Thursday, 29 May 2008

A Man’s Passion and Pride for the Daring Life-it's fathers day...=)

[actually it's my assignment of feature writing lah..haha..]

If you happened to bump into this manager in Ipoh’s Tesco Extra, you would see him wearing formal shirt-and-tie attire, taking a walkie-talkie with him, busy coordinating at one time, and laughing out loud with his colleague at another.

But, you would never imagine this dark man with big belly, who is in his forties, have once led a life serving in the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) with loyalty, discipline, and the dare to face anything that might fall upon our homeland.

John Choo Kam Ming is one of those who are brave, strong and passionate enough to join the daring team in the Malaysian sea. It is a life that few of us can imagine, not to say to brave ourselves to join the force and experience the life.

Born to the former Homeguard Corporal Choo Who Hup and his wife in 1961 in Tanjung Rambutan, Ulu Kinta, Perak, John had his first exposure of the force in a very early stage. In fact, his uncle, Choo Who Soon was a Sergeant in the army at that time too. However, things have yet to bring him to make the decision to join the service.

In the village surrounding the Psychiatric Hospital, he grew up with the kids whose parents and relative are working in the Psychiatric Hospital, running around the coconut trees or go to the Kinta River to have a splash. The kids are from different races and mingled freely with each other.

“I learnt to swim then in the Kinta River but never perfect or professional until I was trained in Navy.”

“The small village has not changed much; they still have only one market and three rows of shop houses. The development seemed to stop just right there”, he added.

As a Chinese, he never went to the local ‘new village Chinese school’ but instead, the nearest Methodist school. His two elder sisters were English educated as him and has since graduated from nursing courses. His three younger siblings were sent to the local Chinese school, but did not manage to finish the basic education then.

His father has not studied formally much. Thus, he was hoping the girls and boys can finish their basic education, believing in the power of education to turn poverty down. From his father’s anger that the younger had chosen to stop schooling, John is even more determined to strive for better grades and extensions in education.

Anglican Chinese School or ACS was one of the town schools teaching with English then. He had to travel by public bus to the town and walk quite a long distance to reach his school every morning. His two elder sisters were also in the Main Convent School in the other side of Ipoh town then but they stayed in the school dormitories.

Despite all of the tiredness and difficulty to school, he never gave up. He simply knew that education is important from his father’s anger for his younger siblings.

During his schooling years, he was very active in sports such as hockey and running. He participated in various competitions and has won prizes from that. He finished his study until MCE (a general exam for the Form 5 students then).

That, was his last before he joined RMN.

When asked the reason of joining RMN, he replied, “ I saw the recruitment notice in newspaper and I thought, ‘why not?’ since my grades was not good and have no idea what to do after graduating.” On such simple reason, this man has indeed done things that are more than simple.

Despite he worked very hard to get good grades like his sisters(his sisters had both went for nursing courses, the eldest was even offered to study in United Kingdom), he didn’t make it to the higher level of Form 6. Thus, having ample exposure on the subject of the forces and nowhere else to head to, he answered to the notice in the newspaper.

At that time in the late 70s, ‘recruits’ (as they call it) were trained in KD Pelandok in Sembaway, Singapore. So was he. They all grabbed a luggage bag, board the transport readied for them, and headed to Singapore for a life of unsure.

In Singapore, he was trained particularly in Physical, while learning basic Naval terms. He has also been to Woodland and KD Malaya under the Pelandok.

He finally ‘Passed Out’ after 6 months of training. In other words, he was considered graduated and was officially serving the nation in Lumut’s Naval Base of Tentera Diraja Malaysia. (The base has changed to Lumut since then.)

He smiled and said that they were required to look for a girlfriend to be a company on their ‘Passing Out’ ceremony, and “It’s an order!”

After months of training in what they call Kepakaran (specialisation), he held the post of Physical Trainer to the new batches. Although he usually does his job within the base, he goes up on ship as an Abel Seaman, and travelled to Indonesia, Thailand and the whole Malaysia.

In addition to that, he had also served as judges in games like SUKMA for Taekwondo and swimming.

His students or juniors that he has taught have since ‘finished contract’ or pull-out of Navy, with only some of them remaining in other petty posts.

“ I still remember that the Chief Navy then was Datuk Tanabalah Singam. Several people has taken the post since but I ended my service during Datuk Sri Sheriff Ishak’s administration”, he said.

He added that the things in Navy have also changed a lot since he resigned from his post in the Base.

Asking on weapons that usually scare us normal beings, he said, “It was nothing (using a weapon like gun), just pure loud sounds and impact from it. We were just learning the basics.”

At this point, have those make you think of wars and fights? He confirmed that they learn only the basic knowledge on those, which are combat skills and war terms. Besides that, life-saving and ‘renang selat’ (cross strait swims) were also some of the activities they do.

When I was in doubt at the truth of the word ‘selat’, he confirmed to me that they had really swim across the Melaka Strait. Suppressing my shock, I listened as he describe the sensation swimming in the sea, not even near to the shore.

“You won’t drown, naturally, because it’s sea water (salty). It’s not cold swimming there too. Basically, you don’t have to worry because there will be a ship following you to check on you.”
He continues to tell of an incident that happened in sea during his service.

“I was swimming in the sea with my friends when I felt something stinging my left leg. It’s a jelly-fish, a poisonous one indeed.” He was sent to the hospital in time and is thus saved.

He also revealed a unique point of view on the term ‘torture’ in forces. For your information, tortures are the ways personnel in service train and punish their subordinates. It includes actions that at times humiliating and painful for the person instructed to do so. That includes powerful canning, push-ups on tarred road, and whatever ideas the superior could think of.
Back to his view on ‘torture’, he said that he just takes it as a form of punishment as there’s no rational in the force other than to obey your superiors. “I’d just accept it. It’s my job.” True enough that he has proven his outstanding ability to bare those in Navy.

Now, things are not that bad and exhausting. According to him, accommodation is quite well managed and is comfortable enough for a decent living. As one claims higher rank, one’s accommodation is indeed better. In fact, the highest rank he’d claimed was Sergeant, resembling a chief physical instructor then.

As entertainment, he would go out of base with his friends and eat-out or shop in Sitiawan or small towns near to the base.

“The curfew was 12 a.m. and as long as you have nothing to do, you can go out and have fun”, he said.

However, he pointed out that they can not go further than those places because if emergency happens, a pick-up truck will come around and pick them up while announcing the emergency all the way down. If one has not applied leave and went out further than that, they will get punished, or ‘torture’.

His friends who were in the same batch with him has since retired or left the Navy. “They have either ‘finished contract’ or pensioned. And I still miss the time together then, although I still have some of the contact and call for a meet-up occasionally.”

In 1985, he married Lew Soo Ying, who was a teacher and their eldest daughter was born the next year. They have a daughter and three sons in total, with the youngest still in primary school.

Coincidentally, his wife’s elder brother was also a dentist serving in the same base later.

“ I have no regret that I’ve joined Navy”, he stated. One of the evidences is the insistence on discipline on his children, all of whom grew up under his strict ‘enforcement’ and disciplines. In fact, the perseverance and inter-personal skills has helped him a lot in his jobs after Navy.

Now, working in Tesco Extra Ipoh, his management skills and leadership has earned recognition from his superiors and respects from his subordinates. This is seen when the initial Makro Ipoh was taken over by Tesco and he was invited to remain in the position, with potential promotion as area manager overlooking several states’ Tesco Extra stores.

One can see his pride and passion in his eyes when he talks about RMN. This passion has since passed on to his eldest son, who is also in Lumut’s Navy Base training as a cadet. And thus, he’s even prouder that blood has passed on.

From Left: Cadet Choo Hou Ran, John Choo Kam Ming and writer.
John Choo posing on the ship in one of those earlier years.
John Choo with wife Lew Soo Ying.

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