Saturday, March 16, 2013

Life with Lim Goh Tong

It was a Saturday. I was ready to pack up for home when the phone rang.

Silly me, how could I be so assuming?

“Yu Bok, we have to go Pahang to see the Menteri Besar today. Get ready.” The voice was distinctly Tan Sri’s. He hung up as soon as he finished what he had to say. You simply did not have a chance to you to waste his time.

Even though there was still no expressway then, the drive from Kuala Lumpur to Kuantan was a pleasant one, especially if you were travelling in a big Mercedes. It still had to take a few hours though.

The sun had already set by the time we reached Kuantan. We called on the director of land and mines and he was happy to receive us in his house. A few more meetings followed. By the time we checked into the Hyatt, it was already close to mid-night.

My wife must have been concerned, as I did not have a chance to call her before I left the office (There was no mobile phone then). But I have the most understanding wife. She always takes these things well. She was already fast asleep when I reached her.

After a quick bath, I headed for the bed straightaway. There was still some reveling going on in the hotel. Someone told me earlier that the sultan would be around. I was too tired for anything.

Few hotels are thoughtful enough to provide toothbrushes and tooth paste those days. The next morning, I had to use my fingers…

I had nothing clean to change into. I should be able to pick up something from the arcade but I had to wait as the shops would only open at around 9 or 10.

I bought a batik shirt and I could not find any briefs. Too bad. I had to make do with the one I had been wearing.

* * * * *   


“Yu Bok, ask Captain to bring a few 955s and RBs to the golf course. I want to do something there.”

The golf course at the resort was not very great then. Enthusiasts had it that the course was not well designed. Some remodeling work was therefore ordered. Ron Fream, a leading golf course architect, was commissioned to do the job.

There was an undulating tract behind the clubhouse. Nobody had any earthwork drawings. But Captain Lim was one of the few who had the uncanny ability to do exactly what Tan Sri had in mind as far as earthwork went. And the 955s and RBs just cut and cut…

Tan Sri was like an army commander and I, his aide-de-camp, had no choice but to stand next to him. But I did not have the slightest idea of what he had had in mind for this battle front. A few colleagues who happened to come by asked me what was being built. A new swimming pool? A new club house?

Honestly I did not know. And none of the above.

After one week of sun-bathing, I looked over-tanned. Tan Sri had also run out of steam. Before he walked back to his car, I heard him telling Captain Lim, “Plant grass.”

Or did I hear wrongly?

* * * * *   

955, 977 AND ALAB-BEE

“I want you to buy some second-hand 955s, 977s and alab-bees, you see so-and-so.”

This was the instruction given to me by Tan Sri Lim. I was still quite new at Genting. Although I had some project management experience, it was basically on high-rise buildings. I had never done land development before. But how could I ask Tan Sri what 955, 977 and alab-bee were? I would be out of my mind. Or did I want to lose my job?

“977, 977, alab-bee” were exactly the figures and words I wrote in my notebook. They had had to do with earth-moving equipment, I was convinced.

After the “class” had been dismissed, I took the company car, a Peugeot 503, and went around the grounds searching for these beasts.

I was not disappointed; Caterpillar 955 and 977 tractors were busily at work everywhere. And you could not possibly miss Captain Lim’s alab-bees either - the always reliable RB[1] draglines.

* * * * *    

When you have a boss like Tan Sri, you learn to be very resourceful.

Chong Hock came to me one day, “Yu Bok, you know Chinese. Do you know what The Old Man wants?”

It was Tan Sri’s own handwriting, in Chinese of course. He wanted us to do some improvement to the “Chiao-se-nou” (脚死奴).

What is Chiao-se-nou? He had gone round asking; nobody could help.

That was easy. Without hesitation, I enlightened him, “Casino”.

You have to be a Hokkien to understand another Hokkien.

Incidentally, I forgot to explain. Tan Sri was thinking in Hokkien when he wrote the three Chinese characters.

Leg or foot in Chinese character is pronounced “Chiao” in Mandarin but when it is read in Hokkien, it becomes “Kar”.

The word “Se” written by Tan Sri in the note actually meant “die” or “dead”.  

Nou” is “slave”, but I believe Tan Sri got it mixed up with his Malay partner’s name written in Chinese, i.e., 诺.

Taken together and read in Hokken, they simply mean CASINO.

I heard this from another acquaintance the other day. He also had the “privilege” to be in Tan Sri’s Sunday entourage when he went round inspecting works at the resort.

Tan Sri wanted some work to be done at “C-loah(C). He wrote in clearly on a paper: An alphabet C and a Chinese character “loah” (building, or storey, or apartment block, depending on usage).  Pronounced in Hokkien, it should mean “C Block”.

So everybody thought!

But there was no C Block there.

You know where? It was see-lau. In plain Hokkien: 4th level!

* * * * *   

This also came from a colleague: After a visit to one of the work sites, Tan Sri wrote in Chinese character: Liu (), Chinese character for a surname, and Swee (), for water.

Everybody was asking everybody. “Who is this contractor Lau Swee? Tan Sri is looking for him.”

Tan Sri was furious; the instruction he gave about a water leakage problem at one of the sites he pointed out had yet to be rectified after one whole week.

Oh, he was not looking for contractor Mr Lau Swee (). He was saying that the place was lau-chwee (), or water leaking through!

* * * * *      

Sunday was not an off-day for some of us in Genting. It was the day Tan Sri would go around inspecting all the civil and engineering works that were being carried out in resort. As always, he started his day early. He would gather the key executives in the coffeehouse or the theatre restaurant, give a few instructions here and there and jump into his waiting car. Everybody would scramble for his vehicle to try to catch up with him. The resort is quite a sprawling mass of land; but lose him at your own risk!

Wherever he went, you just had to follow; and make sure you bring a notebook along.

By the time he headed for his suite, your Sunday was as good as gone.

But Tan Sri is not an inconsiderate man. You can take a day off every week if you want to, as long as it is not a Sunday.

* * * * *    

Chong Hock, the resident architect, and I decided to go up by helicopter one Sunday. We wanted to catch the first flight. But the weather was simply impossible. Segambut, where the helipad was situated, looked very sunny, but the traffic controllers at the resort advised us that visibility there was too poor for the helicopter. So we waited.

The resort was staging a big show. It was one of the first big-money affairs for its very impressive new theatre-restaurant. The girls were from France, all very pretty.

Two of the showgirls were also waiting at the helipad to go up. Chong Hock and I chatted them up. They were very friendly. Weathermen at the resort continued to give “no-fly” advice. Before long, we ended up having lunch with the two girls in one of the nice restaurants in town.

By the time we finished lunch, it was too late to head for the hill.

The next day was a Monday. Tan Sri was early as usual. The phone soon rang. The secretary said, “Yu Bok, Tan Sri wants to see you. Where is Chong Hock?”

I never missed my Sunday outing with Tan Sri again, no matter how bad the weather.

[1]              A very popular dragline of the day: manufactured by Royston Butyrus of United Kingdom

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