Atchafalaya Swamp

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The World According to...Lorry Eng

Eng ‘Lorry’ Bukan Eng 'Dobby’

A certain ‘Net commentator had mentioned to me (in another forum) to do a piece on this enterprising and unassuming Mr. Eng, a transportation tycoon from the northern region of Peninsular Malaysia.

Mr. Eng, hale and hearty at 69, is the typical Chinaman who arrived in the then British Colony of the Malay States—at age 10—with literally the shirt on his back, and a penchant for hard work. His isn't a typical rags-t0-riches story though, because his father and uncles had arrived much earlier and later sent for him.

He had started his transportation business in the early sixties bit-by-painstaking bit: first with small lorries to transport oil palm from the field to the mill, then branching out to trucking. It now encompasses everything from container trucks and general-goods trucks with side-curtains, to specialized tankers for fuels and sugar.

I had the opportunity to lunch with him and played chauffer in my wife’s Honda when he showed us around the wonderful towns of Bagan Serai and Parit Buntar. Believe me, these are wonderful towns that evoked the era of days-gone-by.

While driving him around (with him insisting each time to drag us to even more out-of the-way places) he gave my traveling partner and I a blow-by-blow account of events that had shaped the area in the last 50 to 60 years. We couldn’t help but keep glancing at our watches. It was only time constraints that forced us to politely decline his animated ‘tour guiding’ offers since I really needed to be back in KL. I was leaving for Indonesia the next day you see, and it had already violated a tenet in making the trip, which was solely to attend a funeral of an old school chum’s father.

There are lessons to be learnt from this from self-made millionaire that no How-To or Harvard-type business books could ever hope to impart. It is easy to see why, too.

Right of the bat he appeared enthusiastic at our visit. It was my partner who knew him really, but the way he treated me made me feel like we’re cut from the same cloth. In minutes we were acting like last long, lost buddies. He has the innate ability to make you feel at ease, and I can see why this singular trait had made him very rich. I suppose he treats us just like he treats any of his business associates, or government department officials his businesses so much depends on.

And he is hard one to resist when he makes an offer—an invitation or proposal because he also proposes alternatives that it’s impossible to turn down. Mr. Eng is by no means urbane, speaks almost no English, and his Malay is of the China Sayor/Bukit variety. In other words, just your typical apek. His drives a regular re0conditioned Volvo despite owning a fleet of trucks (The new S-Class would not be beyond him), but no so frugal as to not sport a modest Rolex on his wrist.

Jangan kasi peluh keluar barang kichi

With charm and wit in spades, you can almost forgive his halting and sometimes incomprehensible Malay. When asked the secret of longevity and good health, I swear it sounded like an excerpt of the popular book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. “Itu kichi-kichi punya hut jangan kasi pusing kepala laa” was how he put it. How apt indeed, Mr.Eng.

And he’s a big believer of fate to0. Shades reminiscent of Qadak and Qadar? Of course he had omitted to tell stories of the decades of hardships and toil. As we passed the back roads, he commented on the wooden rows of Chinese shops probably a century old. He was trying to prove a point about a person’s ‘luck’.

Not all Chinese who migrated to Malaya 'make it'. He said, “Ini cina ar, bukan semua bole jadi kaya. Kalu betot apa pasai sudah ada tiga generation—masih itu duduk dalam itu kedai kayu lagi…apa pasai bukan di banglo di KL ka apa…jadi dia punya nasib sudah itu macam”.

That’s fate and destiny for you, according to Mr. Eng.

Also, he doesn’t believe in expanding into other lines of businesses even if he was flushed with funds, especially a business he knows little of. When asked why he never ventured into, say, construction. He said, “Aiyah, cukup aja kita bikin ini transport (business), mana tau kalau saya jadi developer mungkin sudah bangkrap”—or words to that effect. So just stick with one knows best was his advice and to not be overly ambitious.

Better not overextend oneself, I suppose. For the consequences can be disastrous!

Please don’t entertain that notion of “bukak cawangan baru” no matter how tempting your riches can afford you to. Hmm...was that the point he was trying to make?

Mr. Eng had probably been a multi-millionaire in the seventies, so I asked him why he didn’t buy himself a title, especially from a State like Perak, where titles were once sold (probably still is) to the highest bidders? This prompted a tirade from him in that WHY would anyone want a Datukship? Why create a headache for oneself and attract attention from all kinds of people?

I'm assuming he meant attention from 'no-gooders'.

Syoru punya hal..daa

That few hours spent in the restaurant and later in the car driving around barely scratched the surface of this apek’s infinite wisdom. And speaking of the restaurant, inappropriately called the Shangri La, I must say it was one of the best Malaysian Chinese cuisine that has ever landed on my tongue, into my oesophagus, and out the juboq.

So much so that I promised myself in a few months’ time (after my wife has fully recovered from maternity duties) I would drive the three-hour drive from KL to this fine establishment just so my better half can be similarly feted. It’s THAT good.

And I can say with some authority here because in a past life, I had also eaten at a place called the Celadon in Chinatown San Francisco. Some overseas Chinese swear that the Celadon serves “the best Dim Sum (dumplings) dishes anywhere—even better than the best ones in Hong Kong”. Apparently the best Chinese cooks from Hong Kong were pinched and taken there. From connoissuers in that Gay City I had heard that second best Dim Sum is in Vancouver, Canada.

Matsalo, the purveyor of fine syoru, among other fine things has also tasted exquisite Keralan and North Indian cuisine. But that's another story. Please don’t ask the ‘kosher-ness’ of the foods I’ve sampled though, I already said it was in a past life, duh!

We literally licked cleaned the plates—fish gravy and all. Surprisingly, if this old man has such a hearty appetite, how come he’s clean of all the afflictions that “rich” foods can supposedly bring? Same with that 50p-a-trick prostitute in Nairobi, Kenya I guess. The one supposedly immune to AIDS and got the worlds’ medical researchers all agog at the moment.

I suppose we can sum up a couple of points from Eng Lorry's Pearls of Wisdom:

· Specialize in one thing, and do it well
· Don’t sweat the small stuff (heard this plenty of times before)
· Don’t be greedy, learn to be grateful
· Work hard, play hard, but take the time to stop and smell the roses
· Be humble, and never show arrogance
· Don’t worry be happy?

But the one I liked best: If you chose to be indiscrete, do it elsewhere!

(Isn't this the same as 'Don’t eat and shit at the same place?')