During my early years in KL in 1983/84, I took up a computer class and later dropped out of it and ventured into the job market. Back then my boss Duncan who returned from the UK, treated me really nice and always gave me useful tips on international trading.
That was the age of telex machines, and my job was to read and reply to queries sent from all over the world. From such an operation I came to learn about my own deficiencies and decided to register for a business English evening class just across the street from our Pudu office. I even went to the British Council.
Of course, for someone that enjoyed having fun with people, I quickly made a bunch of new friends at Stepoint KL with whom I had outings every now and then.
Two years later, through the introduction of my secondary school buddy Hock Seng, I took up the store supervisor post at Anthonian bookstore. The new position gave me a new perspective in viewing things as well as my own future. The bookstore could be said as a turning point in my life.
At that time I needed to meet up with TAR College students almost on a daily basis. From them I slowly came to understand why they had opted to further their studies here, be it to secure themselves a certificate or to pave the way for their future careers. One of the answers that really touched me was this: the foundation education at a tertiary institution was way more important than what a secondary school would provide!
Oh dear, I had always thought that foundation education meant only primary and secondary education. The reality is nevertheless very different, because life and the learning process at a tertiary institution is a seed for personal growth and maturing.
As time passed by, coupled with all kinds of books that I came into contact with during my stint at the bookstore, I started to ask myself this question: shouldn’t I go back to school again?
I was 22 when I enrolled myself at the private MING College for a pre-U course (F6) in 1986. I even became the head prefect and a part-time tutor! Probably because I was still very much hooked on to life with a uniformed group that I applied to join the PSTD reservist training camp.
Each weekend I would ride my motorcycle to the reservists’ camps in Puchong and Jalan Ampang for formal military training. It started with a three-month foundation course that included modules from physical strength training, discipline, foot drill to marksmanship and war tactics, exactly like what a formal military training would look like. It offered a rare chance for ordinary citizens to have hands-on experience of military operations, not to mention subsidies from the government!
After three months, I received an extended three-month practical training course during which I had to take leave from my college in order to join the other trainees at Camp 503 in Perak. As if that’s not enough, we even had to venture deep into the jungle for armed field training!
There was this time when we were divided into groups of four, carrying with us a limited stock of dried foods, a map, 20kg backpacks, to spend three days and two nights inside the jungle.
Back then the instructor gave us a landmark and our mission was to reach the destination within the stipulated time frame. However, along the way the four of us lost our way in the jungle because… the map that we had was actually printed in the 1970s such that we in the 80s could not locate the stream marked on the map! Of course we finally managed to come out of the jungle, but that was only after 15 hours past the time!
After completing the reservist training, some of the team mates, including Wong, joined the regular army. I was later told that after some years he was sent on a UN peace-keeping mission somewhere.
As a matter of fact, it is a pity that Malaysia is not practising two-year mandatory national service like in Singapore, South Korea or Taiwan. And the fact is, young people who have gone through military service are noticeably more disciplined and loyal to the country.
While enhancing our awareness to defend the country, such training also helps strengthen our body! This was also the objective of the short-term national service (PLKN) introduced in this country in 2004. Unfortunately it was the government itself that screwed up its original intent.
Looks like I have deviated too far. Back to our topic, after I finished F6 in 1987, I applied for the position of probationary inspector. I passed the interview but unfortunately the training class had to be deferred several times because of the economic downturn, until the middle of 1989. But then I had just joined Reliance Travel that sealed my destiny of spending the rest of my career life in the travel business!
Looking back, from the Boy Scout days at SMIK Yong Peng, to Stepoint KL, the trading firm, bookstore, pre-U class, military training to being a tour guide, all these could have conspired together to shape my future career path and nourish me to become what I am today!
More in the Isshōkenmei series
(Lee San is Founder and Group Executive Chairman of Apple Vacations. He has travelled to 132 countries, six continents, and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.)