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As an apprentice engineer, the OJT involved spending three months in each department. My three-month stint in the ‘Engine Shop’ was by far the worst.

Lim, the supervisor, was an engineer from Malaysia. If you recall except for one man, all the engineers in the company were foreigners.

He went out of his way to make life miserable. I was set to mop the floor, make coffee for the technicians and paint strip and clean components parts – this last I relished as it meant doing ‘real work’. I also took all the other duties assigned to me in my stride.

However, every time Lim walked past – I mean every single time and this is the truth – he would shout and scold me. It would be – Don’t think you’re smart! Want to be an engineer is it? Can’t trust you to do real work! Why must I suffer training you! Want my job is it? These were the milder ones – I’m not into reproducing his expletives.

The senior technician, an ex-con by the name of Goh, would mutter that Lim was seow (mad) and wondered why he picked on me for no reason. Goh was convinced that Lim, son of a rich Chinese businessman from Malaysia, simply could not understand what it was to be poor and to struggle for a living. Lim’s father had sent him to the UK for training – in the 1960’s this was something only people in rarefied levels of wealth could afford.

All the other apprentices who had rotated before me received proper training and could carry out many tasks such as repairs, assembly and even simple tests. I knew how to clean grease off parts and make coffee!

One day, Lim walked in with a big smile and even said ‘Hi’ to me as he breezed past. Goh stared in disbelief.

Then the news broke – Lim’s visa to Australia had come through and he could not wait to migrate. I wished him well, as this was 1973 and Australia had not really shaken off their ‘white Australia’ policy.

After Lim left, I approached management and insisted that my stay in the ‘Engine Shop’ be extended for another three months. I did not mind cleaning toilets or getting berated, but I was ‘paying’ for my training through my bonded service and expected management to live up to their end of the bargain. I was 17 but quite insistent that contracts terms be adhered to.

Management agreed. Apparently, none of the other apprentices wanted to work in the workshop. Situated in a secluded part of Seletar Airfield and about five kilometres away from the hanger and corporate offices, the workshop was the ‘backroom’. The others preferred the more ‘glamorous’ hanger where one got to work on ‘real’ aircraft and where the female staff worked.

So started my 18-year stint in the workshops, except for a one-year attachment in the hanger for licensing purposes.

Thank you Lim!

********** Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2012 **********