By Khin Maung Myint
As tributes to the centenary celebration of the founding of the Rangoon University (RU), now Yangon University, many a writer had written articles based on their experiences at the RU. Being a student at the RU in the mid-nineteen fifties myself, I couldn’t resist the urge, thus jumped onto the band wagon and had written some lately. As one already got covered in the GNLM, I intend to keep on writing some more based on my experiences from the RU days. Tediousness from attending classes and studies aside, those were the most care-free and the best days of my life.
Going to the front of the ladies’ hostels during the nights, armed with a mandolin or a guitar or a violin to serenade the ladies of those hostels were the most popular pastimes for some male hostel students of the old, but I was never one of them. My hobbies were quite different from most students then. I used to spent my leisure times in and around the Inya Lake — angling, swimming or rowing.
Here, I don’t want the readers to think I belonged to the famous RUBC (Rangoon University Boat Club). By rowing I meant to say I used to row a traditional dugout boat that a businessman who lived close to the Lakes owned and had placed at my disposal as I was a close friend of his brother.
Here, I would like to mention briefly about the RUBC. It was founded in 1923, three years after the establishment of the RU itself, by Sir Arthur Eggar, a Britisher. Since its founding, the RUBC rowers had participated in many international regattas at home and abroad and had won their fair shares of prizes. To save space and time I’ll not be elaborating those achievements in detail, but would like to say that the RUBC was the pride of our university and the country in the old days. That boat club still exists today as the Yangon Universities’ Boat Club (YUBC).
RU produced many national class sportspersons
The RU student sportspersons were prominent in various fields of sports then. Our RU soccer team was one of the star teams in the senior league alongside the best teams such as: the Burma Police, Burma Customs, Burma Army, Burma Navy, Burma Railways and the Burma Post and Telecoms teams to mention some I can remember. That team produced many national standard players and one of the most popular among them was Ne Win, later Collegian Ne Win, the Academy award-winning movie actor. Two other prominent players who preceded him were (U) Sonny Tin Tun and (U) Myoe Sein. They were not only star players, but (U) Sonny was a Burma champion 110 yards sprinter and (U) Myoe Sein was a 440 yards Burma champion,
Besides soccer, there were other sports where the RU students excelled. The RU produced star tennis players too. Joe Ba Maung and Than Lwin, the Burma Champions were the most prominent ones. There were also many national standard athletes in those days. The most outstanding and successful athletes were the “Mra” brothers, who were champion pole vaulters and sprinters. During their heydays, no one ever beat them. They shone even in the regional sport meets such as the South East Asian Peninsula (SEAP) Games, the predecessor of the present South East Asian (SEA) Games.
In swimming, the Burma and S.E Asian champion Tin Maung Ni was an alumnus of the RU. Also the Burma boxing champion in his weight class was Stanley (Sugar) Majid of the Medical College, which was an affiliate of the RU. Besides the champions in the physical sports, RU also produced draught champions of national standards. They were Burma champions (Kyar) Ba Nyein and Yin Maung.
The RU also produced many prominent sprinters, runners, hurdlers, throwers and jumpers, who dominated every sport discipline they competed in. Even after leaving the RU and had joined the various services, they continued to reign the fields and tracks for sometime. A fact evidenced by the fact that for some years after leaving university their old familiar faces were common sights at every national or international sports meets. In those days, there was an African American athletic coach from the US attached to RU, courtesy of the US government, who was an Olympic pentathlon champion. His name was Bill Miller, if I remember correctly.
As for the lady students, they fared quite well too. There were many successful sportswomen and also many beauty queens of that era. The most outstanding beauty queens during our times were Miss Burma / Union Mini Pu, Ma Sein Aye, Lily Soe Yin, Phyu Phyu Shein, Nu Nu Yee and Naw Louisa Benson, to mention some.
Inter universities and college sports meets that bred many sportspersons were held regularly. These sport activities provided the students, who were interested and enjoyed attending those events the opportunities to root for the team or the individuals they liked. Those occasions were time to vent or release our tensions and stresses, relax ourselves and forget about the tedious studies for a while.
Besides these there were some other extracurricular activities for us. As the saying goes: “All work and no play makes Jack a lazy boy”, students need to relax and recreate. There were volley courts, badminton courts and basket ball grounds at almost every mens’ hostel, where we can play and relax. During the evenings those places were ever busy with activities as many enthusiasts spent their times there. There was also an indoors gymnasium behind the Student Union building. It provided weight lifting and body-building facilities in one half of the building and in the other half were squash racquet ball courts. There was also a boxing ring in a building close to the gym; sometimes boxing tournaments were arranged outdoors on the campus grounds.
The tennis courts were located across the University Avenue some distance away from the mens’ hostels. As far as I can remember, only a very few from my hostel, Pinya, played tennis during my stay there. However, those courts produced national champions in the old days. There was also a soccer/cum athletic field for field and track sports that also produced many national standard sportsmen and women. There was a swimming pool on the campus, where swimming competitions were held regularly. I rarely went there to swim; for me I prefer the “Inya Lake” where I could swim long-distance across the lake.
Other extracurricular activities on the campus included the hostel annual dinners, which were the most coveted occasions that everyone looked forward to. The annual dinners were held during the winter months; “Anyeint pwe” or may be music troupes were hired for entertainments and those occasions were the most joyous highlights of the year. The Mandalay Anyeint troupes like “Yoedayar Pyan Ah Mar Sein” and “Soviet Pyan Nwe Nwe Sann” were popular at hall dinners. We could invite guests to the dinner and naturally the lady students from the “Sister Hall” were regular guests and vice versa.
In those days there were such things as the “Brother and Sister Halls”. One ladies’ hostel and a mens’ hostel made friendly pact between themselves as “Brother and Sister Halls”. The objective was to assist and cooperate one another to conduct some activities like debates, Q&A sessions with the “Brain Trust (group)” that comprised academics and established writers, and other social activities. The relationship between most of the residents of the two hostels grew into sibling bonds that last years long after leaving the university.
The Scientific Exhibitions were also held annually on the campus grounds and behind the Convocation Hall near the Rangoon Yacth Club. During such exhibitions some military hardwares, such as: a WW2 vintage army tank, a 40 mm Bofor gun, the famous “Ta Pyet Sea” that played a vital role in the “Insein Campaign” and a gunnery training simulator from the navy, plus a small Bell helicopter from the air force were also on display. Those exhibitions attracted many outsiders too as it was open to the public.
Other entertainments and outlets
Apart from the above mentioned extracurricular activities that could be pursued on the campus, some hostel students ventured outside the campus in pursuit of entertainments and relaxations. There were numerous movie theatres in the downtown area in the neighbourhood of the Continental roundabout at the junction of the Sule Pagoda street and the Montgomery (Bogyoke) street. Some cinemas and a theatre, where plays were performed could also be found on the Phayre (Pansodan) street. The area around the “Myayneekone” roundabout was another popular hangout for the hostel students. That place had a few cinemas and the “Padonmar Kwin” provided those who had interests in Burmese traditional plays and dances with “Zat Pwe”, an all night affair, during the dry seasons. I remembered two very rare opportunities we received. Many famous foreign entertainment groups used to visit our country in those days. They used to entertain at the Jubilee Hall on the Shwe Dagon Pagoda Road. The entrance fees were exorbitant and out of reach for most of us. However, on one occasion the famous American Ballet Dance group, the Martha Graham Ballet Group from the US entertained for the university students, free of charge at the Convocation Hall. Another occasion was when the world famous Benny Goodman Jazz Band, also from the US entertained us in the open space between the Science Block and the “Grande Thitpoke pin”, in an open air setting.
Another attraction for the hostel students was the “Tazaungdaing” lighting festival. During those festivities hostel students, mostly males and sometimes accompanied by some lady hostel students went to the 15th Street in the “Lanmadaw” township late in the evenings. There we used to loiter leisurely among the cartoon posters displayed along the colorfully lit street. We enjoyed reading the cartoons drawn by famous cartoonists and also by some upstarts. They were really entertaining. Another popular place to visit during those festivals was the “Suburban Street” (now Ngu War) in the Ahlone township where every house in the street were decorated with colourful lights.
This article will not be complete if I leave out the annual State and Division soccer tournaments held at the Aung San Stadium. For us, who hailed from all over the country, these tournaments provided us the rare opportunities to watch them ‘live’ instead of crowding around vintage radios and listen to the commentators’ incomprehensive comments. On such occasions the RU students, mostly hostel students both male and female would proceed in organized groups to the Aung San Stadium to cheer-on their respective State or Division teams.
As this piece is neither a chronicle nor anything resembling that, but just an attempt to depict a rough sketch of the university environs of my university days, some important facts and names may have missed being mentioned. Also some facts may lack accuracy. However, I sincerely hope that as a nostalgic reminiscence of those good old days at the RU, these flaws would be excusable and that it will bring back the fond memories of the past to many of the alumni of the old RU.