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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Excerpt #5: Meeting The Big Chief


Excerpt #5:  Meeting The Big Chief

            By the time we returned late Sunday from our weekend diversion at Port Dickson, my thoughts were clear and focused. I was determined to take Sharif’s advice, meaning, spend some time in KL to meet the key decision makers. The next morning I was off to KL again, this time wearing my yellow suit, what Karen called my Canadian Pacific Airline outfit, that being the color of its cabin crew uniform. When the Jamaican salesman at Henry Singer Clothiers said that only I could wear that color, as a white man would look washed out while a black would be mistaken for a gigolo or a pimp, I bought both, his sales pitch as well as the suit. He was an awesome salesman! Had he known that yellow was also the Malay royal color, he would have thrown that in too!

            I rehearsed my expected ‘impromptu’ conversation with that doctor at the ministry, anticipating his every negative response. I also practiced my crisp Canadian accent.

            I had hardly finished asking the receptionist that I wanted to see her superior when she replied, “Yes, Sir!” and disappeared to return quickly with him.

            She addressed me as “Sir!” I was expecting her to chide me for speaking in English.

            Likewise the officer; I was expecting all sorts of excuses as with the previous week. Instead, after a few phone calls he secured for me an appointment with the Director-General right away. Sharif was right; be assertive.

            When I arrived at the top floor office of the DG, the secretary directed me to a comfortable sofa in the well-appointed suite. She brought in tea in exquisite china, together with some delicate British crackers. Wow!

            Only the week before I had felt rejected, not worthy of any attention from even the lowest civil servant. Now I was treated like the returning prodigal son, but unlike in the biblical version, I did not at all feel unworthy of the attention lavished upon me.

            Soon a visitor exited the office followed by the Director-General extending a final handshake. I had not met Tan Sri Majid Ismail before but recognized him from his many pictures in the papers. Years earlier when I was in high school he had made headlines for being the rare Malay Queen Scholar. He was also the first in the country to qualify as an orthopedic surgeon.

            He came forward to shake my hand in a firm grip, very unlike the soft palm-sliding Malaysian manner, while his other grasped my left elbow in a warm familiar way. He apologized for making me wait. Imagine!

            “So, you are the surgeon from Canada!”

            I corrected him saying that I was a local boy. From there on our conversation was warm, smooth, and cordial. He recalled with visible fondness his earlier visit to America as an Eisenhower Fellow back in 1963, and how much he admired the American (and also Canadian) system of specialist training. Soon our conversation turned clinical.

            “How many gastrectomies have you done?” Satisfied with my answer he went on. “How about AP resections?”

            He also asked about my research experience. In passing I told him that I once read his paper on the spontaneous rupture of the patella tendon from topical steroid injections, one of the first few reported cases. He smiled.

            Then, . . . “I have theposition for you,” as he leaned back, “. . . at GHKL!”

            I perked up. I wanted to hear it right! He went on to say that the recently-appointed Professor of Surgery of the newly-established medical faculty of the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM-National University), one Hussein Salleh, had absconded to Australia. The university’s surgical clinical unit at GHKL was now stranded, and the university was desperate.

            “I worked very hard to get him the professorship,” Majid looked exasperated as he related his experience with this Hussein Salleh. “As soon as he got it, he ponteng! Phew!” as he waved his hand in the air.

            This Hussein Salleh had used his newly-acquired professorship to pave his emigration to Australia. I could see Majid still scaling his tongue against his upper teeth to get rid of the residual bad taste.

            “Could you handle the assignment?” He stared straight back to me with his piercing eyes made even more exaggerated through his thick black-horn glasses. After I assured him that I could, his next question was when could I start.

            “Anytime!” I responded. Sensing that I now had the upper hand, I decided to be more hesitant, to as we say in the village,jual mahal sikit(lit: hard sell; fig: play hard-to-get). “As soon as I have a place to stay!” not as an afterthought but a deliberate contingent requirement.

            He paused, rubbing his chin. “Hmm, that could be a problem.”

Next:  Excerpt #6: Seduced By The Promise Of A Chalet In Lake Gardens

From the author’s second memoir, The Son Has Not Returned.A Surgeon In His Native Malaysia(2018).

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