Friday, December 2, 2005

Stories from the workplace III


After I quit the nightmare job in Jakarta in 1985, I returned to Malaysia.  It was a bad year for job-hunting.  But by sheer good luck, a friend of my wife told me to contact her friend, a Managing Director of a plastics injection molding factory called Exzone.  My job involved anything that came along; from product and process designing, trouble-shooting, to delivery and debt collection.  The pay wasn't enough to cover our daily expenses, but I took it.  I set up a classroom in my rented house and taught Art and English in the evenings and took on any other part time job that friends could come up with.  Those were my new friends in SP town but they willingly helped me out when they heard my story.


One day, after I had been with Exzone for a year, I was told to report at Euston, an American owned contract manufacturing plant.  (The owner resided in Hong Kong.)  I had, on a few occasions met executives from Euston as we were one of their vendors.  I had often wondered to myself whether I could get a chance to work in there.  I went to meet the General Manager called Andy.  He wanted me to make sketches of Euston, the people at work, the machinery, the facilities etc.  His intention was to create a brochure to promote the factory's facilities in the USA.  He wanted something unique, artistic and low cost.  He hired me for a month to do the job.  I finished the sketches in about ten days and handed them to him.  He said he'll get someone in the US to take care of the rest of the job.  I don't know till today what happened to those sketches.  I never saw any brochure either.


I just knew that I wouldn't be short of anything to do with the rest of the time.  While looking around the factory, I met a supervisor who was wringing her hands in frustration.  She was struggling to meet a deadline to deliver some painted toys but the Tampon-Printer broke down and she had no replacement–part available.  The replacement part had to be ordered from Hong Kong.  She asked me if I could think of something.  I took a look at the machine and realized all she needed was a wiping blade.  I asked her to find me a box-cutter blade.  I replaced the broken blade with the cutter blade after leveling off both slanted ends on a bench grinder.  It worked just fine and she completed the order without a hitch. 


Then she asked if I could help her with another problem.  She was short of some spray paint of one particular shade.  To order it from Hong Kong would take at least 2 to 3 weeks to arrive.  I told her to get me all the colors she had.  I then mixed a few colors together until I got the right shade needed.  This and other little problems helped make my days get by easier.


Euston's temporary canteen was in bad shape.  The original canteen was turned into an office after a fire burned out the factory office and store earlier that year.  Andy suggested that we built another canteen.  He wanted it built like the attap huts he saw at the beach hotels in Penang.  So we threw in whatever we got in terms of experience in building a house with nipah roof.  One morning, Andy was trying his hand at tying the nipah leaves up on the roof and he yelled, "Ouch, Shit!" 

I asked, "What's that?" 

He said, "Oh, it's something soft and brownish and smelly..."  I laughed.  He then said he poked on his thumb with the sharp end of the split rattan string. 


He asked me what to do if a piece of split rattan string ran out.  I said to join it with another length of string by tying it in a weaver's knot.  That way we get the smallest possible knot.  After that I kept hearing him swearing away at weaver's knots until we ran out of split rattan strings.

We did not finish even one-third of the roofing when we gave up and he called in a guy who could do it professionally.  He used rafia strings and a big needle and finished the job two weeks later.


Before the end of that month, Andy asked the secretary to make out a check for me.  I was told that the company's cash in the bank was in limited supply.  There was also the guy who repaired the canteen waiting to be paid.  As soon as I got the check, I said to Andy, “I’m going to the bank.”  He remarked that I seemed eager to get my money first before anyone else got it.  I laughed and said I got a wife, a 3-year-old kid and a new born baby at home.  I needed the money.  Andy followed me to the bank.  He helped me to get the check deposited into my account.  It was the first time I used an ATM card.  He followed me to the house and I showed him the new baby, our second daughter.


On what was supposed to be my last day, Andy said to me.  “How would you like to work for us permanently?  We seem to get along pretty well”.  I thought he was joking, especially about the 'getting along' part, but I said I'd love to.  We discussed my salary and he said I’d get whatever Exzone was paying me.  I said it would be an insult to my current boss.  He raised the offer by another RM100.  I took the job.  I was to learn later that it was a colleague, who suggested to him about taking me on.  But a few days later, before he could give me an official appointment, he resigned as GM.  I was left without a post but he told me not to worry about my job status. 


One day the Managing Director came over from Hong Kong.  He told the secretary that as he was walking around the factory he noticed a "Chinese guy" who was working even after everybody else had gone home.  The secretary then explained to him the precariousness of my position.  The next day she gave me an appointment letter signed by the MD which I immediately accepted.  That was August 1986.  I was placed in charge a lawn-sprinkler production line as a "Project Manager". 


Three months later, I had the good fortune of accompanying a colleague who wanted to ask the MD for some extra benefits, and I raised the fact that my probation was up.  He immediately promised that I’d be confirmed in my appointment.  The next day I received a confirmation letter stating that my pay has been raised by another RM350.  For the second time in my working life I was earning a four-figure salary. 


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