My “BTN” experience

Art Harun

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 about 30% of us were non-Malays.