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 **********


  1. You find people what people are made of when you least expect. Some people wear shields to the world to hide some part of themselves or their real self.

  2. Great story about the humanness of humans. Externally, some may be tall and some short. Some may be big and some small. But, at the core, we are very similar, racked by the same anxieties, harbouring the same fears, worrying about the same things. Your story brings it out nicely.

    1. Thank you Ankur for stopping by with this contribution.

      Yes, given the time and occasion – we’re all machos and wimps – and share quite similar hopes, aspirations and fears.

  3. I guess we all go through the new kid on the business block experience. lol. My name was Speedy Gonzales. I could never do things quick enough to please those who had the authority to give this new kid work to do.

  4. haha. good one Eric. The way you tell the story makes it easy to agree that no one is perfect, so to judge or put people down for any one particular thing is just silly. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you Nifti.

      Our faith (whatever religion or spirituality we subscribe to) compels us to seek the good in others, I reckon. But we should beware that there are people who are mean and self-centred – our challenge is to help them, as by so doing, we help ourselves.

      Peace, Eric

      1. Very true Eric. – a challenge indeed to help. Doing so at times can open oneself up to more abuse. I believe that helping can be as simple as informing them of their bad behaviors, or sometimes ignoring them.

      2. I see. It is really hard to be nice. It takes lots of self awareness and growth. Thanks for sharing your stories 🙂

  5. In my experience a ‘macho’ exterior usually conceals some insecurity. Neat story Eric.. Your characters are so well etched.

  6. Lol…. don’t underestimate the nerdy guy!!! The person with that will power is stronger than the macho man! I am glad he turned around with his opinion of you 🙂

    1. Thank you Aparna – I think that incident made him take a hard look at himself. Anyway, it turned out well for both of us.

      We all have our fears – I know at least one woman who stared down a fierce dog but screamed and ran away from a cockroach. Given the occasion, we can all be strong or weak, I reckon. No one person is totally afraid totally. The reverse also holds true.

      All good wishes, Eric 🙂

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