I completed my undergraduate studies in the spring semester 1986. Shortly after the convocation ceremony which was held in the stadium, we left Colorado for good. Thanks to all those Chem Eng professors who had inspired me to be a good chemical engineer – Nazmul Karim (Process Control), Larry Belfiore (Transport Phenomena), Vince Murphy (Unit Operations), Terry Lenz (Material and Energy Balance, Plant Design), Carol McCornica (Reaction Engineering), Bruce Dale (Chem Eng Thermodynamics). Hey, I remember all the names. Unfortunately for the non-ChemE’s, I have to say I’m sorry. These include those in chemistry, industrial design, food Technology, Civil Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. Thanks to all of you. I visited the department website recently and found out that the only person who is still in Colorado State is Larry Belfiore. Larry was a brilliant lecturer. Recently completed his PhD from University of Wisconsin at that time, he taught me Transport Phenomena using the textbook co-authored by his supervisor (book by Bird, Steward and Lightfoot). A classic book it was, written in 1960’s.
I don’t remember how Kaio contacted me, perhaps using letter – but he invited me and Badhrul to apply for the position of Assistant Lecturer in UTM’s newly set-up chemical engineering department. He joined the department earlier in February or March. At that time I was not really interested, but nevertheless submitted the application. I was called for the interview few days after arriving in Malaysia. I can recall very well the fact that I had to borrow office attires from my elder brother for the interview as my wardrobe only include blue jeans, round-neck T shirts and Flannel shirts.
The interview session was interesting. It was in block V of UTM Kuala Lumpur. The session was chaired by Mokhtar Ngah who was the Dean of the faculty at the time. The most notable person was Ramlan with his songkok. He was then the head of Chemical Engineering Department. The room was full of people as almost the whole of the department was there (including Kaio), and by their looks, they were about the same age with me. Perhaps few years older. So, I was very confident and I gave them my true opinion about anything they asked.
A month later, I was called for the second interview which was chaired by the Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC). In that case, the set-up was formal, and I was asked about general policies about education and so on. Somehow during the interview, when talking about food industry, I told them that I would get involve in educating the public about food safety, chemicals used in food, environment and so on. The DVC asked me, “Are you interested in becoming the President of FOMCA?”. I said, “yes, I might do that”. I was indeed very interested in becoming a food engineer at that time. As I left the room, and was still contemplating with what they were saying about me – “this guy is philosophical” – I was approached by Mokhtar, the Dean, who told me that the faculty wanted me to start immediately because they were short of staff and the semester has just started.
Along with me was Badhrul, who was also interviewed for the same position. Both of us were accepted by the university and that day, 25th of July 1986, we signed the contract with UTM to be an assistant lecturer.
That day was very interesting indeed. After signing the contract, we left to the faculty office in block V. However, on our way, we saw an interesting event. There was a rally by students, shouting about unfairness of the government and university administration. The crowd was sizable although not very large. We stopped by to observe the demonstration to understand the issue. It was about few female students expelled from UTM because they were wearing purdah (veil covering their faces). A crowd of police officers in uniforms were also on-site, and cameras were everywhere.
In those days, student societies were active. Leaders were quite vocal and in most campuses there were some events organised where their opinions were voiced out periodically based on issues. But for some reasons or another, the government were tightening all the rules. They retaliated but they were on the loosing end. As I was told, some were expelled including the one that led the rally that we observed. They said that he was a chemical engineering student.
After few minutes of observing the event, I told Badhrul, “come on, we are suppose to report for duty”. We went to see Ramlan and I was asked to be prepared to teach fluid mechanics and unit operation for the Diploma students within a week. We were also told that we will be assigned to supervise laboratory experiments as well as student projects.
We were caught by surprise as we never thought that we had to start working on the day of the interview. So, there were many logistic issues to be settled – top of the list was accommodation.