Cham Tao Soon and Han Suyin


TO: Sabah 2002 Nantah Alumni Reunion Organization Committee.
c/o Effie Goh Toh Hor:

Dear Sabah Reunion Organization Committee Members:

I was glad to note that you have started preparation work in earnest. I note that you propose to invite Dr. Cham Tao Soon as the keynote speaker for Nantah Night. As human beings our every action contains a motivation. I, for one, would like to know your motivation or rationale for inviting the head of NTU to address the assembly on the most important occasion of the reunion. If you can give me a good reason, I will support your decision. Last year I proposed to our Vancouver host to invite Dr. Han Suyin. My motivation was to allow us, the sons and daughters of Nantah to show our appreciation to a benefactor of Nanyang University, who, from the days when the idea of establishing a Chinese-language university to accommodate Chinese language secondary graduates from Southeast Asia, was just beginning to be broached, had already done her very best to lobby for Nantah among influential people she rubbed shoulders with, such as some British colonial officials, including the then British High Commissioner for Southeast Asia, Sir Malcolm MacDonald, who, thanks to Han Suyin, donated a cup as oratory prize to Nanyang University when, it was established. She continued to dedicate herself to serving Nanyang University after Nantah came into being, by allotting part of her valuable time as a writer of international renown to teach part-time at Nantah. On individual level, she had helped some of her students intellectually and financially.

In choosing the key-note speaker for Nantah Night, it is imperative that those individuals who decide, have no personal axes to grind. I propose last year that Dr. Han be invited, not because she was, and still is, my favourite professor/mentor and a fellow Hakka, but simply because she had done so much for us and our Alma Mater. It was time we showed our appreciation. We will, moreover, benefit from her words of wisdom and great intellect.

To help our Vancouver host get out of a bind, I also proposed that the decision whether to invite Dr. Cham be put to a vote by all the alumni associations electronically, or in person through the representatives present in Vancouver. Had the proposal been accepted, it would have been a win-win situation for the host, provided there was no pre-determined agenda. If the majority said yes, they could invite Dr. Cham without fear of criticism. In a negative vote, they will have a good excuse to explain to Dr. Cham, "Sorry, our hands are tied." I herewith propose that the Sabah alumni committee to let the issue be decided by an electronic open vote, which is easy to do in these days of The Global Village.

In recent years, some alumni appeared to have confused playing host for a Nantah reunion with prerogative to dictate. The hosts are important because we need them to coordinate reunion activities. As hosts they have the responsibility and authority to decide on routine matters such as which local restaurant to choose for the banquet; which tour company to pick to take care of sightseeing tours for interested alumni, etc. But the hosts should not ram things down the throats of alumni over such sensitive issue of inviting an official who has apparently been associated with whitewashing a dark chapter of history of closing down Nanyang University, the first blossoming of a great culture of the world, Chinese culture, offshore. As sons and daughters of Nantah and inheritors of proud Chinese civilization, I and many alumni have all the rights to feel concerned. I look forward to your explanations after you have thought it over thrice. If you are in a bind because of a promise made, which your good conscience is forcing you fulfill, putting the decision whether or not to invite NTU President, Cham Tao Soon, to a vote by alumni associations, would put you, would it not, in a win-win situation like I reminded our Vancouver host of last year?

It would be interesting to juxtaposed Cham Tao Soon and Han Suyin as potential keynote speakers at our Nantah Night. From the point of view of what these two individuals stand for, to judge by their deeds and words, and to measure either of them in terms of the cliche "Give and Take"; if either of them is invited to speak to us, one of them will come, if they do come, mainly to give; the other mainly to take, or rather, to solicit our favour in order to claim credit back home. As intelligent individuals, you will be able to easily match GIVE or TAKE with either of them. At the risk of sounding egotistical, you and I, and the thousands of alumni of Nanyang University from its birth almost half a century ago to its demise, are an invaluable resource to society or the country. Realizing that they have alienated the most valuable assets of society, should one not expect the authorities ultimately responsible for closing down Nanyang university to want to make amends to woo these sons and daughters back? It's fine to regain our affection by wooing us back. It's understandable. But in the process, for goodness sake, treat us not as three-year olds, over whose eyes they can pull the wool and tell us that NTU is NU, and expect us to exclaim joyously, "Thank Heavens, Nantah is still alive!" Treating us thus constituted an insult to our intellect. It also added salt to an open wound. Dear members of Sabah Committee, tell us whether you see someone has come a-wooing?

Personally speaking, I will not mind seeing Dr. Cham in our midst at our reunion as a guest invited by your committee, if you, as true alumni of Nantah, don't think that you are treading on the psychological toes of the alumni. But I will treat him, with all due courtesies as an outsider. Changing the name of NTU to NU, even unabashedly to "NANTAH", will not make him one of us, nor make him the chancellor of our beloved Alma Mater. Let's call a spade a spade. Equating NTU with NU, and expecting us to accept it, is an intellectual outrage. Reconciliation must begin, must it not, with a MEA CULPA from the authorities ultimately responsible for closing down Nanyang University?

The repercussions of the closing of our Alma Mater have lingered on for many years, to the detriment of our alumni unity and social harmony. This Gordian knot that was tied decades ago has become psychological. The remedy, if any is contemplated, must also be psychological. Had there been a MEA CULPA, from the authorities concerned, say, the Singapore Ministry of Education, it will be psychologically more palatable for the true sons and daughters of Nantah to embrace NTU as an adopted sibling. It would have been psychologically easier too, to transfer the Register of Nanyang University to NUS a few years ago. I propose that your committee draft a resolution to be adopted during a meeting at the Reunion, calling on the authorities of Singapore, the jurisdiction within which our Alma Mater was born and died, to consider offering a MEA CULPA, so that every party concerned may live happily ever after. In the book of Nantah history, Sabah Nantah Alumni Association will shine.

T.S. Yap (Ye Tian Song)
Modern Languages & Literature, Third Batch.


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南洋大学 (1953-1980) 的创办者、各界资助人士、师生和员工,这群真正的南大人,献“给”南洋大学的是那么多。可叹南洋大学从来不被英语教育者容纳,不幸断命在英语教育系统里。



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2001年10月31日首版 Created on October 31, 2001
2002年02月10日改版 Last updated on February 10, 2002