100 years of Nan Hua through the eyes of alumni

Students, staff, parents, alumni and the board of directors of Nan Hua Primary School creating a mass display in celebration of the school's centenary this year. 1950s: Teachers conducting outdoor sewing lessons at the then Nan Hwa Girls' School. 196
Students, staff, parents, alumni and the board of directors of Nan Hua Primary School creating a mass display in celebration of the school’s centenary this year. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF NAN HUA PRIMARY SCHOOL, NAN HUA HIGH SCHOOL
Students, staff, parents, alumni and the board of directors of Nan Hua Primary School creating a mass display in celebration of the school's centenary this year. 1950s: Teachers conducting outdoor sewing lessons at the then Nan Hwa Girls' School. 196
1950s: Teachers conducting outdoor sewing lessons at the then Nan Hwa Girls’ School.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF NAN HUA PRIMARY SCHOOL, NAN HUA HIGH SCHOOL
Students, staff, parents, alumni and the board of directors of Nan Hua Primary School creating a mass display in celebration of the school's centenary this year. 1950s: Teachers conducting outdoor sewing lessons at the then Nan Hwa Girls' School. 196
1960s: Madam Fong Yuet Kwai, who was a teacher and later principal of Nan Hua Primary School, with some of her pupils.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF NAN HUA PRIMARY SCHOOL, NAN HUA HIGH SCHOOL
Students, staff, parents, alumni and the board of directors of Nan Hua Primary School creating a mass display in celebration of the school's centenary this year. 1950s: Teachers conducting outdoor sewing lessons at the then Nan Hwa Girls' School. 196
1970: Primary 6 pupils at a graduation ceremony at Nan Hua Primary School.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF NAN HUA PRIMARY SCHOOL, NAN HUA HIGH SCHOOL
Students, staff, parents, alumni and the board of directors of Nan Hua Primary School creating a mass display in celebration of the school's centenary this year. 1950s: Teachers conducting outdoor sewing lessons at the then Nan Hwa Girls' School. 196
1990s: Mr Tan Jin Hong, a teacher at Nan Hua High School, conducting a computer class at the Clementi campus.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF NAN HUA PRIMARY SCHOOL, NAN HUA HIGH SCHOOL
Students, staff, parents, alumni and the board of directors of Nan Hua Primary School creating a mass display in celebration of the school's centenary this year. 1950s: Teachers conducting outdoor sewing lessons at the then Nan Hwa Girls' School. 196
2017: Nan Hua Primary School pupils displaying wushu moves at the Joint Centennial Celebration this year.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF NAN HUA PRIMARY SCHOOL, NAN HUA HIGH SCHOOL
The current premises of Nan Hua Primary School in Jalan Lempeng in Clementi.
The current premises of Nan Hua Primary School in Jalan Lempeng in Clementi.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF NAN HUA PRIMARY SCHOOL
The Nan Hwa Girls’ School campus in Bencoolen Street in the 1920s.
The Nan Hwa Girls’ School campus in Bencoolen Street in the 1920s.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF NAN HUA PRIMARY SCHOOL

Alumni, some of whom returned as teachers, recall their time in the schools with fondness

Even though she left Nan Hua High School almost 60 years ago, 73-year-old Ho Woon Ho is still enthusiastic each time her school is mentioned.

The retired principal of Nanyang Junior College still keeps in touch with her former classmates.

"For the past 20 years, about 15 of us would meet up every Teachers' Day to visit our form teacher, Madam Chew, who is already 90 years old," Mrs Ho said.

The sense of belonging is so great that Mr Anthony Chen flew home from London for Nan Hua Primary School's 100th anniversary gala dinner at Suntec Convention Centre yesterday evening.

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The film director, who is known for his award-winning film Ilo Ilo, said he "shares a tight relationship" with his Primary 6 classmates, and still meets them every year, even though they had left the school more than 20 years ago.

They were such a close-knit group that about 10 of them went on a trip to South Africa.

"It is this kinship and real sense of family inculcated by the school that makes Nan Hua so special," said Mr Chen, 33.

The Nan Hua family comprises a primary school in Jalan Lempeng and a secondary school in Clementi.


The old Nan Hwa Girls’ School was demolished in 1961 and a new building was constructed at the site in Bencoolen Street.

The principal of Nan Hua High School, Mrs Tan Jong Lek, said the school is a "classic example of how a Chinese-medium school faced difficulties in coping with societal changes and how it has renewed itself by adapting to a changing world". "To have endured for this long was not always easy, and there were times when the going was not smooth," Mrs Tan said.

The Nan Hua family started as Nam Wah Girls' School with two rented shophouses converted into four classrooms and received its first batch of primary school pupils in 1917.

In 1941, the school closed its two campuses - one in Bencoolen Street and the other in Adis Road near Orchard - and reopened only after the war.

The Bencoolen Street campus was renamed and became a primary school in 1967, and in 1983 the Adis Road campus moved to Clementi and was eventually renamed Nan Hua High School.

Nan Hua Primary School moved to Jalan Lempeng in 1998.

Madam Fong Yuet Kwai spent more than half a century at the school - first as a student, then a teacher and subsequently Nan Hua Primary School's principal - before retiring in 2003.

Speaking in Mandarin, Madam Fong, 76, said: "It was a perfectly normal thing to do. After all, I feel that helping one's alma mater is a mission, and it is something that I take pride in."

It was thanks to such dedication that, back in 1997, despite being diagnosed with cancer, she returned to the school six months after undergoing surgery.

"It is not about how long you live, but what you make of it. My mission was not complete, and I felt a strong sense of responsibility to continue my service to the school," Madam Fong said.

Although she has retired, she remains active in the school as a board member, and is helping out with the centennial celebrations by sharing with others the school's rich history and helping to connect other alumni for the celebrations.

Principal of Nan Hua Primary School Ong Hui Khim said the school "capitalises on its distinctiveness to nurture bilingual and bicultural students firmly rooted in Chinese traditions and identity".

She said its current campus will be upgraded in two years' time, so as to have a refreshed environment that can better support the school's programmes.

Nan Hua High School will have its 100th anniversary dinner on Saturday at Marina Bay Sands, with Deputy Prime Minster and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam gracing the event.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2017, with the headline '100 years of Nan Hua through the eyes of alumni'. Print Edition | Subscribe