used to ask him (back in the hall, last year) how his spy missions over the Soviet Union turned out, arousing incredulous stares from other hostelites. You see, he's a veteran in computer-simulated flight missions. This involves reading really thick manuals and his conversations with Tiag (who has more practical experience) would cause one to imagine they'd both just parachuted into the country. His eccentricities do not end there and after a long days work, once tried to talk of relativity until persuaded to discuss more practical things like Brazil wining the World Cup.

I'd never seen most of my classmates before NUS but some share a common history with me. Jaswant was an army mate, occupying the upper deck of my double decker - a convenient location for from below, I used to stop his sleep-talking by delivering a hefty kick at his outline. It was a queer bunk which also housed rats, probably Rattus rattus diardi, in the ceiling. During dark, stormy and unstormy nights, these rodents would spread a reign of terror by jumping to the ground via the stomach of someone sleeping on the upper deck, to forage amongst the unlocked cupboards of forgetful soldiers. They defaecated amongst our clothing and wrecked our Tupperware and foodstuff by their explorative nibbling (they never took a full meal). When we hear them scuffling at night we'd hurl our combat boots across the dark room to dissuade the vermin and the next morning would review the disastrous scene - usually of damaged belongings and badly dented metal cupboards! It's the kind of warfare that builds camaraderie amongst men and experienced only in the army.

Jaswant and I were not always victims. On full moon nights we would cut the power and terrorise the occupants of the surrounding bunks. We would start the most terrifying howling and start visiting the other lads. Having the keys to the other bunks proved useful and many fell victim after taunting us behind what they presumed to be well locked doors. Generally, not much resistance was offered and most of them cowered behind or underneath their beds whenever our shadows darkened their doorways. We blamed our behaviour on the rat.

Nowadays we are rather sane except when we spent the night before our final exams discussing the movement of the heavenly bodies. But then, the Reading Room during exam time has always been the place for extensive discussion of topics like 'What Columbus really found', 'Is there life after death?' and 'How there hadn't been a Re paper for several years now and hence we should pass!'. It was there too that we taught imaginary audiences genetics, biochemistry and taxonomy until 2 am, scolding them when we needed time to think during those impressive deliveries.

It was during the BSS Welcome Tea that I was formally introduced to Francisca. I remember how Jaswant mumbled through the introductions for he had forgotten her name. It was probably the only time we were ever polite to each other. She is always the butt of group banter and after three years, I've realised she asks for it. In fact, I don't think she can live without it (she may contest this statement somewhat). She is easy to describe: talks as if an elephant is sitting on her (some call it squawking) when she is mischievous, walks in a stifled manner and giggles in spasms. We usually hang out together during the exam period and it is then that we met some of the stranger people in the faculty....

There was this guy who sat near us in the corner of the library's Serials section. He distracted us with frequent jerks of his elbow and the resultant rattling of window blinds. But that stood a pale second (and it was usually us who were pale) to his habit of removing his shoes. We could almost bear the multitudes of bacteria and fungi cheering as the stench pervaded the silent library. We could only look at each other weakly in despair until the day we decided to steal his favourite place. That would unsettle him, we felt. But none of us could get up early enough to compete with those who'd run into the library like stampeding cattle the moment the glass doors open at 8 am. So we got Francisca to do it. She succeeded the first day and we commended her as we arrived much later at 10 o'clock. The next day, however, the formidable mycologist sprinted past her to claim the prize of the corner seat and reigned supreme once again in Serials. From then on, we used Francisca's perfume to battle the unfavourable elements.

Swee Tiag (this year's Zoolympics organiser) is a childhood friend of mine. I remember going to his house with other 'sua-ku' neighbours to watch our first colour television (with sensor-touch switches!) - that was probably in '73. We reared many animals together and shared ownership of a most extraordinary dog with two other neighbours. Terry was fed by whoever (amongst us) he chanced to be with during meal times. He eventually died of cancer but his was a mature personality whom Tiag and I still remember well with affection.

One of the curiosities of our childhood was recently explained to us during a lecture of Prof. Chan's. He described how vector control officers would rush water from roadside fire hydrants down drains during hot dry spells. This prevented breeding of insect vectors in isolated pockets of water which could stagnate in covered portions of drains. Tiag and I grinned in the recollection of how curious boys would gather around to watch the interesting spectacle of a bunch of uniformed men contemplating the water rushing out in a fountain from the otherwise static hydrant.

Chandra is known as the 'vector boy' but not because he spreads disease. Last year, his supervisor Prof. Chan used to refer to the 3rd year vector control students as 'his vector boys'. Hence, he inherited the modified title being the only male student from that class to do Honours in Zoology. He takes things slowly at times which can seem inappropriate; like the time I was suspended up between two papaya trees. I needed a stick to knock down the fruit but he gave me a lecture on the weaknesses of papaya tree branches (while I hung on, sweating) before handing me the stick. I was quite upset, as you might understand, also since I was in a hurry for there was some doubt as to the legality of the entire proceeding.

Daphne is yet another who sometimes forgets which species she belongs to. During a Captain's Ball game we played on a beach, she (many will attest to this) climbed up one chap's back and 'wrestled' for the ball with another girl on all fours in the sand—the other girl claims she was spitting sand after that. She has a rather vocal outlook such that when she lost her voice, the silence overwhelmed us. One day, she was berating a classmate in the tea room for his plan to dump her at some island while he took the boat elsewhere. Someone else who was around listened to her wailing and speculated how the island concerned (Pulau Hantu) got its name.

The person who plotted abandoning her on the island was none other our class representative, Nigel. He certainly looks the part of the villain and as such is a good choice as the class rep. He was in charge of our field trip and it was unanimously declared that he had done such a good job that he'd be the permanent rep. (Hear!Hear!). I remember him playing Captain's Ball during interdepartmental games in 2nd year. One of the reasons we didn't win was because he was slinging the ball at the catcher with a vengeance. And hence instead of catching the ball, our catcher kept ducking out of the way. This year, the two of us have been planning a Captain's Ball match for several months now. We should have that match soon, perhaps sometime next month.

Dennis is someone who will welcome any game. He is perhaps the least noisy specimen in the class but is most exuberant during any game. In Tioman, his spectacle lens fell out after colliding with me during a match. Typically, he called me aside and quietly told me about it while the rest of the players stomped about like sea monsters that just got beached. Happily, we found the lens before, it got trampled on. Unhappily he seemed unable to pass on this zest for life evident during games to his subjects, however, and had been plagued for some time with dying sea cucumbers.

Jennifer (our smallest specimen) also had some mortality problems. Hers was not just a case of widespread death but more dramatic since it was her control that died. A friend since first year physio practicals, I have been calling her a variety of names for a variety of reasons. I hesitate to specify for the names are highly appropriate and not forgotten once encountered. Let them remain our secret for I have given up teasing her of late. I restrict myself to calling her 'coconut head' each time she comes back from Penang for she visits a rather incompetent hairdresser while she is there. She is one of the regular ovenighters and whines a lot when she wakes up in the morning which takes a long time. Confronted with this sight early in the morning, most people can't resist mimicking her and rub their eyes and whine in mock sleeplessness.

Gideon is as large as Jennifer is small and they both hail from Penang. For a long time, people claim they have seen him lurking across the road from campus and used to wonder why. The simple reason for this is that he has been staying at Dover. You may remember him from my article on last year's Congress (in the Mudskipper): I thought he was beating a hasty retreat until he explained that he was on his way to wake up his group's presenter who was quite soundly asleep in the hall. This year, he seems to find many things quizzical and has a habit of twisting his brow in perplexity.

I cannot claim knowledge of my entire class from the first year. I became aware of Karen's freckle-faced existence only during the first plant anatomy class in second year. I broke the ice between us by getting her to come over and look at a mitochondria at my bench. Since I was using a light microscope and viewing plant cells, she naturally found it a bit difficult to find the fictitious structure. We haven't trusted each other since. She was, however, quite relaxed about the whole thing (no screams or the like) and I eventually discovered that to be her general attitude in life. Like the way she got two of her friends to paint her hostel room and then shifted to another hall - quite relaxed.

So there you have it - the Honours class fortunate enough to be here to usher you at the 40th Anniversary Dinner & Dance. I enjoyed their company in my third year biology class last year and so this extra year with them will not be too painful for me. If some statements do not meet with your total comprehension and sound mysterious, seek clarification from my classmates over a cup of tea in our well run tea room (despite what anyone else might say ... )

It was a nice quiet afternoon 8th October, in an exciting 40th anniversary meeting when I stumbled across the most interesting discovery. The editor for the souvenir magazine happened to be sitting to my right and had an initial layout copy of the soon to be printed magazine. Along with this he also had some last minute articles to be included. Imagine my shock, horror and vast astonishment to see an article headed "Honours Class 90". As to be expected I immediately grabbed the article and began to pore over it.

Astonishment was mild compared to the amazement that built as I read through the article. It detailed and named the activities and characters of every one of the members of the honours class save one -- the author.

Being a fair and just person, I could not bear the thought of one such great fame (or infamy) to be forgotten and so set myself the task of putting right this great act of negligence.

Here following is a brief profile of the humble author:

Species: Sivapithecus neanderthalis (although no person is quite sure)

Origin: Supposedly Singapore (At least this is where it was first sighted)

Range: Zoo museum, dungeon lab, but often the tea room (never at home!)
howlers
"U-NO-WHO-LA"
Description: Largish belly (has been getting larger since entry into NUS). Black matted curly hair. Varies in length. Carries around (or used to) an enormous blue bag. Wears brown sandals on its feet which are relatively new considering the long period of time last year for which it wore one broken piece.

Habit: Especially fond of pulling long pony tails (in particular, Francisca's). Likes to throw itself around in ball games spending most of its time on the ground sustaining multiple (you name it, he has sprained it) and permanent injuries (his head was the first to go). Snores terribly at night (when he is dead tired). Makes more noise than even the author. And the list could go on, but I do have to stop. Just open your eyes and you will see this prominent specimen walking around the Zoo department.


D. Chin
 
© N Sivasothi, 2001