After receiving our first instructions, we had to make immediate plans on logistics. The most convenient option for me was to stay at my sister-in-law’s in Taman Maluri. As a temporary measure, we invited Badhrul to put up at the same place. A day or two later, he moved to a rented room nearby.
In 1986, the streets of Kuala Lumpur was already busy if not badly congested, and a common mode of transportation for people who did not own a car was motorcycle or the minibus or Bas Mini (in Malay), also popular with an acronym BMW (Bas Mini Wilayah). The minibuses were almost always packed with passengers. It had one fare for everybody regardless of destination. They were driven by audacious drivers who took every opportunity to zig-zag busy streets to cut traveling time. The reason was simple – the need to make more trips so that they make more money. We took BMW No 44 (or was it 40?) from Chow Kit to Taman Maluri. To get to Chow Kit, we took one of the few bus services offered by Syarikat Sri Jaya as it was cheaper than the flat rate Bas Mini No 19 or 20. The total journey took more than an hour depending on the transit time at Chow Kit.
Despite the bas mini that moved around like crazy, we the passengers of the 80’s, were in the process of learning to be systematic. Recall that in 1970’s, to board public transports such as bus or trains, we were rushing and pushing each other, like playing rugby just to get to the doors. We improved throughout the 80’s and today, we are a lot better.
In most aspects of our jobs we underwent “hands-on training” (read as learn everything yourself). We were not complaining and in fact, I liked it very much as I was able to try many things my way. Well, being young, you don’t have to worry so much about making mistakes. After all, rookies are expected to make mistakes and not making one will never make you a “senior”. A rookie is a rookie, full stop.
The first few weeks were hectic. As everybody was busy, we truly live according to the Malay proverb, “kais pagi makan pagi…” Each day was spent preparing notes to be delivered the day after in addition to other things. Despite that, the teaching was exciting. Since the age gap between the students and me was narrow and my outfit was not much different than theirs, I was many times mistakenly identified by senior academics as students.
In addition to academic duties, We were also quickly picked by the head of department to be his multi-purpose assistants, doing all the neety greeties of setting up the department. The task spanned across the horizon of academic administrations. A month or two later, our team of three expanded by including Lieza and by the end of the year, we had Nazlee on board.
As the department was set up only three years prior, we were also busy in purchasing laboratory equipment and preparation of lab sheets. In addition, we were also involved in setting up research facilities and kicking-off research activities. I remember seeing Adnan busy with his light-weight concrete, and later we were involved in collaborative research with the atomic agency, which was then called PUSPATI. Did we achieve anything? Yes, it was research experience, industrial visit and working with people.
One of the tedious task that we had to do was to prepare all the documentations required for accreditation of the programs that we offered, i.e., Diploma in Chemical Engineering and Bachelor of Chemical Engineering. It was tedious and time-consuming and due to tight schedule, sometimes we had to come on Sunday. Since we didn’t have a car, the head of department used to pick us up from home.
Within that few months, I was given the task to look at the chemical engineering curriculum and propose a revised version to suit the semester system that was adopted by the university few years prior. The aim was to overcome any hick-ups considering the curriculum that we had originated from a British-based structure. That was a challenging effort because of two main reasons. Firstly, the British graduates thought that our qualifications (US grads) were inferior to theirs since we did our undergraduate study in only four years post SPM. Secondly, most of the seniors were British graduates. Nevertheless, in order to make the system smooth-running, some adjustments were clearly needed. After exhaustive surveys on various curricula offered by American universities, our team proposed some changes, and as expected it was initially not well received. Nevertheless, after hours of deliberations the department finally agreed on the revised content which looked somewhat similar to those offered in semester system. The next step was to negotiate common courses with Petroleum Engineering Department, and it was an even tougher task.
In that year we hosted the Malaysian Symposium of Chemical Engineers, and each one of us were assigned a task within the organizing committee. I was the finance secretary, a task that I despise, but nevertheless did it as per requirement. I was more than happy to help others in their tasks especially on printing and publicity. The event was successful and we enjoyed the amusing opening remarks delivered by the late Tun Ghafar Baba.
As we started adapting to the new life as academics, we also started to settle down with family and other aspects of life. After receiving our first pay-check at the end of August 1986, we moved to our own accommodation in Hulu Kelang. Interestingly, all of us – Badhrul, Kaio and I, were lucky to secure a 2 bedroom terrace house in Taman Permata. To make it more interesting, those houses were on the same street (Jalan Permata 4), with Badhrul and Kaio living next to each other adjacent to the surau. The surau was active with various activities and the people were friendly.
That day onwards, the routines were quite the same. To commute to work, we used the Sri Jaya bus route 257 from AU5D to UTM. For groceries, there were two pasar malam (night-market) in a week in addition to few mini markets around. So the place was convenient and I really liked the neighborhood.
During the first year of employment, we were always busy and had many tasks at hand, at any time. Nevertheless, thinking in retrospect, millions thanks to Ramlan, as these involvements made me matured much faster than average academics. As a result, I climbed the career ladder at much faster rate.