Monday, October 26

The momentous times in one’s life…


IN 2018 data published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), life expectancy in Malaysia ranked 71st in the world; with females averaging at 77.6 and males 73.2 to reach an average total of  75.3 years.

The top 10 causes of death were in descending order — coronary heart disease, influenza and pneumonia, stroke, road traffic accidents, HIV/AIDS, lung disease, Alzheimer’s/Dementia, breast cancer, lung cancer, and diabetes. We can, I suspect, include the current Covid-19 deaths under the second highest statistic, that of influenza and pneumonia.

For some of us, the so-called ‘baby boomers’, who were born in the years after WW2 (better referred to here as the Japanese War from 1941-45), we are now fast approaching our date of expiration.

This week, I’d like to take a look back at the momentous events or moments in time since the day I was born. It’s very much a personal journey but influenced by historical events, the times we have gone through, and experiences borne by political and socioeconomic conditions.

Obviously entering school was the first upheaval in one’s life; I had gone to St Thomas’s Primary when I was six years old, a year earlier than the norm as my mother being an English teacher there had treated my first year in school as a sort of kindergarten (there were none in existence in 1956).

I stayed back a second year transferring from a C class to an A class, thus enabling my one-year-junior sister Edrea to catch up with me at St Mary’s just across the road. It was to prove fortuitous 13 years later in 1969, when we both left our schools with Cambridge A levels. She went on overseas to pursue a degree in social studies, while I decided to join The Borneo Company as an executive cadet.

That decision was to introduce me, three years later, to my future wife Doreen (who was then working at the Education Department). Had I gone overseas as was the other choice, the probability of me never returning home to Kuching was extremely high: I had been offered a place at the famous London School of Economics to study law at the time.

Once I had entered the exciting world of commerce, my career took me from marketing and selling household products from Nestle’s milk products to Unilever detergents, to Guinness Stout, Rolex watches, and Sanyo electrical items. With Inchcape, I started with selling Kraft cheese and Brand’s Essence of Chicken in the earlier years, to selling Toyota vehicles when I was seconded to NBT Toyota in 1978.

Those were high flying days when we started selling Toyota cars, from the hitherto lacklustre performance by the previous North Borneo Trading, which was selling a couple of units a month, to the final days before I left of over 110 vehicles per month at my single branch in Kuching alone. We had been breaking our own sales records every month for a few years!

However, due to treacherous shadow playing among local and federal politics (a story which would take me a book to write) Inchcape suddenly lost its Toyota franchise to UMW (United Motor Works) in September 1982.

Toyota Japan then offered me a job as their general manager in their trading arm called Toyoda Malaysia Berhad, where I worked for a few years. After I had left, I was head-hunted by Sime Darby to set up their Auto Bavaria new branch in Kuching to head their BMW distributorship; I then set up branches in Sibu and Miri. The company folded due to the economic recession of 1986.

Out of a job, I was approached in early 1987 by a former work colleague named Ralph Marshall to assist him as his personal assistant on a feature film shoot from Hollywood, called ‘Farewell to the King’. On that shoot, which lasted almost nine months, I met the associate producer Chandran Rutnam from Colombo, Sri Lanka, who had brought the film production in together with Gopala Krishnan of Jemima Films in Kuala Lumpur.

Chandran and I were to become lifelong friends and we became partners up till this day; we have also completed two other film projects together as well as many more which were locations scouted and recced for but had not been green lighted for one reason or another. Currently, we are in early negotiations and prep for an international feature from Hollywood based on a classic Joseph Conrad story.

In the year 2000, I undertook my first personal film production called Sacred Planet, which was an hour long feature documentary filmed in the Imax format and released by Walt Disney, directed by Jon Long and narrated by Robert Redford. On that shoot, I had brought in Scubazoo Images from Kota Kinabalu in Sabah to undertake the underwater and ocean sequences, and we became lifelong associates and friends; namely Simon Christopher, Jason Isley and Simon Enderby. Except for Simon Christopher, who has since left, we are still working together.

On the writing side, I started writing for ‘The Vanguard’, an English broadsheet edited by Desmond Leong in the year 1967 when I was in Form 5; I had a weekly column called Pop Art on entertainment for many years; I briefly joined them for a three-month spell before I worked for BCL. In 2017, I was briefly collared by my friend Rajah Murugaiah to write for his short-lived ‘The Ant Daily’, an independent online news portal owned by Tan Sri Clement Hii.

In July 2018, Phyllis Wong, my current editor at The Borneo Post, had approached me to write for them and my first column appeared on Saturday, July 7, 2018. I was given a free hand to write about any subject I like, which works great for me.

On the personal front, what have been my highs and most momentous events in this life lived well and without too many regrets?

My first day in school, though scared and in a strange new world; my passing Cambridge A levels with distinctions in all the three English papers I had sat for (still a school record!), going to work for the first time on March 7, 1970 at the Borneo Company Limited, getting promoted to be branch manager for Kuala Belait in 1975, so many — too many success stories in a long and varied working life as a careerist; then going out on my own to set up my own film production services company.


The journey on that bright and sunny morning in December 1973 to pick up my future wife in my borrowed Audi 100 LS (courtesy of Champion Motors); another late night drive in June 1975 to Dr Colin Tan’s maternity clinic at Lintang Park to witness the birth of my first child, a son Dylan; to be repeated twice more with daughters Dyan and Debra some years later. And then, six years ago today, on June 6, 2014, daughter Dyan and son-in-law Adrian brightened our lives as we held in our arms our first grandson Shane! The joys of being a grandparent will always stay with you and we are mightily blessed … for the rest of our lives.

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