Today I celebrated my 20 years with UiTM…without candles or cake; just me with my thoughts. It does not matter really, what is there to celebrate anyway just 20 years of your life. I am sure none of my colleague is aware that I have been there for such a long time. But for me it is a big deal. I am proud of myself for being here and make myself useful. I have done something for other people, teaching and stuff. I feel good at that for myself.
Looking back when I was fooling around in KL finding teaching jobs here and there, I remember filling up the application form for a teaching position at UiTM(formerly known as ITM). Back then teaching in ITM was not highly sought after. The pay was so ridiculously low and you would risk yourself being sent away to the place where civilization was unheard of. Like Dungun, in Terengganu. Are you ready to go to Dungun? they asked me, we have one opening there in computer science. I said, why not?! So naïve despite the fact that I have no idea where in the world is Dungun. So I rented a taxi to go there with all of my stuff. It cost me rm250 to reach there. With the endless stories from the taxi driver, the ride was not as boring as I expected. I could not remember how I put up for that first night in Dungun but ended up sharing a rented house with a gay man. I mean this guy was really gay; later I found out he has a boyfriend and went off to see him every so often. He never came on me; thank god for that, maybe I was not his type. But life in Dungun back then was very simple and quiet ( another way of saying that it’s damn boring and out of reach from civilization) but I don’t have a heart to say that because deep down inside I liked it there. Maybe I’m a boring person, I got that from some people. But for me the place was easy to connect with because when things got so bad on you , just head to the beach, sit down and let the wind blow your problems away.
UiTM Dungun was also as primitive as the town itself. I mean a remote cawangan of a big institution should not be left out like that; but sadly that was the case. We had to lined up at 8 in the morning to print a quiz or handout for the day’s class. Can you imagine only one printer for the staff to use? Well that was 20 years ago, yep you right must put yourself in the right time frame. Now we have a printer for every lecturer—a laser printer that is. But somehow I managed. At one point in a computing class, I brought a bunch of computer games floppy disks and made the class free so everyone can grab a game and has a feel of utilizing computer. No one interested and left me standing alone in that lab, shocked. I mean I would do anything to blast an enemy in that shooting arcade but no one here really cared, so unbelievable.
In another class, a programming subject, I expected a work done before hand. A simple programming assignment that you have to do before coming to the class, and no one had put an effort to do it. I was so furious. “Get OUT”, I yelled at the top of my voice, sending everyone home. I had never done that before but that day I was holding my last straw. I just could not tolerate such irresponsible behavior. Soon after I received a show cause letter to explain the incident. The students claimed I used a foul language in the class. They heard me saying “Get the Fuck OUT”. So I replied the letter and explained to the boss what had happened. I learnt the lesson not to be “over”- enthusiastic in teaching. You do whatever you are asked to do, within the time given, according to the syllabus and that’s it. Just leave the “ mendidik anak bangsa” crap at the motivation camp that you attended every now and then. Looking at those times, teaching for me is not for the students or other people, it is mainly for myself. I teach others so I can learn more and understand better.
One day I scrambled for a ride home to Pasir Mas. Since I hadn’t had my own wheels, I had to compete with students for the bus, and not many buses are coming through Dungun during those days. Students were going home for the Deepavali break but I was going home to get married. I made a quick stop at the ATM machine and withdrawn my gaji which will be the mas kahwin. My family was stunned, “mu nak nikoh guano gak kito mano ada pitih?” (how are you gonna get married? We don’t have the money…” my mum said. I gave them 200 ringgit. And truly enough that was the money spent for my wedding plus that some gaji for the mas kahwin. Borrowed a baju Melayu and songkok from my brother, put on my sneakers and off I went to the ceremony. It was at night so no one should notice anything. My brother bought some kueh with that 200 ringgit and served the rombongan that came over that night. I wanted it to be simple and it did not intimidate my joy and pride for being a married man at all. But the rombongan was not happy as expected. I am okay with that. People talked and said nasty things but it did not bother me at all because I was the one getting married and that’s all I could afford. So my married life began. The bitter sweet memories for the last 20 over years with my own family have also helped me to remain in UiTM and to wade through the challenges.
One thing about my colleague in Dungun was that they gave you space for you to draw your own path and destiny. I learnt a lot from them about all the nuts and bolts in this line of work. How to build your life along the career line so you can enjoy both of them effortlessly. I held many posts there but never complained of anything; I guess as a young man any shortcoming is seen as a challenge to face—so shut up and face like a man. I also am trying to remember if I made any enemy for all the years I was there; just could not figure out if any at all. Amazing isn’t it. But that was the life we had in Dungun. So pure, so human. The kampong folks around Dungun also lived a simple life. We could see people sitting together under the shade in between the coconut trees to escape the afternoon sun; as if waiting for something. Maybe nothing. In late afternoon we would not miss going to the beach and bought some fish from the sampan. They sold by the scoop; 1-2 ringgit per scoop( a five-liter cooking oil bottle). Not a particular type of fish but mixed/unsorted lot. And actually that was what they eat at the dinner table—the fish fresh from the ocean; can you get more original than that? I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to live as such. But now we could no longer see such sampan coming offshore with boatful of fish. They have stalls now along the beach selling the fish and all sort of seafood…with a much higher price. I will stop by every now and then on my way back to Shah Alam for that fresh fish, crabs and big squids whenever they are in season.
The first five years was the time I started to build my family as well as my career. It was not easy but you learnt the lesson along the way. My first car was a Nissan Sunny. I paid an insurance with it that was never there—the policy had never arrived. So I drove that car back and forth for a year with no cover whatsoever. I did not realize it until one day I hit a bunch of buffaloes. The car was a wreck and I tried to make a claim. How could people cheat like that? Unfortunately the broker was my own colleague. So sad come to think of it. In UiTM, I was doing the regular stuff during that time—teaching and a lot of training beside some occasional admin duties. I started one big research back then about SME in Terengganu. This research had set me apart and given me a chance to win a scholarship to the UK.