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Of women married to foreigners and dealing with people

June 1, 2011

I was in legal practice for 8 years before I joined the corporate world. Just had enough of practice. Notwithstanding the fact that I couldn’t stand the practice any longer, those 8 years taught we an awful lot about a lot of things. The obvious ones would be the working experience and some legal knowledge of course. But in all honesty, I believe the most valuable thing I learned during my years in practice is the art of communication, people skills and reading people.

In practice, you meet people everyday, mostly different people. You also learn to understand that different people need to be treated differently. You have clients who are very understanding and at the same time you have client who will call you at 10 pm and ask you about their cases. The last thing you need is getting a call from a client while you are getting comfortable at home with your family watching TV or doing whatever it is that you like. And mind you, it is 10 pm!

I once had a client who is a local Malay lady. Nothing wrong with that. Except for the fact that she’s married to a Mat Salleh. You see, I’ve met some very nice Malaysians who are married to foreigners. Unfortunately, not this one. It started as a harmless property transaction. She bought a property for RM600,000 if I’m not mistaken. Come on lah, RM600,000 aje pun! But she game me hell. Wanted to insert a lot of unreasonable clauses in the Sale and Purchase Agreement (which made the negotiation process extremely complicated), asking me to appeal to the Government on the amount of her stamp duty (nobody does that, ever), threatened to sue me for a delay which was attributable to her in the first place and a host of other nonsense that I had to put through.

The thing is, probably being married to a Mat Salleh gave her a sense of (false) superiority over us locals. Which for the life of me I cannot understand why. If you can please enlighten me. Are they any better than us? Does being married to a foreigner suddenly gives you Superman-like powers? I honestly don’t think so. That is exactly why I decided not to cut them any slack. Although they did put me in a spot of bother, I persevered. After what felt like an eternity, the transaction was over and I moved on (but not without a great deal of resentment against creatures of this sort).

That chapter closed, I had to deal with a business partner who is the most selfish person you’ll ever meet. There’s all this talk of persevering in the face of adversity, but if you go and buy a belt for RM1,700 and I have a take home pay of RM500 a month, that’s hardly an adversity for you isn’t it? But me being the naive one, I kept going on. The amount of stress I was put under was hardly ideal. Being the punching bag for clients (and at the same time maintaining a cool exterior) and at the same time getting all the rollicking from this business partner guy. I honestly believe that was the worst 4 and a half years of my life. The situation then was simply a travesty to the term “partnership” to say the least.

Earlier on, I could never say no to anybody. Every request was met with a yes. Which considering the circumstances prevailing then was probably the wrong thing to do. And it gave me a lot of grief. Thinking back, I should’ve refused a lot of assignments then. But in the interest of the partnership I accepted them. In any case, in my mind it was all for the good of the business. I was asked to be patient. “Good things will come”, I was told. Good things all right. But good things for you and only you. I was left in the lurch. Left with no choice, I quit, sold whatever I had and suddenly I was on my own. That was when my pasar malam phase started. That further trained me in the art of dealing with people. I can honestly say that being at the pasar malam was a truly enriching experience. Here you are, conducting retail business to a wide variety of customers, not only clients who patronise the services of a legal firm.

I remember this guy, Sufian, who had a stall in front of mine. I genuinely liked him and we became fast friends. Whenever I don’t have that many customers, I’d go over to his stall and help him out at his stall. He sells blankets and towels. Simple items, but on a good day he could really make a killing at the tills. We kept in contact for quite some time. Then there’s this kakak with her husband who sells children’s clothing. Quite an elderly couple, but a friendly one nevertheless. I was known at the pasar malam as the go to guy if you need to get small change. As my wife works in a bank, I got a good supply of “duit kecik”. And so I made many friends and slowly learned to understand their way of life. To be honest, those were good times. Sure, I was extremely worried about how I was going to survive and provide for my family, but good times nevertheless.

So I felt when I joined the corporate world with Sime Darby in 2007 I was reasonably equipped with the skills to be able to deliver and perform my duties well. It turned out into quite a good stint in my view. I do hope I’ve discharged my duties well and that people there remember me fondly (if they do remember me at all that is). I’ve always tried to treat people the best way I could as I don’t think anybody deserves to be treated badly. And I think holding on to that principle has served me well over the years. I still remember the heartache I experienced whenever anybody was nasty to me and I vowed never to let others experience the pain I went through.

They say hindsight is a good thing. I wholeheartedly agree. Now, I do not hesitate to say no anymore. But I always make sure I give a valid reason for saying no. I also try my best to maintain a good relationship with people and say things in the best way possible. You can tell people they’re useless in a way that will make them feel good after you’re done with them. So I’ll just continue doing what I do and see what comes out of it.


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