Friday, February 1, 2008

You don't remember me, do you?

How do you remember faces and names of all the people you have met throughout your life?

I do face this predicament and dilemma all the time and I am at my wit's end trying to rectify it. You see while I consider myself as a practising engineer, I do teach, or perhaps a better word for it would be 'instruct'. My students, if I can call them as such, range from university professors, and graduate students to practising engineers especially in the oil and gas industry throughout South East Asia, I guess.

Typically my classes would have 10-12 attendees, and if I had conducted say 5 courses yearly on average, I would have crossed path with at least 500 engineers during my 11 years working life with this Canadian company. This is not to mention the engineers I have met during business meetings. So how do one remember their their names and faces?

It is used to be easy. During the training, I typically would be hoping that they would have their name tags (this is a norm here in Malaysia) and I would be doing my level best to take a peek at the tag everytime I forget their name. I would also be hoping that they would not change seat, I would have put name to each table in my mind. Of course, secretly I would hand-draw a map of the seating arrangement with everybody's name in it.

So during the 3-5 day training, I would look like the professor of remembering everybody's name!

I have read a couple of articles on remembering names and faces. Look for their distinct features, I am told, or the clothes they wear, their hair etc etc. Note the long nose, or the big ears or a peculiar eyes, or funny flowery shirt (here we call them batik!). For names, try and make 'fun' of the names. Yeah, like my former English teacher Mr Subra who used to call me Harakiri for obvious reason.

But don't make that publicly please. Thinking out loud is not allowed at this stage. Some of them are definitely offensive. Do it only in your mind.

Somehow even with these techniques, my memory seems to fail me more often than not. Pretty face or otherwise!

I was at an oil company training centre this week and during lunch, or Zohor prayer at the surau, I knew I was bound to meet old friends/clients. For sure, it had to happened. He was of the same batch with me when we joined the company way back 21 years ago. I remember the face, but not the name. Another was a client who had an office about 7 floors above us at Empire Tower. I remember their faces - I knew I had met them somewhere.

He saw me, acknowledged it, and said, "You remember me, right?"
I smiled, and said, "Of course I know you," but at that point I was studying his face intently and using all my memory bank to put a name to the familiar face. He looks familiar but I can put the location and occasion that I might have met up with him.

Much as I tried, putting names to their faces, but I simply could not.

In the end, I must say he looked a bit disheartened by my failing eventhough he did say he understood my predicament by saying as an instructor, I would have come across too many faces and names to remember.

Yes agree, but I would not take that as an excuse.

I had gone through that myself. Meeting old primary schoolmates, at least one person did not remember my existence at all. He kept on saying he could not remember, much as the others were trying to jog his memory.

But alas...

Anne, the wife of my business partner Peter, simply had this to say to her husband when he was in the same predicament as this writer. "You just don't care, do you?" she said, "that's the reason why you can't remember their names or faces!"

She is definitely right. I am guilty as charged!

There is no two way about it. How else would you describe a teacher who had been teaching all her life (say for 35 years) but could remember everything we did 20-30 years ago? She would have crossed path with thousands and thousands of students, many of us non-descript, and yet she can tell me better about thing that happened during all those years.

Well, I guess she is a teacher through and through, and like Anne says, she cares.


This song is in some sense related to the above topic. In fact, I stole the title from the lyric of this classic from Hot Chocolate. I love it when he sings "You don't remember me, do you?"

It was a painful moment for him.Here is part of the lyric.

Walking down the streets again,
The star of my love story
And my heart began to beat so fast,
So clear was my memory
I heard my voice cry out her name
As she looked, and looked away
I felt so hurt, I felt so small,
It was all that I could say

You don't remember me, do you?
You don't remember me, do you?

You don't remember me, do you?
You don't remember me, do you?

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