Loyal Followers

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My "BTN" experience

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.




Kris said...

Oh so well said... let us move forward. Mistakes were made (despicable as they were) but let us move forward.

These are our kids and as positive an effect your pertak experience had on you, it was the power it had over you at that impressionable age that is more to the point. A power that could so easily have been used to poison you instead of empowering you...The sooner everyone wakes up to that fact...

Mohd Taufik said...

"It is about correcting the wrongs, if any, and improving the things which are right."

I couldn't agree more ^^

rob said...


"We had a bon fore by the side of the brook with various performances from all of us who were divided into groups. "

You mean bonfire.

And bonfire today is haram because it is deemed unIslamic to worship fire. No campire or bonfire even for boy scouts and girl guides. That is how far we have 'progressed'.

Anonymous said...

I am a business coach by profession and I also do a lot of career talks for final year students in private colleges.

Before that, I was a recruitment consultant and has done recruitment projects on behalf of clients for fresh graduates,

One thing I notice is that we do desperately need camps such as the one you described to prepare students for transition to the 'real world', most are not prepared, regardless of which uni/college and what race. Most settle after a couple of years of hits & misses and job hopping because they either do not know what they really want or they have unrealistic expectations.

A course like BTN, IF run professionally, benefits all. If there's nothing to hide, the syllabus & modules should be open to scrutiny, there's no need for such secrecy. Also, for the benefit of the country, ALL students should attend, not only the selected few.

Anonymous said...

Your time was 1979, just before the Mamak Kutty's era or error. But since the Mamak Kutty time the BTU was totally abused, just like the abbreviation of UMNO Baru, UtterlyManipulatingNationalObligation ByAbusingRakyatUrbanity.
It is a pity, otherwise more of the Malay brothers and sisters would have been as successful as you if not better.
Our RM would have been at par with S$ if not better with all the natural resources such as, petroleum, palm oil, rubber.... you name it we have it.
One thing we can be proud of is we are exporting "brain" by the thousands every year. That is what the present BankruptNation regime is good at. They are ABC, Abusive, Bullshitting and Corrupt!
Why are we lacking behind now?
Cambodia is moving closer to be like us, soon we will be behind Indonesia and we are heading toward the Zimbabwe. What's a pity!?

zorro said...

Art, will be putting this post as my Friday Guest Blogger, come Friday. Any idea if the NS is heading the BTN way, deaths, fights and all.

art harun said...


Thanks for the feature on Friday. My pleasure.

NS? Hmmph...

Suci Dalam Debu said...


To move forward, we have to make those who adulterated the courses to be accountable.

Like some slack & "guilty" government servants, they get transferred or demoted to another desk job or whatever but not fired or brought to justice.

That is s sure way to move BACKWARD.

F1 said...

I like to read your articles as I find your views very well articulated and they are also funny. You are indeed witty.

However, I must you are very biased in this article. -You said the bus driver drove in a way that would make Aryton Senna reach for his inhaler. C'mon any unbiased person would have used Michael Schumacher, 7 times F1 drivers champ, as an example.

Anonymous said...

I sure miss this type of Youth gatherings. Unfortunately most of those gatherings I had were self sponsored, unlike yours. And the members were limited, such as within classmates or college.

Yeap, when I was in the college a few years later on, outting with the college mates who were mostly Malays (80%), they were already different. My best friend in the college, whom I had helped a lot for the last 3 years, does not even want to share the tent with me because I am a "dirty" non-Muslim. That is first racial harmony experience that I ever had.

Then, after college, I worked in a large International Company. My promotion was limited because day in and day out I was told by my Malay boss about the Quota System.

Obviously when opportunity arised, I quitted and jumped into the wagon to contribute my expertise to an international company outside Malaysia. That is when I realize what meritocracy is. During bad time, my Aussie boss is willing to keep me and retrench the other colleague who is an Aussie as well. Of course this is based on my work performance, no other reason.
Right now, I have the reputation and frequently being offered jobs in Malaysia. Do you expect me to look back into works in Malaysia ? No freaking way !!

Anonymous said...


roxy said...

Those were the days, those were the days... Too bad the kids nowadays could not experience the same. It was our loss.

Beautifully written as usual. My compliments.

Anonymous said...

You have brought back a memory from the good old days where we sat together as friends and race just didnt matter, we were just friends, Chinese, Malays, Indians and others, all together in the spirit of friendship and brotherhood.

I am a couple or so years older than you and I thought that it ended then but I guess Muhibah (a word now forgotten) carried on a little longer.

In a way it makes me sad to see from a successful multi-racial society we have now become more closer to bigotry and racist society. Sad.

tsunami unleashed said...

Mr. Art Harun,

If our Leaders were to think of "building" malaysia and malaysians, i am very sure that it can be done within 10 years. But because they are so self-centred, power crazy, corrupted mind, cheaters, "uneducated" moron, self interest come first, malaysians come second or last, Malaysia is a failed country. The policy/ies drawn / drafted by the those idiots is such that they wanted the rakyat to be stupid. To follow their ideals with no second thought. They never wanted the rakyat to have critical thinking, evaluative thinking.
And BTN under the youth & sport ministry? But look at our sport and youth?
I strongly believed that the lecturers at BTN are not motivators, not a good leaders, rather they are spoilers, idiot, goons, or just plain son-of-a-bitch. Why should you instilled fear,hatred,vengence,being revengeful. If i were the lecturer there i would rather hang myself. Ashame that you don't and never contributed to nation building, character building.
They should instilled self-confidence, positive thinkers, being proactive not reactive and lots of positive values.
Shame on you, the lecturers at BTN. Shame on you,the stupid country leaders. Shame on you, the idiot and stupid policy makers. Go and commit suicide because you has failed the nation.

Raison D'etre said...

Dear Art,
I have never been to a BTN course or whatcammacallit.

the module itself is quite nice sounding isn't it: Biro Tata Negara, and your experience seems to embody what it was supposed to do.

Along the way, someone (or some institution..) plain hijacked it for his (or its) own selfish objectives.

The similarity to the Malaysia-dream is similar, wouldn't you say so?

Now, just is this dastardly someone (or something)?

BTN itself doesn't need a revamp if this "tumor" is surgically removed and burned so that no trace of it remains.

KS Cheah said...

Hi Art,

Well put. My view is that the BTN be retained with changes:


Bernard Khoo brought up a very pertinent point; what about the Nasional Service? What are the kids being told?

Zul Hassan said...

Let's test the stuff of a racist chimp who has something against Indians/Mamaks, judging from his usage of "kutty", who laid all the blame on Dr Mahathir.

Wonder where this chimp was in 1999?... voting for BN & Dr Mahathir most probably and calling the understanding between DAP, Keadilan and PAS as "strange bedfellows... Islam extremists". Or maybe Chimpy will claim that "he was always against Dr Mahathir... FROM 1969!" :-)

Chimpy conveniently chose to forget one guy wearing spectacles who was a minister from around 1982/3 right until the end of the 90's. And this specky was a Finance Minister too once. Not only that - Specky (whose sexual preference is being questioned; but hey, it's his `personal choice', right?) was a noted closet racist too (or maybe these are BN lies?).

But since only Specky is able to keep the tottering `coalition' from pulling out the knives and slashing each other's throats now rather than later when they somehow win power, let's just be good monkeys by closing our mouths to Specky's past and blame everything on Mahathir ya?:-)

Old Fart said...

Surinder Singh was my classmate at MBS Sentul. Anyone knows what he is up to these days?

Anonymous said...

I believe BTN has spread their proganda to Sabah and Sarawak and poisoning their minds of the citizens there too. The only place where you can see Muslim and non-Muslimg eating together is in Sabah but very soon things will change if BTN has its way. It is obvious the BTN is run by bigots.
From that apanama to that BTN minister and his team of facilitators. We spent our energy and resources on the wrong things leaving very little for the development of the nation. Sometimes I feel like crying seeing this beautiful country being ruined by just a handful of people who have so much hatred in their heart. Why can't they accept and live with other races. What is this supremacy and ketuanan all about. When the world is breaking down walls we are building one after another. When will this madness end?

art harun said...

Old Fart,

I have lost touch with him since we left the camp. Would love to meet him again. Please tell me if you manage to contact him.


Q14 said...

i went for BTN this year. The speakers were racist and pro government...he even said those who vote for the opposition will be the ones responsible for endangering the country's peace. He even insulted Hindraf. He was aggressive also,
his jokes were about killing cats.

SO horrible! Btw, I'm a upper 6 student.

Anonymous said...

BTN should be dissolved.