11:00am 02/01/2022
[Isshōkenmei] A first step in a lifelong career (22)
By:Lee San

Where did we go after graduating from SMIK Yong Peng in 1982? Whether to further studies or start working, a rural high school graduate only has one place to go: the big city.

For most of my schoolmates, it would be JB or Singapore if they headed south, and KL, or Genting Highlands as croupiers, if they headed north. As for those who were doing quite well and were from well-to-do families, they opted to further their studies in places like the US, Australia or Taiwan. Such trends have remained very much the same to this day. As a result, cities are increasingly flooded with new migrants while rural towns are reduced to abodes of the aged!

As for me, I headed to KL with my schoolmates looking for opportunities in the capital city. Some went to TAR College, others (including me) ended up taking a fundamental computer course at Goon Institute. However, I dropped out of school just after three months, and then took up a sales job at a Pudu trading company before becoming a bookstore supervisor.

In the third year, I went back to Form 6, while my former classmates hailing from the same kampung had gone different ways, most losing contact with me as time went by. Fortunately after 38 years, I’ve learned that Khim Hook is now in Australia, Kui Eng is in the States, and Kian Yew, Singapore. As for me Lee San, I’m now back in KL after spending some years in Japan!

At least we had some good times together!

I was not only active in uniformed groups during my high school days, but was also the leader in planning our school trips for senior students. While my academic performance was only so-so, I was excellent in organizing parties and events, and had organized school trips to Singapore, KL and Genting, among other destinations.

Given my extroverted nature, after I arrived in the unfamiliar big city of KL from a tiny town in Johor in 1983, naturally it took me a short while to come to know a bunch of new KL friends sharing the same interest with me, among them graduates from Chong Hwa Independent High School and several other schools, all young guys who enjoyed having fun together with friends. And through this initial group of friends I came to know more new friends, and their friends, forming into a rather large community of friends scattered all across the country in a way not unlike the Facebook ‘friends’ we have today, right?

At a time when cell phones were still unheard of, I was thinking that face-to-face gatherings of a large group of acquaintances could be a much more meaningful and interesting social activity. With such an idea in mind, coupled with my expertise in organizing group recreational events, why not make this regular social gathering group an extension of Stepoint?

For the following five years, I became what people referred to as Brother Lee who took them up north and down south, to the beaches or hills, for camping or hiking.

The most unforgettable trip was when we took some 80 young friends aboard two tour coaches to a deserted camping ground on Pulau Redang in 1985. We set off from a tiny fishing village in Terengganu, boarded the wooden fishing boats and braved through the rough seas before we reached our destination after almost three hours. This was followed by another equally rough journey back to the mainland at the end of the 5D4N trip.

Looking back at the trip now, it was so much fun and exciting! Today, Redang remains the pearl on the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia, although traveling to the island now takes only 30 minutes on a speedboat. Additionally, new resorts have sprung up in recent years, as fewer giant turtles now come back to lay eggs.

Talking about group gatherings, during the mid-1980s, Stepoint used to organize quite a few Mid-Autumn Festival gatherings that attracted the participation of a few hundred young men and women. Back then Chai Yan and Chew Yong were my most capable assistants while the rest of the group just coordinated in what we had planned for everyone, such as all kinds of group matches and games. Of course, there would always be campfire games which I had adopted from during my high school scouting days.

In the mid-80s, Chai Yan and Chew Yong were my left and right hands in Stepoint.

Unfortunately, many young people today think that such activities are old-fashioned, but at least we did go through, and thoroughly enjoyed, those good old days together!

Those things that we did when we were much younger have now become truly precious memories that we will cherish for a very long time to come, and they also served as a very important factor that inspired my travel career.

Notably, it was from such activities that I came to visualize the importance of traveling and participating together with a group of like-minded travel buddies. Each time we set out on our journey, we would always have the same kind of attitude: to explore together with these travel buddies and try out the unknown. The only difference, though, is that Lee San will invariably have to equip himself adequately before the start of the journey!

Big Brother Lee loved to take the group for outings up the hills and down the beaches.

More in the Isshōkenmei series

(Lee San is Founder and Group Executive Chairman of Apple Vacations. He has traveled to 132 countries, six continents, and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.)


Lee San
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