A year ago our affable and hardworking President, Dato’ Lean invited me to talk about forestry as a career. As I left the Forest Department in 1984 it would be more appropriate to invite an informed and up-to-date speaker to undertake such an important task.

However, being a very persuasive person, he urged me to contribute some articles instead. I enrolled as a Form IV student in 1954 (previously at SGI, Taiping). Consequently, my impressions as an ACS student encompassed only the upper secondary and HSC classes. I was “inserted” into the science stream by our stern but kind hearted school principal Rev. Kesselring after some ear-bashing during an admission interview. We had several “small kids” in our class who were inveterate bookworms and high-achievers – teacher’s darling boys!!. In contrast there were the post-war matured students who “suffered to be educated”. School-life might be “dim and grim” to some but “bright and trim” for others. Between these two groups were those who studied enough but played even more while professing to strike a happy balance between study and play!! At Lower Form VI we were joined by transfer students from sister schools in Sitiawan and Teluk Anson. Needless to say we also had some “roses amongst the thorns” from MGS. It was a “mixed bag”. Overall there was camaraderie and concord in spite of the competitive class environment due to our overwhelming desire to excel.

“I miss the school that taught me things
Things that will help me for what tomorrow brings
Those persons who made me smile,
Whenever I feel I’m about to cry”.
.                                                                          Wattpad

For those who joined the S.S. Voyager as deck hands or apprentice seamen from primary to the upper secondary classes they inherited a rich legacy and varied repertoire of recollections and traditions that could not be replicated by part-timers. To these privileged old salts I respectfully entrust the onerous task of recording their nostalgic reminiscences in Voyager’s log book.

Speaking about reminiscences, the dedication and commitment of our teachers will always be uppermost in our mind for without them the seed of knowledge might not have germinated and flourished so bountifully in many of us. Both “nature and nurture” are important. However without an enabling environment staffed by dedicated and knowledgable teachers many of us would be less than what we are today.

“I miss the teachers that we always annoy
Because of the crazy things that we love and enjoy
And there I remember, the canteen where we find our seats,
And buy the foods that we love to eat”
.                                                                                      Wattpad

Recollection of schooling days evokes happy memories and endearing attachment to our alma mater. It is an inward journey to nostalgia rooted in the past. Ideally an institution of learning should nurture and produce school leavers who can survive and thrive in the real world. In this respect, there are many examples of successful artists, lawyers, bankers, engineers, diplomats, doctors, researchers, educationists, pastors, entrepreneurs, planters, teachers and so on who had gone through the Ipoh ACS portal. Many have made and continue to make invaluable contribution to society in their chosen professions or businesses. It will be to our profit, therefore, to keep track of these old salts and their achievements. Time-segment wise, schooling is but a preliminary part in our working life. The outward journey into an increasingly connected and globalized world provides many interesting experience and inspiring examples. It can broaden one’s outlook and draw attention to many windows of opportunities, no matter how mundane. Life is about making choices. Some are lucky in that they have more choices than others. But then again at some point a choice must be made. Some may have taken the path “less traveled by and that had made all the difference”.

I will try to pen some articles based on my work as an UN-FAO forest management expert and consultant in several sub-regions viz., Central America, the Caribbean, West Africa, the Himalayas, and Asia Pacific. As the Principal Consultant I was responsible for FAO funded TCP projects In Costa Rica and Cuba. Apart from Inception, Mid term Review and Project Formulation missions, specific consultancies were undertaken in Rome, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Sierra Leone, Indonesia, Bhutan, etc. funded by FAO, UNDP, UNESCO, World Bank, AD Bank, ITTO, and ESCAP.  Four and half years were spent as the Chief Technical Adviser (CTA) of the “National Forest Inventory and Management” project based in Yangon until my transfer to Bhutan. Concurrently, I was CTA of a Dry Zone project based in Mandalay as well as OIC of a Japan-funded Ayeyarwady delta mangrove project. Three years were spent as Team Leader of the Swiss/World Bank funded “Third Forestry Project” in Eastern Bhutan.

My West African involvement comprises two missions in 1987 and 1989. Selected highlights are narrated in the short articles presented in three parts entitled “Under The Cotton Tree”. Visitors to Freetown are invariably impressed by the strategic location and majestic appearance of this massive towering iconic tree that is located near my project office. One moonless pitch-dark evening I fell into a monsoon drain beside this tree. Unlike the flying foxes that roost in this tree, leaving in the morning and returning at sunset – I returned only twice. Apart from the many challenges faced, the local culture and environment were unlike any that I knew. Working under such conditions demands a steep learning curve. Likewise moving out of one’s comfort zone induces mind bending effects. There are no schools for consultants. Our knowledge and skills are tested and honed though the “baptism of fire” in the field. We are required to provide expert advice and training to our counterparts. In practice we learn more from them!! For me this is the “humbling truth”  - for beyond our school portal is my “continuation” school.

Dato’ Chong Peng Wah

Disclaimer: Comments and observations are based on my personal perception and do not reflect the official position of any international agencies.

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