Monday, May 14, 2007

On The Grind

No. 1 remarked how fast time flies, that it has been already 5 months since he started work and that he felt it somehow passes faster than when he was in university. Just couldn’t agree more with him. Counting my fingers and toes and more, wuahhh…. I have been on the grind for close to 3 decades already!

My first job after leaving school was at one of the electronic factories in the Free Trade Zone in Penang. I had applied for an office position but those factories hardly hire out; for clerical and admin support, they would normally offer to their production floor staff first. So, I went through that way too. I went in as a Quality Control staff earning a daily wage of RM5.30 per day and worked on 2-weekly 3 rotating shifts, 6 days a week. The ‘graveyard’ shift from 11.00pm to 7.00am paid an extra of RM1.50 per night. On that measly rate of pay, I could still save RM50 per month. I was at this job for a short 3 months before I was offered a regular hour office position and I if I remember well, my pay then was RM300 per month. I stayed for 3 years.

Then I decided to uproot and went over to East Malaysia. I resigned from my first job and it was the first time I was leaving the comforts of my own home for a totally unfamiliar environment. The first time I was taking a flight and all alone and I remembered I almost succumbed to cold feet at the Bayan Lepas airport on that fateful morning and now, in retrospect, am I glad that my head ruled. It was one of the best times of my working life….a time I recall with much fondness…….

I had joined a small company selling heavy-vehicle spare parts which offered double my last salary, with lodging and meals fully taken care of too. It was a typical 'china-apek' outfit and my boss had his 2 brothers and their 70-year old father as well as 2 other young male shop assistants-cum-delivery boys to help run the business. I was the only female employed to help maintain the books for my ‘chinaman’ boss who had little formal education and could only write and sign his name. The first time I met my boss, I kinda felt intimidated. He looked like a big time 'taikor'. With a thick gold doggie-chain round his neck, two diamond and jade rings on his fingers, a diamond-studded solid gold Rolex on his wrist, gold fountain pen in his shirt pocket and flicking his gold Dupont lighter every few minutes…errm..this is one man you wouldn’t want to mess with.

From a big Finance Department in an American high-tech facility to a cramped and tiny office in a small shophouse; from a vibrant Penang to a sleepy hollow of a cowboy town; from Penang where our singsong Hokkien is predominant to a community where Hakka , Mandarin, Kadazan-Dusun and the localized Malay dialect rules; from Penang, a food haven to a place where even the belacan looks and smells different. I have never felt that lost before and the worse is when the weekends came around, when for the first couple of months, I would find myself close to tears. From Penang where I had spent my weekends at the movies or at the nightspots; to a dusty little 2-street town where the only cinema was a stuffy, close to broken-down wooden shack with bugs-infested seats where it was the norm to bring in a small jar of Tiger Balm to soothe itching bums and oh ya, a pair of Wellingtons would come in handy too, during a downpour halfway through a movie. And how I missed wearing my nice office clothes and 3-inch heels and open-toed slippers. After a few times accidentally tearing my dresses and kicking my toes against big pieces of vehicle spare parts stacked on the floor in the cramped shop, I had to contend with wearing jeans/pants with T-shirts and sneakers. Practicality ruled.

I learned to communicate in the local lingo. I teased my tastebuds to accept the local cooking and occupied my weekend mornings putting wok to fire in attempts to satiate my nyonya cravings. After one nasty episode of sore bums from bug-bites, I got a few friends to share the cost of rental of Betamax video tapes @RM5 per piece, and how we spend night after night watching Hong Kong movies such as ‘Man In The Net’ and ‘Shanghai Bund’. And of course, games of luck and chance were never short of players….games aplenty from the old deck of cards; to mahjong; to impromptu bets on a box of matchsticks; to a crudely drawn chart of ‘fish, flower, prawn and king-crab and a spin of a die with corresponding pictures….yes, it’s a game the locals called ‘belangkas’. And there were the occasional weekend illegal cock fights normally held at the fringes of the jungle and once a while there would be raids by the police and then you would find a motley crowd of suspects together with noisy crowing cockerels spilling out from the tiny compound of the local Balai Polis.
Once, I followed a few friends to watch a cock-fight and half-way through one of the most interesting matches, someone naughty played a prank and shouted, “Polissss!....Polisss…..” sending all and sundry scampering like frightened squirrels.

I settled in soon enough and slowly but surely, I began to feel comfortable and safe in this small town where practically everybody knows everybody. Twenty-five years ago, when the banks in West Malaysia had cashiers sitting behind counters with high clear plastic dividers, the only bank in this tiny interior town was already practicing the open concept. There were no robberies, no snatch thefts, no burglaries and I used to carry bundles of my office’s daily takings to the bank; no problems at all. It’s not uncommon to see others carry bundles of cash carelessly wrapped in old newspapers and plonked it at the cashiers…nobody batted an eyelid. Never seen anyone using a credit card there. And when the towkays decide on a game of cards, it was either cash or cheques and I have helped my boss cash in as well as pay out some not so small amounts too. And of course, when cash is low, land titles and vehicle registration cards would be readily accepted too.

After 2 years, home beckoned – I flew back and landed in KL. Not a very good time, because the country was in the throes of the economic recession. I managed to get a job and as the recession worsened, I had to settle for a pay cut…small, but nonetheless painful. Seven years and two changes of employers later, I quit my job to become a full-time mother. It was bad decision because I could not cope. I missed working outside but I did not miss my office-bound job. I then dived straight in to a totally different line…something that I have zilch experience in - marketing and sales and I have since stayed for more than 15 years. To say that it was smooth-sailing, I’d be lying. It was, and still is tough but then who ever said that anything worthwhile doing is going to be easy? I am blessed and it’s not too bad a grind actually.
posted by nyonyapenang at 5:22 PM, |


  At 8:38 PM Blogger Will said:
haha... talk about work life... 7 years have gone unnoticed for me... 7 year's itch (to change job in this case)? no thanks... just passed my probationary period for this new job :P
  At 10:15 PM Blogger U.Lee said:
Hi Nyonya, sure have gone thru the mill, huh! Hey! You in East Malaysia...funny we never crossed paths, huh?
Ooops, I forgot, you so much younger then...
No leech bites?
Re those small town cinemas and bug bites, ha ha, you can say that again!
Saw one in Grik and Holy Smoke! Did my body itch for days! Worst than leech bites!
I must say you were adventurous then, moving to East Malaysia.
But the experiences are worth something in your later life...
You have a great day, Nyonya. UL.
  At 10:16 PM Blogger U.Lee said:
This comment has been removed by the author.
  At 11:34 PM Blogger Will said:
ya i agree with Uncle Lee... you're quite adventurous to have ventured on your own to a totally different environment... don't know if i'd be able to do the same (probably but must make sure the pay is worth it) :P

That was an amazing story. Thanks for sharing...I was actually imagining the sore-butts and the smell of tiger balm, and you tearing your skirt in the office...And the cocks fighting! Cool! My dad used to tell me of spiders fighting...

I've been to East Msia a couple of times, and it's beautiful...I guess it was even better back there...

Oh, and a belated Happy Mother's Day to you...

Take care, and I'm popping back here again if you write like this!

  At 1:41 AM Blogger J.T. said:
When I moved away from Malaysia, people said I was brave to do that... but I went to start a new life with my husband. I take my hat off to you (and all those students and workers) who take that big step to move out alone.
Nevertheless, with or without a partner/family, the loneliness will set in. That takes time to get used to. You will never get over missing home. You will just get used to not being there.
I can just imagine the smell of Tiger Balm in a bug infested cinema. That was so adventurous of you. No fun at that time but worth cherishing for the future. You've been there, you've done that. :)
I enjoyed reading your life experiences, thanks for sharing! It must be very "tasty" to recall those moments, eh? :)
  At 3:29 AM Blogger angel said:
U very keng lor... pssstt! Got no naughty stories to share when you were in East Msia? Neh... like the ones UL had wan arr... dun hv meh??? Heh heh...
  At 5:46 AM Blogger Winn said:
lol@ angel.....ahhahaa

np u r one tough gal and easily pg to east coast to kl all alone...

last time got no handphone summore.
  At 9:23 AM Blogger William said:
I'm impressed le... reminds me that I have such a long way to go...
Talk about life, can not run away from talking about money..

new concept in town. get cash while you drive. check out! they are giving a brand new video iPod.
  At 9:59 AM Anonymous mott said:
you r one gutsy woman..travelling all the way to E.Msia to work!

Fuiyoh. Nyonya. You are a brave girl then.
I wonder how many kids now have that kind of resilience to took a job like that
ya, with just a blink of the eye. :)

adventurous?hmmm... i guess when you're young, you tend to be 'braver' and don't lose sleep about many things.
Uncle Lee,
At that time, I never saw it as anything else....just felt that sitting behind a desk in Penang was not taking me anywhere and I wanted to go somewhere. And that 'somewhere' happened to be a small kampung in the interiors of Sabah.

Oh yes, the short time I spent there, I learned many useful lessons which stood me in good stead.

Leeches...heard and knew what damage they can cause to fair skins. :P My boss invited me many times to follow him & his friends to go jalan-jalan in the jungle because they wanted to check out the timber/kayu balak concessions. But I am no Jungle Jane and scared stiff of creepy crawlies so, I gave it a pass.

ahhh...if the moon and stars were aligned then and if our paths had crossed...... :P

You have a great day too, Uncle Lee.
hi daphne,
At that time, I heard so much about those clandestine cock-fights and I was sooo curious and I wanted to see it for myself. I tell ya, it's actually quite gruesome seeing the cockerels with sharpened spears tied to their legs and they hopping, jumping and attacking/spearing the opponent sampai mati...blood oozing out and splattered everywhere. kesian lar.

Ahhh...your dad told you about spider fights? Those small green and shiny spiders....I had some prized spiders too. :D

Thanks for you kind wishes and please kirim salam to your momma too.

You're welcome to drop by anytime. The pleasure is mine. Have a great week ahead.
Brave wor, to travel all alone to East Malaysia. I guess you can say "Been there, done that" and they are all good experiences.
Each and everyone of us is brave in our own ways. To uproot is never easy and I am sure much careful thought and consideration must have gone into it every step of the way.
Come to think about it, when I decided to hop over, I didn't think too much then. It was more like, "oh, what the heck....stop thinking and start acting." Kinda reckless, huh?

Loneliness? Well, we can still feel loneliness even if we are not alone. We chose to see if the glass is half-full or half-empty. :)

And now, whenever I smell Tiger Balm, it will bring me back to the time at that cinema.

Thanks for your kind comments.
You have a nice day too.
  At 9:01 PM Anonymous Angeleyes said:
haahhaha same here! I was trained as a designer but ended up doing sales and mktg too!
  At 9:23 PM Blogger _butt said:
wow.. what an adventure! especially the illegal cock fights ;)

looks like it's gona be a long journey for me..

would love to hear more from you. I really enjoyed reading it.

when running out of topic to blog liao, i gotta go clear the cobwebs a bit. i am glad you enjoyed my cerita. hahhaa...
hi.....**hugssss * sayangzzzz** welcome back!
Ooiik....o_O ..gua mia cerita semua rating 'U' lar. hahhaha....
sometimes it's like this....make the bed liao must sleep on it lor.
already 2 kaki into the water, might as well pedal hard. :)

a long way to go = more opportunities to explore and develop. :)

young and with a simple mind...didn't fikir banyak-banyak...just pack the bag and go. teruk jugak ya? LOL

it's kinda like 'never seen the devil so dunno what fear is.'
it was like, "OK, say a prayer and move, girl."

king's wife,
same-same lor...for those who pack up and go overseas to study when they are just in their teens.
i got friends who have daughters somewhere in Russia or Czech Republic. Teruk wor, this one.

i am glad i took that step. :)
ya...the cock-fight that i went to see...i remember it until today also.

a long journey may bring big rewards too. start with a skip and a hop. :)

am glad you like my cerita. will try to clear the cobwebs to see if there are anymore interesting ones to tell. :)
you are a very versatile lady. :)
Aisay....didn't let any timber tycoon 'khau' you meh that time? What a waste. LOL

Then what happened? what happened? Can't wait for part 2.
Waaah! Ini panjang sekali!

You are one adventurous nyonya during that time!

Now can shake legs liao lor! Eldest boy already started working. hehe....
  At 2:07 AM Blogger zewt said:
reading this makes me feel... not so old :P.... cant blame me la... my last few entries made me feel old... reading this certainly helped...
  At 9:25 AM Blogger ah nel said:
i went once to see cock fight n it need travel into deep jungle n my fren got cheated some cash he bet... ;)
Work's an adventure, isn't it? Just in the blink of an eye, I've been at it for nearly 10 years. Quite a grind, but hugely rewarding too.

Still keep in touch with your East Malaysian friends ?
  At 5:44 PM Blogger eve said:
For me..not much to tell..10 yrs of working nia...all the time in the same line..sigh..
cocka doodle,
timber tycoon ar? didn't come across ngam specs one lor. hahahha...

part 2?...errrmmm...what to write ar?
you got anything to share here?
too panjang ar...sampai you nearly fell asleep? hahahaha...too cheog hei ledi hor?
young that time, can be rash and impulsive and given half a chance, would jump at the opportunity.

shake legs? mmmmm...legs do feel kinda itchy now...maybe dancing would be a good start.

You have a nice day. :)
zewt, drop by here once a while for a booster. :D

ah nel,
gambling hor...i think it's like this...either you cheat them or they cheat you. :D

moz monster,
a good grind produces smooth marble.

ya, a few of my frens from east malaysia are incidentally settled down in KL.
Wait...You mean, if the cocks lose, they die? Oh My God! That is soooo cruel and soooo sad...How can their owners allow that? How can they see their beloved pets die all because of a fight? Terrible lar...All this while I thought just you know, lawan until one tires out or gives up or something...

Yes, my dad once took me to a kampung and hunted the spiders down to show me...They're really beautiful aren't they? All shiny and blueish/greenish...Like some precious stone...=)
  At 12:21 AM Blogger doc said:
nothing venture, nothing gained!

you did well, nyonya!
  At 1:14 AM Blogger FireHorse said:
At least you get to grind lah, I can oni dream of getting back grinding one fine day before I am too old to grind :o)
You've been tagged!
Read my latest post for details.
ya lar, the tiny spears are very, very sharp punya...just a small curved dagger tied to the legs. as the chicken jump and kick, they will stab the opponent. it's fight till death and then probably ended up in the curry pot. kesian lar...

hi doc,
thank you.
just have to make the most out of it.
have a nice day, doc.

i'd like to think that a full-time and devoted mother like you are on the grind too. my hat off to you!

consider it done, pulezzzzz?