Intermediate of Science
I was one of a group, matriculating from St. Paul’s High School (SPHS) in March 1957. We spent our Inter Part A year (1957/58) at Yankin College, which is now a State School or so. The year went very quickly and eventfully, when we found ourselves going on to the Main University for our Inter Part B courses.
We passed our Inter exams dutifully (1958/59) and found ourselves qualifying for Engineering.
The first two years after matriculation (1957/58, 1958/59), at Yankin and at the Main University Campus, were just a continuation of our boyish high-spirited ways from St. Paul’s, with just one extra component thrown in. We were now in a co-ed environment. Even so, we stubbornly prolonged our laddish behavior, sometimes, to the exasperation of our classmates of the fairer sex.
But, of course, all this was carried out without the exclusion of our studies. Being ‘Old Paulians’, we still carried out our tradition of giving no quarters in our exams. Studies and examination results then were just instruments for jousting and rivalry among one’s classmates in the field of scholastic achievement. Study for knowledge sake was a faint echo from somewhere afar. The exams in our Inter years were passed without any undue effort, being carried along by the momentum of our matriculation efforts. The impetus in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry which we gained from our high school days still stood us in good stead throughout the two Inters.
The new Faculty of Engineering, with its unique laminated-timber paraboloid-shaped roofed Assembly Hall, affectionately dubbed ‘Leik Khone’ by all and sundry, had just been opened. So, the first and second year Engineering courses went blissfully by in extremely pleasant, comfortable, and relatively new facilities.
The nearest eating place was a little ‘shack’ not very far from Prome Hall and its most popular fare was ‘htamin baung‘ – rice with meat and vegetables. Of course, at every opportunity, we would make forays to the Main University, either to eat at the Recreation Center or to ogle at the fairer sex. At that time, I believe there were only 4 female engineering students.
We still had to do our Workshop Practice at the old B.O.C College of Engineering. I still remember old Mr. Simon, the Workshop Superintendent, an old Paulian and father of William Simon (GBNF), a Mechanical Engineering graduate from RIT.
I remember the rows of lathe machines on which we had to complete our exercise – a mechanical caliper. Above all, I remember the sessions at the Blacksmith’s forge, where Ko Chit was our Assistant. I remember my arms aching after pounding out red-hot pieces of metal on the anvil.
I remember the alignment and chaining measurements we carried out along the central green courtyard of the Faculty. Also, training work with the Level and Theodolite was done there. All in all, time passed quickly and lo-and-behold, we had passed our Second Year Engineering exams in 1961.
First Year Engineering
The First Year Course (1959/60) at the Faculty of Engineering (Leik Khone) brought us down to earth with a bump. Workshop practice, field work, laboratory work etc. interrupted the nice cosy idea of study-for-exams sake only. Now, it was study for practical knowledge; study to learn the science of engineering, and study to be applied in concrete terms (no pun intended) in the outside world.
It was a difficult adjustment to make. Most of us were used to the short, sharp ‘blitzkrieg’; having a merry time for most of the year, then going into ‘purdah’ two months before the final exams in March, and cramming as much as possible. We spent most of our time, making endless short runs to the Main University, as much for the food as for everything else. Even so, we still managed to scrape through the exams with our honors intact.
Second Year Engineering
It was the Second Year Course (1960/61) which separated the ‘men’ from the ‘boys’. It was a very difficult time for all us. Personally, I found it very difficult to concentrate having seen my best friends and old classmates from St. Paul’s, getting all the kudos by taking Physics or Chemistry Honors at the Main University. The final exams proved to be the ‘Rubicon’. We lost more than 50%, although, admittedly, the numbers studying engineering were a mere handful compared to the numbers taking Pure Science.
Burma Institute of Technology (BIT)
But our sojourn at ‘Leik Khone’ was quickly coming to an end. In 1957 or 1958, Khrushchev, the Russian Leader on a Goodwill Visit to Burma, had pledged a new Technical Institute. It was built at Gyogon, in Insein and was ready to receive its first students for the academic year 1961/62. That was how B.I.T (Burma Institute of Technology), renamed a year or so later as R.I.T (Rangoon Institute of Technology), our ‘alma mater’, started its ‘hallowed’ existence. We quickly learnt that we were to ‘up’ our books again and shift ourselves to Gyogon for the two final years of our engineering ‘Odyssey’.
After a carefree and pleasant, but again brief, two-year stint at ‘Leik Khone’, we were on the move again. The new BIT Campus at Gyogon had just been completed and we would be the neophytes to continue our studies in the pursuit of engineering knowledge at this new ‘altar’ of engineering excellence.
Although some decided to take the bitter medicine and repeat the year, some went back to Pure Science and one or two went to the English Department. In my year taking Civil Engineering, I can remember only Alfred Aung Gyi (GBNF), Ko Ohn Myint (Dr.) from Pegu and myself; Dickie (retired Lt. Col. Sein Htoon) taking Mechanical Engineering and Peter (Aye) from Electrical were among the lucky ones who got through. Please forgive me if I have left anybody out. It was a very sobering experience and I vowed never to be in such a dicey situation again.
Third Year Engineering
So, in the Third Year Engineering (1961/62), with a huge sigh of relief and a firm resolve to reform and ‘pull my socks up’, I entered the ‘hallowed’ portals of BIT together with the rest of the battle-scarred ‘Old Paulians’. We were now just two years away from going out into the whole wide world to do our part in helping our country and fellow countrymen (and of course, earning a living as well).
On our first day, with renewed hope and vigour, and a feeling of great anticipation, I made my way through the huge, lofty columns of the main entrance. But, I must confess, in all honesty, that I felt a little bit disappointed. The architecture was, if anything, imposing. It was extremely functional, rather like the Soviet School which had designed it, but to me, it was a bit too sterile.
The old Faculty of Engineering (Leik Khone) buildings we left behind were somewhat airy and light in comparison. The Burmese murals decorating the various facades were a joy to behold during our classroom breaks. The whole aspect was aesthetically very pleasing. All this flashed through my mind as I entered BIT, but I quickly put it out of my system. Whether pleasing in appearance or not, as I remarked before, it was still functional and solidly designed. If this is the ‘altar’ where I must gain my final ‘rites of passage’ into the world of Engineering, so be it. I will grow to love it and indeed I truly did in the end.
Our Professor of Civil Engineering was then Professor U Mya Han. In our third year, (1961/62), I think he taught us ‘Civil Engineering’. He had an acerbic tongue and a sharp, dry wit and I remember his oft-repeated remarks on ‘Cemetery (or Cemetrical) Engineering’ – those were his words, where he propounded his belief that one day, with the World population booming, the location, design, and construction of cemeteries would become critical. I mean no disrespect to him in mentioning it. He was my Saya and I found his lectures absorbing. But the above stuck in my mind even up to now. How macabre and odd ?
Saya U Aung Gyi lectured us on ‘Soil Mechanics’ while Saya U Min Wun taught us ‘Surveying’. Saya U Aung Soe, who had just graduated then, had the daunting task of teaching us the ‘Theory of Structures’. Saya U Ba Than lectured us on ‘Strength of Materials’. I think Sayas Num Kock and his brother Num Pon oversaw our Concrete and Soil Mechanics labs. Saya U San Hla Aung and Saya U Win Thein also figured somewhere in the Sayas ‘domain’, and many others, but my memory has trouble in recalling them. My apologies if I have somehow inadvertently failed to mention their names here. I still owe them a great and incalculable debt for shaping my overall Engineering education.
The Third Year Course was tough and there were many excellent students coming into the fray. But I had learnt my lessons from the Second Year struggle. I paced my work equally throughout the year and, putting in an additional effort before the final exams, managed to pass well. The eating place at BIT was a small parade of shops, by the side, at the bottom of the walkway and down the slope towards the football field.
It was during the Third Year Exams. I remember coming up the steps of the walkway, to re-enter the main building, when I passed by a parked Dodge jeep with Our Editor Ko Hla Min’s father inside. He called me over and as we chatted, he told me to do my best in the exams and that he was counting on it. It was a great boost to my confidence then, and looking back, I didn’t think I disappointed him with my results.
Final Year Engineering
All too soon, I was in my Final Year Civil Engineering (1962/63). BIT had become RIT, our ‘alma mater’. Professor Mya Han had gone abroad by then and I think Saya U Aung Gyi became our Professor. He lectured us on ‘Structures’ and ‘General Civil Engineering’; Saya U Min Wun continued with the ‘Surveying’, but now with Saya U Aung Soe as his Assistant. At least, that was the make-up at the Survey Camp in Maymyo, where we had to go after our final exams.
Of special interest was the Russian Lecturer who taught us ‘Prestressed Concrete’. He was very patient and methodical. He was a gentleman of the old school and knew his subject well. We had a field trip. I think it was the construction of the Ava Bridge or the Sagaing Bridge (I don’t remember which anymore), where he and his wife came along and I saw him stoically putting up with us rowdy students and the inconveniences on the train there and back.
I studied hard throughout the year being aware of the immense importance of the Final Year results, but had time also for sports. In the Annual Sports, I took first prizes in the shot put and discus and, I think, third prize in the pole-vault.
I also played football in the Day team, but we were whipped left, right and center. The only player of significance in our team was William Simon, who was not only in the RIT selection, but had played for the Rangoon University ‘A’ team.
From the junior students, I remember Ko Soe Tint and Ko Yan Aung (GBNF) who were excellent footballers and were in the RIT eleven. During our summer practical training, Ko Soe Tint (as a Second Year trainee) and Ko Khin Mg of Thaton and I (as Third Year trainees) were posted together to the then Construction Corporation, building the Thamaing Hostels. It was while supporting the RIT eleven in their match against the ‘Pagan Hall’ team that I had some hairy moments. After one of their players had fouled one of ours, the supporters from both sides rushed into the field and there was a free-for-all. Thank God, I went home in one piece.
At the RUBC, I rowed for the Engineering eights at number six with Dickie Sein Htoon as cox, and Saya Num Pon as stroke. We beat the Social Science crew but was trounced by those weedy Medical blokes. They must have been on steroids, for all we know (ha, ha, just joking!).
End of Odyssey
Anyway, time passed by as if in a flash and before I knew it, the Final Year exams time had come. As I had prepared for it well, there were no major hiccups and in March 1963, I was the proud holder of a degree in B.Sc Engg.(Civil). My engineering ‘Odyssey’ had finally come to an end.
Ko Norman studied Civil Engineering and Naval Architecture.
He also revived the Rangoon University Boxing Club with Dr. Tin Wa (SPHS57), Dr. Frankie Ohn (SPHS58) and U San Aung (Reginald/Sonny who attended St. Paul’s and St. Albert’s, GBNF).