We hear from Jono Arscott (PH 83-88) about his life in Johor during the pandemic lockdown
|22 Apr 2020|
|Jono Arscott (PH 83-88) shares his 'Lockdown Story' and photos |
I am very well under lockdown out here in Johor whilst teaching at Marlborough College, Malaysia. We went into lockdown a week before the end of the Lent Term on 18th March and it has got progressively stricter. We are now in Phase 3 (i.e. the second extension of the 'MCO' (Movement Control Order) - all very Orwellian). Phase 1 was fairly gentle by comparison, as Phase 2 involved removing the right to exercise outside, and Phase 3 now includes one person only in a vehicle and potential court cases and jail for offenders! There was no time to get 'home' (I'm only on a three-year contract so the UK is still home, really) given the speed with which things happened and the fact I was still working when the MCO started. To be honest, the Malaysian healthcare system is sound and there wasn't much inclination to get home either, as the UK looked just as bad even at that early stage.
We are in a two bed flat with a balcony (thank goodness!) overlooking a lovely oasis of trees and a pool (see photos) - a pool which we are currently not allowed to use. We can easily see Singapore (45 minutes by car) just over the Straits of Johor. We are allowed out to the supermarket, chemist and pet store, though I did see a DIY shop open yesterday, too! So, it's exercise Joe Wicks style on the balcony and trying to get away with the long route to the shops, but that involves running the gauntlet with the Malaysian Police. Is it worth it for a night at the Sultan of Johor's leisure - probably not!
We had a week's online teaching at the end of the Lent Term and have just gone back to that 'return' to school. (We are not allowed physically back to school as I live off campus). Current lockdown is to the 12th May, but very likely to be extended as Ramadan has started and is a big time for family get togethers and the Government will probably want to avoid these gatherings. We will see. It's been a great experience working out here so far - a British public school with a cricket pitch and rugby posts to boot dropped into the middle of Asia: IB teaching, mixed school and breaking into a sweat just walking to the Common Room for coffee - so different, yet strangely familiar.
Before lockdown, I was thoroughly enjoying my fascinating three-year contract out here. Johor is the southernmost state of Malaysia, just one degree off the equator. I don't live on campus, but in a harbour development about ten minutes from school. This aspect of life out here is very modern and not very Malaysian, but a roadside or evening market Nasi Lemak Ayam (chicken rice with side of anchovies, nuts and a spicy sambal) or Laksa (spicy fish / prawn soup) are just minutes drive away and exceptionally cheap (£2-£4 for a full meal). The local town is Johor Bahru (JB), the capital of the State of Johor and a place Singaporeans consider the Wild West because you can chew gum without being arrested. Actually, 'JB' is not really that crazy, apart from some of the driving, more a reflection of the relaxed Malaysian attitude to work when compared to their more materialistic neighbours. Indeed, I would describe Malysians as more just plain relaxed than crazy - not remotely image conscious and generally very humble and family oriented people. Anyway, we are situated just outside JB town, with our own campus that comes complete with a delightful Nepalese Security team. The School is situated here primarily as it's near one of the two causeways over to Singapore, one of our most important markets.
The Prep and Senior School are both mixed, both day and boarding, and situated together over about 80 acres of grounds. They are set up very much like an English campus independent school, with great facilities: theatre, large assembly hall, pool, track, astro, tennis and squash courts, multiple grass pitches, cricket square, two sports halls. The surrounding countryside is made up largely of palm plantations, which is unfortunate from an ecological point of view, but aesthetically lovely. The school has about forty-five nationalities and is wonderfully cosmopolitan as a result. Apart from the IB (which I have become a fan of for a number of reasons such as compulsory 'Service' and the 'Works in Translation' English Literature paper) the teaching is not that different. Of course, there are a few more bi-lingual and second language pupils. The largest nationalities are 'ex pat' (that well-known nationality of UK, Australian and NZ combined) at about 30% and then Singaporean, Chinese Malay, Malay, Indian Malay, Chinese, Japanese and then pretty much every country east of India!
Can I sum it and its differences up in a few phrases? A beautifully cosmopolitan education (for me and the pupils), utterly charming students in the main, girls playing sport in a hijab, 9 holes of golf after work on Friday, delicious Asian markets and cuisine, extremely hot, amazing travel (Cambodia, Thailand, Borneo, Northern Malaysia and Singapore so far), islands, beaches, slack time keeping, all with an Islamic backdrop. Oh yes, it's hard work too - honestly!
1) Getting the boat back from Mabul Island, Malaysian Borneo (Above)
2) Crab and Chicken Tom Yum at lunchtime with the symbolic bars of the balcony.
3) Sunset watching on the 27th Floor sky garden during lockdown (illegal).
4) Angkor Wat - Travel is a highlight.
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