Rugby@ Raffles Hall

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It was pouring outside. I took a sip of my favourite local blend of coffee black. My thoughts started meandering again down memory lane, back to old Raffles Hall at Nassim Road during one similar downpour one evening.

“Calling all rugby players! Calling all rugby players! Please assemble at the field for practice now”, resounded through the corridors of the guys dormitories. We were being summoned. It was surely pouring then, as now, and as always a prelude to rugby practice. I guessed our captain had some sort of heavenly connection to be able to call forth rain for each and every practice. He was hell of a mean captain with a wet sense of humour.  

“Come on, Captain. Don’t you have anything better to do? Are you a sadist or nut case or what? You want us to get pneumonia. The field is definitely flooded by now”, we cursed silently at our imaginary Captain.

Reluctantly, we donned our jersey mighty proud and filed onto the field in front of the patio to warm up, and yes, in the rain. We were all in black, almost like the New Zealand All Blacks, almost. Diehards claimed hall spirit in the face of adversity. Yeah, right, and I was born yesterday. More like, we needed points to stay back in the Hall next year. 

We then jogged to the already flooded IE field along Dunearn Road.  “Everywhere we go, people want to know. Who we are, where we come from? So we tell them. We’re from Raffles, mighty, mighty Raffles. R A F F L E S. Raffles! Raffles!”, we chanted and panted till we reached the flooded field where we honed our skills and practised tactics.

Like Roman legionnaires of old, we first arrayed in forwards-backs battle formations. Strong forwards steamrolled like jaggernauts while agile backs weaved like springboks in unison. We charged forward maintaining possession of the prolate spheroid ball through lateral and backward passes, to gain ground and to score by grounding the ball in the in-goal area, a touchdown or try. We could also score from conversion kicks and drop goals over and between the goal posts.

For defence, we practised safe tackles and tactical scrum collapses. We always closed ranks to stonewall against attacks by the opposing team. We made sure every inch of ground loss was costly for the opposing team. Every charge must be challenged and stopped. No quarters given, expect none. 

We also formed scrums and line-outs. We practised and practised, again and again, till we were covered in mud, sweat and bruises. Never in tears despite the agonising pain. Practice was always rough, tough and arduous. By day’s end we were most assuredly exhausted, both bodily and mentally, and our limbs were all rock and lead.

Bruises, sprains and muscle tears were common. However, blood was interestingly seldom spilled despite being a full contact game where bones crushed bones and flesh pressed flesh. A hooligan’s game no doubt but always played by gentlemen, I reckoned.

Unlike the all-brawn American football with all the protective padding and helmets, rugby is all-brain and strategy game without any need for protection. Further, unlike the more popular soccer, rugby is always played by gentlemen. Ergo, serious injuries are rare and far in between.

Well, I had my fair share of exhilarating tackles bringing down opponents and excruciating tumbles from being brought down. Just to brag a little, only I, being the hooker in the forward pack, bore the full brunt of the explosive pressure behind a scrum. Stop your naughty thoughts. Not that type of hooker who gained infamy along Geylang or Bugis.

In rugby, a hooker is the smallest and toughest son-of-the-gun with sharpest wit and nimblest feet in the rumbling forward pack. Let just say, he is the key man in the midst of a scrum, to hook or manoeuvre the ball into his fly-half’s hands with his feet. Of course, he eats the most grass if the scrum collapses. 

We were a tight pack, bonded in camaraderie, forged through victories and defeats. Such fond memories flooding back so vividly. I enjoyed the game. I loved the game. I played the game. I came out unscathed or unscarred bodily. Yes, no brain damage too. 

My Early Days in Singapore @ Raffles Hall

ImageMy thoughts were wandering again, reminiscing of days gone by. I left the comfort of my home, sleepy hometown, Sungai Petani and travelled overseas for the 1st time albeit just across a strait, to the city state of Singapore for my tertiary education.

I was nervous and apprehensive at the prospect of studying in another country. Truth be told, I was actually reluctant to separate from my new found love of life. I had no choice but to go forth. Luckily, I was accompanied by my primary school mate who had been to Singapore 2 years prior. So I was not alone in my journey. We travelled over night by bus and alighted at Bukit Timah Plaza the next dawn.

We boarded a taxi for National University of Singapore at Kent Ridge for the NUS Orientation Program, which admittedly I did not have any fond recollections of, only the usual “hi & bye”, sing-a-long and course introduction.

We then headed for our boarding hall of residence, Raffles Hall along Nassim Road, our new home away from home, tucked amongst lush greeneries behind Botanic Gardens. Did I say new? Well, Raffles Hall was already 25 years old then. I was made to remember that along with other facts, like Reuben Manasseh and Sir William Goode.

We were met by some senior residents who called themselves “Freshmen Welcoming Orientation Committee” (FWOC), and were immediately secreted into our respective rooms for briefing before joining the rest of the residents. I was directed to my room. Lo and behold, my room-mate was already there. We were briefly introduced but he quickly added that he will not be staying as he was unwilling to be subjected to the orientation program. I was puzzled. I had heard rumours and horror stories, but hey it can’t be that bad. We were civilised undergraduates in pursuit of our dreams in the finest institution in the country, and I had just come from one orientation program.

We were given the choice to participate in the orientation program and stay or opt out and leave. Not much of a choice as we had no idea what was installed. Further, most of us were still in the state of shock and had yet to recover our wits. Some just could not afford alternative accommodation. We took comfort that ragging was strictly prohibited, yeah, right.

Anyway, we were the 1st yearlings, newbies, greenhorns or freshmen (freshies & freshettes). We were required to get to know the name, course and hometown of every senior and freshman in quick time. Other information to commit to memory included personal particulars of Resident Fellows, JCRC members, FWOC members and RH history were keys to surviving verbal diatribes from some more sadistic seniors. There were always some prowling around the corner, ready to prey on stragglers. Surprisingly, the nastier ones would become our bosom friends thereafter.

Three square meals daily, breakfast, lunch and dinner, must be taken in the company of seniors, never alone or amongst freshmen only. Tea sessions included. Dress code was always smart casual/formal throughout the day, except during mandatory morning and evening exercise sessions, which were occasionally conducted in formal dress code. We were to greet the seniors first in a gentlemanly or ladylike manner at all times, even a senior baby Jenli, a senior dog and some senior pillars. Geez.

We raised funds for charity during NUS Rag & Flag Day, and if my memory serves me correctly, RH came in top amongst the halls of residence for the largest amount collected that year. I also remembered I was almost left behind at Bukit Timah Plaza without any pick-up arrangement back to RH. Mobile phones were not invented yet. I had no idea of the bus route/system then. I found the nearest bus stop, and sat there. I was lost and desperate.

Thankfully, heaven took pity on me, I guess. I was waiting at the right bus stop along the right route/direction at the right time. Almost immediately, I caught a glimpse of some passengers in our orientation’s fiery red T-shirt on an oncoming bus, SBS 170. They were my seniors on their way back. I almost became the biblical lost sheep of RH.

O yes, how could I forget the songs, forbidden lyrics sang in familiar tunes. Not your usual serenading sing song session. The lyrics were charming, amusing, uncouth, abrasive, loud and emotional all the time. We were being drummed up for war. We were going to war.

We engaged in a few preparatory 1-1 skirmishes before the mother of all battles scheduled immediately after the inter-hostel games.

On that fateful dusk, almost 2,000 strong from 5 halls of residence converged on the field of Kent Ridge, in full battle array, staring each other down daring the other to fire the 1st salvo. All were ready and tense. The atmosphere was highly charged and volatile. The air was asphyxiating yet electrifying.

Suddenly, as if invisibly commanded, all fury let loose, and the battle songs crescendo-ed across the battle field. Insults were hurled and secret bombs unleashed, all verbal, all decibel, all lyrics, all song, and yes we were in the song fight of our lives. Victory was claimed by the loudest and longest, and of course, needless to say, RH celebrated victory that night, our seniors mighty proud.

In one of the more memorable rites of passage, we were all baptised in the drain running beside RH valley. Some lucky ones with the full complement of the infamous 21-gun salute reserved actually for those turning 21 only. Most also opted to have the royal flush, and I must bragged I got flushed twice. For the uninformed, royal flush is flushing your head in a toilet bowl. A hand stand position is preferred to avoid drowning. Drowning is a possibility if one’s head blocked the outlet. As for 21-gun salute, I shall leave that to your imagination. As a clue, it is a ritual for males only.

For the grand finale, we were ferried to St. John’s Island for an overnight camp, more akin to an all expense paid, once in a lifetime concentration camp experience for posterity. We were deprived of sleep and subjected to verbal abuse throughout the night, to drain and break us, so that we can experience re-birth through final baptism at sea the next dawn into a fully fledged RHafflesians. Just like the mythological phoenix of old rising from its ashes. No more freshmen-senior divide, we were all RHafflesians. That was what we were told.

Looking back, I must admit, it worked at least for me. Bonds and friendships forged and moulded in adversity, even scripted ones like the RH orientation then, were both enduring and endearing.

“Raffles, the greatest in the whole country, let’s go, go, go

Raffles, one strong and mighty family, onward we shall go

R A F F L E S, Raffles is the best, Hoi!

Raffles, the greatest in the whole country, let’s go, go, go”

We were one strong & mighty family.

Water Fight @ Raffles Hall

Water Fight @ Raffles Hall

Water Fight @ Raffles Hall

It was a hot and humid afternoon. There was no wind. The air was still and stuffy, and almost sizzling. The only annoying sound was the constant buzzing of flies, wing surfing on summer vacations. The atmosphere was highly combustible, waiting, just waiting for a spark, however small it may be, to initiate the requisite chain reaction setting off an explosion of cataclysmic proportion.

Most were struggling to concentrate on our study below the fan set at full blast while some blissful ones snoring restlessly at whatever cool shady corners somewhere. The only air-conditioned room, the small music lounge, was conveniently fully occupied for choir practice.

As the popular song goes, “It only takes a spark to get the fire going, and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing…”, and the spark came in the form of a small splash of water on a blur bystander, a piercing scream dispersing the knot of saboteurs or “sabo-kings” as was commonly known, and almost immediate retaliations by whosoever around. Before you know it, the PA system squawked resoundingly the clarion call to arms, to arms. The whole Hall was awakened, exploding into life from her slumber and oppressive gloom.

Pails, plastic bags, balloons and water containers of any sort were quickly brought to bear into the water fight that was already in full fight, not flight, for no true blooded RHafflesian would turn tail from such fight anywhere anytime. We fought with such ferocity that everyone in sight was fair game, all foes and all friends. Chivalry was dead. It was an all out no holds barred and free for all combat till the last man standing.

Even the fire hose was not spared, brought to bear as the special heavy artillery of choice from aloft, the only one from A2 corridor through one of the windows, and of course, handled by A2 guys. Raincoats or umbrellas afforded no protection against such formidable weapon. “Drink water, you maggots below!”

Some mischievous ones would add flour to their water bombs. Ingenious ones prefer ice cubes to cool the temperature down to shock victims with their bombardment. What do you expect? We were not only intelligent but also imaginative undergraduates in the finest University in the country. Hmmm, I wondered what we could do then if we had some ferrous powder and sulphuric acid.

No excruciating shrieks of pain or wails of agony, only exhilarating laughter and cold shrill shrieks in a water fight. It was all cool, clean and wet fun and definitely a relief from the stuffy oppressive weather, and a damn good excuse from our books.

As if divinely summoned, we rallied and mustered as all able-bodied Rhafflesians, and quick marched to assault our neighbouring Eusoffe College. Eusoffean lookouts were sent scurrying back behind the safety of their walls, and to raise an alarm of the impending attack.

With main door hastily shut, Eusoffeans quickly barricaded themselves inside and prepared for battle. The bell tolled for war. All hands on deck to man the walls, more like to cower behind their rampart walls, and waited with bated breath. Giggling? Waiting for the inevitable for the wild horde now surging through the tree line before them was mighty indeed.

We charged forward valiantly, committing all our ammunition in one full frontal audacious assault, hoping to shock the defenders into a quick surrender. Victory or death! We rained water bombs upon them in salvoes. We drenched them. We inundated them, but they gritted their teeth and absorbed the punishment. Giggling again?

Their ramparts held, they held, firmly and defiantly despite our overwhelming barrage. No parlay, no white flag. More giggling.

We were courageous and fearless, no doubt, but against the well entrenched and barricaded Eusoffeans, our tactic was flawed and foolish, and bravado futile. Our limited ammunition was quickly exhausted. We were exposed and in trouble.

They saw it in our eyes and sniffed it off our fear. Our assault teetered on the brink of collapse, momentum fizzled out. Our blitzkrieg had failed, and failed abysmally.

They swiftly took the initiative, counterattacked us with impunity. “Remember the Panties Raids”, was their rallying battle cry. Those humiliating raids, heinous raids, must be avenged. Payback time, suckers!

We locked arms, reformed lines and stood our ground defiantly, come what may, one last time. We never begged for mercy. We were prepared to accept whatever fate destiny had installed for us.

They pounded us with water bombs incessantly. They poured cauldrons of icy water on us mercilessly, even pelted with ice cubes rabidly. Our residual defiance petered out. They were deadly serious, and we were nakedly defenceless. They defended their College with Amazonian pride and ferociousness that day.

Soon we had to retreat. Did I say retreat? What I meant was that we bowed out gracefully from a fight that we never intended to win. There was no honour to brag about in victory over Eusoffeans. We would only be remembered for bullying girls. Some were our D&D partners, you know, a few our future soul mates.

We parlayed and declared a truce. We thanked them for the good fun and saluted for the fight well fought before serenading to them as we merrily melted away and marched back to our stronghold along Nassim Road, with our chins held high and smiles on our faces.

Marching back, battle wearied and out of ammunition, expecting a hero’s welcome, lo and behold, we were ambushed and attacked by our own girls, either out of jealousy or they still wanted more fun. Regardless and rejuvenated, we stormed into the fray. Who could resist such savage fun, right? And so, Round 2 began.

We fought till everyone was out of ammunition, satisfactorily drenched and some with battle bruises or white all over. Remember the ice cubes and flour. “We can’t help falling for our girls. We can’t help falling for our girls. Our girls are the best, the very, very best. We can’t help falling for our girls.”

Then as sudden as the fight started, Round 2 abruptly ended. We would live to fight another day. That day came the following year at the new Raffles Hall @ Kent Ridge. Water fights were forever banned thereafter. O such cheery memories, now a fond history but sadly never to be repeated.