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My route to Grass Glory

The article below was written for a book distributed during the annual dinner organised by my alma mater ‘Sekolah Dato’ Abdul Razak’ or SDAR – one of Malaysia’s premier schools, at least back then, or at least how I’d like to remember it. The annual dinner was in 2016 and I was asked to write for it. The context is that most of the students that graduated from that secondary (high) school would usually further their studies overseas. Back then, it wasn’t a question of ‘if’ but of ‘which country’ are you going to. But heck, go ahead; read all you want.


I’ve always thought of my route after SDAR was different than most SDARians. This story is about how I became a grass consultant; I mean how many people you know has a job like that? Even as late as last week (in 2016), I get the same question “There is such a job?”

After SPM I applied to whatever I can apply to which those days were limited to UPU (this is a government body that streamlines Malaysia’s application into public universities) and … well, not much else. I had attended an interview but there was no news. Then one day I received a telegram saying that if I haven’t yet received any offer to go overseas to please attend an interview at a government office in Johor Bahru. If any of you youngsters are wondering what ‘Telegram’ is Google will tell you this: “a message sent by telegraph and then delivered in written or printed form”. Yes, I am that old, now stop smiling and read on.

In UPM before planting my vege or something. I'm standing third from left

In UPM before planting my vege or something. I’m standing third from left

I was accepted to UPM, the Agriculture University of Malaysia as it was known then at its branch campus in Sarawak (in East Malaysia) so sometimes I like to tell people I’m studying ‘overseas’ in US which is over the South China Sea in ‘ulu Sarawak’. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel inferior at all it’s just that sometimes there were expectations to be met and after a while I get tired of explaining; like I care what people think anyway.

I loved the campus. It was about a mile away from a leper colony and the tarred road ends roughly there. There were around 450 students in the whole campus so everybody knows almost everybody. I’ve always been an outdoors kind of guy so I love learning about agriculture which in those days meant I had to essentially plant groundnuts, cabbages, corn and rear a few hundred chickens and learn to operate tractors and stuff.

Sarawakians are really friendly people. When I went jogging outside of campus, total strangers would honk, say ‘hi’ and raise their hand.  Of course, there is a possibility I was jogging in the middle of the road (there was hardly any traffic) and they were actually honking me to get out of the way and what I thought was a ‘hi’ was an Iban native curse word and they weren’t really raising a hand, just a finger but I’m a positive kind of guy so I’m sure they’re being nice.

Halfway the first semester I received a letter from my family saying that they received an urgent notice from the Ministry of Education for me to pack everything and go to England. My parents said that they will support whatever my decision is and I decided to continue studying agriculture in Sarawak rather than study English in England to become a teacher.

I graduated during an economic crisis (almost everyone will say the same thing) and jobs were hard to come by. The first real job I had was as a Trainee Assistant Estate Manager in Sabah; specifically in a place called Bukit Garam about 60 km from Sandakan town. Two years later, I left for another job in an oil palm plantation in Kemaman, Trengganu

Plantation life was tough, especially 20 years ago. Electricity and water was managed by the estate so was limited and of poor quality. Tarred road doesn’t exist in plantations then. Driving 60 km from Sandakan town to the estate can take me anything from two to seven hours depending on the weather. On the bright side; being a bachelor assistant manager in his early 20s staying alone in a furnished bungalow on a hill has its privileges too, details of which cannot be discussed in polite society.

After four year plus of estate life, I was bored. The problems, the difficulties, the challenges, even the pleasures were the same with slight differences. By that time the country was undergoing an industrialisation transformation and oil palm prices were stagnant.  Open the advertisement page and there were a lot of vacancies for factories and guess what? Golf courses! There was a golf course boom in Malaysia in the late 1990s.

I went for two interviews; first golf club the interviewer has a PhD in plant pathology. I felt like the interview was conducted in a foreign language, like Greek or Latin, perhaps the only thing that I could answer was my name. The second interview was by the board of directors of a different club, they required confidence more than knowledge and my parents didn’t call me ‘confident’ for nothing; I didn’t know what the answer was, but answer confidently I could. Some people would call this cow excreta (y’know; b*llsh*t?) but I got the job, so who cares.

First three months in the job, I was told I’m not qualified to work in a golf course: twice, I kid you not. The second guy who told me that was an Australian guy, he said that if I want to continue working, I would have to start from the bottom; as a worker. So I did and I learnt more there than what I learnt in university.

Long story short; he left after three years, I took over, after four years the club was voted The Best Maintained Golf Course in Malaysia in a biennial poll, I left for another club, it was voted the Best Golf Course in Malaysia after three years; I joined another club and it then was voted the Best Golf Course in Malaysia. All in the same poll and it was hinted that there was vote-buying involved but again, what you think about me is not my problem and considering that the clubs I worked for (even the non-award winning ones) were some of the top clubs in Malaysia and with a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science from the Open Uni of Malaysia studying part-time; I have one heck of a resume.

Then I discovered I have a knack for writing and a talent for making the other person answer their own question and before long, I was asked to comment on things I’m not sure of. I go to a client club and I poke, press, pull, push the grass and then I shake my head “Is it the fertiliser?!” the client would ask nervously. I raise one eyebrow and smile, not saying a word. “I knew it! It’s the dang fertiliser!” said the client. “It’s the fertiliser” I said quietly; and a career is born.

Don't I just look cool! So cool I don't have any idea for a caption.

Don’t I just look cool! So cool I don’t have any idea for a caption.




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