Workaholic, educationist, a caring friend

A photo of SMK Julau teaching staff in 1991 featuring the author as Principal (seated centre), Josak Siam (seated fifth right), the Afternoon Supervisor and other teachers.

A 1981 lecturing staff photo of Rajang Teachers College Bintangor showing the Josak Siam (first row standing first left), the author (at first row standing seventh left, directly behind College Principal Encharang Agas) and other lecturers.

RAJANG Sound competing in a PSKPP ‘battle of the bands’ at Brooke Hall, Batu Lintang Teachers Training College, Kuching in 1981. The band was led by the author (centre) on lead guitar with Josak (right) playing the keyboard; Carter Ballang Kapong on rhythm guitar while Solomon Bulan (unseen) and Alias Abu Bakar (unseen) played the bass and drums respectively. The band did not win the top three spots but got a special mention for being an all-lecturers’ band.

A young Vitini Josak, eldest offspring of Josak Siam (seated 3rd left front row) witnessing a singing contest among RTC teacher trainees in 1981 while the author is seen at right (nearest to camera) as contest’s chief judge. Vitini, now married and working in Negeri Sembilan, graduated from one of the local universities in KL.

Josak Siam, I have known this simple, humble and hard working Bidayuh – actually he used to be a workaholic – father of six for quite a number of years.

Born on 14 Sept, 1949 at Kampung Semeba, Kuching, Josak is the second eldest of eight children. Two of his brothers are also teachers – Ivan and Parker, who is a superb musician with a music degree.

Yours truly and Josak were ‘novice’ lecturers in 1983 – I reported in Rajang Teachers College (MPR), Binatang (later Bintangor) on March 26, 1979 while he reported earlier by a few weeks the same year – and both were taking meals at the college kitchen at the same time as the teacher trainees. This became the venue where our friendship developed into a close association, especially thanks to our common interest in music and a number of outdoor activities.

Both of us stayed quite a while in MPR (now known as IPG Rajang) for a number of common involvements, namely in music – I was appointed as lecturer in-charge of trainees social gatherings – and other activities such as in the college cooperative movement where Josak played the vital role as its secretary while I was a committee member; whereas in music, Josak played the organ/keyboard and at the same time did the vocal while I played lead guitar and was band leader as well as vocalist.

In fact  our most  memorable rendezvous pertaining to our musical association was in 1981 when our all-lecturers band The Rajang Sound led by me took part in the PSKPP (Education Department Sports Club Tournament) held at Brooke Hall, Batu Lintang Teachers Training College, Kuching. We did not win but earned a special mention by virtue of our members being all lecturers of the same teachers college – the only of such band in Malaysia then.

Josak and I teamed up with another lecturer Roslan Awang, a Perak native, whose wife is a Sarawakian, for one stage performance recorded live at the MPR hall by RTM in 1982. Our comical act, whose jokes were written by me, brought the house down. It was performed at RTC own stage and the jokes poked pun at the trainees and RTC scenarios at that time.  One of the jokes was about a notice put by a trainee to warn the cows not to visit the girls’ hostels during the day time. Another joke was about a notice put by a trainee at the front door of the boys’ hostel warning the dogs not to bark at night.

In mid 1979, Josak was joined by his family, then a very small family. I think only his elder daughter Vitini was the only child then – she graduated from UTM in the field of Petroleum Engineering. Now in her 30s and is married with school-going kids, she is working and staying with the husband and kids in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan. As such that saw the end of our union during meals at MPR kitchen – meals that we were supposed to pay but after a few months the bills not found. News was that they (bills) were thrown away by one of the kitchen workers (unconfirmed hitherto).

Nevertheless, as both Josak and I were residential in the college, we also bumped into each other at the staffroom, music room, canteens (outside the college), cooperative shop, tennis court, fish pond area, swimming pool, basket ball court, lecturers’ quarters (during card games) and other venues of the college.

Our common interest in music, in the cooperative movement, in chess, tennis, swimming, basketball and card games was the factor that kept our association and friendship intact. There were also times when our Principal Encharang Agas would call lecturers to gather for coffee and other drinks at his quarters in RTC. Josak was always included for being the expert in the barbeque of meat and fish. My inclusion was due to being one of Encharang’s close allies apart from being among the greediest and generous sponsor of drinks.

Sometimes Josak was among the invited players for the card games but it was a pity that he always ended up twenty or thirty ringgit poorer at the end of the sessions.

In the tennis court, we were both novices but under the unofficial coaching of Paul Loi who later became Sarawak Single Tennis Champion in the mid 80s, our improvement was significant. Josak and I were tennis equals then (1979-83). Our tennis and other involvements did not stop in 1983 as readers continue with this article.

In RTC, Josak was known for his great efforts in the college’s aquaculture, especially in the steady development and maintenance of the few fish ponds where tilapia, Patin, Lampam Jawa (Javenese carp fish), Lee Koh and Chouhu fish as well as tiger prawns were reared. These were all credited to Josak for being the Agriculture Science lecturer taking charge of RTC agriculture projects.

He was also instrumental in setting up RTC’s flower garden where various species of flowers were bred.
His promotion later was attributed to his excellent works in agricultural projects as well as the cooperative movement.

By the time we renewed our friendship and association in late1987, Josak who was born on 14 Sept 1949, was already the proud father of six. Vitini had become a matured young teenager. His youngest daughter Vivilin Josak also graduated from UTM with Management in Business Technology degree.
On December 28, 1987 I reported for duty as Principal of SMK Julau in Julau, a remote part Sarikei Division.

To my surprise also reporting for duty as the school’s Afternoon Supervisor was Josak Siam, on scale C2A TT (B2 Salary Scale) which was the highest for those with Form Five or School Certificate qualification with Teachers Training Certificate. We were both elated to be working together and by then had got use to the being his ‘boss’ as I was the Social Science and Humanities Head of Department in RTC (Jan-May 1983) just months before I left on promotion in 1983. Agriculture Science, Josak’s main  subject,  was part of my department in RTC.

His office as the Afternoon Supervisor was just next to mine, though his was a bit crammed as he had to share with the Senior Assistant Students Affairs (PK-HEM). In terms of the job heirarchy he was number five after the Principal, Senior Assistant 1 (Academics/Admin or PK1); Senior Assistant Students Affairs (PK-HEM) and Senior Assistant Co-curriculum (PKKK). Nevertheless, every early school, the Afternoon Supervisor was the busiest as he had to deal with new kids. Josak played his role well pertaining to his administration of the classes and other conducts.

In fact he excelled as the school’s Afternoon Supervisor and it was not a surprise when (after leaving the school and meeting him years later) I found out that he was promoted to be Headmaster of a big primary school, namely SK Jagoi in Bau (with DG 34 scale). That happened to be his last station in his colourful government services.

He was best known for starting the Koperasi Sekolah of SMK Julau with big membership. Purchases of student exercise books was mostly done through the school cooperative where rebates were given as incentives plus relevant dividends to members comprising both staff and students of the school. Meetings on the movement were regularly held chaired by Josak who was secretary or by me, the chairman. Through this we trained students to run their own business.

Apart from the cooperative, Josak was also tasked to look after the agricultural projects of the school including aquaculture and flower gardens and beautification. SMK Julau won the Sarikei Division schools beautification contest at least three consecutive years from 1988 to 1990, accolades credited to Josak.
I found out later, his youngest daughter Vivilin Josak also graduated from UTM with Management in Business Technology degree. It is not confirmed whether Josak’s spouse lived to see the youngest offspring put on the square head.

After retiring almost a decade ago, he was engaged by Dayak Bidayuh National Association (DBNA) to serve as an official at its headquarters at Jalan Kumpang, Off Jalan Ong Tiang Swee in Kuching.

When I dropped by to see him there recently we had a drink at a canteen below his office and met DBNA Advisor Dato Sri Michael Manyin Jawong who was our colleague in RTC in 1982-83. In my next article I will share with readers the promotion of and preservation of the Bidayuh language by DBNA and other related matters with emphasis on Josak’s role in them.