Feature Interview - Penang Free School Magazine
Volume 11 No. 3 2005
Penang Free School is a renown and prestigious premier school. What was your first impression of the school?
WOW! The building and compound was such a special place. I knew I was going to the greatest school in the country. I also knew that I was going to be challenged since Free School only takes in the best of the best. It was also quite a special experience.
You spent two years in Free School as a sixth former. What significance has your term in PFS have in your life?
Everything. I learnt diversity because they had boys and girls together in the sixth form and we were treated very much like adults because we were given many challenges and responsibilities. My term there also gave me the space to grow up into maturity. By the time I reached university, I could handle everything and control and pace my life properly.
You were involved in many extra-curricular activities when you were in school such as athletics, hockey and scouts. How did you manage your time between your studies and extra-curricular activities?
Time management and not wasting time. I made a routine to divide my time during the day. I always gave myself two hours daily to read up on anything like revising or reading comics. I always thought that every time was learning time, everyday I learned new things through my studies and extra-curricular activities. I remember when I was younger I needed spectacles because I was always reading, even in the dark, which ruined my eye-sight. In those days spectacles had to be ordered from overseas, so they were very expensive and cost almost as much as the salary of a worker! When I did get my spectacles, I was too shy to wear them in the King Edward VII School in Taiping because I was afraid the other kids would make fun of me. I always tried to sit in the front of the class but because I was too tall so I mostly ended up sitting at the back. I couldn't see what my teachers were writing on the board and my grades began to drop. When I joined PFS and first entered the class. I saw so many people wearing spectacles so I quickly reached into my pocket and wore my glasses. It improved my studies.
Which subjects did you enjoy most in school?
Geography. When I was young I wanted to become a meteorologist but unfortunately, my headmaster later told me that to become a meteorologist I needed Physics which I did not learn since I was in the Arts stream. So I just said to the headmaster, "There goes my dreams." After that, I basically just did my best in whatever I did. But doing your best is not enough; you also have to enjoy what you are doing to succeed.
During your tenure in PFS, there must have been a few prominent figures. Can you recall any of them?
The two people who were very special to me were the headmaster and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Hughes. They always took a special interest in the students and made it a point to know every single student. They dedicated their lives to caring and taking interest in the students. Another figure that no one will ever forget was Kapten Mohd. Noor. He always expected a certain demeanour from the students yet he was also caring, kind and gentle.
PFS is a school step in tradition. What did you enjoy most about school?
I think the place itself is very special. Its history was special and wonderful people have gone through the school. People also forget what the word "Free" means in Free School. Some people think oh, you don't have to pay any fees but it actually means that anyone regardless of race or religion is allowed to study at PFS. The school symbolizes the multiethnicity of the world which is quite a powerful thing. In a way, when Free School started, it began the fire which became the symbol of the basis of a multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-cultural society which is a very powerful concept in Malaysia as well as in the whole world.
What was your most memorable occasion in school?
When I found out I could not realize my ambition to become a meteorologist. At the end of my term at PFS, the headmaster had a talk with me. When I told him about my ambition he told me that I should have entered the science stream since meteorology needed Physics. So there went my dream, just like that.
What do you consider as your most outstanding contribution to the school?
Living by al the values that the school taught e, giving my best and being able to contribute to the community were among the things that I consider special. There were also other things that I contributed which are only little moments in history like playing cricket for the school and breaking a 25 year record for the half mile run. When I was in upper six I held the state record for the 1500metres run which was especially not forgotten in school because my headmaster made a point to mention my achievement during one of his assembly speeches. I was also part of a team that did a complete survey of Pulau Aman which is quite near to Pulau Jerejak. We did a complete mapping of the island, identified the economic activities of he population of the island.
If you were given the choice to go through school life again, is there anything you would do differently?
No. I enjoyed everything and I led such a full life so I wouldn't do anything differently.
At some stages in your career, you were deeply involved in several UN programmes such as the United Nations environment Programme and UNICEF. What led you to work for the UN?
My interest in issues related to social justice and human rights. These issues are universal issues and are not fought in just one country. For example, if you want to fight for consumer rights, you have to do it internationally because a lot of companies now are international companies. Working for the UN was like working for Mother Earth; it is our hope of making an impact on the whole world and in a holistic way!
Please share with us you experience working as the Chief Technical Adviser of the UN Development Programme.
It was a tremendous experience working for the UN. I was in charge of promoting better cities in Asia, from Iran to China by advising them on better management. Penang is a fine example of good management in certain areas of work and there were many lessons that we learned along the way. At the same time, there is still a lot that Malaysia can learn from other countries particularly about public transportation, which is a mess in Penang now, sadly.
Some people believe that the UN has many shortcomings and flaws. Do you think the UN has really achieved what it has set out to do?
Definitely. The UN has many "faces" like the World Health Organisation, Food and Agricultural Organisation, UNICEF and others which make a tremendous impact on health, communication, postal unions and politics. The part that you hear most about the UN in the political aspect. When settling problems between countries, it is not the UN's fault; it is the countries that refuse to make things happen because the UN only serves as a parliament. All of us must support the UN because we need it to organize international affairs and forums, yet there are a few big and powerful that do not care for the UN whereas small countries need it to provide help to grow. Without the UN there will be no way to settle disputes or having orderly systems. A lot of people don't understand the many faces of the UN and the power of the UN, they only look at the political aspect and nothing else.
One of your greatest achievements includes leading the International Organisation of Consumers Union. What did it take to realize this feat?
This first phase was in Penang which has one of the most successful consumer associations in the world, the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP). CAP began in my house. Through CAP I learned about consumer issues and being somebody who was very international, it was easy to translate my experience globally. When we took leadership, I became the president of IOCU and took the consumer movement to a whole new level of activities. I could do it because I had already done it in Malaysia and started an organization here.
Your job involves a lot of conversing, addressing and interacting with people. How did you develop your oratory skills so well?
In school we were always encouraged to speak and respond to questions during class. The school itself organized many activities like plays which encouraged us to speak. Speaking properly was considered an essential element of education during my time. I used to improve my English by listening to the radio, especially the BBC news and sports programmes. Most importantly, it was my exposure to people who speak English particularly my teachers. A lot of the teachers during my schooling days were English or spoke good English, so we were encouraged to speak proper English during our lessons.
You are very passionate when it comes to consumer rights. How did this zeal and enthusiasm come about in you?
All of us are consumers. If we are concerned with life or death and survival, one thing we must be concerned about is our consumer rights because it is our right to safety. Consumer rights are universal and fundamental and the effect our lives quite deeply.
What is your advice to the public regarding their rights as consumers and what do you think should be done to raise awareness among them?
Everyone has to know their rights as consumers and not be afraid to exercise them. They can also join consumer organizations and subscribe to a consumer magazine. You can also be critical and write to newspapers about any problems.
You were involved in all sorts of activities locally and internationally. Which did you find more fulfilling, working in Malaysia or working on a global scale?
I saw no difference between them. I saw the link between global and local as very natural. There's a word glocal which is a combination of global and local. I feel that you cannot disconnect the local from the global because to do it globally you also need to do it locally.
You job is very tough and a few people would take up the challenge as you did. Many have given up in their undertakings. Was there any point in you career when you felt like giving up?
Never. I enjoyed it all the time. I felt that it was fulfilling to contribute to society and to serve the people.
What do you do as a pastime?
I really like taking long walks in the Botanical Gardens or hiking through the Moon Gate and experiencing and appreciating nature. It's also good exercise which is good for my heart. I like to combine nature appreciation, thinking, relaxing and exercising all in one outing. I am also an avid reader, especially on books about local history. I also like watching local plays and musical performances besides being involved in heritage and the environment. I think it's important to support local arts performances to keep them alive and going.
With your hectic schedule, how do you divide your time between work and your family?
I always made sure that we take part in each others activities. My wife was a teacher and I always supported her in whatever she did. Because I traveled so much, we too our holidays at home, staying in several local hotels like the Eastern and Oriental, Golden Sands and The Lone Pine. It has been quite an experience for us and the children - relaxing yet different.
How do you cope with all the stress from work?
Always thinking positive, appreciating nature and having a sense of humour. I always enjoy learning and taking part in different activities, both indoors and outdoors. It relieves the stress I face and freshens my mind.
What are your plans for retirement?
That word is not in my vocabulary!
What principles or philosophies do you subscribe in life?
Something I call the Triple P's, which stands for peace with yourself, peace
with other people and peace with the environment. I also make it a point to
spend time with young people because it's the things that you believe in that
you want to pass on to the next generation.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Doing more and more things, especially activities that promote peace and interfaith dialogues. I think people now are easily trying to create tension between different religions, that's why we need to have interfaith dialogues. I would like to share with you this quote, "There will be no peace among the nations without peace among religions, no peace between religions without dialogue between religions, no dialogue between the religions without a global ethical standards and no survival of our globe without a global ethic". We are also promoting the Golden Rule which is, "Do to others what you want others to do to you. Or don't do to others what you don't want others to do to you." It is imperative that we treat everyone equally.
What do you like to impart to the current Frees?
Live life to the fullest and adhere to the 3C's, competence, creativity and
compassion every single day of your life. We must always strive to be the best
both theoretically and practically. Finally, we must always support the school,
the Old Frees Association (OFA) and the Yayasan Penang Free because it is every
student's responsibility to give back to the school.