I think this problem is quite universal. Right from school boy bullying, which we experienced from our younger days, up to big nations bullying smaller ones in world arena, the mode is the same – taking on the weaker ones. This dastardly immoral act even led to many students taking their own lives in Japan. The educational authorities there are wringing their hands in despair, and unable to tackle such problems effectively. In Singapore, I think parents are more assertive and our education authorities are quick to act. Hence bullying problems here are less severe. For this topic, I can only speak for myself.
During my primary school days, I too feared bullies, because I was by nature a timid fellow. But one thing was towards my advantage. I was unusually tall for my age. I was told by teachers to sit at the back of the class or stood last in a row. Still, there were children who tried to bully me when I was alone. Being a loner put me at a serious disadvantage.
One day when I was in Primary one, in Serangoon English School, I was standing on top of a slope when someone me gave a hefty shove from behind, causing me to roll down to the field. I didn’t even know who did it, but heard a group of boys laughing away. I just let the matter rest.
Even in the kampong, I wasn’t spared. A group of kampong boys, usually in threes would wait for me at a kampong path, some distance away from my home. They laid an ambush, stones in hand, and when I appeared alone, they would taunt me and threw the stones in my direction. Again, I think because of my height, these boys dared not physically handle me. After some time they gave up when I put up a false front, as though I was not afraid of them.
I remember another incident which happened just before I left the primary school, when the school holidays were about to begin. There was no lesson, and everyone was in holiday mood. Then there was this short mischievous boy in the class (he later became an RAF pilot) suddenly decided to shove me and threw me off-balance, without any rhyme or reason, just trying to create problems. I saw him coming and before he could do something I gave him counter push. He fell instead. I was surprised of my own strength, probably due to tree climbing and my unusual height.
But, generally, there was little bully in my school, simply because our principal was an ex British Army officer who would not tolerate any breakdown of discipline. Luckily the shoving incident was not reported, otherwise the principal would hang us onto the first tree he found.
One day after a swimming session, my uncle and I were travelling on board a bus heading home. It was crowded, and as I was alighting, a huge guy shoved me purposely near the doorsteps and acted as though he had the right of way before anyone. I lost my balance and nearly fell. My bespectacled uncle intervened and shouted at that guy: “Hey, what are you doing? You want a fight? Let us settle after going down the bus!” My uncle handed me his Sunday Times and was ready to confront this guy who chickened out on seeing how fierce my uncle was. He quickly walked away. This lesson taught me that if I am right, I should stand firm. My uncle was the type, to take action first, and talk later. This type of action seems reckless, but it works when facing a bully.
My uncle used to lecture me: “Do you know that when I was about your age (eleven years old), I used to travel over Malaya in a train alone, looking for my elder brothers. Basing on my uncle’s advice, it is good to have certain amount aggressiveness and self-confidence. If not, we should do something about it.
Footnote: The writer of this article is my brother Chun Chew, not me. I totally do not subscribe to our uncle's philosophy of aggressiveness and settling issues with the fist. - Lam Chun See