Search Engine


Thursday, January 21, 2010

In memoriam: Haji Harun Rejab

Everyone, I am very sure, who studied in Sekolah Menengah Sultan Badlishah (SMSB) after 1984 knows this name. A name that was synonymous with the school from 1984 until 1993.

Yes, I am sure that all students and teachers know Haji Harun bin Haji Rejab. He was a strict disciplinarian with a penchant for results. He was bold. He was, in my eyes, a legend.

When I entered the school in 1987, Cikgu Harun, as we would call him, was already serving as the Principal of the school. I remember very clearly to this day how everyone would go quiet as a mouse when he walked pass our classes. He did not carry a cane. But his mere sight was enough to make everyone shiver (initially with fear, but when we left school, we knew it was actually respect).

Loathed him, or loved him, Cikgu Harun turned SMSB into the school that is respected in all sense of the word. It was him who made us realise our true potentials. It was him who motivated us to strive for the best and achieve excellence.

In academics, beginning from 1987, the school maintained a 100% Grade 1 record for the Sijil Rendah Pelajaran (SRP) national examination. The record was maintained until the abolishment of SRP. In the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) and Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) national examinations, it was during his reign as Principal that the school experienced a quantum leap with the number of first graders in SPM and those who did well in STPM increased tremendously.

In sports, the school did very well in athletics and hockey. I remember during my schooling days that a number of the school's athletes went on to represent the district and state in various events.

In co-curriculum, we did very well in debating competitions. Between 1989 and 1991, in an English debating competition for the northern region held in Sungai Petani, SMSB came up as champion three years in a row with each year coming home with the best debater title. Interestingly, after coming up champs for three years running, the school never got invited to the debating competition again! In many other competitions, SMSB would be crowned as champions as well. And the list of successes would go on and on.

Cikgu Harun began to notice me, I believe, in 1989 when I was in Form Three. I remember vividly a couple of months before SRP, he called me up to his office. I was, of course, a nervous wreck because I had never been called to the Principal's office. It turned out he wanted to motivate me. But of course, his way of motivating people was, to say the least, very unconventional. There were no compliments. Although it has been nearly 21 years, I can still remember his words very clearly even until today:
"Cikgu tak mahu tengok Shaikh di sekolah ini lagi tahun depan."
Rough translation: "Shaikh, I don't want to see you in this school next year."
Weird way of motivating people to do well, but that was vintage Cikgu Harun at work. I got the message loud and clear. Essentially he made me promise that I would do well in SRP, and apply to a boarding school for my SPM level. I delivered on the first promise that is to do well in SRP. In fact, I was one of three students who scored 8A1 in that particular year. But I did not however keep the second promise. Instead of going to a boarding school, I remained in SMSB. I still remember how the Senior Assistant, Puan Siti Faridah, kept hounding me again and again, pleading with me to take the application form so that I will apply to a boarding school. I never did take the form. And I remained in SMSB for another two years.

Cikgu Harun never did say anything about it. On the one hand, I think he was disappointed that I stayed. On the other hand, I could sense that he was relieved in a way. The majority of the top scorers of SRP had left SMSB when we got into Form Four.

I was never really active in sports or extra-curricular activities, and I knew that Cikgu Harun was aware of this. I was perhaps one who would fall under the "nerd" category. I got word that in 1990, Cikgu Harun instructed my English teacher to ensure that I would take up debating. Truth be told, I hated talking in public. Debating was never in my list of "to do" things.

Somehow, after being told that it was Cikgu Harun's "instructions", with a heavy heart I agreed to be part of the debating team that represented the school for the Palani Cup in Sungai Petani. We were going in as defending champions. I remember clearly how we practiced almost every afternoon after school. And when the competition began, it was an experience that I would cherish for the rest of my life. We went on to defend the title, and I walked away with the best debater title. It was perhaps one of the sweetest memories of my life, and that achievement got the school talking for quite a while. In retrospect, while I may not be an orator, this particular exposure was perhaps the turning point in my life when I gained the confidence to speak in public. And for this, I have Cikgu Harun to thank.

The year 1991 went by pretty fast. We sat for the SPM examination. And as fate has dictated, I got an offer to further my studies in the UK before the SPM result came out. I went to see Cikgu Harun a day after I got the offer. He congratulated me and wished me luck. And again, rather unconventionally said (with a tinge of irony in his words):
"Shaikh keluar juga Badlishah!"
Rough translation: "Finally, you are leaving the school!"
I saw him again just before I flew to the UK in January of 1992. And years later after his retirement, I would drop by to see him on occasions just to see how he was doing. In 2000, he came to my wedding. And to me, to have my former Principal attending one of the most important events of my life was indeed a great honour.

I have heard in the past year or so that he had not been well. And when I received the news of his passing this morning over Facebook, I was saddened. I am sure many of my friends who had the great benefit of being in SMSB during the era of Cikgu Harun Rejab would understand very well my sentiment.

I am sure that each and everyone of us left the school feeling proud of being a part of the school. It was there that we developed our true potentials, and Cikgu Harun was our chief guiding light. His methods may be unconventional, but they yielded the necessary results. It was Cikgu Harun who dared us to dream the impossible, striving for the best and come out as champions.

If only he knew how most of us today are now all over the world - the USA, the UK, Australia, Singapore, the Middle East and of course Malaysia - working as professionals in various fields.

For all that you have done for the school, and more so for each and everyone of us, we thank you, sir.

Your passing is indeed a great loss. May Allah SWT reward you with al-Jannah for your deeds. We shall indeed miss you greatly.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hot air

I got this from an e-mail I received from Encik Ibrahim Apandi Tuan Yaacob, my former student advisor from my UK days. I have come across this story many years before, and I thought that since I got this for a second time, I would share it with everyone.

A woman in a hot air balloon realized she was lost. She reduced altitude and spotted a man below. She descended a bit more and shouted, Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago but I don't know where I am."
The man below replied, "You're in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You're between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and between 59 and 60 degrees west longitude."
"You must be an engineer," said the balloonist.
"I am", replied the man. "How did you know?"

"Well, answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct, but I've no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I'm still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help at all. If anything you've delayed my trip even more."
The man below responded, "You must be in management."
"I am," replied the balloonist, "but how did you know?"
"Well," said the man, "you don't know where you are or where you're going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise which you've no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problems."

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Some interesting observations

I intended to put this down in writing shortly after coming back from the UK, but was not able to do so until today. It is interesting to note some things when I was there, and here are some of these observations that I find fascinating:
  1. Unlike Malaysia when certain people argue that the disease should be called Influenza A(H1N1), Britain simply calls it "swine flu". No one seems to be sensitive to the term used. Just check the NHS website.
  2. Speaking of the NHS, just before I flew home, there was a news report that states the NHS could be crippled by alcoholism. A BBC report stated, "With a quarter of England's population consuming hazardous amounts, alcohol addiction already costs the NHS more than £2.7 billion a year".
  3. Richard Branson seems to be everywhere these days. From music to racing, and from airlines to trains (Virgin trains anyone?). Check out Virgin's website.
  4. My friends who studied in Glasgow would be particularly interested in this one. The popular KRK wholesalers is still there, and doing fine.
  5. Despite reports saying that Proton sales are up in the UK, I did not see a single Proton car while in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow. But you can easily find Malaysian brands on supermarket shelves.
There you go. Five things I find interesting from my trip to the UK.

Saturday, January 02, 2010


It is time now for me to return home to Malaysia. The visit to the UK was made special with the short visit to Glasgow and Edinburgh. Glasgow in particular has a special place in my heart. I hope to revisit this city again soon.

Somehow the song "Caledonia" (which is the old name for Scotland) seems apt at this juncture. Have a read at a part of the chorus from the song, and have a listen.

So let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia you're calling me
And now I'm going home
And if I should become a stranger
You know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia's been everything I've ever had

I hope to arrive in Malaysia, refreshed and motivated, insya-Allah.

Random UK thoughts

I honestly feel that this visit to the UK (my first real visit since 1996) is a memorable one.

Perhaps the highlight of the trip is the nostalgic return to Glasgow. Aside from being able to revisit my place of study, I was also able to meet up with the Cunninghams who were very close to the Malaysian students back in the first half of the 1990s. Visiting the Cunninghams has allowed us to rekindle the good old times and also to catch up on each other. The Cunninghams were like family to the Malaysian students in particular those who were at Langside College.

I had a chance to revisit Edinburgh. When I was there, the city was preparing for Hogmanay (the new year's eve celebration). There were a lot of tourists coming up to Edinburgh despite the freezing cold weather in Scotland. I was told that Edinburgh is the place to be for Hogmanay. The city is as beautiful as I have remembered it. The picturesque view of the Edinburgh Castle, I believe, is something that all visitors will appreciate.

I was also able to meet up with a number of friends while in London. Ahmad Hakimi and Dr Hazlita are close friends from our student days in Glasgow. Both of them are now in London, and it was a pleasure to have been able to meet up with them at their home. 'Aisyah Ali was a part-timer at Yayasan Ilmuwan, and is now studying in London. Shamsul Anuar was a dear old friend whom I have not seen in ages. Being able to meet up with old friends whom you have not seen in a while is certainly something to look forward to.

Back in my student days, I did not really come down to London as often as one would imagine. The simple reason to this was that I simply did not like the city which I felt was crowded. Well, it is still crowded. But I think I have learnt to adjust to this city. Interestingly, there is not one single day when you walk down the streets of London that you would not come across a Malaysian. From CEOs of GLCs to actors to businessmen, all of them are here. There are times I feel like I was walking along the streets in Kuala Lumpur. The only difference is that it is much much colder here in London. But come to think of it, you would not find any CEO of a GLC to be walking down Jalan Sultan Ismail going into a fast food shop, would you? (I saw a well-known CEO walking along Edgware Road going into a kebab shop for lunch with his family).

There are many Malaysian restaurants in London. I went to a few, but I must recommend a newly-opened eatery situated at Craven Road near Paddington Station. The place was opened 5 months ago, and is called "Tukdin". Of all the Malaysian restaurants that I have gone to, Tukdin is perhaps the best in terms of food. Even the teh tarik here is tasty and classy. Tukdin is known for its nasi lemak, sate goreng and pisang goreng aiskrim. So, if you are down in London, have a stop at Tukdin. It is worth it.

Nine days in the UK. It has been nostalgic. It has been a trip down memory lane. But at the end of the day, truth be told, there is no place like home.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Different, but familiar

When I arrived at Glasgow Central Station on the 27th of December, I noticed an air of familiarity to it. Nothing much has changed. Well, in general the station still looks very much just as I remember it. The notice board is of course different. But everything else was very familiar, right down to the clock in the station.My accommodation in Glasgow was at Buchanan Street which is just a short walk away from Glasgow Central Station.

As I walked along Renfield Street, then onto Gordon Street, before turning into Buchanan Street, my eyes were actually peeled on the streets' surroundings. The buildings' look the same, but there are a lot of new shops now. Most glaringly, I noticed a few Starbucks outlets along the way.

As noted by my former Mathematics lecturer, Mrs Margaret Cunningham, the Starbucks outlets actually provided an option for people wanting to meet up with friends. In the past, people would go to local pubs or bars, but now people can opt for cafes like Starbucks.

While there have been changes, Glasgow still feels the same after 13 years.

[Pictures courtesy of Szakif Ramli].

Snow white

As far as I can remember, throughout my student days in Glasgow, it did not snow in December. Yes, there was snow but not in December. There was ice in December, perhaps even some sleet. Hailstones were more likely to come down in December. But I say it again, it did not snow in December. I remembered snow came down in February and March. Even then, the snow that came down did not last for long. Snow wasn't thick and it didn't stick.

A week before I arrived in the UK, I have been following the weather of the country. There has been a rather unusual weather pattern. The temperature has been coming down to levels that was somehow unexpected by meteorologists. And snow came down very heavily a few days before Christmas.

No snow came down on Christmas day when I arrived in London. When I travelled up north on the 27th, you could actually see snow on the ground. It is even more apparent as you go further north of Lancaster into Oxenholme and the Lake District. By the time you get to the Scottish border just after Carlisle, everything is literally snow white, from the hills to the grounds, as well as rooftops, and even cars were not spared from being covered in snow.

It was a beautiful sight to behold. Frankly, what I saw was nothing like the snow that I experienced in the first half decade of the 1990s. The snow still persisted on the day I travelled back south to London.

What a sight it was. Masya-Allah!

[Pictures courtesy of Szakif Ramli who accompanied me in this UK trip].