First job friendships

The theme for the Grand Reunion was
The way we were
In this part of the world, we are pretty much defined by a job or a career.  I was brought up with the ideal that young people should keep themselves gainfully employed and ingrained with an attitude to study hard and secure a job, and ultimately retire with it.  In those days quitting or changing jobs, was quite unheard of and being unemployed was deemed an abject shame to both the individual and their family. 

As I mulled over which career path to choose, I was encouraged not to waste any time but to seek a job.  In the late 1970s, my parents were still working with the government Health Center in Masai and Pasir Gudang was just being developed with Johor Port.  At that time, my eldest sister was working with a Japanese firm in Pasir Gudang and my second sister was helping a doctor in a private clinic while she applied to do nursing abroad.

The shipping industry was at its infancy in Johor Port and Malaysia Shipyard Engineering or MSE [now known as Malaysia Marine & Heavy Engineering or MMHE] was just established. 

The pioneer three, back together again - Peggy Loh,
Noormala Ariffin and Usha Nair [L to R]
My parents saw the potential in being a pioneer in the companies that were starting operations in Pasir Gudang and urged me to join the workforce where I may discover what I really wanted to do – or conversely, what I did not want to do!  Fresh from finishing my A-Level exams, my dad drove me to an administrative building situated at the entrance of Johor Port and encouraged me to knock on the doors of newly opened offices, to ask for a job.

I do not have any memory of the interview but I know I was appointed as Clerk/Typist with a starting salary of RM275 per month.  It was my first foray into the working world and even though the pay was a mere pittance, I was proud to be employed and financially independent for the very first time in my life.  Looking back to that fateful day, I guess they must have been on a recruitment drive because I just walked through that door, applied for the position and got the job!

Usha Nair [Left] with Noormala Ariffin
Usha Nair, Noormala Ariffin and I were the clerical team working with Anuar Hashim, the Operations Executive in charge of MISC Coastal Services, a subsidiary of Malaysia International Shipping Corporation that provided container shipping services between Pasir Gudang and ports in East Malaysia. 

The first day of my working life is simply unforgettable because my colleagues and I were thrown into the action of preparing a ship’s manifest and have it ready to sail with the loaded vessel.  I was not aware of what else was happening in the warehouse but in the office, we worked round the clock – until the sun came up the next morning – to get the manifest ready to leave with the vessel!

Former colleagues [L to R] Letchumanan Rathanam, Anuar
Hashim, Abdul Rahim Hj Abdul Razak and Steven Koh

It was already our second day of work and I barely went home to shower and change before returning to the office to start on the manifest for the next vessel.  My two colleagues went home to Johor Baru and quickly returned to help complete the document to sail with the departing vessel. 

By then it too late for them to go home so I asked them to stay with me in Masai as it would soon be morning and we had to go to work again and repeat the whole process of rushing the manifest for the next vessel that was arriving and leaving according to the ship schedule.

Former staff of MISC Johor at the Grand Reunion
As an improved system was implemented and new staff joined the team, the work was not as hectic for the three pioneers in the office and I had a more specific job that included freight calculations and secretarial support.  We worked crazy long hours where our work depended on the ships’ schedules and we literally learnt overnight about job commitment and working as a team to accomplish a set target.  We learnt a great deal from experience and treasured friendships that bonded us as close as families.

I remember Noormala was first to leave the team to get married and then I quit to pursue my studies.  Later Usha also married and moved to live in Canada for several years and we lost touch with each other.  This exciting start to my working life was just a shadow of how my career unfolded and trained me in interesting chapters to where I am today. 

Shaiful Bahri Adnan delivering his welcome speech
that he opened by singing, The way we were
I later learnt that the idea for a Grand Reunion was mooted at the demise of one of our former colleagues because the time was ripe to reconnect with each other again.  On Dec 16, some 108 former MISC Johor colleagues, many with their families, met again after more than 30 years, to renew their acquaintance and reminisce about life in the early years of shipping in Pasir Gudang.  The mood was convivial as former colleagues made new memories and exchanged email and telephone contacts to stay in touch. 

When organising chairman, Hj Shaiful Bahri Adnan, opened his speech with the first few lines of pop song, “The way we were,” it was pure nostalgia because singing loudly was his unique way to relief the tremendous work tension in our early days on the job.  It was a meaningful reunion as we looked back and marveled at how we worked tirelessly together and treasure a friendship that started with working in challenging circumstances.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets, on 2 January 2013


I received several comments from former colleagues after they read this article, :

Shaiful said:  It brought tears to my eyes!

Mariam said:  Wow!  I'm so touched.

Zanariah said:  It really brought back all those memories - Thank you, Peggy!


In a box of old letters and collectibles, I discovered notes that my dad wrote and enclosed with the home-cooked lunches he used to send to the office.  In the early days of Johor Port, there were no food outlets nearby and because of the heavy workload, I hardly found time to go in search of food.  The meals sent from home were a welcome comfort in the challenging circumstances and you will get an idea of how supportive my dad was - and still is - of my work!

When I unfolded this note, something fell out...
Dad had enclosed two lengths of toothpicks for me to prop up my tired eyes!

Dad's love shone through each note and his sense of humour
was a great encouragement especially when I was in a first job that was so challenging!

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