7 February 1979 late night. Our aircraft, a four-engined Malaysian Airline System’s Boeing 707-300 took off from Kuala Lumpur’s Subang International Airport on our way to Perth, Western Australia.
It was quite a stressful night for me. That was the first time ever I left Malaysia. And I was practically alone. Even though there were 9 other JPA (Malaysian Public Services Department) students on the flight to Perth, none was from the same school as me. We were strangers because we came from different schools – MCKK (Malay College of Kuala Kangsar), STAR (Sek. Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Ipoh) , STF (Sek. Tun Fatimah, Johor Bahru), TKC (Tunku Kurshiah College, Seremban), SMS Kedah, SMS SAS Pahang and SMS Terengganu. We formed the 1979 batch of 10 JPA students sent to Perth for matriculation (pre-university study).
By going in February, we had a 7-month advantage compared to our contemporaries, and with that came the very high expectations from our parents, teachers, sponsors and classmates, that being the supposedly selected few, we would excel when the results came out. And that placed enormous stress on us, or rather on me, because I did not know what was going on inside my new friends’ minds. But I could do nothing, except pray and hope for the best.
The aircraft landed at Jakarta Halim Perdanakusuma International Airport about 1.5 hours later.
The stopover was supposed to be a brief one before we continue to Perth and arrive there around 5.00 am. We were asked to remain on board.
However at 3.30 am we were still inside the aircraft on the apron at Halim Perdanakusuma.
It turned out that the aircraft had developed some mechanical problem, and all of us on the flight were then asked to disembark into the terminal to wait for the repairs to be completed.
We waited, and waited, and waited. Some of us could not fight the sleepiness any longer and had to make best use of the transit lounge’s chairs and carpeted floor.
At 8.30 am, weary and hungry, we finally re-boarded the aircraft and was on our way to Perth. We landed in Perth at 1.00 pm.
At the airport we were met by officials from the Australian government agency ADAB (Australian Development Assistance Bureau), and 3 senior Malaysian students.
The seniors informed us that many more seniors were waiting for us at 5.00 am, the original arrival time, but left after we never arrived.
After our luggage were collected and accounted for, we were led to the taxi rank outside the terminal. The summer air, hot and dry, blasted onto my face. And it had a kind of peculiar scent which I later knew came from native eucalyptus trees.
On direction of the ADAB officials, the taxis took us into the city, to a place called Haywin House, an inn located in Irwin Street, between Hay Street and St. George’s Terrace.
That became our lodging place for several days before ADAB completed the finding and booking of our apartments near our college in Leederville, a suburb a few kilometers north of the city center.
At Haywin house, I was put into a two-bedded room with Nor Azmi Kamaruddin from MCKK, whose hometown was Tapah, Perak. On a wall inside the room there was a strange appliance, about 2 feet long with one glass-like bar running from one end to another, and backed by a silver metal. We did not know what it was.
Later, one of us flicked a wall switch to turn on the room light, but no light came on.
OK. So the electricity in Australia was not that different compared to Malaysia then, putting aside the peculiar-looking electrical wall sockets and plugs.
Maybe the electricity would be turned on when it got darker.
I laid on the bed. And then I noticed that the strange appliance started glowing red and redder, and heat radiated from it. Hehe. That was our first encounter with a single-bar radiant wall heater, used to keep a room warm in cold weather.
The room was just that, a room with two beds. For calls of nature and shower, the bathroom was shared with other room, and situated at the end of the corridor. The first time I went in there to have a shower, I saw there was not one, but two water faucets on the wall in the shower cubicle.
There was also a white-colored appliance on the wall of the bathroom.
I turned on one of the faucets and a frightening sound, a booooom, came from the direction of the white-colored appliance.
I saw something like a blue fire inside the appliance. Alarmed, and to avoid any untoward incident, I quickly turned off the faucet and hastilly cancelled my shower.
Hehe. Another encounter. This time with a gas-powered water heater.
It was all new experience for me. During the pre-departure orientation camp at MRSM Seremban and briefing back in Malaysia, no one had told us about these small details.
And the day was not yet over. More surprises to come later to this kampung boy…