KUALA LUMPUR – Very few people are aware that former Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz actually learned the Chinese language for four years, a “secret” she revealed to Sin Chew Daily during a recent exclusive interview, the first she gave to a local media company a year after her retirement.
Tham Siew Yong was a teacher at SJKC Chung Hwa, which was opposite the old education department office, in 1961.
One day, an education department official she knew asked her during lunch at the school’s canteen, “Do you want to give Chinese tuition?”
She accepted the offer from the official who helped his friend, Zeti’s father, to find a suitable Chinese tutor for his daughter.
“I didn’t have a car then, and Zeti’s mother would drive to my house to fetch me, and then send me back after class.”
Now 81, Tham recently met up with her former student, the 69-year-old Zeti, at a hotel in town after 53 years .
Zeti sent her private chauffeur to pick up the teacher, as her mother did over half a century ago, while she drove herself to the hotel for the meeting.
Teacher of three years
Tham recalled that Zeti was only 12 years old then, a very obedient girl who was very serious about learning the Chinese language.
She coached Zeti on one-to-one basis between 1961 and 1963, twice a week, an hour each session.
Due to lack of practice, Zeti has now become somewhat crippled in using the language although she can still handle some very basic Chinese conversation.
“I spoke very fluent Mandarin during those three years, and could write and read and even complete the assignment the teacher gave me,” the former Bank Negara governor said.
Prior to this, Zeti had attended one year of Chinese class while she was studying at Singapore Chinese Girls School.
Due to work, her father later relocated to Kuala Lumpur, and seeing the possible rise of China as a global power in future, and hence the importance of the Chinese language, he decided to let Zeti continue to learn the language.
Zeti said, “My father was a very farsighted man, even though China was not yet open to the outside world in the 1960s.”
Tham, who gave Zeti her Chinese name 洁蒂, felt excessively proud having read of the exceptional achievements of her student of three years, and had tried to contact her but to no avail.
Thanks to a report on Sin Chew Daily, she realized that Zeti was now retired and she hoped to seek our help to contact Zeti.
“I thought she could have forgotten me. I was so shocked and overjoyed to learn that she wanted to meet me for lunch.”
“I’m so grateful that Sin Chew has helped me find my ex-student.
“I never thought this little girl could have such great achievements one day. I only taught her Chinese!”