All schools are good schools in Singapore.

I totally agree with the above statement, because no matter how dark one’s heart can get, i don’t believe someone will go to the extent of building a school, fill it with teachers and educators with the sole purpose of making it bad.

Bad as in with the aim of not doing what it is intended to do.

To teach, to educate, to mould the future generation.

This brings me to my next point.

All schools are good schools, some are just better.

As elitist and horrible something like this sounds, it’s the truth.

Some schools are just better, but better at what ?

This really depends on the individual isn’t it ?

Everyone has their own benchmark and yardstick to determine in their opinion, what is a good school.

Some go for the brand names, the one that the kids of politicians and big shot businessmen go to must be good.

Certain schools located along certain streets in Singapore, they are all good schools. They are all nested within private housing estates. The rich people send their kids there, it must be good schools.

Parents in our generation have very different expectations from the previous. I’m going to use myself as an example. I had a short but insightful discussion with my parents some time ago about what was going through their mind when they chose my primary school.

These are their criteria ;

  1. Must be near home. No need to take bus.
  2. Food at the canteen must be suitable.

That was it.

You must be thinking WTF in your head especially for point 2 but it made sense to me. I was a picky eater when i was young.

There are 3 primary schools within walking distance of our place then, in the end, they chose school A. School A is the nearest and one of the food seller in the canteen is a neighbour.

She sells fishball noodle soup, one of the staple and boring food i always go for when i was young.

That was it. The die for my future was cast.

Within the first months of my primary school days, i learned ‘ Kan ni na bu chao chee bye ‘ ( KNNBCCB ) ,a literal crude translation of this Hokkien curse would be ‘ F*ck your mother’s smelly Va*ina.

It didn’t come from a teacher of course. It was from a classmate.

Now, to blame it 100% on my classmate for teaching me such a curse would be unfair. I have heard the terms KNN and CCB. ( KNN means F*ck your mother . CCB means smelly Va*ina) but at that time, i didn’t know exactly what it meant. I don’t even know what a vagina was.

These are curses my dad would sometimes use at home, and not just when he is mad or angry. Terms like these appeared regularly in normal conversations with friends, relatives. He used them liberally like punctuation in a sentence. I hear them regularly, but i don’t understand the meaning and the context in which it was being used.

My classmate not only taught me how to string the 2 together, he explained to me in graphic detail what it meant.

Why would my dad curse like this in front of me ? Doesn’t he know kids pick everything up like a sponge ?

Of course he don’t.

My parents barely completed primary school education. My mum had to stop school at Primary 3 to start caring for siblings, my dad is a bit luckier, he got to Primary 5 before he stopped.

The 6 years in school A was a roller coaster ride for me. I topped the class at one point, and i went right to the bottom in Primary 6. At that age, you can’t really blame undesirable company for grades dropping but the fact is i ended up at my friend’s place playing Sonic the hedgehog & Mortal Kombat after school everyday.

The funny thing was that my friend continued topping the class while i went to the bottom.

I was at risk of flunking my PSLE. My teachers met my parents, their concerns were communicated. Then came the shouting and screaming at home because i was not burying myself in my books.

I sort of went numb and at that point, i hated school.

I’m just not interested in studying.

No fairy godmother came, i didn’t get an inspiration speech or a teacher that magically transformed me into another person.

My parents just threatened to throw away my game console.

In the end, i managed to scrap by with a low 200 PSLE score.

From thanking the 9th emperor deity to my ancestors to my teachers, my parents thanked everyone.

To them, School A is a good school.

It taught me how to speak and write English in a household where we speak Mandarin and Hokkien. School A also helped a hopeless kid like me pass his PSLE, therefore, despite it being filled with kids who throws KNN & CCB around all the time, it is a good school.

Then comes the fun part.

Secondary school.

With grades like these, i can’t expect to go anywhere fancy.

There were no forums back then, there were no internet. My parents get their news source from word of mouth, or from whatever they can pick up from the Chinese newspaper. No way to ‘research’ which schools are ‘better’

Unsure of where to send me and how ‘good’ the neighboring secondary schools were, my parents made the safe choice.

Follow the cousins. Confirm cannot go wrong.

Shortly after that, i started my secondary school in school B, the same school my cousins went to.

Oh boy, School B.

Within the 1st weeks, i witness for the first time, public canning. Sounds very draconian but the schoolmate was dragged on stage and given 3 strokes of the cane.

I saw fights broke out and ambulance were called in. Nobody died, but there was blood spilled.

Well, these are stuff the news don’t cover.

As i progressed up the ladder in School B, i saw classmates drop out of school.

I learned gang cheers that would churn your stomach. I watched my male friend play with a female classmate’s bra straps in a manner that would set the internet ablaze with hashtags of sexual harassment today.

No, he was not snapping female classmate’s bra strap with his fingers.

I’ve seen the weird stuff my classmates bring into class.

“Why did you bring this iron rod to school? ” I asked.

“I need to go ‘Pia zui’ ( gang fight ) after school ”

That was the reply i got.

Looking at his sneakers that were obviously against the school rules since you can only wear white canvas shoes, i asked my friend about it and he replied.

” These has better grip on the ground, i need to run fast after it’s over….”


I watched my friends steal sanitary pads from classmates bags, opened it and stuck it to their forehead while laughing and pretending they are vampires.

What upskirt pictures ? Upskirt videos ?

No digital cameras back then, the guys openly ran into the female toilet while the girls were changing after PE lessons. Curses would fly around, middle fingers would be flashed but in the end, nothing happened. No consequences for the guys that entered the female toilet.

The girls, not schooled of their rights, brushed it off.

Pirated VCDs were traded openly, including porn.

Porn ? In secondary school ?

I’m afraid so, because you see , School B, is a good school. It provided me a holistic all round education even before it became a buzzword.

The anatomy of the human body is something that the syllabus don’t cover in detail, or rather, it didn’t satisfy the curiosity in us. So as active teenagers with raging hormones, we decided to pursue our interest further in the said subject.

Today, a teenager just need to know the right search term to key in on the internet to gain access to a whole load of adult materials. In my days, you want the good stuff, not only do you need to know where to get it, you must have the financial means and the balls to get it.

This is where Katong Shopping centre comes into the picture. Dodgy shops with no names but filled with racks of VCDs on display staffed with blonde hair ‘Ah Bengs’ smoking and listening to techno music.

You want to learn about Human anatomy the alternative way, they are the final barrier you need to jump through. I walked into these shops countless times in school uniforms.

Some refused to sell me the titles, directing me to the games and pirated programs section, some chased me out, but a few turned a blind eye.

Eh wait, how much is your pocket money James ? How come you can afford to buy VCDS like these ?

$3 a day. No way i can afford to buy it.

They cost 15-25 dollars each.

Enter crowdfunding & the future bosses.

Because School B is a good school, it has a lot of kids with entrepreneur mindset.

While i cannot afford to buy, they can. Those that can’t, will pool their money together. After pooling the money, they just need to look for the stupid kid.


In return for taking the risk and buying the titles they want, i get to watch for free.

The ‘entrepreneurs’ will either exchange their titles, or ‘rent’ it to other classmates for a small fee. After they are done with it, they will sell it, often at a higher price than they bought it.

By the time i got to secondary 4, Shu Qi and Vivian Hsu has been elevated to the ‘goddess’ level in my mind.

I’m touching 40 soon. Looking back to my days in School A and School B, if i were to ask myself the question, are they good schools, my answer would be yes.

The school did it’s job.

I learned Math, English, Science, Chinese, Geography and so on.

It gave me the basic education that i need.

The foundation upon which the rest of my life will build upon.

The people that i come into contact with, they taught me life lessons that the books don’t.

The 2 schools, though filled with colourful characters, offered me a glimpse into the lives of others. It gave me perspective.

I have classmates both rich and poor. Some struggled with their finances, a close friend of mine had MacDonald for the first time in Secondary 2 while Some will not think twice about splurging on ‘Magic the gathering’ cards.

Some classmates never had a passport before. The same guy that had MacDonald at Secondary 2 never left the country until the SAF sent him when he was 19. I consider myself lucky to be able to make annual trips to Malaysia.

I have friends whose parents would pick them up in their car ( Normal Jap cars ) everyday after school, and i also have friends who had to walk 4 bus stops to and fro school.

While my family is not exactly well to do, i never had to skip meals or walk 4 bus stops.

I also saw with my own eyes a classmate eating the leftovers of another classmate after he was done with it. No they are not sharing.

Sharing is different.

This is him pulling the plate of rice over and finishing the left over rice and gravy while the remains of the chicken bones were swept to the side.

As everyone moved on in life, the occasional news would trickle in from those we are still in touch with.

Some of my classmates have passed on because of the choices they made in life, some are barely surviving, while some are thriving and doing well in their careers.

School B is a good school not because it delivered the best academic results, had the best teachers or the best principal.

School B is a good school because it brought in people from all walks of lives into my world. The good, the bad and the ugly. They way they behave, they way they speak, the way they treat people.

The raw unfiltered look into how different everyone’s lives were struck a chord in me.

Like a buffet spread, it was all laid bare and naked.

And like a buffet spread, i get to choose what to put on my plate. Who I want to be my friend, who are those that i should stay away from, what qualities to pick up and so on, what i should never ever do.

It’s a buffet spread of qualities served by unique characters. Some might give you a tummy ache, some might kill you, occasionally you get some good stuff. You can see, smell, taste the variety of food on offer but there’s no need to swallow it if it’s not to your liking. Spit it out before you choke and die and you will be fine.

I can’t say everything school B served is all bad, but it’s not all good either.

At the very least, i had a taste of each dish and decided on my own what i like and what i don’t.

If school B is a buffet at a low end restaurant, i can only imagine what a buffet would be like an a high end one. Perhaps one that the kids of ministers and big shot businessmen go to.

The food would be better. More high end. The worse dish might give you a tummy ache, but it’s unlikely to kill you.

Perhaps more varieties. Instead of the usual Nasi Lemak and Chendol, you are looking at Risotto and Cream Brulee.

Instead of Luncheon meat, you get Iberico Ham.

The vegetables would be fresher, the eggs poached instead of sunny side up.

Maybe a nutritionist would guide you what to put on your plate for a balanced diet.

Probably no KNN or CCB would be served in that buffet.

At the end of the day, you still fill your stomach. The difference is just the types and quality of food that goes in there.

Would i thrive better there ?

I might, i might not.

I’ll never know.

You can fill your stomach in any restaurant, the food need not be good, but it does not change your fact that eating it fills your stomach.

All schools, like all buffet, can fill your stomach.

Which brings us to the next question, are you simply satisfied with just filling your stomach when choosing a buffet ?

What if dealing with different people in the real world is like choosing and tasting food from a buffet that carries everything from a poisonous apple to a gourmet Wagyu steak ?

What happens then, to those who dined in a top buffet restaurant their whole life only to realise that in the real world, you don’t always get to choose from a curated spread of food ?

How do you deal with the occasional dish that you know will leave a bitter aftertaste ? Will you roll over if made to taste durian or blue cheese or fermented smelly tofu ?

What if it’s the only option available ? Would you starve, or eat it anyway while looking for something better ?

I have presented this buffet argument to my wife.

She disagrees with me. It’s not just about the food at the buffet. It’s also the people you eat with.

I just don’t want our kids to be surrounded by people who happily swallow fishbones and think it is normal ” One of the many examples she gave.

It’s not normal….but who would go swallow a fishbone? ” I countered

And she gave the perfect reply.

Who would be so stupid to help his friends buy porn VCDs ?

Thinking back, i have to admit, it’s not normal. Definitely not normal for a 15, 16 year old to be walking into a shop at Katong Shopping centre to buy what i bought, and for a whole group of us to proceed to watch it at a classmate’s house. It’s wrong, but it’s also boys being boys.

So, would i send my kids to the same buffet i went to ? The one that i think is good enough for me.

I’m sure a lot has changed in both School A & B over the decades but would i want my kids to go through what i went through ? My answer would be no.

I was never the smart kid in school and looking back, i think it’s a combination of luck and a few good friends that helped me scrape through life to where i am today. Good friends who had the sense in them to stop me from swallowing the fishbones when everyone around me is doing it.

Anyway, I have learnt the hard way after marriage that there are some things you don’t get to choose. For me, choosing a school for kids is one of them.

Since i subscribe to the mantra of a happy wife = a happy life, i have decided to keep quiet and let her make the decision.

My kids don’t know KNN, CCB, the ‘F’ word was never mentioned at home. My wife and i never argued or quarrel in front of the kids. Confrontation if any was done in the dead of the night after they sleep.

The worst thing that they heard coming out of my mouth is ‘ Shit ‘

The kids would tell me everything about their day after school and i hope they continue to do so right up to their tertiary education.

I don’t look forward to the day they learn what KNNBCCB means, but i know that day will eventually come.

It’s impossible not to learn it in school you say, not when you grow up in Singapore.

You’re not wrong. I learned it in Primary school.

My wife, on the other hand never knew what KNNBCCB meant until her orientation camp in one of the local university. Yes, i meant those highly sexual orientation camps with kukubird (penis) chants and challenges involving a lot of body contacts organised by students who did not have a chance to experience Katong Shopping centres in the late ninties.

To my parents, a good school is one that enables me to read and write.

To my wife , a good school is one that is filled with kids that don’t swallow fish bones. ( She doesn’t know i write here so i can put whatever i want in her mouth, also because she is smarter than me, i usually lose most of my arguments with her )

To me, a good school is one where you don’t hear KNN, CCB and last but not least, KNNBCCB.


James S

The classmate with the largest porn VCDs collection back then is now a doctor, and the one that actively crowdfunds and trade VCDs now owns multiple businesses.

The dumb one that does the leg work buying the VCDs is now writing rubbish online.

Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash