Thursday, November 15, 2007

Job for one cousin but not the other

Years ago, when my cousins struggled to get a fairly good education in the newly established English medium schools inSibu, they had a very hard time adjusting to the language. Most Foochows would have been happy with just studying in Chinese. And everything would be familiar. The teachers who had been always there in Chung Cheng Secondary School. for example, which was just next to my grandmother's house, would have been relatives and friends who could understand the Foochow mind.

But when transition into English medium was the order of the day, many Foochow girls especially, and boys , dropped out because they could not make any headway at all with the foreign language. The teachers being quite unwilling to teach the language,or using it as a medium of instruction, were of no help too. One Peace Corps Volunteer was attached to the school for a year and he tried his very best. Perhaps a handful benefitted from his teaching. The very conservation Foochow girls would not go any where near him. They were terrified of the red hair, blue eyes and sweaty arms according to one of my cousins. Besides he was quite a tall lanky man. So by towering over all the teachers and the students, this Peace Corp Volunteer had found it difficult to mix well with the local populace. According to an aunt, the poor man could not even find butter for his breakfast, as refrigeration was quite beyond the means of most villagers. food was definitely very spartan.

And then it was during this time that the Communists were also making a lot fo demands on the population. Many young Foochows at the tender age of 14 or 15 had no choice but to join the underground movement, thus sacrificing their lives for a cause they might have very shallow knowledge of. How much were their lives worth? I only know that their parents were devastated when they had news of their deaths.

Many had their education interrupted. And because of that historical period and other factors,many of my relatives became illiterate . These so called "illiterates" had to find jobs which were suitable for them like driving lorries, looking after boats,assisting chefs,pulling logs and working in the timber camps. Some made small fortunes while others just found enough to eat.

Those who could catch up or had extra money from clever investment in the timber industry were lucky to escape the vicious development of the period. Today they would be big entrepreneurs, doctors, scientists and politicians of Malaysia.

One cousin of mine had an exceptional job seeking experience. This is a story of humiliation, a story of family pride, a story of social ties. Or is it a matter of meritocracy? Is it a story of loss of favour? Is it a story of a have been?

It is indeed a bittersweet story for me. It was also the moment for me to realise that landing on a job can no longer be just a family thing for those who are not well connected. Our destiny is in our own hands. We sink or swim on our own and there are lots of sharks around.

My cousin Feng (name changed) had just obtained her Form Five results with a fair pass and was good enough to look for employment in a bank, accounting firm or even Sime Darby with her knowledge of English, Chinese and Maths in the early 70's when there were only a handful of graduates and perhaps only 5 lawyers in town.

Able bodied ladies,with only Form Five, who were keen to work could get jobs easily as firms were opening up and the timber companies were expanding all over Sarawak.The prettier ones with good connections would get the jobs faster too. Very often they ended up marrying the boss or the boss's son. That seemed to be the trend at that time.

The job she applied for was a good one and she was called for an interview. But unknown to us another cousin also had applied for the job. But whatever was the reason, cousin Feng did not get it. At one moment she and the family were hopeful and in another moment all hopes were dashed. They felt humiliated. They felt cheated. They felt dishonoured.

My indignant, semi blind grandmother went to see the Manager immediately and demanded an explanation. But she was not able to accept the explanation. She could not accept the fact that her granddaughter, the daughter of her son, could not get a job in this company which was owned by her relatives.

So she made a scene! She was incensed! She raised her voice and her walking stick at the same time and said very loudly, " I am from a good ancestry and a descendant of the Lau family cannot get a job in your company? Where is justice? Doesn't the heavens have eyes? My granddaughter is as qualified as any one!"

My grandmother was taking all the problems of the day into her own hands. She was trying to solve a very modern problem with a very method known to her as a Foochow woman from China. People who were standing there or passing by, just shook their heads but they too understood her thoroughly. I thought that the Manager should have managed the situation better. People in good positions should not treat a grand old lady with disrespect.

However my cousin's competitor was given the job for reasons best known to the company directors. We would never know what they were , all wrapped up in P and C, but the response of my grandmother was very painful to us. She was letting off probably 50 years of pent up feelings. Beware the wrath of a scorned woman. Here it applied to her great love for her grand daughter.

Whenever I think of this situation, tears would well up again. My grandmother suffered for her self, when my grandfather died prematurely; she suffered for her favourite and youngest son absconded to China to "fight" for the glory of China in 1954; and she suffered for her third son whose education was interrupted by the Japanese Occupation and who therefore could only tap rubber, carry loads at the wharf and fish until his hardwork damaged his liver. And then she suffered the premature deaths of three sons- in -law and a daughter. When my father died prematurely,she cried,"My family is now a family of widows. Do not look at my face!"

At that time she was already philosophising on the theory of ancestral bondage.

My cousin Feng having been rejected by the company, went to the interior by accepting the temporary teaching job for three years, Limbang and Ulu Balingian and later she got herself a good job with an accounting firm, found a very propertied husband and live happily ever after. Her children are all well educated professionals.

My grandmother should be happy and philosophical now in heaven (bless her soul) to know that being rejected by a first interview is not a slap on the face. And that my cousin Feng is a very rich woman in her own right now. She has proven herself as a good manager and an "office worker". We are just so proud of her. She is now so far removed from her days in the rural areas with a small stove, and canned food for days. Her days with the leeches, mosquitoes,snakes,and dangerous travel by small boats have indeed made her a strong and compassionate person.

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Thomas Alva Edison.

(Please do not feel that I am being unkind to the memory of my grandmolther with this account.I feel that it is a real account of a 80 year old grandmother who was daring enough to fight single handedly against the decision of a company . She was therefore trying to redress a grievance in her own way. Using her democratic right to fight for transparency. grandmother was a woman before her time!! I love my grandmother,who was my best friend, mentor,guardian, perhaps more than anyone else in this world.)

Please respond...old lady....public demonstration....1973.......what say you?

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