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.
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 **********