Sunday, 24 January 2010

A blast from the past

I hope readers would pardon me for indulging in a bit of nostalgia. Around this time thirty years ago, I boarded an aeroplane for the first time in my life, to fly to the land of our colonial masters. I am inspired to write about old times after seeing the photo album that my pal Badique (see previous post) created in his Facebook profile. The album is a collection of scanned photographs of his post-MRSM days while studying in the United Kingdom. I am in some of those photos.

It was sometime in December 1979 that I first met this friend of mine. I had arrived at MRSM Seremban to attend an orientation program being held by Mara for students selected to study in England. I arrived alone and didn't know anybody at Seremban. I wasn't sure who else from my school were selected. It was quite a hectic period because we had only just sat for our MCE exams the previous month and hardly had time to enjoy the break. Mara contacted the selected students by way of telegram. Back then, only the rich had telephones at home. Internet or emails were non-existent yet.

I was trudging up the slope to the entrance gate of MRSM Seremban when a guy in front of me looked back and asked where I come from.

`Dari Johor Bahru,' I replied. I was actually staying in Singapore at the time but I wanted to avoid explaining things too much.

`Sekolah mana dulu?' he continued to ask.

MRSM Kuantan, was my reply.

`Aku sekolah kat sini dulu,' he gestured to the place we were heading to. `Meh kita daftar sama... kalau nasib baik mungkin boleh dapat bilik lama aku.'

And thus was the beginning of my friendship with Badique, an ex-MRSM Seremban student. I can't remember how many students attended the orientation but it was quite a sizeable number. We were to be sent to a number of colleges in the UK in early January to do A-levels. It so happened that Badique and I were to be sent to the same college in London.

After the orientation, all of us had to make haste and carry out errands. We had to apply for our international passports, convert money to traveler's cheques and pound sterling, buy thick sweaters and jackets to face the cold English winter etc, etc, etc. In the midst of doing all these, we need to find the time to say good-bye to family and relatives.

The process of applying for an international passport those days is a bit more complicated than today. Among the requirements is for your application to be endorsed by someone of standing in your community, namely your penghulu kampung (village headman), your wakil rakyat (Member of Parliament), or a high-ranking officer in the civil service. Being a resident of Singapore, I did not know any penghulu or MP or civil service officer. I could ask for the help of relatives in JB but I was already in Kuala Lumpur at the time... no time to go back. Luckily, I had a cousin in KL who knew certain top people. He took me to meet the then Parliamentary Secretary of the Federal Territories Ministry, a certain Haji Abdullah Bin Haji Ahmad Badawi, whose office was located within PKNS Building at Jalan Raja Laut. Abang Man, my cousin, simply addressed the officer as Che Lah, and politely asked for his help to endorse my passport application. Che Lah looked at me and asked where I was going. I told him, to the UK for further studies. He reminded me to study hard and make sure I come back and help serve the nation.

My first international passport. Photo of a young man not yet eighteen.

The first UK student visa with date of arrival at Heathrow Airport

Our group of London-bound students left Malaysia to arrive smack in the freezing UK winter on 11 January 1980. I believe there were around 30 of us in the flight, consisting of students who intend to study Accountancy, Pharmacy and Engineering. Upon touching down at Heathrow, we were first taken to the Mara Hostel at Leinster Square in the Bayswater area of London. After a briefing and a short rest, we were divided into groups based on the college where Mara had enrolled us.

Thirteen of us, including Badique and myself, were sent to a college in Greenwich called the Centre for Business Studies or CBS for short. It was the first time Mara is sending students there, hence we were sort of guinea pigs to find out if the college is good enough. CBS is a private college that takes mainly overseas students who want to pursue diplomas in business studies, banking and stuff like that. GCE A-level classes form a small part of their curriculum.

The overseas students were overwhelmingly Africans... prompting us to remark that the place is `penuh dengan gagak'. It was not a good place to study, at least not for A-levels. I didn't learn very much while I was there. I was practically enjoying myself most of the time. We would spend most weekends exploring London. The West End, Oxford Street, Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park are among our favourite haunts. Not that the allowance Mara gave us was lavish but we had to teach ourselves how to spend wisely. To save money, cooking at home is a must. I can still remember buying cow's liver (the cheapest meat available) with such regularity that the halal-butcher would instantly know what I want the moment I step into his shop. London is an expensive city... then and now.

With college-mate Adzim, feeding pigeons at Trafalgar Square. Still to rediscover this friend since separating after A-levels.

We reported to Mara of the poor quality of teaching staff at the college and requested that we be transferred elsewhere. At the end of six months, Mara took us out of the place and registered us at Aston College in Wrexham, North Wales for our second year of A-levels. Aston College had been a favourite institution for placement of Malaysian students for many years.

The autumn of 1980 saw the group of 13 young men being sent to a place where the people speak an entirely different language. We joined our fellow Malaysian friends who had been there much earlier and add to an already sizeable Malay student population in Wrexham.

After a game of football in Wrexham. Can't remember most of the guys now. Yours truly is at the back row in the blue and black striped shirt. Badique is to my left.

Life in the small town of Wrexham is certainly very much different from the city of London but interesting in its own kind of way. But I'll leave these stories to tell for another day.

22 comments:

Kama said...

Salam Oldstock

This is so interesting! it's always nice to know how our impressionable, inexperienced and innocent students cope in foreign lands. next instalment plse..:)

pakmat said...

..hmm..you're cute as a kid..must have broke a few Welsh hearts in Wrexham..and had a close encounter with Pak Lah in 79?..he was my boss in Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam, in 69..and pakmat was active in JPA Sports Club..organising football games, big walks and such..and the late Kak Hendon would prepare drinks and refreshments...you stirred a fragment of memories in mine..cheers..

Patricia said...

Reading you brought back so many memories for me: MCE - who in heck understands what that means besides us, eh? And the passport hassle - I remember that, too.

And as I read your words, I remembered my first days in university as well... ahh, that seems like such a long, long time ago!

But what struck me most was the chance meeting of you and Badique - and how the two of you end up in the same place so many times!!! Is that coincidence or what?

I met my pal Sharifah in exactly the same way: a chance 'hello' and we're life-long friends now :)

lili said...

Salam Oldstock,

Very interesting piece for my mid-day reading. Have always love reading stories about students studying abroad as I hadn't had the chance to do so.

Looking forward for more stories. Keep 'em posted, okay! :)

anneaziz said...

Salam Oldstock,

Now I believe when you say that you are a hoarder! Your first passport! You still have it!

Would be nice to see a current passport sized photo beside your old one to see the ravages of time!

Young, far away from home and with Govt. money to spend...patut lah enjoy...

Tommy Yewfigure said...

Oldstock, I see u r trying to let the X generation know what a tough life we had back then compared with what they have today...hehehe, good one that telegram, huh what's that :) What about morse code? I doubt any of them knows about the good old aerogram...hahaha.

Say how many in your group came back with maksalleh wives??

Cheers,
Tommy

Aizan Suhaira said...

Omigod. I was only 2 days old when you flew off to London!

Justiffa said...

Ya Allah u still have ur 1st passport? i'm sort of a hoarder too but this is something else.. tabik la kat u oldstock ;p

Oh and that toya & innocent face is priceless la :D

drwati said...

salam mr oldstock,

guess what? i've seen telegram and aerogram before hehe

you are unrecognizable in the old photos

Oldstock said...

Salam Kak Kama,

Next instalment lambat sikit la.. takut orang boring asyik baca cerita nostlagia je :-)

Oldstock said...

Pakmat,

Would've fallen for a Welsh heart myself but for the fact that member sapu dulu... heheheh...

Anyway, it was always necessary to remind oneself on the main objective why we're there, i.e. to study... even though we actually do other things most of the time.

Oldstock said...

Pat,

I'm the last of the MCE batch.

We tend to be close to friends who experience the tough times together. Although we may go separate paths, one day we are bound to meet up again. Friends like these are a trasure.

Oldstock said...

Lili,

Stories of life in another country is always interesting... but I can't be posting them too often. Need to spread them out a bit to prevent readers being bored. But your interest in my stories is most appreciated. Hope to have another interesting story for you soon.

Oldstock said...

Salam anne,

Enjoy tetap enjoy... life is too short to be worrying too much :-)

I've still got my old student cards with varying pics of me with different hairsytles. But cannot show them here lah...

Also cannot put current passport pic... too hensem, wakakaka!

Oldstock said...

Hi Tommy,

Telegram and aerogramme are alien things to the present generation. If we are to extrapolate, email could probably be considered ancient in the next 30 years.

I don't think any of my friends brought back Mat Salleh wives, although some of them had gwailo girlfriends at the time.

Oldstock said...

Aizan,

Well... please be kind to this old man :-)

Oldstock said...

Justiffa,

Yes, I am a hoarder... guilty as charged, heheheh. If I'm not an engineer, I think would have done well working in the National Archives.

I still have my student cards and British Rail student passes.

Oldstock said...

Salam Doc,

Okay... you've seen an aerogramme, but have you used one before? Those single sheet of thin blue paper..

Sometimes, even I can't recognize myself in those old photos ;-)

HLiza said...

Oh I missed this post! Bestnye lah kan..muda2 dah merantau ke negeri orang!

Oldstock said...

Hliza,

Memang best... sebab masa muda2 dulu selalu happy-go-lucky. Sebab tu result exam tak berapa bagus, heheheh!

alir said...

Assalamualaikum wbth
Oldstock,

Ahhh so nice to read your posting. I am Yang Farina who studied there in Coleg Aston 1979-81.

Hope we may keep in touch.

I am on Facebook Yang Farina Abdul Aziz. What is your fb name. Would love to catch up.

Nice memories of Wrexham n the London boys!

Yang@ Nina

Oldstock said...

Alaikum salam Yang,

Thank you for dropping by here. I'm quite surprised how an old post like this still gets attention but I'm pleased that you did.

Forgive my poor memory but I'm trying hard to recall if we had crossed paths before in Wrexham. If we had, then please accept my apologies for not recognizing you. Maybe if we can exchange stories one day and that could help restore some of the old data in this aging hard drive of mine :-)

I've sent you a friend request on FB. Maybe we can do the catching up over that media. Thank you again...