Chin Kon Lem
I do not have a rag-to-riches story to tell, but I hope those who crave for ‘I wonder what happened to .......?’ will get some answers and perhaps also see another side of me that few knew about.
I was born a preemie at The Tung Shin Chinese Maternity Hospital, KL. Apparently doctors fought to save my mother’s and my life for slightly more than a month. Thank God, He let me live, albeit a rough beginning. It was also during those lean years when the Japanese occupants have just left a few years earlier...I feel ancient having said that! Obviously, everyone was living from hand-to-mouth and we were no exception. Traditional Chinese attitudes and beliefs dictated that a bigger workforce meant bigger income. So, I believe I have 8 siblings as a result of my parents’ faithful adherence to this belief or family planning was non-existent then. I was the last kid and therefore, mom’s favourite. It was awesome in every way except if you do not mind the hand-me-downs; but then again, as if I had any choice in the matter. When I was little, our family moved to Gerbok Division, a British owned rubber plantation located between Pajam and Mantin. The nearest school was the Mantin Convent School. Oops, I spent 2 years in a Convent before a SJKR was built near Mantin where I finished my Std 6. No, I did not have a sex change nor did I have to wear a skirt to school. Darn...I could have made a head start in the dating game. Also, I don’t know who made up the myth that ‘Convent girls are cheap...5 cents for a kiss, 10 cents for a hug....and etc’. I do not remember witnessing such activities, in any case, could not have afforded it. I did not receive my first 20 cents lunch allowance until I was in secondary school. Four kisses versus a plate of mee rebus at our school tuck shop? No thank you.
In 1963, there was still no secondary school in Mantin and the nearest one was located in Seremban. So I enrolled myself at our cherished ACS. I do not remember why we pick ACS over St. Paul, perhaps Yoon Pin, Yoon Tin or Yet Loy can remember. My parents and siblings continued to stay in the plantation housing in order to be close to work. This also means that it was 13 miles to school, so I had to rent a room located upstairs of an Indian restaurant on Jalan Tuan Sheik, a stone-throw-away from Quet Siow How’s house, the ‘Tai-ko’ of this street. It was curry in the morning, curry in the afternoon, curry in the night time too (if you prefer, it can be sung to the then Lipton tea commercial tune). I learned that, for one, food can determine how you smell. A good curry sometimes calls for a good dose of cumin. As far as I am concerned, cumin and armpit smell are synonymous and you will notice people around you shying away from you to avoid the BO. Two, I have learned to wash like a Mamaklaundry pro.... be it white shirt, singlet or underwear; they were brilliantly white. Do you notice life was simple those days; undergarments for guys were all white unless you were a trishaw peddlers, then you wore a home-made blue boxer short which also served as ‘lounge wear’ with a white Pagoda brand t-shirt rolled halfway up the chest or simply go topless. To complete the picture, you squatted (not sit) on the bench to have lunch or just to ‘shoot the breeze’ flapping a straw-coloured round leaf fan.
Then, along came Albert Lim to my rescue. Remember Albert, brother of Rosalind (Class of 65’ or ’66?) whose father is an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) just like our very own ASP Choo Kim Hoe. Albert had some issues with his studies, so he convinced his dad to let me live with them for free in return for coaching him on his weak subjects. The few years I spent with the Lim family was truly memorable. I was accepted as a member of the family in every aspect, right down to hand me down pants from ‘dad’. My first long pants were inherited from my adopted dad and Albert doubled as a tailor making alteration to fit me. I learned how to culture new orchid species inducing cross pollination and seed cultivation, developed films and photos in a makeshift dark room just to name a few out of the myriads of stuffs I learned and enjoyed. By the way Angie, that’s how I got to distribute all my photos for free.
By now, my birth family were a lot better off economically and was able to borrow some money to finance a terrace house at Off Templer Road at Kwong Tung Shan in Seremban where I stayed with one of my sisters who up kept the house. This was where more adventures took place; overnight mahjong games for a wager of 30 cents for the whole night! Ming Choong, Chin Yeow and Yoon Pin were some of the regular ‘kakis’. There was also the huge Hercules brand bicycle which was my wheels to school and a source of great adventure that Hock Lye reminded me about recently. During Form 4 & 5 and beyond were also the notorious periods for crazy weekend dance parties for every conceivable reasons including birthdays celebrated months ahead when we ran out of excuses. Other social activities included camping with BBs, just among our classmates or on the invitation of the 3 King Scouts Kim Hoe, Kar Teik and Chin Yeow, hiking to some obscure waterfall...more accurately hike to nowhere, bungalow sleep-over in PD (with David’s mom’s help) and hanging out aimlessly at our favourite haunt The Seremban Lake Gardens. I do not remember what is so great about the Lake Gardens, but I guess the boys in the likes of Billy, Siong Kee, Henry, Wing Kai, Ah Hen, Tai Leong, Siow How enjoyed the camaraderie and to ‘talk 3, talk 4’.
After Form 5, I decided against continuing onto sixth form because my family can ill afford the cost, plus, I did not do that well with just a few As and some Bs and therefore lost all the scholarships I had since Standard 2 or 3 when even the books were free. I worked for Wesley Church as a typist, Guthrie Sdn Bhd in KL as a clerk (followed the adventures of Billy Yap), trained and worked as HA in the Penang area...worked as an emergency crew, performed circumcisions, helped deliver babies...surprised aren’t you? I had an opportunity to do medicine in Lahore encouraged by a physician friend. Of course, I met my wife June just then, so who needs to be a doctor. My next blessing was a job with the world largest pharmaceutical companies where I received intense training that opened up more opportunities. I did my off campus marketing program with the Institute of Marketing, UK. I worked my way up to National Sales Manager for Malaysia and Singapore. It was extremely demanding but the rewards were great. Finally, in one of our annual family vacations to Disneyland in US, my kids (a boy and a girl, then 10 & 7 years old respectively) did not want to return home and begged to stay in America. With their future university education looming and at risk i.e. I did not know if they were smart enough to be the top 15% of Non-Bumis in order to secure a place at local universities. It was plain to me that I cannot afford to send both overseas. This led me to explore the prospect of immigration for the kids’ sake. My US head office offered me a position as Vice-President of South East Asia based in Manhattan, NY. This was the most exciting offer but they had to do a ‘fake recruitment drive’ to show that nobody could fit the position; among other requirements, an ability to speak 7 languages like I could. Time passed and my company told me to be patient as they were still waiting for the Labour Department to issue a work permit. I decided that I could not wait any longer and decided to apply on my own to Australia, New Zealand and Canada. All 3 countries gave me the PR papers. My wife and I made an earnest fact-finding trip to Australasia just to see if we could live there. Australia was very racist then in the mid 80s; NZ was great except the population was tiny and did not fit into our contingency plans to go into business unless we could convince the 20 million sheep to be our customers too. We had never been to Canada but what the hack, we liked US and it was part of the same continent...I am sure it would be great. So, I foolishly sold or gave away everything and packed 9 suit cases of mainly clothing and personal belongings and boarded a plane with my family to a place called Toronto. In those days, there was no such thing as Google. If it was a village of 500 people, we would not have known.....just kidding. We did get some scanty information from the local Canadian High Commission. Apparently, it had the best weather to adjust to; the Chinatown would make us feel at home and etc.
Life in Canada was amazing. There were the unique experiences of the four seasons, the beautiful places and vast spectacular sceneries, the great diversity of people, the delicious new taste of foods, the colourful cultures, the addictive world of sports and life in general. They say ‘ignorance is bliss’; after all, it all turned out to be a real blessing for us. The ‘enormous’ amount of Ringgit we brought along was just a tiny drop in the bucket which means my plan to start a business was dashed. Meanwhile, I was still in touch with my US office on the work permit. I found a job as a Pharmaceutical Sales Representative with a smaller outfit in Toronto. During the early part of the waiting period, we decided to make a study trip to New York City. We stayed in the suburbs of Queens where we were recommended to live if we move to US. The first night sealed the deal. We were definitely NOT moving to New York! Are you nuts? All night long there were the blares of the police and ambulance sirens. That was no way to bring up a family. However, the work permit did come through six months later. By then, I had decided to reject the job offer as we had already ‘settled’ in Canada. Kids were in school and we bought a house and etc.
Meanwhile, I worked my way up again to the National Marketing Manager position. Survived 3 downsize and finally ran out of luck in August 2007 when the recession devastated the job market. Now, too old to get back in, I decided to retire. No regrets though. I was very blessed all my life because I believe the Lord has always provided and guided our ways. And it did not hurt our cause to have the right attitude toward life too. I believe, even if you are poor you are rich. It was simply a matter of adopting a positive attitude in life.
Today, I am neither poor nor rich depending on whose perspective it is. Life has been absolutely wonderful except for some minor setbacks over the years. But then again, I would not have learned or grew if there were no setback.
“The happiest of people don't necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything they have”. Anonymous. And may I add, “Leave the rest to the Lord”.
I now live in the City of Burlington about 20 km from Toronto. My wife still works for McMaster University in Hamilton (20 minutes commute). My son is married and lives with his wife and 2 kids 10 minutes away from us in the City of Oakville (Yeah! I am a grandpa 2 times over). He is still involved in the development of Blackberry that some of you are using and my daughter-in-law is with the Bank of Montreal. My daughter just got married in July 2010 and lives in the City of Brampton about an hour away. She is the F&B manager with the Holiday Inn Group and my son-in-law is in IT.
<<<Click here to walk down memory lane>>>