The V.I. Web Page
hat, ten years already? It is hard to believe that our V.I. Web site has been in existence for so long! Of course it is still very young in comparison to the Victoria Institution itself which is one hundred and twelve years old. You may have wondered how it all started. So here is an account of its origins, the initial aspirations for the website, the persons behind the website and a few lesser known stories from our ten-year journey.
Now flashback ten years to the stone age era of IT, when the standard operating system for PCs was the mighty Windows 3.11. (Windows 95 would be available only in the second half of 1995.) Of course computers had been around much longer than that but all the component pieces of the Internet - cheap hardware, enabling software, a critical mass of users - were falling into place the previous year and the Internet was beginning its explosive growth around the world.
In Malaysia, too, the government was encouraging people to go online. The idea of the Multimedia Super Corridor was still a couple of years away into the future but Internet access within Malaysia was just taking off, as a result of the MIMOS initiative to set up Jaring, the first Malaysian Internet Service Provider (ISP). Every organization worth its salt was mulling whether to set up a presence in the World Wide Web (WWW) through its own home page. But there were a few obstacles. There was a dearth of people who had the technical skills to do that. Dial-up modems - USR Robotics was quite popular - came only at 14.4 or 28.8 Kbps then. Mosaic and Netscape (remember them?) were the web browsers of choice and, if you didn't have a proper winsock configuration, why, you could not get to surf to any web site at all!
That was when one of us, Boon Kheng, began his own pioneering IT work in the Klang Valley, providing freelance service to small enterprises and individuals to help them set up, configure and trouble-shoot their PC hardware and software to get connected to the Internet via Jaring. He gave hand-holding training to many newbies on how to surf or navigate around the Internet. He taught them the use of web browsers, ftp, and newsgroup readers. Boon Kheng also did homepage design for a couple of companies using HTML and CGI/Perl, besides maintaining a couple of his own personal websites. By May 1995, he had found a job as an IT consultant with a UK-based consulting company in KL.
Meeting in Cyberspace
Fate was now ready to step in. One evening in 1995 when Boon Kheng logged in to the USENET soc.culture.malaysia (SCM) discussion group, he noticed that someone had started a thread calling for any interested old Victorians who might be interested in creating a website for the V.I. It was, of course, the other one of us, Alan Teh, then a medical doctor at the University Hospital. Boon Kheng responded to Alan and, following some exchange of emails and postings to the discussion group, the two of us decided to jointly kick off the V.I. web project as soon as possible. Like most cyber encounters, we never met face to face at all in arriving at that decision!
We agreed that this V.I. Website would be a non-profit site, set up and maintained as a labour of love for our old School. The objective was to pay tribute to what the School has produced, for future Victorian generations to know more about the achievements of the School and to allow all generations of Victorians to stay in touch via this website. The goals are stated simply at the top of our main homepage - "This Web Page is about the Victoria Institution and Victorians who have passed through this school, remembering the traditions, honouring the past, and keeping in touch. Dedicated to all true blue Victorians around the globe" The V.I. Website would, hopefully, help rekindle the true V.I. spirit and keep it alive.
V.I. Web, Arkansas!
The first task at hand for us was to find a webserver site to host our brainchild. And it turned out that the first home of the V.I. Web was at, of all places, the website of the University of Central Arkansas Business School in the USA! It was all due to Alan's cousin, Chris Chan, then studying there, who very kindly offered some space for us. So, the V.I. Web was launched on March 7, 1995, from Arkansas, USA! Announcements of its birth were posted mainly in the USENET discussion groups and also through e-mails to those Victorians known to the two of us.
The V.I. Web content then was basically a quick-'n-dirty collection of a few HTML files making up the main homepage's four small sections - About the V.I., The V.I. House System, The V.I. Image Archive (with only ten pictures!) and Victorians on the Internet. That was all!
The euphoria didn't last too long. A few months later, we were told that the UCA Business School website policy had changed and they did not want to host us, so could we please go look for a new home for the V.I. Web!
New Home in Malaysia
Fortunately, around that time, Boon Kheng got to know Mark Chang, an old boy of Penang Free School, who was founding a website business together with his brother in the USA. The Chang brothers' business would have mirror webservers in both the USA and in Penang. When Boon Kheng told Mark that we were looking for a new home for the V.I. Web, he offered to host the V.I. Web in his Malaysia OnLine (MOL) webservers without any charge. This offer was immediately accepted and both of us moved the V.I. Web contents to Malaysia OnLine (www5.mol.com.my/yellowpg/personal/vi/vihome.htm) on August 6, 1995. Later that same year, our V.I. Web was featured in an article by Gilbert Yap in the InTech supplement in The Star newspaper in Malaysia, which helped bring in more visitors.
Alan - an IT-savvy medical doc and the webmaster of two medical sites, The Malaysian Medical Resources and Dobbs - contributed an online message board and data base for Old Victorians to register themselves. The latter, at its zenith, held names, year of graduation and email contacts of a few hundred Old Victorians. Much of the article content updating though was done by Boon Kheng during the weekends or on weekday nights whenever he had the time. In the beginning, some time was spent tweaking the CGI scripts that we were using then. But since he made a career move south to Singapore in November 1999, Boon Kheng has spent much less time updating the V.I. Web - making only occasional updates to the V.I. Personalities page (which he started) whenever he receives new data by e-mail. The main updates have fallen onto the third "musketeer" of our team whom we invited on board in 2000 - Chee Min!
The Third Musketeer
One morning in 1997 Chee Min was surfing the net in his office. A former IT professional with multinational corporations, he was now in the IT education industry. When he idly typed "Victoria Institution" into the Altavista search engine (there was no Google then), he was transported to our humble V.I. Web site. Spotting some historical errors, he emailed Boon Kheng whose name was at the bottom of the articles to alert him. Ever since Chee Min chanced upon an error-riddled copy of the 1993 Victorian, he had felt very strongly about the many fallacies and ridiculous half-truths that had permeated the VI community in recent years. They seemed to have a life of their own, embellished, distorted and transmitted by word of mouth and even through poorly researched student articles in the School's Seladang and Victorian. And now here was an Internet article propagating some of the errors around the world. Boon Kheng suggested that Chee Min write an article correcting those misconceptions. He did and the result was V.I. Myths Debunked which was posted on the V.I. Web page.
That was the beginning of Chee Min's writing "engagement" with us. Another article followed a month or so later; then another and another and, six years later, our "content provider" still hasn't stopped! There seems to be an endless store of stories of the V.I., its traditions and its Old Boys and Old Girls to write about. A V.I. Teacher at the beginning of his work career, Chee Min has many contacts amongst ex-V.I. staff and his ex-pupils which has helped in the meticulous researching of his articles. He made frequent visits to the V.I. Museum and Library archives photocopying old school publications and borrowing old photographs, scrapbooks and artefacts for scanning. He also lifted past forgotten interviews with Old Boys from school publications and gave them a new lease of life and a wider readership on our website. He himself interviewed some prominent Old Boys including Tun Ismail Mohd Ali, Tun Omar Ong, Tan Sri Majid Ismail, Capitan Yap Ah Loy's only surviving grandson and the oldest Victorian, and the two surviving brothers of V.I. air aces, Henry and Cyril Talalla.
The V.I. Web content - there are now over 90 articles, interviews and features - is augmented regularly with new well-researched, revealing and interesting material by our tireless and resourceful colleague. And it is not just his material. Along the way he has also managed to cajole other Old Boys and even one Old Girl to pen their memories for the Web Page as well.
By the year 2000, our five-year-old website had been well established, with a surprisingly regular and growing number of visitors for such a narrow-focus school website. We had put in a counter by then so we could monitor the number of visitors. Many Malaysian educational and news sites had links to us. Everything seemed nice and rosy. Then, in June 2000, came a bomb shell. Chee Min was the first to notice that something was not quite right when he found that he could not access the MOL webserver to upload his text files and so he notified both of us by email. After a short check, we found that while the web page could be accessed, there was no way to update it. We had been effectively locked out.
It was only after Boon Kheng had sent an e-mail to the MOL webmaster was the actual situation revealed to us. There had been a buy-up of MOL and the new MOL owners had decided not to continue hosting our V.I. Web. So they first unplugged the port through which we uploaded our text files to their server, a decision that was never communicated to us. Despite our pleas to be allowed to post a last message on our page to inform Victorians of the situation and directing them to whatever new home we could find, the MOL owners turned a deaf ear to us. We could only watch and wait like evicted tenants on the outside looking helplessly in. Then, after a few days they erased all the V.I. Web Page files from their webserver. We were history! It was a shock to us and that resulted in a frantic search for a new home for our V.I. Web.
Squatting in Freehosting and TMS
Chee Min at that time knew the IT Manager at Maxis (owned by an ex-Victorian) who offered him a new home for V.I. Web but for only a year. The thought of having to move home again in another twelve months' time wasn't very palatable and so we turned down the offer. Luckily Boon Kheng eventually found a new home at freehosting.net and, on 21 June 2000, we moved to our new quarters. It took a couple of months before the transfer of all the back-up files to freehosting.net was completed and, of course, all those Victorians out there who had lost us must have been wondering whatever had happened. Alan, fortunately, had a slew of backed up email addresses extracted from his online V.I. register. So he fired off a circular, informing each ex-Victorian of our new home and asking that they pass the word around. Other Victorians, we presume, eventually homed in on us again via word of mouth or through search engines.
The move to freehosting.net was supposed to be a temporary measure until we found a permanent home for the V.I. Web. To conserve space - we were allocated only 20 megabytes of disc space - we decided to store our image files on a separate server at The Media Shoppe (TMS) website, courtesy of Alan's cousin who had returned from the U.S. Although freehosting.net provided hosting without charge, the catch was that it automatically inserted annoying advertisements on each web page, over which we had no control.
A Permanent Home at last!
In December 2001, we upgraded from a free subscription to a paid subscription at freehosting.net (courtesy of Boon Kheng), ensuring us ad-free web pages from then on. With more disc space available, we migrated all the image files from TMS to freehosting.net, so the entire contents - text and pictures - are now located in the same site. Since then we have had no major problem with the hosting site, touch wood! There is enough disc space for many more text files and graphics files for some time yet.
We monitor the visits to the various articles through counters and web logs. Of course we do not know the identity of the visitors but we have made some interesting findings that we'd like to share with you. In 2000, we averaged around 20 hits a day. Now we are hitting around 60 or so a day. On some good days, we even exceed 100. There was one time a school (not the V.I.) was asked to do a project on V.I. history. There was a stampede to our site and our guest numbers shot past 120 in a 24-hour period!
The Most Popular Page
We have so many features spanning a varied range of topics, from scholars to sportsmen, from pilots to politicians, from guitarists to generals, from history to histrionics, that you must have wondered about the most popular ones. Well, the clear champion is V.I. Personalities (Past & Present) initiated by Boon Kheng, with over 18,000 visits at the time of writing. However, this wasn’t always the leader of the pack. Until 2003 the frontrunner had been The V.I. Image Gallery but since we began aggressively adding names to the Personalities list two years ago (topping 1,100 names to date), the Image Gallery page has dropped to second place. It can only mean that every Victorian is obviously very curious to find out what happened to their schoolmates and keeps checking the page! There is every indication that our list can top 1,500 names in the near future, provided we keep getting names from you people out there.
The third place is held, surprisingly, by Two Book Lists, an essay comparing the prewar book lists to the 2002 book lists. With 5,000 visits recorded, one must wonder what the attraction of this page must be. It doesn’t even have a single picture; instead, it features list after list of dry text books! After some sleuthing in the VI web page log we concluded that most visitors did not get there via the VI Web menu but had been directed there by search engines like Google. Well, what sort of search parameters would have prompted the likes of Google to do that? It turns out these visitors have been searching for items like “Bahasa Malaysia KBSM”, “Prinsip Akaun” or “Pendidikan Moral Tingkatan 5” and so on. Now who would be searching the web for things like this? Definitely not Old Victorians but school kids! So thousands of anxious kids around the country, driven no doubt by examination pressure, must have been scouring the web for help and ending up, doubtless nonplussed and disappointed, at Two Book Lists, in the process driving up the visitor count for this page!
Scout History Feat
The next most popular feature is really not one write-up but a collection of over 40 articles on the History of V.I. Scouting. It has its own menu which has been visited over 3,600 times. From this staging post the visitor can link to articles on V.I. scouting history exhaustively researched and penned over a nine-month period by Dennis Loh Kok Kin sitting at his computer in Sydney, Australia. Ah, the wonders of e-mail research, enabling him to contact ex-V.I. scouts all over the world. And he did it while simultaneously reading for his Bachelor of Economics degree. Smart Dennis snared First Class Honours for all his troubles and has bequeathed us with the best scout history collection of any school on this planet. Thanks, Dennis; you deserve similar Honours for your web efforts as well!
The stories behind two V.I. icons - The School Song and Queen Victoria's portrait - take fifth and sixth place. And there are stories behind these stories too. Maybe we can persuade Chee Min to tell them all one day. For example, while researching the portrait story, he chanced on a yellowing newspaper clipping in the V.I. museum with a photograph of the artist putting the final touches on the 1951 oil portrait of Queen Victoria. The caption identified him as a "Mohamed Hoessein", a Javanese painter who specialized in painting Malay royalty. Could that be the late Datuk Hoessein Enas, Chee Min wondered, a giant in the Malaysian art scene in the fifties and sixties? Curious, Chee Min called on the curator of the National Art Gallery and asked for information on Hoessein Enas. She found him a booklet on Enas' works which included photographs of him in the fifties. They showed the same person as in the newspaper clipping. Indeed, in some photographs one could see portraits of Sultans in the background in the same style as that of the V.I.'s Queen Victoria portrait. Even the ornate frames were similar! So the V.I. has been having an original (and probably very expensive) Hoessein Enas work hanging on its walls for over half a century! Except it doesn't know it!
Some of the visits to the V.I. Web are likely not by Old Victorians but rather, as in the case of Two Book Lists, the result of search engine output. Visitors round the world, innocently searching for details of the student song Gaudeamus, end up at The many school songs of the V.I., while others seeking portraits of Queen Victoria or just "Victorian paintings" invariably end up on our doorstep as well. They are most welcome.
Copied and Linked
Interviews of Old Boys are quite popular and the champion page in this category belongs to that of businessman and former V.I. School Captain, Tan Sri Francis Yeoh taken from the 2000 Victorian. This article, number seven favourite amongst visitors, has in turn been copied and reproduced lock, stock and barrel at one of YTL Corporation’s web sites. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; in the Internet, wholesale lifting and reposting of web pages must surely be the modern equivalent! Another V.I. icon – Club 21 – takes the eighth place in popularity. Right behind it is A Concise History of the VI: 1893-2002, useful to anyone interested in a "quick" history of the school. This essay, spread over the equivalent of twelve densely packed A4 pages, has been reproduced in the 2004 Seladang and has been used by the 2003 V.I. Prefects to brief new Form One boys.
The story of Our Badminton Greats has been visited 2,500 times not only by Victorians but by badminton fans all over the world, directed there, doubtless, by Google and other search engines. Although it ranks as tenth most popular, it is probably the most linked and recopied of all the V.I. web articles. Many sports sites, including badminton sites in Europe, have copies of or links to this article!
Other popular interviews of or articles on Old Victorians include those of General Tan Sri Hashim Md Ali, Tan Sri Dr Tan Chee Khoon, Dato' Loke Wan Tho and war time air aces Henry and Cyril Talalla. Indeed, a month ago we were contacted by the National Archives for permission to use our article on Loke Wan Tho for a new journal that is being planned on Malaysian Heroes. About two years ago Singapore TV requested permission to use a picture of Dato Loke from our web article for their documentary on Singapore birds.
One interview of a slightly less famous Old Victorian, Mr Tan Huck Gay, who was a (w) (r) (e) (s) (t) (l) (e) (r), footballer and bodybuilder in his younger days - when 'gay' just meant 'merry' and nothing else - returned inexplicably high hits month after month. Puzzled, we examined the VI Web log again and discovered that search engines like Yahoo or Google were directing a torrent of voyeurs to his page. These visitors had input “gay (w) (r) (e) (s) (t) (l) (e) (r)” as a search parameter and Google and Yahoo had unwittingly obeyed them and pointed them to poor Mr Tan's page. We have now managed to reduce the unnecessary traffic by referring to our illustrious ex-Victorian as “Huckgay” instead of “Huck Gay”, thereby ensuring that the word “gay” doesn’t appear in the same page as “(w) (r) (e) (s) (t) (l) (e) (r)”!! The page hits have dropped but we hope that readers will continue to visit this illustrious sportsman's page - for the right reasons! [Note: Just in case undesirable visitors get directed to this page for the very same reasons, you will note that we have deliberately avoided spelling out that dreaded word: (w) (r) (e) (s) (t) (l) (e) (r) !!]
Indeed, many of our articles have been accessed for all sorts of reasons. The V.I. memoirs of former Headmaster Dr Lewis are linked to by World Corporal Punishment Research, an organization that researches corporal punishment country by country. The category for Malaysia is solely represented by Dr Lewis' recollections of his caning of Gang 21 members!
Our Literary Nuggets
Even our Literary Archives have been picked through by nameless people. A science fiction story in the 1973 Seladang about a fictitious Andomedan civilization has been picked up by a site and added to its collection of Andromeda-themed science fiction stories. An account from the 1924 Victorian of a visit to the British warships HMS Hood and Repulse by then schoolboy S. M. Ghani and reproduced in our Literary Archives was picked up by a British web site for Force Z Survivors, dedicated in part to those two ships. Ghani’s article mentioned details of the two ships that were of great historical interest to their British readership and so, with our permission, his article has been reproduced in full on their site as well. A Hong Kong web site on Asian poetry, Poetry House, compiles lists of poets from each Asian country. There are only two names under Malaysia - those of Old Victorians Wong Phooi Nam and T. Wignesan - and the links to both of them are precisely those of our V.I. Web page!
When the new Singapore Prime Minister took office last year (2004), there was a spike in visits to our V.I. Literary Archives pages. Reason: the visitors were directed by a Singapore discussion group to an article reproduced from the Victorian which had been written by the (late) first wife of Mr Lee Hsien Loong. She had been a V.I. girl and our web site had unwittingly preserved her only known literary effort!
Correcting Local History
We even had a chance to make a contribution to local history. A chance e-mail discussion two years ago between Chee Min and a group of old Victorians about the Japanese surrender in Malaya uncovered hints that the Japanese had surrendered at the V.I. in 1945 and then again in 1946, something that few people, including historians, had been aware of. Through a contact at the National Archives Chee Min managed to obtain copies of old Malayan newspaper reports. He also corresponded with an old colleague of the late Old Victorian Tan Sri C.C. Too who had witnessed and photographed the 1945 surrender in the VI Hall. This led to his exposé, The Japanese surrendered at the VI - TWICE, which corrected many historical inaccuracies revolving around the immediate postwar months.
Here we are!
Question: How do three guys in three countries maintain the same web page without undoing each other's efforts? Answer: Very carefully!
It is a testimony to the power of the internet that we threesome - Alan, Boon Kheng and Chee Min - after cooperating on the V.I. Web for several years, did not even meet in person until September 2000. We met again the second time in December 2004. We had waited five years to set eyes on each other, but you Victorians out there have waited ten. So okay, here we are below!
Over the last ten years, many Old Victorians had taken the time and trouble to contribute writings, photos or information to enhance the content of this V.I. Web making it what it is now. We hope they will continue to share their recollections of their times in our beloved V.I. so that the history and traditions of the V.I. will not be lost. We have been asked a few times why we don't make the V.I. Web main page more glitzy like so many pages we see across the Internet. While we can do that, we believe that content is more important than mere cosmetics, bells and whistles. The V.I. Web page is not a daily or weekly news portal that needs to change its presentation regularly. We are different. We are a repository of Victoriana - in fact, we are far more accessible than the archives back in the Old School - and we will always be here, like a quiet shrine sitting in cyberspace, for all Old Victorians to drop in from time to time to browse, read, recharge their V.I. spirit and then move on. Like the school façade, there is no need for flashing neon lights or blaring loudspeakers to announce our presence. Our excellence and our record are sufficient; that is the V.I. way. We have built it. They will come.
Messages from our Readers
This is my first communication to you two although I have used your website to pen my thoughts as a posterity document as the other half of my VI life has not been told. I concur with you that there are lots of interesting information which when written will gladden many hearts and touch many lives especially from an ex-VI student. We are all Victorians and we need to share our lives and stories and pass on what we have learnt while at school and the impact it has made in our lives. We came from a school that thrives on excellence be it from the HMs, teachers or the students - past and present. Thanks for making our stories available for all to read. I also congratulate you for bringing in Chee Min who has added much to the website including my story.
As I read your article I am astounded by the whole process of birthing this VI website. It certainly required a bit of luck, some connection or networking, lots of emailing and patience with a great deal of hard yakka (Aussie slang for hard work). Wow, you guys have really pulled it off!
I wonder whether VI is the first alma mater to achieve this in Malaysia and if so it is indicative of its being the premier school. Ha! first in almost everything, for all Victorians, for all times. Once again kudos to you three and thanks for the memories.
Daniel Chan (VI, 1964; Senior Assistant 1986); Sydney, Australia
Congrats! I've just read your piece on the VI Web's teething problems. I was aware as long ago as 1998 onwards (sounds like another era already) of the web's tumultuous birth pangs, but your account of its ups and downs makes it look like the web has been tossed about haphazardly by fulminating tsunamis. Kudos! And more encores!
The point you make about content rather than face-lifts is, of course, most laudable, but then - now that you have made it - it wouldn't be wrong nor a loss of face just to go ahead and operate on the web's facade. Some chirurgie esthétique might even buck up morale. Not that Victorians are in need of it, mind you. A pleasing face is not necessarily a drawback. Nor does it hinder access if the "girl" is demure, chaste, and already bespoken to ALL Victorians!
If I might be allowed in the same breath to render unto the old alma mater my own private thanks (which, by the way, I have done in a preamble acknowledgement to/in my site: http://stateless.mysite.com/menupage.htm, I must say right out that even if my own umbilical connections with the VI had been tenuous (I dropped out after Standard Eight) and disastrous from a personal or academic point of view, your web has come round full circle to repair some of the damage. I may not belong in the herd, but the marginal place in the periphery suits me just fine. That's also part of the Victorian heritage: a spirit of rebelliousness bred by the old Establishment Dame of the Empire!
Thanks to the VI Web, my own site flourishes. And thanks to YOU personally for recognising that Timmy, the Not-So-Very-Polite Malaya-Hall Cat, too, is a VI product. I wish you and your gang many, many more decennial anniversaries and BANZAIs! Every good wish.
Dr T. Wignesan (VI, 1950); Paris, France
I was the No. 4 visitor to your "We are ten years old" article. Congratulations! All of us Old Victorians have so much to thank you. Now we know that we have a judge in Anchorage and a pastor in New York. We know who is related to Yo Yo Mah. I enjoyed the latest by Koh Tong Chui. I cannot help thinking that there is something special about the youngsters who join the scouts. Being an old scout myself, I am biased. But your web pages show that we have fond memories.
Ooi Boon Teck (VI, 1956); Montreal, Canada
Gosh, I don't know what made me do a search on Google to find out about VI, but I came across this website. Glad to look through the website and hear familiar names. I really enjoyed browsing and reading through the site. It sure does bring back a lot of old memories.
I think I lost touch with all my old schoolmates. Been trying to look for contact info of old schoolmates from the site but was unsuccessful. Is there a page on the site that allows people to submit their name/address/email/year graduated so that others might be able to view and maybe contact long lost schoolmates?
I think you're doing a great job maintaining the site. Let me know if you need any help, for I'm working as a software developer here in the States.
David Chia Chin (VI, 1994); Arkansas, USA
Congratulations to you and your colleagues on an exceptional website on Victoria Institution. I recently discovered the website and spent many hours on it which brought back many happy memories of my time at the school. I was a student there from 1966 to 1970. I left to do my HSC in Melbourne, Australia and went on to complete a Commerce degree at Melbourne University and qualified as a Chartered Accountant with Price Waterhouse. I am now in semi retirement and work as a finance consultant for a number of public companies in Australia.
Again, my heartiest congratulations on your work on the website - a manifestation of the VI Second KL Scouts' motto: "Second to None". Kindest Regards.
Tan Seng Tee (VI, 1970); Melbourne, Australia
Last update on 22 March 2005.