After my ill-fated attempt to write a book and run a bakery, I intended to return to Canada. I had to start again. How many times may a person make a “new start” in life? I sold all the music I got from Markus to one of his customers at Cozy. He wasn’t too pleased when he saw that.
I went back with the Renault to Malaysia. At the border, the Thai officer had a bit of a shock, when he saw that I had stayed in Thailand with the car for about nine months. It was not illegal from what I understand.
Then on to KL. On the way I picked up a hitchhiker from Sweden and gave him a ride until the next major town, Ipoh. I think I gave him a scare when I passed a car, and a bus was approaching.
I checked into Asrama Belia, a youth hostel in central KL. There I met who would become my future wife. There were several foreigners staying there, from various parts of the world. It was around this time that I met my future wife, Zaharah.
I was kind of wild man, back then. I think I needed to be civilized. When I met her, Zara appeared dignified. She reminded me of one of my aunts. Zara lived in Johor but would come to KL from time to time. She was born in Ipoh, but raised in Singapore, though. She was sitting at the table in the common room. I struck up a conversation:
“Hi, how are you?” I said.
“Fine, thank you,” came the response.
I showed her the diary, and she read parts of it. That’s how it started. Not exactly a traditional matchmaking process. We kept in touch.
There were also a few foreigners at the hostel on Jalan Kampong Attap. A fellow from Australia stood out. Once he returned after the curfew, and simply climbed into the hostel through a back window, using an air conditioner to haul himself up.
Later, I got in touch with Dan, my friend and teacher at Taylor’s College. Taylor’s has since moved to the new campus in Subang Jaya, from the shop lot in New Town, P.J.
He informed that Stan, my former boss at Taylor’s, would like to see me. While I was away, Taylor’s moved to the campus in Subang Jaya.
I went to Stan’s house a few days later, for a formal dinner with Dan and a few others. Stan asked me:
“Leslie, would you be interested in coming back to Taylor’s College? You could teach economics again.” I quickly rolled it over in my mind and said,
“Sure Stan, why not.” I thought of the “good times” Dan and I had together. Perhaps I was ready for that.
So, I returned to Taylor’s.
This time I taught economics and law. The classes were interesting. The incoming principal, however, who was taking over after Stan, was not very pleasant.
He struck me as a bully. I think he wanted to establish his authority among the teachers there. But the way he went about it did not seem to be very clever.
One day I came into class, to see him sitting in the back. I felt offended. I thought he should have notified me beforehand that he was coming. This was a surprise, an unpleasant surprise.
I could not begin the class. After a few minutes of fretting in the front about what I would do, I decided to go downstairs and hand in my resignation, in protest against the unannounced visit.
I wrote the note, passed it to the secretary of Mrs. Chew, the Executive Director, and went back to the class. This time I could teach easily. Later, this whole thing blew in the face of the principal. It turned out he did it to other teachers as well.
Finally, someone pointed out that in Ontario principals are required by protocol to inform teachers before visiting the class. In other words, the new principal violated protocol.
Stan’s services were called upon, and he returned temporarily to make things right. The new principal did not last long after that, I heard that his contract was not renewed.
The incoming principal had additional problems. One of the math teachers found out that the principal was changing the final grades the math teacher gave to students.
The teacher was unhappy. He went into the principal’s office and asked the principal not to change the grades. I am not sure if the principal complied with this request.
The principal was definitely a bully, but Canadian teachers are a tough lot. I would not recommend messing with them. They know how to stand up to injustice and will do so if they have to.
There was a lady originally form Ireland that was hired as a teacher from Canada. Because the first day of the month during which started was a public holiday, the Executive Director reduced the teacher’s pay by one day.
The Irish lady, who told me the story personally, became furious. She packed her bags, and with a cooking pot visible, she went to see the Executive Director and gave her an ultimatum:
“Either I get the one day’s pay, or I am going back to Canada right now,” she said to Mrs. Chew in the latter’s office. Mrs. Chew gave her the one day’s pay and the Irish lady stayed on for the rest of her contract. I don’t think she renewed her contract, though.
Life as usual
Otherwise, it was life as usual. We would sometimes complain about not being appreciated by the school management. There were interesting people living in the house in section 14.
There was a former World War II British pilot. His name was Brian Gifford. Apparently, he had property in the UK worth approximately 8 million. In Malaysia, he was training local pilots to fly Boeing 747s. He would fly to Dubai and back again with them.
He had interesting stories to tell. He used to sit in the living room, always seeming to suffer from jet lag. He would also listen to the BBC World Service on a little short-wave radio. He recommended that I go to work in Dubai. Apparently, the wages there were attractive. There were already many expats working in Dubai.
Then there was Arshad, a former US operative who became Muslim, after “trying just about every religion,” as he put it to me. None of it “worked for him,” he said, “except Islam.”
He said he was part of a unit that worked in trying to prevent terrorists from getting arms. He had interesting stories to tell. He would always preface them with: “No names and no places.” He was also a very good chess player.
Once we were robbed in the house in Section 14. The thieves came through the back where they pried open the door. Everybody lost something. A local person lost clothing. I lost a short-wave radio. Dan lost a sum of money.
Going back to Canada
As my contract was approaching expiry, I started to make preparations for a return to Canada. When I informed Zara at the hostel that I was going to Canada, she pointed to my suitcase and said she wanted to come too. I said:
“Sure, why not.” By May 1991 we were on the flight to Toronto. A new phase of our lives was about to begin. In Canada, the immigration gave her a six months visa. At that point another phase would begin, no less eventful than the one just described.