The Thin Air of Rocky Mountain -2 (Boulder Colorado)
The long, eventful journey
Young adulthood is often an interesting phase of life for many, and mine took place in America. We boarded a Malaysian Airline (MAS) Boeing 747 flight from Subang Airport, Kuala Lumpur to London Heathrow in August 1981. I was then 18 years old. It was my first experience flying, and the journey was long. In nearby seats, nervous faces were prevalent. They were also students, like me, going to some destinations arranged by the public services department. We were government sponsored students.
(From Left: Jadid, Chad, Ramzy and CikPah)
We reached London early in the morning after some 14 or 15 hours of flying. In those days, smoking was permitted in the aircraft, making the cabin air musty and stuffy. From London, after few hours of waiting, we took a TWA flight to Chicago, and following another transit in Chicago, another TWA flight to Denver.
Our group consisted of 20 students (12 boys to study chemical engineering and 8 girls to do computer science). Nazlee (now Datuk Dr. Nazlee) was elected as the group leader.
We arrived safely in Denver Stapleton Airport in the morning after more than 24 hours of journey, but unfortunately, some luggage including mine were wrongly sent to New York. The bags were delivered to us two days later.
We were greeted by a representative from the Intensive English Center, Colorado University (CU) Boulder – a charming lady with a curly blond hair who later became my favorite teacher. We were told that Boulder was only about 45 minutes away and a CU bus was waiting for us. Looking at the bus, I was shocked. Oh no, not again, a bus with a nose – similar to the one that served the route between Kampung Krubong and Melaka Town.
The city of Boulder was stunning with mighty mountain in the backgrounds and beautiful surrounding scenery. The weather was also nice as it was early in fall season.
We were provided with temporary accommodation in College Inn. Shortly after we settled down in the room, we were taken to a restaurant and had a pizza treat. It was the first time I tasted pizza and I loved it. Surprisingly (to me at least) some of my friends could not even swallow it. It was Saturday evening.
In College Inn, my roommate was Ramzy. He had a hair mimicking that of Rod Steward. Indeed, he was a fan of Rod Steward. But Ramzy was perhaps among the most religious person within the group, and his first concern was how and where to pray. With his thick Kelantanese accent, most people could not understand him talking. For Asar prayer of our first day in Boulder Ramzy prayed on the mattress.
On Monday, we were taken for registration for academic program (i.e english) at the IEC, followed by registration for accommodation. In CU Boulder, all freshmen students must reside in residential halls and preparatory students like us were considered freshmen. We were distributed to various university accommodations, and I was assigned to Baker’s Hall a dormitory with higher percentage of freshmen. It was nick-named “The Animal House” where parties were weekly events. Sometimes the parties ran through the whole weekend. One good thing was that, in Baker’s Hall, people were all friendly and cheerful. Once, a group of girls laughed loudly seeing me in “kain pelikat”. “See that guy with a skirt”, said them. I just waved at them, smiling. It was a culture shock for most of us.
We dined in the cafeteria as the fees included room, meals and other facilities such as campus bus service and sports facilities. I really enjoyed breakfast. There were many funny memories in the cafeteria and it would be too long to write them down.
My roommate in Baker’s Hall was Latifi. He was a nice guy who without fail, woke me up in the morning for dawn prayer. After completing his prayer he recited al-qur’an while again and again calling me until I finally woke up. Reflecting on this, I am forever grateful to Allah for providing me with numerous opportunities to be a good person, of which, several times I declined.
Canyon’s Creek Apartment
After two months staying in the dormitory, our negotiation with the university authority to move out to private apartments went through. I moved to Canyon Creek’s Apartment, located not far from William’s Village. It was a two-bedroom apartment and only 4 people were allowed to stay, but there were 5 of us – Ishak, Jadid, Azmi, Mustafa aka CikPah, and I. So, we have one tenant considered illegal. Some of our friends moved to Varsity Manor, located closer to downtown. A few continued to stay in the dormitory.
Intensive English Center (IEC)
Life in IEC was interesting. We had many friends – Japanese, Mexican, Indonesian and Arabs. On the first day of class, we took the placement test. Based on the results, I was assigned to Advanced-1 with 5 hours of class to attend everyday, five days a week. Two months later, following an examination, I moved to Advanced-2 with only 2 hours of class daily. So, I had lots of free time. The teachers were all very friendly and nice – particularly Mary Pascal (my favorite), Melinda Wood, Michael Masyn and Audrey Putney, the director.
One day in October we were asked by the director of IEC, “Where are you guys going to study after completing your English course?” We told her that of course we were going to study in CU Boulder. When she informed us that our admission to CU Boulder was only for Intensive English Course, we were stunned, but the lady said that she would work it out for us.
About 2 weeks later, IEC took us to a college fair in Denver. We toured the booths, only to realize that most universities would not accept any more application for that semester. Fortunately, some colleges would and we submitted our applications immediately.
About a month later, I received admission from two colleges – Washington University at St Louis to read Chemical Engineering and University of Southern Colorado to study pre-engineering. Others in the group also received various offers. After a long discussion, majority of us agreed to stick together and with an exception of Amir Hamzah who preferred Wash U St Louis, the rest of us selected USC Pueblo.
Brother Amir and Uncle Max
Brother Amir was from Saudi Arabia. Like us, he was also attending intensive English course. He was the one who introduced us to the mosque and arranging transportation so that we could attend weekly Friday prayer. May Allah reward him for being steadfast in helping 12 of us every week.
Uncle Max was an American. I don’t remember how we met him, may be we were introduced to him by the IEC management? He was a kind man. Along with his friend and families, we went to picnics and outings. They provided us with a jump-start in learning the American culture. He even arranged transportation for us to move to Pueblo later in December. I had always thought that he was on some mission organized by one of the church based on my observation on the people we met at the various events. Whatever his intention was, he was a very nice and kind person and I wish that he is guided by God and be rewarded for all his efforts.
After many weeks staying in Boulder, we accidentally met Abang Nik, who was then doing graduate studies in CU Boulder. Abang Nik was a RISDA officer. Later he introduced us to another Malay family, a lecturer from UKM. We were very happy to know that there were some other Malaysians apart from the 20 of us.
Picnic in Rocky Mountain National Park
Abang Nik and his family was also happy to meet us. Few weeks later he arranged for a picnic in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a beautiful mountain park with yellowish leaves falling and covering the ground, marking the end of fall season and the approach of winter. Earlier, IEC had taken us to Flagstaff mountain to see leaves turning yellow. It was amazing to see that on one side of the mountain, the leaves were yellow while those on the other side were still green.
Eldora Ski Resort
As winter appeared, we enjoyed the snow. Denver was nick-named mile high city with an altitude of 5280 ft. Boulder was slightly higher as it was closer to the mountain. The snow in Colorado was most of the time in the form of powder due to very low temperature.
One day, we organized a trip to Eldora Ski Resort. Without any experience, we took the chair-lift on the beginner’s slope. With even the beginner’s slope I fell down many times. Once I almost ran through a group of skiers, and at another time, I almost hit a tree. Nevertheless, it was fun and I was really excited. That was our first winter.
Colorado was a beautiful place and was indeed colorful, as rightly indicated by billboards as you enter the border.
One of the most beautiful sight was a full rainbow emerging after an afternoon rain, forming a bright colorful arch. Until today, the sight of a rainbow would remind me of Colorado.