Great friends and wonderful memories

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17th of May 1998, is a date etched in my memory, for life. It happens to be the day I stepped foot in the hallowed grounds of University of Malaya. On that day, I started off on a journey of three years, marking a colourful new chapter in my life. It brought me the qualification that I needed, to secure my first job, upon graduation. More importantly, I was acquainted with interesting and wonderful people, both at the residential college that I stayed at and the faculty that I studied at.

Today’s story is about a motley crew of people that I had the pleasure to study and mature with at the university. They came in all shapes and sizes, some of which has grown with time. This diverse bunch of people that I am proud to call friends, shaped a huge part of my life in those three years. Since that day twenty years ago, they have been an important and cherished presence in my life and that of my wife. Thanks to Whatsapp, it feels as if I “meet” them everyday, just as if we were still bantering at the “foyer” of the faculty, a space that we made “home” during our time there.

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It wasn’t always like this in the beginning. For a start, this diverse group of people hailed from various parts of Malaysia, from the northern town of Kulim to the southern city of Johore Bahru and places in between like Ipoh, Sunway, Klang and Kuala Lumpur. There wasn’t much that all of us had in common, or so we thought. Some of us did have the benefit of knowing each other from back in school but that just meant we stayed together with those that we already knew well enough.

So, in the beginning, it was simply just “Hi”, “Bye” and perhaps nervous smiles among us. It then progressed to, “Can I borrow that?”, “Have you done this?”, “Can you help me with that?” and such. The faculty-wide orientation activities that were ongoing may have played a role towards this progress. Anyway, from there on, it morphed into having tea-breaks and lunch and then on to dinner as well as supper together. With God’s grace, we did not look back since then.

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As engineering students, the numerous assignments and lab reports meant that there was a lot of cooperation among us, ensuring that we completed and submitted them on time. When faced with difficult questions, some would try sourcing for solutions from elsewhere while others worked at solving it. In the end, a few of us would put our heads together and solve the problem based on all the information that we had. We would then ensure that the everyone else were on the same page as us.

There were also the late nights when we bunkered down in someone’s room, printing pages and pages of reports for each other. Then there were the visits to lecturers’ rooms, to slip in under the door, just-completed assignments before the lecturer arrived for the day, therefore submitting assignments on time.

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Back in an era before Uber or Grab, we already had our own fleet of bikers within the group. Between them, we were assured of safe and timely passage to and fro from the faculty or somewhere nearby when needed. There was also that little “Baasha Van” (named after the movie Baasha) which was able to load just about anyone and everyone and the occasional Proton Saga.

We also had the penchant towards eating. Come to think about it, who doesn’t? Anyway, we had our own Food Panda service back then. Someone was usually available to go out and pack meals for the hungry ones. Somewhere along the way we uncovered the affordable yet delicious, slices of marble cake at the nearby 7-Eleven and nasi briyani at a little mamak stall within a Chinese coffee shop.

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We discovered the joys of SMS together. Yes, it was an era, where there was neither Whatsapp nor smart phone. When Digi initially introduced SMS as a free service, it was all the rage as we sent messages back and forth. I still remember one of my friends coming in late one night into my room and sharing with me and my roommate the magic of SMS. Besides SMS, time not spent studying or eating would be spent with “Snake” on someone’s Nokia. More than getting a high score, it was all about breaking the existing record on somebody’s phone.

We also used codes to communicate with each other with the mobile phone, to keep costs at zero. No, we didn’t use Morse code. It was based on missed calls, though I can’t recall if it was the number of rings before the caller hung up or the number of missed calls itself. Suffice to say, there was a code to say, “I am on my way.”, “I am already here.” and much more. There was also the interesting case of 37 or so missed calls, in a futile attempt to wake up someone who was fast asleep.

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Listening to music together while studying was something almost all of us enjoyed. As this was during an era where neither Spotify nor smartphone existed, we achieved it with the Walkman. I do recall that at the very beginning we did listen to music with a radio under a huge tree but that didn’t last long. Anyway, since some of us didn’t own a Walkman, we shared the earpiece or took turns listening to music as we studied. Sometimes though, we didn’t need access to a Walkman, as one or more of the ladies sang out aloud.

Besides that, there was also a lot of treasure hunting. There were the times when we would go high and low around the faculty looking for someone’s misplaced motorcycle keys, only to eventually find it embedded safely within the helmet or the ignition of the motorcycle.

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Then of course, there were the exams. Afterall, that was the reason we went into the university, to graduate with a degree and gain employment succesfully thereafter. That meant exams had to be passed. So study hard we did, during an intense period of just days before the exam. Oh, we planned it quite well alright, from what, where and when we were going to study to when we were going to break for meals or sleep.

These pre-exam study sessions held many fond memories. One that stands out was the  unique way that each of us studied, such as the one who studied while walking around the “foyer” area in an elliptic manner, akin to how planets orbited around the sun. Then there were the numerous times we would all walk single file to the exam halls in the morning after studying through the night, only to repeat the cycle for the next paper, on the next day. There was also the interesting incident, where one opted to go back early in the morning to sleep but ended up coming in late for the exam because her dear roommate unknowingly turned off the alarm.

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Through it all, this disparate group of people shared both happy and sad moments together. There was always someone around to cheer and lift up the spirits of the other. There was always someone around to speak to, about our troubles. There was always someone around to provide sage yet timely advise. We even had someone who could provide us with basic medical advice or helped get us that advice when it was needed.

There was always someone around in the “foyer” to talk to or simply sit down with. There was always a shoulder to cry on. There was always support when one was needed. In short, we helped each other out through the trials and tribulations of not just studying but also through the journey from teenagers to adults. We had our disagreements, arguments and crises but these were eventually navigated gracefully and patiently.

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As we graduated, we agreed to keep in touch and meet up often. We did go on annual holidays together and met up as often as it was possible. However, as work commitment crept in, as some moved away for work, as some married and started their own families, as some went away to live overseas, the frequency of holidays and meet-ups dropped. Yet, through it all, we managed to stay together and be there for each other. Weddings, birthdays, birth of a child and the passing away of loved ones, just to name a few.

The events that brought kept together in those three years, kept us together through time. The shared memories and experiences held us in good stead through the years. With Whatsapp, we have managed to stay in touch more frequently and be together  through the day and even night, regardless of where we were. I am truly blessed and grateful to God, for having set me, down that path on 17th of May 1998, where I met this motley crew of people, who even today are an important part of my life.

Budget and the balance

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In a day or two, the Prime Minister, who is also the Finance Minister of Malaysia, would be presenting the national budget for 2018. Now, I am not qualified in any way as an economist. The closest I came to studying economy in recent times, was back during my days studying at the university. Even then, I think I studied it because it was one of the compulsory subjects that I had to take. So, I may not be qualified in that sense, to say a word or two, about the budget once it is presented.

However, I am pretty sure that I will have a thought or more about the budget, just like my fellow Malaysians, once the budget is presented. It would be hard not to do so, when the budget would impact us in one way or the other, especially financially. The mainstream media and most blogs that focuses on finance or Malaysian current affairs, will provide us with colourful graphics, summaries and simplified explanation of the complex budget. All that is left to be done for us mere mortals, is to pour through all this information to digest what benefits are in store for us and how the budget affects us, if any.

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While thinking about the upcoming national budget, I reflected back on my own attempts to create and then maintain a healthy well-balanced budget. I can assure you, it was no easy feat. It was one that was built on observing how my parents balanced their budget and then making adjustments to the current economic situation and needs. Though I had the benefit of my parents’ experience, balancing my budget was mostly trial and error, with some really hard lessons learned early on, such as accumulating debts is not a good idea, especially unwanted debts.

Of course, coming up with a budget for one person or a family, is simple enough, although it may look daunting and complicated in the beginning. Considering the initial complexity, it made me wonder how much more complex it would be to come up with the budget for an organisation, let alone an entire nation. I then put some thought into what I would do, if I had to come up with the budget for an organisation as the person responsible for its finance. Three simple but interesting things came to my mind immediately, based on my experience in balancing my own budget.

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Firstly, I will only spend on what is needed for the organisation and more importantly, can afford to spend on. I will have to avoid the urge to spend on something that is needed but can be ill afforded at the moment. Better still, I will have to avoid the urge to spend on something that I would like to have but not really need, especially when I can’t afford it. It may be another matter of course, if I had an income the size of infinity but even then, I would have to learn to spend only on what is needed as there may come a day, when the income the size of infinity might shrink to the size of a little pea. In simple terms, this is a case of spending within the limit and prioritising what the money is spent on.

I could further reduce the cost of what I need to purchase by opting for different brands with regards to the item or service that is needed. For instance, when opting for a comfortable car, I may opt for Honda or Volkswagen instead of Rolls Royce or Bentley. Similarly, when opting for ballpoint pens, I may opt for the brands like Stabilo or Faber Castell instead of Parker or Sheaffer. I will definitely not be found buying pens consting in the range of hundereds, each.

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Secondly, I will have to decide where to spend the money at. This sounds simple but can become complicated when matters of the heart or conflict of interests, comes into play. For instance, the decision on where to take folks at the organisation for a nice meal, as a treat for a job well done. If I don’t know of any friends, family members or simply, folks with vested interest, who happen to own a restaurant or chain of restaurants, then the decision on where to go will be quite simple. It would be made based on a place that provides a good meal, the right environment, meets the budget and fits all the other criteria of where to go.

However, if I do know of friends, family members or simply, folks with vested interest, who happen to own a restaurant or chain of restaurants, then the decision on where to go, could become complicated. Instead of deciding based on the agreed criteria of where to go, the decision might end up being made based on the relationship with the owner of the restaurant. Now, this may not be a bad thing, if it happens to fit all the other criteria on where to go, is it not? Then again, the easiest and also the right thing to do, would simply be to stay out of the decision-making process and allow others to make the decision based on the agreed criteria, on this occassion. I can’t have my organisation eating at my best friend’s restaurant every time, if I end up draining the coffers of the organisation to do it. I would most likely run out of money to pay for the next meal.

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Then, while preparing the budget, I would look into areas where I can reduce and if possible, eliminate any wastage and leakage. There are many ways this could happen. For instance, I may literally look into reducing and removing leakages. Getting someone knowledgeable, equipped with the right skill, to look into leaking pipes, taps and faucets would help reduce wastage, both in terms of water and money. There will likely be an initial cost involved, to get the right person to do the job. However, this money would likely be well spent in the long run, since it will reduce and eventually remove leakages altogether.

In terms of wastage, I may look into eliminating the need for printing out physical forms, bills or receipts, if there is no real need to do so. Most often, soft copies of these documents are more than sufficient and serves the purpose that the documents are required for, such as managing claims or submission of requests. Reducing the paper trail not only saves the organisation money but also goes some way to help save the environment.

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So, as much as coming up with a budget may be complex affair, I think balancing the budget could be easier, especially if we put in the effort to pull it off and bear in mind some simple facts or rules. Yes, it takes discipline, loads of it by the way, to maintain a balanced budget but in theory it is possible. Having struggled initially in coming up and then maintaining a balanced budget for my family, I do have a lot of respect and appreciation for the effort and thoughts that would have been put in by those responsible in coming up with the national budget. I am pretty sure, they would have thought about different and cheaper alternatives, made unbiased decisions and looked into reducing or eliminating wastage or leakages, among others, would they not?

People and memories

A few weekends ago, I had the pleasure of meeting up with a bunch of old friends from my days of living at the 8th Residential College (better know as Kolej Kinabalu), during my student days at the University of Malaya. I first met this group, consisting of young energetic boys and charismatic girls during an interesting week in May, almost 19 years ago. This was the Orientation Week in campus where all the first year students got our first taste of life in campus.

It was indeed an interesting mix of people who stepped into campus that week. There were those from the cities and towns all around the country. Then there were those from the outskirts, villages and rural parts of the country. There were those who looked very much their age as a teenager crossing into young adulthood. Then there were those who looked very matured and experienced. There were those who looked confident and sure about where they were and what they were going to do. Then there were those who looked a little concerned about what the next couple of weeks held for them and what they were going to do about it.

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Regardless of those differences, we slowly but surely got together, an odd group of mismatched people. We started off together, as we would be staying at the 8th Residential College, at least for the first year of our life on campus. Staying together, we slowly became each other’s family in abscence, in campus. As the week progressed we begun to be each other’s source of support and that is how it stayed throughout life in campus.

In the first week, we faced a number of questions as we settled into life in campus. There were questions that were considered as  very complex at that time, such as details on getting registered for courses and classes at the various faculties, getting the student matrix cards, obtaining study loans and scholarships, navigating carefully through the myriad of forms and processes, and so much more. Then there were the silliest of questions, such as where and which public phones worked efficiently, how and where to get good food, fastest way to move between different places, which toilets worked well and other silly stuff. The fact was, we were each other’s immediate support group. Someone had information that someone else required. Someone always knew someone else from somewhere who may have the answer to the question that someone had. Someone was always around or a call away in the event help was needed.

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During our time in campus, some of us would eat together during meal times at the Residential College or during supper. Some of us would end up queueing together, waiting for the public telephone to become available. Some of us would walk together to our various faculties. Considering where our Residential College was located, most us had long walks to our faculties and back. Some of us would work together during projects or activities organised by the various student bodies. Some of us would study together. All this helped us bond with each other even further.

As the weeks wore on, turning into months and then years, some moved closer to each other while others edged away slowly. Some moved on, as they associated themselves with different groups of people throughout life in campus. Some moved out of the Residential College to live at the various apartments nearby campus. Some spent more time at the faculty or library to work on their assignments or research and to study with their coursemates. Then there were some who spent more time working hard on wooing that special someone. Through it all, we would still get together for some common occasions like key activities that were held at the Residential College or for birthdays.

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Due to the differences in the duration of study for the various courses in campus, some of us ended up graduating earlier than the others. Upon graduation, each of us started off with our respective careers and then worked hard building it. Some stayed on in Klang Valley. Some returned to their hometowns. Some moved to other parts of Malaysia. Some even migrated out of Malaysia. Some continued to further their education before looking for a job.

Through it all, some of us would get together during weddings as people started to get married. As the years rolled on though, we begun to lose touch with each other, keeping in touch with only those that we were very close with throughout life in campus. Of course, technology, especially Facebook, allowed some of us to keep track of each other but only by that much.

Then, someone decided to further the use of technology by creating a Watsapp group. The group grew slowly but surely, as each person added someone else. Eventually almost everybody that could be located were in the group and it seemed like we were back in campus, virtually.

There were days when the group chat would be flooded with so many messages that it took quite a while to read them all. I even recall asking for a summary as there were just so many messages to catch up with, which by the way I did get immediately. Then there were days in a stretch where the group would be silent. Birthdays and special occasions were celebrated within the Watsapp group. Seeing how we were enjoying each others’ companionship via the Watsapp group, someone finally suggested for a simple get together.

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That was how, after almost 19 years, a small motley group of us found ourselves together in a quaint clubhouse-cum-restaurant nestled in a quiet part of Petaling Jaya, just outside University of Malaya. As we trickled into the clubhouse-cum-restaurant one at a time, we greeted and embraced each other. There was indeed a little bit of awkwardness for some of us in the beginning as we reintroduced and acquainted ourselves with one another. As the latecomers walked in, they were warmly welcomed into the fold.

Then, as the conversations warmed up, as the murmurs and laughters became louder, as we regaled each other with the funny, quirky, odd, scary or sad experiences, tales that only some knew but others had no knowledge about, we grew comfortable as a group, just as it was almost 19 years ago. Ahh…. how the young energetic boys and charismatic girls from almost 19 years ago, have morphed into awesome men and amazing women.

P.S.: The featured image was sourced from Pexels.