After all the euphoria of having landed an airline job had waned off, I finally reported to the HR office in MAS located in the UMBC building in KL. After the orientation, they arranged for a company van to send me to Subang Airport where I was to be based. I was attached to the Quality Control Section in the Engineering Dept. I had not expected to see this many foreigners in the company. In fact I noticed that about 90% of the engineers were expatriates. I was to later find out that MAS had just been formed about 6 or 7 years earlier after their breakaway from Malaysia Singapore Airways (MSA) and local aeronautical engineers were not available to that extent to run an airline, hence the retention of all the qualified foreigners. My immediate boss (Mr. John Kurian) was an Indian engineer from Kerala who came to work in Malaysia after having served in Beirut. He in turn reported to Mr. Bax, an Australian who was the QC Superintendant. On my first day at work, I was impressed by the way they treated me, they were very personable and took away the feeling of unease in me. One of the first things that Mr. Bax did was to personally show me where the restrooms were located on our way to meet Mr. Gordon, the QC Manager, an American. (This was the time when Quality Assurance standards were not in the picture yet. We were still in the age of Quality Control).
As this was my first real job, it took me a while settling down. My job was to transfer the data from worksheets of flight engineers onto small cards that were to be displayed on a rack after the problems have been categorized into their related fields for the QC engineers to troubleshoot. Not a difficult job. Later, it was made even easier when the boss kept encouraging me to put aside the work that I was doing and go for short walks around the other departments to take your mind off the monotony of the job and feel reenergized again in the process. I have worked in many other companies since then but I have never come across anyone else telling me anything similar.
My cousin put me up at his place in 3rd mile Ipoh Road which was actually quite a distance to my workplace. I had to wake up very early for work since I had to take 2 buses to reach the airport. I shared the room with Mike, a burly Eurasian in his early 40s formerly from the British Army. I found him good company. He would soon become my alarm clock nudging me up from my sleep each morning.
He was a regular drinker who, having travelled far & wide, had lots and lots of stories to tell and since I was a good listener, he developed an instant liking for me and would take me along wherever he went. I enjoyed his company too. When one day he suggested that he wanted to take me to a pub during the weekend, I agreed, pretending that I knew what he was referring to. I had never been to a pub before and surely didn’t know what it was. From where I had come, we only had a couple of coffee houses and a snack bar that I used to pass by, never having the opportunity to patronize any of them. That weekend he took me to The Barn, a fun pub in University Gardens, PJ. And Boy! Was I impressed…? I loved the soft music that was playing and more, the western décor. I was only 19 then but the setting made me feel ‘adult’ like as he introduced me to his friends. I saw people enjoying themselves, laughing, dancing, playing snooker at one end, darts at the other. They were all having such a good time. I sat at the bar with my beer, preferring the conversations with the Indian waitresses. I was beginning to love the ‘bright lights’. I have only seen such scenes in movies and this was my first experience which was truly exhilarating. As this joint was located quite close to the airport, I was later to come back to this place a few more times after work on my own for a couple of drafts and a piece of the excitement before heading home.
One night Mike didn’t return home. I waited up till midnight before I went to bed but he didn’t show up. The following morning my biological rhythm woke me up. I didn’t have a watch and there was no clock in the house so I didn’t know what time it was and Mike was not in. My cousin was asleep in his room. Thinking that I was late, I quickly got up, freshened up and rushed out to catch the 6.00am bus. When I reached the bus-stop, I noticed that Madras Café (now Madras Restaurant at the 3rd mile) had not even opened yet. They were usually open when I arrived at that time to wait for the bus. Then after a long while, as they pulled up their shutters, I peeked into the shop and from the clock hanging on the wall inside, I saw that it was 6.00am. It was then that I realized I must have reached the place around 5 plus!
As days passed I soon found a place with some friends in Sg. Way new village as it was closer to my workplace. It was rather noisy and densely populated with the houses built close to each other so much so that you could probably put your hand out through your window and adjust the volume in your neighbour’s radio. It was that close. It was a three room house so we occupied two to each room, all MAS staff. It was a nice place otherwise especially as we had friends to talk to and pass the time. The main tenant had introduced house rules where each of us was supposed to take turns on Sundays to clean the drains outside. Being the last in my family, I had never done such chores before. My sisters would usually do all such work. So on the days when it was my turn, I would pretend that I had overtime and leave the house early and come back in the evening after going for a movie or visiting some friends, just to avoid house work. One day the main tenant, an Apprentice Aircraft Engineer confronted me and took me to task. I snapped at him by saying that if he was not used to staying in an unclean environment, he should probably find another place. He was not happy with me from then on but as the rest of the tenants overlooked such small faults in me and accepted me as one of them, there was nothing much he could do. The incident was soon forgotten and I was exempted from doing house work from then on but I had to pay RM10 extra towards my rental. We became a close knit family once again.
Life at MAS was beautiful. This was the place where I nurtured my self esteem. You tend to feel proud and think highly of yourself from the treatment and respect you get from all those expatriates and staff. Their working style was different. They made you feel really important. You could even address them by their first names. It sort of takes away the formality and bonds the relationship. Many of them stayed around the SS3 area. This was the closest residential area to the airport then which had bungalows that they could rent. Subang Jaya was just being developed then. But people avoided staying in Subang Jaya classifying it as a high risk area as they complained that it was situated right under the flight path of aircrafts. You can see their fallacy now. From Sg. Way where I stayed which was just nearby to SS3, I would walk out to the main road and wait along the route that these expatriates took and they would gladly give me a lift to office. We often took a shortcut to reach the airport road where we would pass an estate and the children would wait to wave at us as we passed. Well…not at me actually. It was to wave at the Mat Sallehs behind the wheel who often just smiled and waved back at them……always! These were simple gestures that cost nothing but they meant so much to these children who would then run away into their houses having made their day. This estate that we used to pass through then is where Kelana Jaya now stands.
(…….the story continues in Part 2)