Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What did Bukit Pasoh, Tanjong Pagar dan Tanjung Katong have in common?


In 1971, when I was in Std 2, Di Tanjung Katong was a favourite and compulsory song for us (the other song Trek Tek Tek) in Cikgu Lily's class (pronounced Laili) at SRJK(I) Lenggong.

Back then I guess it never crossed my mind, that Tanjung Katong is actually in a foreign country. That song is part of our culture then and I guess it will remain that way for a long long time. Especially with the continued showing of PRamlee's movies, it will always be seen in that context.

When I got an offer to work at a Canadian software company with an office in Singapore, I was both ecstatic and apprehensive. While there are many Malaysians working in Singapore, there weren't that many Malay professionals working there. After working for 10 years with a local oil company, would I fit in into a multinational corporation - in a foreign country of all places, away from my comfort zone?

There would be no buddies to gossip with, and no friends to have lunch with - at least not from the previous 10 years. I would have to start all over again in a foreign country, where I would have no special privilege.

My boss would be an American Chinese, Wemin Chen; my colleague a stateless person, Rebecca Chin - she's a Chinese born in Brunei but not recognized as a citizen; and the administrator a Singaporean Chinese, Maureen Song. And here I was, a Malaysian Malay, if I may categorize myself as that. The office in Bukit Pasoh was a small office - as there were only the four of us; most of the time there would be only three. The boss would be coming from LA every other month.

With no bumi status for me in Singapore, I would have to compete with all and sundry - it will only be based on competency, skill, knowledge and hardwork. I cannot invoke any privilege whatsoever.

In fact the pressure was on, ironically from my own community. A friend, the late Hamdi - he was the other engineer at the oil company heavily involved in this niche area, called me when he found out that I was working with the favourite software company of ours, "Rahman, work hard, and jangan bagi malu kaum!" (please don't embarrassed your own race!)

That was his exact words. He did not mince them. I was stunned by his choice of words, but I knew he meant well, so I took it in stride and as a challenge and reminder. May Allah bless his soul.

My sis asked me about the pressure of working in Singapore after 3 months.

Working life in Singapore in the beginning was tough. By then I had decided that I was not going to live in Singapore and would commute from Johor Bahru daily instead, as I did not wish to lose my four-wheel privilege. No Malaysian worthy of their citizenship would anyway. I chose an apartment near enough the JB bus station (before it was moved to Larkin), so that I could easily do my commute daily.

Immediately after dawn prayer everyday, I would wait for the bus at the back of Sultanah Aminah hospital and then at the bus station would queue for the JB-Singapore Express bus that would take me to Bugis Station terminal. You would have to queue at both end, but it was all civilised and proper.

The tougher part would be at the immigration. I would have to bring my limited border passport everyday and both sides - Malaysia and Singapore - would have to stamp on it. The queue can be long and normally I would miss the bus that I have taken as it would not wait for you and would have to queue for the next bus.

This went on daily for a nearly month. I would leave home before 6 am and would reach the office by 7.30 am; the reverse travel would take me about the same time as I have the privilege to leave before the rush hour.

Caption: This is Bukit Pasoh Road in Singapore. I walk down this road daily in the mid-90s.

But the queue at the immigration was a tad too long for my liking and in order to cut the queue, and hence time, I need to be able to go to the permanent resident line. There was no queue there as those with a Singapore permanent residency would only need to 'wave' the passport to the the Singapore Immigration officer and they would let you through.

The beauty with this was that you would be able to maintain the same bus that you came with earlier and hence you would cut your time by between 15-30 mins.

But to be on that line, one need to be a permanent resident of Singapore. Obviously.

The application for a permanent residency only took 24 hours and much to my surprise, I got my passport back the next day complete with a permanent residency status. And even more Surprising for a Malaysian Malay, no question was asked whatsoever; I took it that, as a professional with certain skills, I am a wanted person in Singapore.

I presented my credentials, and I was given a PR status. Full stop.

Again, I presumed earlier that I would have a hard time getting my residency in Singapore since I am a Malay. But I presumed wrongly. Very wrongly.

Caption: Bukit Pasoh office. This was my office from 1994-1995. It was far cry from Dayabumi, but I love my sojourn in Singapore.There was a traditional Chinese music shop at the ground level, and at times I would be able to enjoy the music from my attic office.

With the newly given status, my commute would become easier. A lot easier.

From Bugis bus terminal (or Jalan Sultan Bus Terminal, I think) I would walk to Bugis station for the MRT to the Tanjong Pagar or Outram Park station, and then walk my way to my Bukit Pasoh Office. The office itself is nothing to shout about. It is at the attic of the 3 storey shophouse. But the walk from Tanjung Pagar Station to Bukit Pasoh was such a pleasant walk. Giant raintrees shaded the walkway and it was cooling. Tanjong Pagar is also the last station for KTMB trains. While the two stations are not the same, but to me Tanjong Pagar would always mean just that - train station for KTM which we as a young family had taken in 1992.

I could have exited at Outram Park which is a shorter walk to my office, but I felt affinity to the Tanjong Pagar station and area. It was my area, and I felt it very Malaysian, albeit a very cleaned one.
I am proud to have worked in Singapore - it was tough, and demanding and I have survived it. Beyond the competitive environment, it took me two busses, an MRT ride and a 20 mins leisure walk daily to my office, compared to say a 30-min car ride before. Who said that the Malays would never leave their comfort zone and compete in the real world? Who said that the Malays would prefer to be in their own country even it it was raining stone? Who said that the Malays would prefer to watch should it be raining gold in Singapore or anywhere else, and not take the opportunity to prosper there?

Mind you this was mid 90s; and at that time there was no Middle East market for our professionals. Vietnam has barely opened her door, and China was not on anybody's lip. No one leaves Malaysia then looking for greener pasture then; definitely not the Malays.

For us, there was no greener pasture. The grass is always greener on our side anyway.

Now of course it is a different stories. The Malays and of course Malaysians are everywhere; in the Middle East, Europe and North America.

The KTM station in Tanjung Pagar is a national treasure for both Malaysia and Singapore. I don't see the need of it to move to Woodland - would there be more contract to be given away to build another non-descript station like Sentral KL? I wonder what goes into the decision to move it. Not many would see Singapore, like I did, since they have never lived and worked in Singapore.

As with everyone else who has worked in Singapore, I have money in the Central Provident Fund of Singapore, so I do have an interest in the wellbeing of Singapore as a country. We compulsorily saved at least 40% of our monthly salary in Singapore, unlike only about 20% here in Malaysia. I would like to have my money back by the time I am 50; that's for sure. They have treated me well too, so I have nothing bad to say about Singapore.

But to me, Tanjong Katong and Tanjong Pagar are as Malaysian as Tanjung Rhu and KL Station and should have never been 'given' away. Tanjong Pagar Station and the KTM land in Singapore should have never been sold for any amount of money. How much money we are going to make and it will not last anyway. It will always go to the government coffer before ending up in some contractors' bank accounts.

Never mind about the water treatment plant. It is not worth as much as the Tanjong Pagar land. Heck, it is only fraction, if not a miniscule amount. Our forefathers were just too stupid to have that one sided water agreement, as always and an agreement is an agreement. There is nothing much we should get all hyped about. It's nothing new anyway - the PLUS agreement is another.

Have we been sold again?

I am seething and I am boiling. And this came on the heels on the Brunei debacle.

Now I am wondering which part of the country is going to be sold next.


On a bad traffic day, the whole length of the causeway would be one long parking lot. It would be much quicker to traverse it by foot, all 3/4 of a mile. That I have done many times. The worst was on one sunny day, I decided to walk to save me hours of traveling by bus. By the time I reached JB, I was all drenched in my own sweat.

As I stood at a mamak news vendor looking at the day's headlines (which I would normally read at the end of the day), he looked at me in amazement, and then looked up the sky and remarked, "Had it rained already? I didn't notice."

Been there and done that.


  1. Can I get your email address, would love to discuss this more. My email address is at my Blog. thanks.[not for posting]

  2. Oops, Pak Idrus, sorry I posted this. I would give automatic approval for someone like you. We'll talkn over in emails then.

  3. What to do, we have bankcrupt 'leader' who lead us all to the last phrase by Idris Jala.