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By 1972, Singapore had identified aerospace maintenance as a growth industry. In my company, almost all the licensed engineers were foreigners – British, Australian, New Zealand, American, Canadian, Indians and Malaysians. We also had Taiwanese, Filipinos and Thai who were Vietnam veterans – mostly ex Air America, the covert CIA outfit.

In fact, there was only one, yes one Singaporean engineer in my company. The rest of the Singaporeans were technicians and labourers – all ex Royal Air Force.

It was government policy to ‘localise’ the industry and I was among the first batch of six apprentices. A neighbouring government linked company (GLC) took in about 20 apprentices.

On the first day, the Singaporean engineer gave us a tour of the facilities. The hangers, workshops and offices were impressive.

We attracted quite unfriendly stares from the foreigners who saw their days numbered. Though they were not overtly hostile, their behaviour was somewhat disconcerting. The company did not have a structured training regime. They turned us loose and expected us to learn on the job. Obviously, someone in human resource lived in dreamland.

It was worse with the local Singaporean technicians.

One guy actually pointed to me and said loudly that I was there to “add colour among the banana plantation” – the other five apprentices were all ethnic Chinese. I was the only non-Chinese.

I was born in the British Naval Base and subsequently grew up in Chinese and Malay villages. I had MICE for neighbours and friends – Malays, Indians, Chinese and Europeans. Race never figured in the first 16 years of my life. I was determined that it never will…and at 56 years old, that still holds true.

Nevertheless, it was a sobering first day on the job.

********** Copyright @ Eric Alagan **********