Life long learning

Dr. San Hla Aung


Remembering B.O.C. College and Leik-Khone Days
By San Hla Aung

B.O.C. College of Engineering was the better-known name of the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Rangoon, at least to those outside the university community. In fact, it was originally the official name of those one-story red-brick buildings donated to the university by the Burma Oil Company and situated behind the two unique wooden residence halls, Prome and Tagaung.

I began my first year at B.O.C. in June, 1954, together with some two hundred other ‘freshmen’. Admission to Engineering in those days was not really very selective. The only requirement was that you must score at least 50% of the marks in Physics and Math in the Intermediate of Science Part B exam. However, the casualty rate in the Engineering exams was quite high – about 25% for each of the four years. The curriculum was also quite intensive. There were no electives and the first year courses were compulsory for everybody. We had two Math courses (Pure and Applied), Electrotechnology, Heat Engines, Building Materials and Construction, and Geometrical and Machine Drawing, all of which came to a total of 24 hours per week.

The second year was even heavier, with a total of about 32 hours per week, which meant about 6 hours of classes Monday through Friday. Thank goodness there were no classes on Saturdays and Sundays! The same courses from the first year were continued, with the addition of Strength of Materials, Building Construction, Surveying (for Civil) and Mechanisms (for Mechanical and Electrical), Machine and Building Drawing, Sketching, and Workshop Practice. The second year was also
the stumbling block for many, the two Math courses being the major culprits. Many of those who flunked the second year final exam quit Engineering altogether and went back to Science.

The third and fourth years were relatively light and we had to start taking specialized courses in the branch of Engineering that we chose in the third year.

At that time, B.O.C. was an all-male institution, and we lacked the attractions and distractions that the rest of the students at the
university enjoyed and took for granted. You can say our classes were somewhat drab and not so colorful. We thus had more time for other activities, such as sports, despite the heavy class schedule and the tough exams. One particular sport in which the Engineers made their mark was rowing. The Rangoon University Boat Club was a stronghold for the medical students for many years, but we eventually took over for quite some time, both in numbers and in performance. Among the outstanding oarsmen (RUBC Golds) were U Tin U (Civ.),U Chan Tha (Civ.), U Tin Htut (Mech.) and U Tin Htoon (Arch.), who also became Club Captains; and U Than Tin (Mech.) and Lawrence Sein Tun Aung (?), just to mention a few names. The University Soccer First Eleven also had U Tun Kyi and U Tint Swe (Jimmy Sein), both Civils.

Many of the engineering students, even some from Rangoon, chose to reside in the hostels. Before our ‘batch’, Prome Hall was the only residence hall specifically assigned to Engineering, being close to B.O.C. (Tagaung was for those who attended the Faculty of Education). The year that we came to B.O.C., two brand new halls, Amara and Ramanya, were given to us and a somewhat unique situation arose. For the first two years, we had those early morning Math classes, at the ungodly hours of 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. Mon thru Fri. The classes were in the southern wing of the Science building, and the first class at B.O.C. was at 10:00. It was quite some distance from the residence halls to the Math classes to B.O.C., and most of us overcame this problem by using bicycles. One could recognize the Engineers by the
shiny new Raleighs and Humbers that they rode in droves along Thaton Road, and also by those little gadgets called slide rules or slipsticks that they invariably carried. (We did not have to carry the more conspicuous T-squares like the R.I.T. students of later years did).

Many of our Sayas were from foreign countries. The Math lecturers were mostly from India, except for Sayagyis U Kar and U Ba Toke. The most notable of our foreign Sayas was Dr. Sircar because of his fearsome and awe-inspiring Statics and Dynamics. Our own Burmese Sayas for the first three years included Sayagyis U Ba Hli, U Kyaw Tun, U Ba Than, Mr. Num Kock, and Mr. Eng Hock. If I remember rightly, Sayagyis U Sein
Hlaing and U Tin Swe began teaching the Electricals and U Soon Sein the Mining students in our third year. We Civils took Geology from U Ngwe Thein. There were also a number of foreign Sayas – some were on a contract with the university (Mr. Nagapan, Mr. Eswara, and Mr. Jaidka from India), and some were visiting lecturers under the Colombo Plan (Mr. Redpath from England and Mr. Gale from New Zealand). (My apologies here if I inadvertently missed some names or misspelled them). Sayagyi U Ba Hli, who was also the Dean of Engineering, earned
special respect from all the third and final year students whom he
taught the course called Civil Engineering. We were of course very respectful to all our Sayas, but, as is always the case with students, we sometimes talked in the class or nodded off occasionally, especially in the afternoon classes and if we happened to be sitting in the back rows. With Sayagyi U Ba Hli, however, nobody ever thought of even whispering. Also, nobody ever sat in the front three or four rows (keeping distance is one way of showing respect), but you can be sure we always paid the fullest attention to what Sayagyi was saying.

Another distinguishing feature of the Engineers, besides those
bicycles and slide rules, was the uniform that we wore in our third and final years. It was khaki trousers, white shirt, and khaki tie. I don’t know whether this uniform was ever worn on a regular basis by students senior to us, but Sayagyi U Ba Hli always wore it. And we had that little badge with cogwheels, dividers, and the name R.U. Engineering.

The new buildings for the Faculty of Engineering being built on Prome Road were finished in 1957 and we moved there at the beginning of our final year. The buildings came to be popularly called Leik-Khon because the auditorium looked like a turtle. It was an award-winning shell structure of gluelam wooden planks covered with copper sheathing.

The buildings were truly modern at the time, featuring wall murals by the well-known artist U Nan Nwe (brother of our Sayagyi U Tin Swe), and sculptures by the Burmese sculptor Sayagyi U Ngwe Gaing. The buildings also served as a showpiece for visiting foreign dignitaries – Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was one – and Louis Armstrong and
Duke Ellington performed in the auditorium. (The Saints went marching in there!)

When we moved to the new buildings, we not only had bright and shiny new classrooms, but also new Sayas who came back to Burma after finishing their advanced studies abroad. I think the 1957-58 academic year was when the Engineering faculty became almost all-Burmese for the first time. These Sayas were sent abroad in a group on State scholarships and came back in a group. Sayagyis Dr. Aung Gyi and U Min Wun took up positions in Civil Engineering; U Aung Khin in Mechanical; U Khin Aung Kyi in Chemical; U Maung Maung Than in Textile; U Win Htein and U Kyaw Min in Architecture; and U Win Kyaing in Mining. We also had some part-time lecturers in Architecture and Sanitary Engineering. (My apologies again if I made any mistakes or missed any names).

A few words about the job market. The engineering and architecture graduates in those days were in great demand from the various government departments (Highways, Irrigation), boards (Housing, Electricity Supply), and corporations (Municipal, Port, Industrial Development, Mineral Resources Development), to mention a few. Army, Navy, and Air Force also gave commissions to many. In fact, the Army and some government corporations recruited engineers by giving
stipends to third year students – a sum of about two hundred kyats a month, a pretty considerable amount in those days. A few worked for foreign firms (Tippet, Abbet & McArthy; Ed Zublin) and some, especially from our batch, the class of ’58, joined the faculty as assistant lecturers.

Finally, my days at B.O.C. and Leik-Khone came to an end when we Saya Pauksas were sent abroad (mostly to the U.S.) in 1960 for further studies. This new group of State scholars included U Allen Htay and myself from Civil; U Htin Paw, U Ba Nyunt, and U Tin Tun (now Dr. Christopher Lee) from Electrical; and U San Tun and U Tin Hlaing from Mechanical. (Please correct me if I missed some names). When we finished our studies and went back to Burma in 1962, the Faculty of Engineering has already moved to the new premises at Gyogon under the new name of Burma Institute of Technology. It later became an independent
institution, no longer under the University of Rangoon, in 1964, and the name was changed to Rangoon Institute of Technology.

With this little piece of writing I pay homage to all my Sayas and
send good wishes and Metta to all my classmates, contemporaries, colleagues, friends, and former students. I will always look back on our days at B.O.C. and Leik-Khone, and R.I.T. too, with nostalgia and fondest of memories.