Do you remember your first flight overseas?
Most young people will remember but for me, I am struggling to remember the event, let alone the exact date. Why? I am now sixty-nined years and my first flight was from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai to Heathrow, London on BOAC in early October 1973. In case you do not know what is BOAC, it was the old name of British Airways now. That was more than forty-eight years ago. It was also the first flight in my life at the age of twenty-one years old. Compared to my first son, he took his first flight at the tender age of fifty days old.
After passing my Higher School Certificate in 1972, I was given an unconditional offer by Sheffield University, England to study civil and structural engineering. On getting the offer, I applied for a government scholarship and got approved. All my tuition fees will be borne by the government and I got a monthly living allowance of £51. It was good enough for my need as a student and my parent need not send me any money.
Two weeks before my departure date, I was given pocket money RM600 to buy my winter clothes. I had only one cousin who had studied in England way back in the ’60s. He read law in one of the Inns of Court in London. I had no one to ask for advice, so I called him. I did not what winter clothes to buy and where to buy them in Kuala Lumpur. A few days before my departure date, my family took me to my cousin house in Petaling Jaya, Kuala Lumpur. He taught me British table manners and what clothes to buy. So, I went to Robinsons Shop at Mountbatten Road and bought myself a pair of long john, a sweater and two pairs of woollen socks. The rest of the other clothes, he advised me to buy in London. By the way, I ordered a pair of suit-jacket and pants to wear on my flight to London.
On the night before the departure date, I was given advice by my parents and my cousin on how to behave and live in a foreign country. The essence was to go and study and come back to work in Malaysia. Yes, Sir. That was what I did. In June 1976, I returned home with a degree in civil and structural engineering from Sheffield University and worked as a PWD engineer in Kuala Lumpur. As they say, the rest is history.
In 1973, our international airport was at Subang. Now, we have a new airport called KLIA- Kuala Lumpur International Airport at Sepang, Selangor. It was a morning flight. After saying goodbye to my parents, relatives and friends, I checked in to begin a life of a student 12,000 km away from home. It was a long flight about 8 hours to Dubai. At that time the plane needed to refuel. Later, I had to endure another 5-hour of flight from Dubai to London Heathrow. Sitting on the plane alone was very boring but I enjoyed the food served on the plane. Looking around, most people were casually dressed and I felt awkward wearing a coat and tie on the plane. So I took off my coat, put on my sweater and slept half of the flight time.
I was very excited to hear the announcement that the plane was about to make a decent landing at LHR Airport. It was daytime but I cannot recall whether it was in the morning or in the afternoon. The expected ground temperate was 4º C. That is very cool. I have never experienced such a low temperature in my last 21 years of life. In Malaysia, the lowest is at night about 25º C . And the air-conditioned in my school library is 20º C. Before I boarded the plane, my cousin told me to buy a lip gloss. I must wear it on my lips so that my lips won’t crack up due to cold weather.
As soon as I got out of the plane and walked down the staircase, the cold air hit me in the face and I was shivering. My lips cracked and I saw traces of blood. It was painful but I ignored it and keep walking to the Terminal Building. First, I thanked Allah for His blessing that I had a safe and comfortable flight. Now, I had landed on the Old Blighty and was a step closer to achieving my dream to become an engineer and to serve my country as soon I graduated.
After getting my baggage of one suitcase and one handbag, I took the bus to Waterloo Station. Since I did not know yet to use the local bus, I just got a Black Top taxi to the Malaysian Student Department(MSD) at 44–46 Bryanston Square, London. The fare was 10 quids! I almost fainted. On arrival, I saw many Malaysian students in the Malaysian Hall and the cafeteria. After reporting to the officer at MSD, I went downstairs to have lunch at the cafeteria. All types of Malaysian food and drinks were available but the prices were almost double. I have been thinking in Malaysian currency. On conversion, everything was too expensive to buy. One fellow Malaysian student asked me when I arrived. I replied and asked him how come he knew that I was a new student. He replied,” The way you dressed up”. OMG!
After my lunch, I went to see the MSD Officer regarding my accommodation. To my consternation, no one in MSD booked for my accommodation in Sheffield. It scared me to death thinking where to stay in Sheffield. And worse, I knew no one there. Nowadays, you can google and use Waze to move about. There was no mobile phone yet in 1973. I decided to stay another day at Malaysia Hall in London to acclimatise myself to cold British weather and to plan what to do when in Sheffield.
What happened next at Sheffield will be in another story.