On the night of 31st December 1979, about 20 of us were put together in a coach on a KL-bound train from Butterworth. Destination, Kuala Kubu Baru.
We were school children from Perlis and Kedah, hand-picked by our respective school to attend a one week "vocational guidance course" at Pusat Latihan Belia Negara at Pertak, KKB. Truthfully, I did not know - and still do not know - the criteria for my selection. The kids together with me were apparently selected for their MCE trial exam results, their extra-curricular activities and the likes.
I was 17. A scrawny boy who loved doing nothing else other than playing football, trying to play guitar properly and perhaps to sing a few songs. I had one direction in life. I had wanted to play football. If that failed, I had a back-up plan. I would be a musician.
Back home, I was under tremendous pressure from my grandma to pass my MCE. The fact that I had long curly hair and would be seen carrying my guitar around the village at night did not endear me much with her. To top it up, I had begun experimenting with cigarettes and other smoky material at such an "early" age. I was doomed.
Nevertheless, I was selected to represent my school and my state to this "vocational guidance course" together with a classmate of mine. We could not be any more different from each other. He was a prefect. And a top student. But we were - and still are - the best of friends.
On the train I met some boys and girls from other top schools in Perlis and Kedah. And I still keep in touch with one or two of them till now. As far as academic achievements were concerned, I was nowhere near these kids.
We arrived at KKB train station around 5 am. The moon was full and I remember walking around the station waiting for our transport. At about 6 am, a small mini-bus arrived to pick us up. I still remember how the pakcik drove the bus, merrily negotiating the tight corners of the small road uphill to Pertak at a speed which would make Ayrton Senna reach for his asthma inhaler.
We were all screaming our head off every time he clipped the apex of a turn at such high speed. After some time, we arrived at the Pusat Latihan Belia Pertak.
We were ushered into dormitories. After a bath and a really early breakfast, we sat in a hall waiting to know our fate. What the hell was going to happen to all of us?
The place was beautiful. Being at the foot of the Frazier's Hill, it was like a paradise. Luscious greens, old trees, sprawling football pitch, a nice swimming pool and a brook somewhere at the fringe of a jungle with water so clear that you could see your own pimple in it! I will never ever forget that place.
At about 10 am, several buses arrived. More school kids arrived. Later, I learned that they were from Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Melaka and Johor. In all, there were 86 of us, if I am not mistaken. Most of us were Malays but I would say about 30% of us were non-Malays.
After registration was over, we had a short briefing by the officials. We were introduced to one Surinder Singh, who was to take care of us during that one week. I still remember going ga-ga over his sweet assistant. I was hoping that she would adopt me!
During that one week, I had the best time of my life. I learned that the course was organised and jointly run by the Malaysian Vocational Guide Association (MAVOGA) and the Ministry of Youth and Sports. The facilitators were from the Ministry (the majority of whom were Malays) and some universities.
We were subjected to intensive brain washing programs which would start from 6 am till late at night. We were given tasks and goals to achieve. We were given the opportunity to talk, to mix around and even to party together! We were told not to smoke but Surinder had still managed to spare us smokers one or two sticks from his packet.
We had a bonfire by the side of the brook with various performances from all of us who were divided into groups. I even belted two songs that night and I believed at least 5 girls fell in love with me that night! Hahah....
I mentioned we were brain washed. But it was in a good way. We were in fact being prepared to face the real world. A whole new world after our MCE result was announced. A new world which most of us, especially me, had never even thought about before.
The highlight of the course was this talk given by Professor Yunus Md Nor from the University of Malaya. He was the best speaker of all. In his talk, he was persuading us not to go to the university. He said there are other means to make a good living. He challenged us not to go to the university.
Fast forward to 1982. I was admitted to the law faculty, University of Malaya. After one week of "orientation week" (it was ragging week actually), I realised that Professor Yunus was the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Student Affairs) of the University of Malaya.
I would knock on his door one day. I introduced myself and I told him I was in Pertak in 1980. AS he was smiling, I told him "Professor, despite what you said, I am here now. I am seeing you to tell you that you failed!" He laughed and said he in fact succeeded. It was reverse psychology, you fool! I finally realised.
I regarded Professor Yunus as a mentor. We became very close and we kept in touch even after I left the university. Sadly, he passed away some years ago. A great man. A great motivator. A great leader. Anas Zubedy (of the unity advert fame) and myself, together with some others actually took out a one page advertisement to show how we missed him when he died.
During the week in Pertak, there was not a trace of racism among us as well as the facilitators. We were all one. We learned together. We sat next to each other on the floor. We ate together. We danced and sang together.
That week actually changed my whole life. From an aimless scrawny school kid, I passed my MCE and did my Form 6 with a definite and very specific aim. I would say I become what I am today because of that week in Pertak. That week shaped and moulded me.
Today I am told that those days, such courses were run by the Ministry of Youth and Sports. The modules were established by that Ministry.
Many of the people responsible for those kind of courses were absorbed by BTN when it was under the Prime Minister Department. Somehow or other, the modules became adulterated with racism and self interest.
Among others, a famous and controversial Selangor state exco was the Deputy Director General of the BTN some time ago. The BTN was changing from side to side depending on the agenda of those in charge. There were times when it was racist. There were times when there were efforts to make it more "Islam". And there were times when the BTN was used to smear personalities like Anwar Ibrahim, Tengku Razaleigh et al.
I spoke with a former facilitator who was also responsible for establishing the BTN modules. He said it was definitely racist at one time. There were efforts to, in his own words, "bogeynise the non-Malays". These are his words. Not mine.
He told me that the course that I had gone through in Pertak was one of the module which was done by the Ministry and not BTN.
Personally, I have not attended any of the BTN courses. I had never been invited to one. But the stream of complaints emanating now, coupled with a series of counteracts by the government camp by releasing the videos recently would at the very least make a review mandatory.
I think many parties have missed the point. This is not about assigning guilt. It really does not matter what DSAI, DrM or anyone had said or done. It is about our future. It is about our kids. Because the BTN targets our kids.
It is about finding out whether something wrong has been done. If so what are they and what are the solutions? Are we going to continue with the wrongs, if indeed there are wrongs. Or are we going to revamp it?
It is about correcting the wrongs, if any, and improving the things which are right.
I hope that is not too difficult for some of us to comprehend.