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After Lim, there were a series of workshop managers – all Caucasian expatriates. Like a dry sponge, I soaked up whatever I could learn from all of them.

One man, a bald barrel of a Canadian called Len, impressed – by what he was not!

Macho Len they called him and he loved that tag. His forearms, almost two-thirds the girth of my thighs, were heavily tattooed. Len regaled the local technicians with exploits of his bar brawls from Ottawa to Bangkok, and now Singapore.

He always had a toothpick in his mouth – residue of a former smoking habit. Of course he bored us no end with tales of how he did it the cold-turkey way and all by sheer determination.

I was unimpressed and he told me that I had to be a smoker to better appreciate what he had gone through. My response was, I had the determination and individuality not to succumb to peer pressure in the first place. Obviously, that did not go down well.

Image source: C Mercieca at en.wikipedia

Though he taught me the technical stuff and never held back, he also did not hesitate to put me down when he could – I was the ‘wimp’.

I was lanky, studious, and wore spectacles. While all the teenagers in the 1970s sported long hair and wore dirty jeans, I kept my hair so close-cropped, any drill sergeant would have approved. I considered short hair as neat and practical in Singapore’s hot muggy weather and a safety precaution when working with machinery.

Len rode a 1000 cc Honda Goldwing – a massive motorcycle even now, let alone in the 1970s when most people put-putted on 70 cc bikes. One can well imagine his presence on the roads.

The workshops were along one side of a hangar where we stored aircraft. One rainy day, the hanger roof leaked.

As a very hands-on manager, he felt obliged to check out the leak. He ordered me to accompany him and we climbed the built-in ladder along the hanger wall. About thirty feet up we reached a metal walkway. There was another thirty feet high ladder to the skylight.

At the walkway, Len stopped for me to catch up. I was shocked when I saw him. His lips had turned sheet white and his eyes dilated. He shook uncontrollably.

Fear of the heights, he confessed.

I suggested that he get down safely while I take a look at the ceiling. Without hesitation, Len scurried down. I did not mention the incident to anyone and Len and I never spoke about it.

He remained his boisterous self but in my presence, the decibels always dropped a few notches.

After that afternoon, he miraculously remembered my name. Wimp? He took it off his vocabulary.

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