Friday, July 11, 2008

Moments of My Life - Part 6

The HSC results were well below my expectation. I did quite well in the theory parts. They were the biology, physics and chemistry practicals that pulled down my results.

No words could sufficiently describe how devastated I was by them.

"Why this has to happen to me? Where have I gone wrong?"

As I was loitering around Kuala Lumpur (in extra-large dirty green GI shirt, seasoned blue Amco jeans, six-inch-above-the-ankle Johnson black leather boots and sporting a shoulder length hair) trying to overcome my frustration and take stock of my life, I met an old friend who suggested that I should forget about formal education for a while.

"Come on, join me in the banking business."

I was really caught between the devil and deep blue sea.

A few days ago, during an interview for admission to a Diploma in Fisheries course in Victoria Institution Kuala Lumpur, I was told that I was successful. I was accepted to join the course.

The interviewers were so impressed with my answer to their trick question. They told me that I was the first candidate that answered the question correctly.

The question was: "What is the difference between a gold fish and a silver fish?"

My answer was: "A gold fish is a fish that is commonly reared as a pet, mostly golden in colour, and on the other hand, a silver fish is no fish at all. It is an insect, just like a cockroach, that likes to eat away at our clothes.

In Malay it is called bubuk." I knew then that I had secured a place in the Diploma Fishery course.

"Should I accept UPM's Diploma in Fisheries offer and belittling myself in the process or forget about education and join the bank?"

Once, that was two years ago, I was offered to do a Diploma course in UPM just after my better-than-expected MCE results.

Despite everyone's advice, I had then decided to follow my heart and turned down the offer and instead, joined Form six.

After seriously thinking about my mother's advice, I finally decided to accept UPM's offer to do a Diploma in Fisheries course.

She had advised me to go on studying while I still had the chance and forget about working for a while. She knew that it had always been my ambition to step foot on one of the ivory towers.

She also knew that I was never a quitter. Trusting her fully, I decided to accept UPM's offer after I received the offer in black and white.

I knew that I had frustrated my father for joining a diploma level course. Being the eldest son, he expected me to join a degree course after completing my HSC. Actually my HSC results were good enough (for Bumiputera students anyway) to join Pre-Medicine in UM. A few of my friends with similar results did join pre-medicine course in UM.

For a few moments I was a wee bit frustrated for not joining the Pre-Medicine course as I saw picture of my friends during registration ceremony at UM in one of the major newspapers.

My results were comparable or if not better than a few of them. Ibrahim Besar surprised many of us. His results were good enough for him to be accepted into the engineering faculty in UM.

I was just too scared of Mathematics and Physics, two subjects that were compulsory in Pre-Medicine.

I went to the registration in UPM by Tong Foong bus. Nobody accompanied me as I made my way to the First College.

I was placed in room 141 of the C block (presently called Resak) and stayed on in the same room throughout my six-year stay in UPM.

I escaped most of the hassle of the usual orientation from the seniors in the college by always following an ex-school mate of mine who was a third year student.

My matured face also fooled many of the seniors. In the class, I was the only student that had gone through HSC. The others except two were SPM leavers. The two were ex-Preliminary students, Redzuan and Sidek.

In the first few weeks, I felt so low in self-confidence. My self-esteem seemed to have deserted me. However, after a while I managed to get myself back onto the right track and into the group.

Soon I became an active member of the class. In fact, I began to enjoy the campus life, especially the semester system.

The semester system allowed me to really show my academic ability. I began to be good in many subjects except of physics and mathematics. But the semester system improved greatly my physics and mathematics achievements.

I even excelled in basic accounting! I was one of the very few students obtaining an A for it where as many of the third year Diploma agriculture students failed the paper. Even Mrs. Hasanah, the lecturer was surprised at my result.

I did not know why, but I just found that accounting was an interesting and easy-to-follow subject.

My room even became like an accounting consultation room for a few neighbouring third year Diploma Agriculture students. I wished I had charged them consultation fees.

The first year was interesting as far as social life was concerned. Friends were many as most first year diploma students took the same basic science courses. Being quite a scorer in some subjects, I was quite a popular figure among many, especially the girls.

But mind you I was still a misogynist then. Never for once I tried to be too close to any one of the girls though I knew for certain that a few of them did have a crush on me. It was not that I was not attracted to them or anything like that.

Having a special girl friend then was something envied by many. It was common back then for UPM students to have someone special. At nights the drill field was usually full of couples courting. I used to pass the lovers' favourite rendezvous on my way for a taste of fried noodles or chicken bun at the food stalls.

What many of them were doing, necking and kissing, were just too westernized for my liking. I guessed many of them were not religiously strong then. Some of them were too conscious about having someone special while they were in the university.

Deep in my heart I too wanted to have a special girl friend, but there was a personal vow to be followed through and the last heartbreak was just too painful for me to forget.

Shelving that aside I put all my efforts towards my studies. I especially excelled in biology, English, and organic chemistry. Some of them (mostly girls) even reserved their seats right behind mine during monthly tests and quizzes hoping that they could have a peek at my answers.

Though I was a disbeliever in cheating, out of sympathy perhaps, I did allow a few of my answers to be clearly visible to those behind. However, I was always careful not to be too obvious and never to allow them to beat me in any of the test.

The fact that in certain subjects, organic chemistry in particular, the lecturer either announced the results in front of the class or posted the test results on the bulletin board made me more popular among first year diploma students, more so among the girls.

This also gradually increased my self-confidence and not long after a few test results in the first semester, I became a full-fledged and highly motivated student.

Swimming was a compulsory subject for all Diploma fisheries students. To a few of us, it was a real nightmare.

I remember Muniandy struggling in the water. He was just too scared of water. For me, I struggled a lot in the breaststroke. One day while struggling to finish a lap of breaststroke, a six-year old White boy passed by me in the most casual way and asking me whether I was having trouble to complete the lap. How embarrassing!

However, I enjoyed all the water survival techniques taught in the pool. The part where I had to jump in the pool (with my working clothes on) without getting my head immersed in the water, remove all the clothing and try to float was really fun.

Only then I knew that if we were in the ocean somewhere far from any land, the only way to survive was to float and not to swim.

Naemah, a lady student from Pahang even went as far as quitting the Diploma Fisheries course just because she could not bear being ogled at by others, especially the seniors, in her swimming suit!

I somewhat did not blame them too much for she was blessed with a beautiful body. However I thought that it would be better if a different swimming session for girls could have been arranged.

There were initially four girls learning to swim together with us boys in the swimming pool. When Naemah left us, there were three of them – Kamariah, Raja Aniza and Lee Chew Yet.

We boys, those of us who knew how to swim of course, took turn teaching the girls. Because of their ample body fat, they would simply float without trying very hard. That would hold true if only they did not panic! If they panic then they would sink to the bottom of the pool just like a rock, no matter how much body fat they were blessed with.

I got a B for swimming and sadly one of us failed. He was just too scared of water.

I scored quite impressive results in my first year final examinations. I was then offered a place in the first year degree course either in agriculture, forestry or veterinary medicine.

It was a tough decision to make. The physics and mathematics phobia were still there in my sub-conscious mind. At first I declined the offer and instead continued in the second year diploma of fisheries class.

Many other students joined the first year degree course. After only two weeks in the second year, I changed my mind.

Many factors had finally awakened me up from my sleep. Firstly, it was my super ego. I was so uncomfortable when I saw so many other students, who joined the degree class with poorer results compared to mine, were so uppity and a few were outright boastful in their behaviour.

Secondly there was this senior lady student, Rafiah, (an ex-TKC student) whom I knew when we were still in boarding schools. She was seriously reminding me to reconsider my decision.

She was right. After all, the reason why I had gone against the advices of many and joined the sixth form two years ago was so that I could do a degree course.

Thirdly the registrar called me to his office and gave me a long lecture on why I should accept the offer. According to him it was a waste if I turned it down. Students from other ethnic groups would never let the golden opportunity passed by just like that. They would grab it and would make full use of the advantage.

Lastly it was because I was really lousy in repairing fishing nets, a compulsory subject in the second year of Diploma in Fisheries. Captain Ibrahim could vouch for this.

Looking back, I thought it was just that I was predestined to become a veterinarian. So, finally after consulting Dr. Ahmad Mustaffa Babjee (he later became the Director General of Department of Veterinary Services), the head of Fisheries, I registered for the degree course in Veterinary medicine.

We were the fourth batch of DVM students. The class was small. There were less than twenty of us.

In the first year I again had to take the basic sciences, psychology, sociology, soil science, statistics, introduction to animal science and the farm works. So most of the time during the first year I was in the big group of first year students from other courses.

The farm work was rather different. I had to make a few rows and plant vegetables. Not used to such rough works, blisters soon appeared on most of my fingers. I hold the handle of the hoe too tightly, explained an agriculture student.

I was also involved in ploughing the land using a tractor. It was memorable. I even learned how to drive a tractor! According to a technician, I could have easily passed the tractor-driving test if I had chosen to sit for the test then.

I really liked the part where I had to reverse a tractor with a trailer attached. It was such fun!

Talking about farm works would not be complete without saying something about the late Pak Rashid.

He was a real strict disciplinarian when it came to farm works. He was always shouting whenever students failed to obey rules.

Once I was caught crossing the field by walking on the grass. He immediately pointed his finger to me and called me in his usual harsh way. Scared to my pants, I ran to him expecting to be scolded.

"What course are you in?" he asked as soon as I was in front of him.

Realizing that he somehow respected and had a high regard for Malay degree students, I quickly answered him. " Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Pak Rashid!"

As expected, he quickly calmed down. "Next time, please don't step on the grass!"

Once he also reprimanded me for wearing rubber slippers to our new hall. He was right in saying that the slippers were just too cheap for the brand new hall. He even asked me to calculate the percentage of the cost of a pair of slippers over the cost of the hall.

That was our special Pak Rashid. He also wanted his students to know the names of all the varieties of fruits found in campus.

"Don't just eat the rambutan. Know their variety as well".

About us students 'stealing' fruits, he was famous for these phrases: "If you don't steal, you are stupid. But if you are caught stealing the fruits, you are doubly stupid!"

We all knew what he meant by his words. So, we were never short of fresh fruit supply whenever fruit season came.

I guessed students deserved to enjoy those fruits. They were actually the ones responsible for planting and taking care of the fruit trees.

Sadly, later students were not as lucky as most fruit orchards were fenced in and fruits were also commercially sold.

Life as a student in UPM was good as far as food was concerned. We normally shared whatever we harvested.

We enjoyed chicken soup whenever Diploma of Agriculture students harvested their chickens from their share farms.

We also tasted the freshly harvested and boiled peanuts and sweet corn whenever they harvested their produce. Besides enjoying the boiled corn-on cobs, we also made delicious sweet corn porridge. During such seasons, it was not unusual to smell sweet-smelling aromas emanating from every corner of the campus.

As far as academics were concerned, I enjoyed all the subjects, even the mathematics and physics. It was the way these subjects were taught and tested that made me like them.

I especially enjoyed psychology. The lecturer, a rather sophisticated lady, was a real open person once you got to know her. Her trendy fashion and make-ups made her a centre of attraction to many students. Her view on certain issues were however sometimes controversial.

Once she was involved in a debate with her students about her sometimes-a-little-bit-provocative dress.

She was cool and never seemed to lost her temper. She said (her personal view) that her beautiful body was a gift from God. So, she saw no reason for her to go and hide it from people.

I did not agree at all with her philosophy, but that was her view, there was nothing much that I could do to make her change. From her at least I knew what a sour grape and sweet lemon were. All in all the first year was a successful year for me.

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