Although my dad knew that a Taiwanese degree would not be recognised in Malaya, it was the best chance he had to leave his small hometown. In 1964, dad enrolled in Civil Engineering at the National University of Taiwan and graduated four years later.

Title: Fish in the Well
Dad’s Memoirs – eBook coming soon

Dad had the vision to see a bigger future for himself and was a very capable student, but he could not have succeeded if others hadn’t given him a chance.

Financial support

His eldest sister gave him $50 a month from her salary as a mid-wife. Dad was no saint, often using up the money before the end of the month. He would then would turn up for his tutoring job near meal times so that when it was time to eat, the student would, out of courtesy, ask, ‘Would you like to stay for dinner?’

Black and White photo of nurse
My dad’s eldest sister in her midwifery uniform

Emotional support

In the early years, when he started working in KL, there were times when dad was not paid. At those times, he ‘could only eat simple food and not even go to the movies’. It was terribly depressing. A senior engineer tried to lift dad’s spirits by telling him, ‘Since the recession of 1964, there has been no need for another engineer at the firm, but when your application came in, I told Dr Lau (the boss) that I had never seen such good results before. I advised him to take you on board if he could afford to because you would be useful in the future.’

Professional support

Although dad did the same work as UK or Australian graduates, he was paid significantly less because his Taiwanese degree was not recognised. So dad decided to sit for the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) external exams. Because dad’s Chinese school leaving certificate was not also recognised, he would have to sit for an English language proficiency exam, and then his Senior Cambridge Certificate, before even attempting the ICE exams. On hearing of dad’s intention to sit for external professional exams, Dr Lau wrote a letter of recommendation on dad’s behalf so that dad could sit for his Part 1 ICE exams directly.

We all need a chance

Dad was a brilliant student but others along the way gave him a chance. We all need people to believe in us and give a chance at some point in our lives. It may be when we mess up and need a second chance. It may be that we speak with a different accent or are unaccustomed to the culture of a new country. It may be that we are new graduates and every job opening wants people with experience.

When I was in my own third year of engineering studies, I needed work experience. None of the companies I wrote to had a place for me. Some didn’t even reply. Finally, my mother asked her friend, who agree that I could do some work experience in Motorola in Malaysia. I was very reluctant to accept this position, unwilling to use family connections, even though it was only holiday work experience with no pay. But, with no other offers, I took it up. I was tasked with writing computer code to analyse the number of defective semiconductor chips produced by a particular machine. There were senior engineers tasked with helping me out, giving me reference books to help me. But I had to get the job done. There were many late nights, debugging code, trying to reconcile difference in reported outcomes with reality. I had a working product at the end of the six weeks, and they asked me back the following year, so I guess I did OK.

When people ask for a chance, they are seldom asking for special treatment. Rather, they would like a chance to demonstrate what they are capable of and how hard they are willing to work. At some point or other, we all need a chance, especially those who are not born into educated, wealthy or well-connected families. Sometimes, those are the hardest workers.

Has anyone ever given you a chance? Have you ever given someone else a chance? Do leave a comment below. Would love to hear from you.


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