Thin Air of Rocky Mountain – 1
(Chad, Dharma, Ungku Fadzil, Mr Choo Shek Yen)
Thin Air of Rocky Mountain will briefly highlight my encounters in the USA. I’m writing it down so that one day I can read it again. It will be very brief as the details are sometimes better to remain untold.
Interview for Scholarships
Receiving a letter calling for an interview to qualify for scholarships to study abroad was perhaps the most joyful event of my young adulthood. The interview was conducted at Bangunan Mara, Jalan Hang Tuah, Melaka. During the interview, I was teased on the reason why was I not called for the interview in STAR few months earlier? I was calm and not a bit intimidated by those provoking questions. There were many questions asked, and I managed to answer most of them comfortably. Nevertheless, I fumbled on some unexpected questions. One was on the name of Petronas chairman. My instant reply was Ghafar Baba (now Tun Ghafar Baba). It brought laughter across the room. I then apologize, “maybe I forgot, but I thought it is En. Ghafar Baba”, said I.
When asked to choose quantity surveying as my field of study (QS was my second choice), I said I really like chemistry and chemical engineering (my first choice) would be a better option. The actual reason why I wanted to do engineering was because I wanted to go to the United States. I had been informed by my brother in-law that those intending to study QS, accountancy and few other courses will be sent to UK while engineering candidates will be sent to the USA.
I do like chemistry and it was among the classes that kept me awake throughout each session. I enjoyed doing experiments, including some that were not in the syllabus, which I tried on my own out of curiosity.
One day, I accidentally activated the fire extinguisher in Chemistry Lab. In no time, powders were all over the laboratory. For that, I had to see the headmaster and his deputy everyday for a week. In each meeting, I was asked to confess that I did it on purpose, and of course I didn’t, till the end. Each session lasted for about half an hour, and I was asked to come back the next morning. After 5 consecutive days – either they believed me or they gave up because no confession was obtained – I was fined RM 30.
Mr. Choo Shek Yen was puzzled, not because of the penalty, but on the leak of the event to the school authority since he did not report the matter. In fact he himself had given me a punishment and preferred the incident to be unrecorded. We then contemplated that there must be a spy among us. Nobody really knew who, but Dharma was one of the unlucky one being accused. I did not remember who started it but, I would like to apologize to Dharma Osman for that unfortunate incident.
Kolej Zaaba Universiti Malaya
It was brainwashing sessions for a week in Universiti Malaya. We were persuaded to be grateful to the government and to maintain patriotism when abroad and for the rest of our life. We were bombarded with stories on how difficult it was to build a nation. Nevertheless some of the explanations given were funny and not convincing at all… (I quietly laughed it out). For example, KL-Seremban highway was constructed so that it can be used for military airplane to land in case of emergency, etc, etc, etc…
As a whole, it was an interesting week and I truly enjoyed most of the sessions and I made many new friends. I also learned a lot from the various speakers. Halls were normally packed and most of the time, I chose to sit on the stairway rather than on chairs. I enjoyed the song “anak kecil main api”, and at that time, it had strong effect on me (note: today things are different, the song my sound irrelevant and outdated).
At the end of the orientation week, I was asked to register at Sekolah Menengah Sains Johor (SMSJ), Kluang, while waiting for the final call for pre-departure preparation and the departure itself. When I reached SMSJ, I was shocked. The hostels were clustered with four storey buildings arranged to form a square, with a grass courtyard and rows of wire lines used for hanging wet clothes in the middle. It was congested, very different than the vast, open atmosphere of STAR, and immediately I missed STAR very much. But STAR was used for USM matriculation, and we were all sent to various schools depending on where our hometowns were. The students were nevertheless friendly and I made some friends immediately. I was noted very quickly by many because I wear white pants and in SMSJ, white pants were only worn by school prefects.
Signing Up to Join the Air Force
During the short stay in SMSJ, there was a career fair organized by the armed forces. I signed up to join the air force. It was my childhood dream to fly, after seeing airplane flying approaching or leaving Batu Berendam airport everyday for many years. I had applied to join Malaysia Airline Flight Engineer training program but did not manage to secure a place (probably due to my poor English). I remember meeting Ungku Fadzil who was applying to be a pilot. Now he is the captain of B747. I had the opportunity to visit his cockpit on a flight to Los Angeles.
About 2 weeks later, I went home to arrange for a passport, medical check-up along with other predeparture issues. Upon reaching home, my late father asked, “did you applied to join the air force?” I said yes. He told me that he had returned the offer letter to the sender. He said that it would be better for me to remain as civilian, study overseas and be successful in life. I just kept quiet.
Reflecting on this event, I realized that the issue was not considered seriously. It was just a spontaneous action, answering to the call of the country to be patriotic. May be the orientation week had strong effect on me? Haha..Not really, … I am always patriotic. I love my country… I just wanted to fly…