Neighbourhood schools are great too 


neighbourhood schools COVER

While we may lose out in terms of prestige as compared to top schools, those who grew up in a neighbourhood secondary school know we had the best times. From skipping classes (not that we endorse truancy) to the reuniting with our favorite people after dismissal, those days will always be kept close to our hearts. Be it our behavior or mannerisms, it seems like we have developed a unique sense of identity.  

If you graduated long ago and can’t remember if that sounds like your school life, here are 14 reminders that you’re the bona fide neighborhood school kid.


1. The mama shop is life


mama shop


What’s a neighbourhood without a mama shop? Back in the days when pocket money was limited, the mama shop was our best bet on getting cheap snacks and carbonated drinks that are disallowed in some school canteens. Another time we go buzzing to this sundry shop is when remedial starts in 15 minutes, but you still want something other than canteen food. 


2. Mats & minahs shaped your behaviour more than your parents ever did


Quintessential to the personality profiles a neighbourhood school must have, the mats and minah, or ah beng and ah lian, anjek and anjadee are staple to shaping our secondary school lives. Whether it’s the crazy swinging of the arms, overly spiked hair or the inclusion of a curse word in every sentence, we can’t deny the joy and humour they bring when they bicker with teachers. 


3. Food fights were the best and worst thing of recess


food fight


Recess will be in session, you’ll be talking and laughing, being engaged in a conversation with your clique. Out of nowhere, a ear-piercing roar will be heard, and a plate of rice, noodles, or whatever the canteen sells is seen flying across the canteen. And next thing you know, two ah bengs will throw food back and forth until the discipline master comes to break it up. 

During these incidents, one would usually hope for 3 things: not to fall under in that lane of food, that food won’t be the weapon of choice for beng, and that the discipline master arrives on scene soon.  

Great fun for something utterly stupid, like a staring contest. 


4. The only time class experienced full attendance was during night study sessions


singapore parliament


Trust us neighbourhood school students to be punctual for the weekly night study sessions. If there is any studying, of course. Maybe it just happened in my school, but every night study session will somehow turn into a catching up activity – continuing conversations not finished back in class.

And without saying, there comes a point where we are just one decibel away from being a full-fledged night market, and that’s when the loudhailer come in, and everyone is forced to sit and face one direction, and every noise uttered means night duty to clean the canteen space.

Despite not actually studying, the bonding sessions were invaluable. 


5. Bubble tea shops under the nearest block was the ultimate hangout spot


Source: @wenchiizzle

Never mind Koi and Gong Cha, the ubiquitous neighbourhood bubble tea shop was the cool place to be seen. Peddling a plethora of products from cheap tacoyakis to instant noodles, we got our routine fix of unhealthy indulgence at least once a week. Of course, the essential flavoured milk teas were an absolute godsend, especially on a hot day. Where else can you get bubble tea for less than $2?! 


6. You learned a dialect or an entire new language


Source: Renae Cheng

One of the perks of going to a neighbourhood school is the uber multi-culturalism and diversity. Personally, I was hung out constantly with a mixture of Chinese, Malay and Indian friends, and by the end of my 4 years, I could pass off as an Indonesian/Malaysian thanks to my mediocre but passable Bahasa Melayu skills.

And if you haven’t got to such conversational proficiency, I’m sure we all left knowing more than when we entered school. Just stuff that was never in the textbooks. 


7. Two week relationships were a thing


ai stead mai

Until today, I still wonder why this was ever a thing. Well, I guess some things will just remain mystery. But hey, if you were a part of this movement back in the day, no judgements. Here’s how relationships in secondary school usually goes: a boy suddenly finds a girl pretty, they exchange numbers, and openly flirt in class and during recess. Unsuspecting classmates became unwilling participants in this coupling too, usually as vessels for secret-message passing. 

Before you know it, the all-important “eh chiobu ai stead mai” pops up. Two weeks later though, these lovebirds would eventually become strangers again. 


8. There’s always a haunted toilet


moaning mrytle


“Eh follow me go toilet” isn’t a phrase said just by girls when it comes to the haunted toilet. Epic tales of cleaners who used to do rituals after hours or someone who died in there, whether it’s hearsay or the truth, we all know better to not challenge the tales of the past. Except for the truly fearless among us.


9. Coloured hair marks the true start of the holidays


tomato hair


Opposed to hitting the books, gym or planning an outing, the first order of business to truly mark the start of the holidays is getting our hair refreshed. Let it be going to a salon or doing it yourself at home with the help of a few friends, even the most subtle of colours like dark brown feels liberating. The other time you need to be concerned about hair is whether to dye it back to black when school reopens. Anyone else used the “I went swimming card” to explain the brown hair?


10. Guys with long scene fringes


emo llama


At some point, growing out fringes and covering one eye was a trend among schoolboys. And as all things go among the male gender, everything becomes a competition. Apart from evading the watchful eye of the discipline master, it’s a contest to see who can grow a longer fringe. The worst nightmare for these fringe boys were when they get caught and have their fringes unceremoniously snipped off in front of the cohort. #savage.


11. When the bench drops


oooo damn

We’ve all witnessed this. Someone stands up from the canteen bench and accidentally pushes the bench too hard and it falls. What comes after isn’t the birds flying off the tree. But instead, a 5-second interlude of students echoing ‘OHHHHHHHHHHH’, as if a fight was going to start. What a way to announce to the whole school a bench had fallen. 


12. The part-time student, full-time gamer




Remember that one classmate who always brings a jacket to school whether rain or shine? And how he’s always in a rush the second the dismissal bell rings? Yup, that’s the tell-tale sign of a gamer boy. Instead of going home to change, he just slap on a jacket and camps at the LAN shop. 

Also usually spotted with face plastered on desk during lessons. 


13. Assembling after recess takes as long as recess


you'll never catch me


Ever wondered why recesses are so short? Even though we have school bells to keep us in check, every second we can spend with our chicas, we savour it. Whether it’s chilling by the canteen or some random corner in school, we do anything to lengthen the assembly process. On hindsight, kudos to the prefects and their tireless efforts to shut us up. Good try, though. 


14. Smuggling sweet drinks to class was a daily project


smuggling food


Apart from eating and catching up with our friends as if we’re long lost siblings, another daily affair is planning strategies to smuggle sweet drinks back to class. Bringing a big pencil case to recess or stuffing it deep into our bags, all of these have to be done in discretion of the teacher and the elusive eyes of the prefects. 


Good times, bad times, secondary school times


Ah yes. Those silly secondary school days when all that mattered was (not doing) homework and struggling to contain those hormonal urges while those around you slowly caved. There was something great about those days. Something noble about standing up to the system and learning the ~street way~. Sure, neighbourhood schools were filled with lots of doing everything else except studying, but at least those unofficial language classes came in useful later in life.