Aunty Albertina's School

by Jorge RemediosClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his ID number (10610) to be taken to his personal page, originally published in the UMA News Bulletin Sep-Oct 1997, p14

In the years preceding the Second World War, most of the filho de Macau children who lived in and around the Portuguese enclave of Homantin, in Kowloon (Hong Kong SAR), then a bucolic residential neighborhood roughly encompassed by Nathan, Waterloo, and Prince Edward Roads, attended Albertina Osmund PereiraClick on the SEARCH icon and enter her ID number (30074) to be taken to her personal page's private school.

The classroom was the dining room of the residence of Arthur Frederick OsmundClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his ID number (30065) to be taken to his personal page, the patriarch of the large Osmund family of Hong Kong and the older brother of Albertina, a widow who left Shanghai for the British colony after the death of her husbandClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his ID number (30075) to be taken to his personal page. The house itself was one of a connected pair of houses, respectively numbered 1 Liberty Avenue and 6 Peace Avenue, in which dwelled the families of Arthur's two daughters, who married two d'Almada Remedios brothers, FernandoClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his ID number (10052) to be taken to his personal page and FranciscoClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his ID number (10049) to be taken to his personal page. The classroom had a very long dining table, and during class hours – 9 am to noon – this was where the two dozen or so children had their lessons. At the head of the table sat Aunty Albertina, a stout, short woman in her mid-sixties. On benches that ran along the long sides of the table sat the children, the youngest ones being placed closest to Albertina.

Classes began in the morning with prayers: one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Gloria, chanted in unison by all the children: this was, after all, a closely knit Catholic community. Then came reading. Reading was usually from the Royal Crown Reader, an English primer about equivalent to the "See Spot Run" primers used in American primary schools. Since the children ranged in age between 5 and 8 years, the Readers came in different levels of difficulty. The very first lesson of Book One of the Royal Crown Reader contained words of no more than two letters each. I am up on an ox. Lo! I am on my ox. An engraving of a small child upon an ox accompanied the first lesson; the Reader had no cartoons – it was stolid and utterly devoid of humor. Older kids read either from more advanced versions of the Royal Crown Reader, or from lessons farther along the same Reader. How many miles to Baby Land? is one example of a later lesson where the words could be up to five letters long.

Aunty Albertina always gave individual attention to each child's needs, and nowhere was this more apparent than when she taught Handwriting. She would hold the child's hand as it gripped the pencil, closing her fingers over the little one's, and guiding the movement of the pencil tip across the paper. In this way she firmly and purposefully caused the childish paw to form the most rotund of o's, and the most elegant (though sometimes a bit shaky) of ascenders and descenders so that, more than a half-century later, there are those among her erstwhile pupils whose graceful round hand is still admired by those who can only write in block letters.

As the children's writing skills progressed, they moved up to Vere Foster's Copy Books. These were writing hooks with ruled lines and examples of letters or words printed across the top of each page. The printed letters and words were in the classic calligraphic style often called copperplate, which in the Victorian age graced documents such as Royal Proclamations, and even today may be seen on diplomas hanging on the walls of doctors' examination rooms (intending thereby to reassure their nervous patients). Older children who had mastered the pencil were allowed to do the copy work in ink, using a penholder dipped in an inkwell. This could be a messy business unless the child was especially careful.

After the writing was done, came recess time. The kids would run out into the corridor, where their amahs waited with a mid-morning snack or a glass of Ovaltine. Then it was out into the front garden, some distance above the street, from which kids who were train buffs could watch the morning Kowloon Canton Railway train chug along the elevated track a stone's throw away. Those who were not train buffs played games such as marbles or hopscotch.

The end of recess was announced with a clap of Albertina's hands, and the children would trudge back inside for Arithmetic.

Arithmetic began for the youngest kids with simple addition. Chanting was the medium of instruction, though the actual writing of the numbers followed the method outlined above and resulted quite naturally in perfectly-formed Arabic numerals. The chanting reached its highest volume with the multiplication tables, with the more boisterous ones (usually these were the kids related to Aunty Albertina) screaming at the tops of their voices: Nine times nine is EIGHTY-ONE! Nine times ten is NINETY! It was rote instruction, to be sure, but it worked then, just as if does even today in many Eastern countries.

The day's classes would always end with a singalong. The songs were without exception hymns honoring the Blessed Virgin, for to be Portuguese means to bear a special devotion to Mary. Our jubilant young voices would sing "Mother Dear, 0h, Pray, for Me, Whilst Far from Heaven and Thee!" and "Daily, Daily, Sing to Mary, Sing My Soul Her Praises Due."

Thus did Aunty Albertina teach a whole generation of filhos de Macau in Kowloon the four R's (religion being the fourth). But, more than that, she taught us how to behave and to treat one another with courtesy and respect at school, thereby buttressing with a gentle yet formidable firmness similar instruction learned at home from our own parents.

Among the alumni of Albertina Pereira's private school in Homantin are the scores of scholars, doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, as well as religious and lay people scattered today all over the world, who came from families with last names such as Basto, Correa, Guterres, Noronha, Osmund, Remedios, Silva, Xavier, and Yvanovich, to name just the few who come to mind.

Aunty Albertina gave each of her pupils a solid beginning in their education, down to the distinctive penmanship that most of them can still flaunt when not reduced to reliance upon a computer keyboard.