Monday, 26 October 2009

Making Connections

I'm so excited and I want to share it with you, my dear BBGSians. The Star has published a feature on my career & travels under the Malaysians Abroad column today: Apologies in advance for tooting my own horn :-)

While her job is in training, Joanna Yeoh never wants to stop learning.

FROM surviving the 1997 riots in Jakarta to learning to trade electricity in Brisbane, Joanna Yeoh’s work has taken her places.Being a travel enthusiast, Yeoh has no complaints. So far, she has worked in eight different countries and lived abroad for as many years.

“In Jakarta, I was posted to work on a process improvement project. We always had our passports and plane tickets with us just in case of an emergency evacuation,” recalled Yeoh, who was attached to a global consulting group in Malaysia back then, via e-mail.

In 1999, Yeoh was sent for her first long-term posting to Brisbane, Australia, and held the position of generation forecasting manager.“I had so much fun learning how to speak Strine (Australian slang) and understanding cricket and rugby because, otherwise, nobody spoke to you on Monday mornings,” she quipped.

Currently, Yeoh, 39, is regional senior manager of learning and organisational development with McDermott, an oil and gas services company, in Singapore.

The former Bukit Bintang Girls School student graduated with a Bachelor of Economics from Universiti Malaya in 1994. She went on to obtain her MBA in International Business from the University of Birmingham, Britain, in 1996, on a British Council Chevening Scholarship.

She returned to Malaysia in 1997 to join the global consulting group as a consultant in energy and mining. In the next seven years, she had stints in Australia, Indonesia, South Korea and Singapore.

Yeoh assumed the post of vice-president of human resources with a Malaysian entertainment and resorts company in 2003. “That was one of my most interesting and challenging jobs. It’s a 24/7, 365-day operation there with the casinos, hotels and theme parks, hence, a never-ending cycle of recruitment, training and payroll. I loved every minute of working with the team there who were super-men and super-women!”

In 2006, Yeoh joined a multinational energy and petrochemical company for about a year before moving to Singapore in 2007 to join an American-based microprocessor solutions provider.Last year, she spent six months in Shanghai on a project (under the same company) as head of leadership and organisational development for the Asian region.

“I had the chance to build its learning and development teams and also witness the phenomenal growth of China. My proudest achievement was finally learning to speak Mandarin.“I believe that China is ready to claim prominence on the world stage and is on the brink of a new ‘dynasty’ to rival the golden years of the Han, Tang or Ming dynasties.”

In her current position, which she assumed recently, Yeoh works with senior leadership teams to help improve the effectiveness of their organisational structure and people. “The most common areas of focus are performance management, talent and succession planning, leadership development and change management. This is a specialist field within human resources management,” she explained.

Her role is to keep things simple.

“While many leaders acknowledge the importance of organisational development or change management, it is often seen as nebulous and obscure in practice. My challenge is always to keep things ‘simple, implementable and tangible’ so that the benefits can be seen clearly and quickly.”

Yeoh finds satisfaction in her career by playing a role in selecting and honing young talents – “when I meet management trainees whom I hired as fresh graduates walk up to me and say, ‘Miss Joanna, I made it. I’m now a manager in XYZ department. Thank you for giving me a chance and helping me to grow.’”

Not surprisingly, one of her aims is to groom future leaders. “I am passionate about coaching Asian leaders to lead at regional or international levels,” said Yeoh, who also hopes to pursue a PhD in the next five years.

The Kuala Lumpur-born also believes in trying new things and lending a helping hand to others. “My goal is to become the best person that God created me to be. Every year, I try to learn and practise something new, from skydiving to learning Mandarin to walking on hot coals.

“More importantly, I believe in giving back by helping someone else. One of my favourite quotes is by Winston Churchill: ‘We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.’”

Fact File
NAME: Joanna Yeoh
AGE: 39
HOMETOWN: Kuala Lumpur
EDUCATION: Bukit Bintang Girls School,Universiti Malaya, KL; University of Birmingham, Britain
OCCUPATION: Leadership and organisational development consultant

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Garage 9

Have you ever wondered what happened to Miss Prouse and Miss Glasgow during World War 2? Up until last week, all I knew was that they were interned in Palembang, Sumatra. Thanks to Barbara Coombes, a Masters student at London Metropolitan University, we now have a unique glimpse into their lives as prisoners-of-war. I am very grateful to Barbara for sharing her research with us. We'd love to hear from you if you have any comments about this article.

Views of Palembang in South Sumatra, circa 1935

Women’s internment camp at Palembang, Sumatra

Fleeing from the fall of Singapore, many civilian women found themselves interned in camps throughout Sumatra, Java and the Philippines during the World War 2. Eva Prouse and Mary Glasgow were among the women in a camp at Palembang Sumatra, although they were moved many times during their internment. However it was at Palembang camp early in their captivity that they found themselves housed in Garage 9. The houses, previously a Dutch settlement were already occupied, often 30 to a house!

Garage 9 was to be their home for nearly a year and they shared this small space with 12 other women and one orphaned little boy. This group appeared to have a particular bond with several keeping and hiding diaries recording their captivity. There were four Presbyterian missionaries, a civilian teacher; a nurse with the Colonial Nursing Service; the wife of the choirmaster at St.Andrew’s Cathedral in Singapore with her daughter who was in her early twenties, three other wives, a young single woman and the small boy. Mary Glasgow apparently had the nickname ‘Paddy’ because she came from Ireland.

(L-R) Miss Eva Prouse and Miss Mary Glasgow

Their days centred on all the chores that they had to undertake in order to survive with tasks allocated according to physical ability. Task such as carrying great lengths of wood to cut for firewood to fuel the fires for cooking needed strength and to keep them burning one had to stoop low and keep fanning the heat, therefore the younger members took on these tasks. Mary herself said that she enjoyed getting up early to chop the wood! They cooked in pairs and for their own group, later when they were moved to another camp the cooking was done centrally. Other chores that had to be completed were: cleaning the rice as it arrived with glass, stones, weevils and maggots and had to be painstakingly cleaned. Often other rations, if they were lucky, were just dumped in the grounds of the camp so had to be collected. Water also had to be carried a long way then used for cleaning food before being able to be used for personal washing. The worst job of all was clearing the open drains that serviced what passed for toilets. The heat and humidity of course made these tasks even worse. It was amazing that in the light of this that the women managed to keep their dignity and supported each other. Physical conditions and the women’s health deteriorated, as they were move from camp to camp and many suffered from malaria, dysentery and beriberi. Only 4 women and the small boy survived from Garage 9.

Despite the conditions, particularly in the early days when they were all in much better health, some women were able to earn a little money that was used to buy extra food, albeit very small amounts. Eva Prouse volunteered for the sewing party making garments for the Japanese military. There was much debate and excitement when she came back with her first 50 cents! How were they to spend it? One diary records that once they bought a whole banana! Later it became clear that the children of the camp were running wild so a school system begun with Eva Prouse in charge of the seniors and Mary Glasgow assisting. Other women took on the younger children and also ran language classes for the adults. One of the Presbyterian missionaries, Margaret Dryburgh from Garage 9, along with another internee Norah Chambers started a ‘vocal orchestra’ giving concerts to the camp internees. The ‘orchestra’ in four parts hummed classical pieces; the scores had been written down by memory – an astounding feat. The women worked hard at trying to keep spirits high but many of the activities, as the years passed, had to be forsaken as they fought hard to stay alive. From the very beginning, Margaret Dryburgh assisted by others, ran Sunday services and bible readings, helping to sustain the women throughout their ordeal.

Sadly, Eva Prouse died but Mary Glasgow survived and returned to Kuala Lumpur to continue her work in teaching.

Barbara Coombes researching women’s internment for a Masters Degree at London Metropolitan University, London.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Candle 31: Melody Gan

Melody Gan from the class of 1990 shares her BBGS memories with us.

Hi Joanna,

You probably do not remember me but I think you were a few years ahead of me at BBGS. Anyway, after years of being incognito and moving from country to country, I finally succumbed and joined Facebook. When prompted for the entry for high school, I was stunned to find that there was no entry for BBGS, but an entry for CBN. How can that be possible??!!! So I googled BBGS and found out that the name has been changed, and that led me straight to your website.

Anyway, I think it is great what you are doing to keep the BBGS spirit alive! How are you, by the way? As for me, I have been away from Malaysia for 17 years. It saddens me to know that BBGS no longer exists as it was instrumental in giving me the strength and fearless (in mandarin - "bu pa shi" or in cantonese "mm pa sei"...not afraid to die) attitude that propelled me through my life so far. I was there from 1980-1985 for primary school and then 1986 to 1990 for secondary school. Do you know anyone from class of 1990?

BBGS was a life-turning experience for me as I was incredibly shy as a kid, but somehow had the guts to try for every activity in the school. Hence, I was in a play every year in secondary school, became head cheerleader of Cooke House in Form 5, represented the school in rhythmic gymnastics and some dance performances. It was utopia for me as it taught me that you could achieve anything you set your mind to.

One especially funny memory was in Biology with Mrs Wong who was one of my favorite teachers. I was in 5S4, and we were supposed to dissect cockroaches that day, which of course no one relished. It was the last period of the day for us, and we were trying to slip chloroform into the plastic bags which contained the roaches when some of the girls panicked and the roaches escaped. Of course that resulted in pandemonium as about 40 screaming girls ran out onto the netball field which was right next to the main road. Unfortunately, the girls from 5S5 were having their class photo taken, and were neatly stacked on benches and tables on the field. There was also a lot of traffic on the main road. We were hysterical and had our skirts up to our chests, and jumped all over those girls. Before long, we had 80 screaming girls all over the field and traffic came to a standstill. We certainly exposed ourselves that day and needless to say, Mrs Wong was not amused.

My friends were some of the most amazing girls I ever met and have turned into some pretty incredible women - too many to list and I do not want to single anyone out since they were all great but some names that come to mind are Yap Lee Mei, Ng Wei Leng, Gan Gek Choo, Lisa Ng, Lee Li Ling, Ammetha Kaur, Sujatha, Chin Yoke Yuen, Lim Ping, Loke Foong Wai, Amarjit Kaur, Rekha, etc. Unfortunately, I have lost touch with so many of them due to my frequent moves and intense work schedule.

Joanna says: A great way to get back in touch with your friends is to share your story on this blog and I guarantee that our readers will get in touch with you! I have already sent Melody the emails of two friends on her list :-)

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Candle 30: Juliana Yeoh

I am very proud and honoured to introduce our next BBGSian: Juliana Yeoh. She is my sister and my best friend. And as sweet as that may sound, it's not been an easy ride. I've always known that her BBGS experience was very different from mine but it's only in the last two years that I've begun to understand how significantly different it was. Here's Julie in her own words...

(L-R): Joanna & Juliana at Lake Tahoe last spring

My journey in BBGS started from Primary 1 to Form 5 (1980-1990). My perspective will be slightly different than most. Here is my story.....

Throughout my time in BBGS, I have always been "Joanna Yeoh's sister" or "Mrs Yeoh's daughter". I never really had my own identity. Not many knew me for who I am or what I can do. I am so different from Joanna in every way and the opposite in terms of personality. I have the utmost respect and love for my sister, Joanna and I knew I would not achieve or do the things that she achieved. But in BBGS, I somewhat felt I did not live up to those achievements or standards Joanna had set. It was kind of hard living in her shadow (and I don't blame Joanna for it). This was my life. I lived with a huge chunk of insecurity. In my later years, I grew to find my identity and evolved to be the person I am now. A little late but I made it!

My most enjoyable times in BBGS will have to be the times I spent with the ‘Croakers” and working together in the Interact Club. Till this day, 20 years down the road we are still great friends despite being scattered all over the world. These are great friendships I made in BBGS. They loved me for who I am, with all my baggage. Thanks to Facebook and the blog we are now connected. Even now that I am here in Sacramento, California; I have Sujatha Rajagopal living in Tracy, just 2 hours drive away.

BBGS shaped my character and planted in me values that make me who I am today. Integrity, independence and achieving your dreams, no matter big or small, these are the values I hold dear to this day. It is now becoming a rare asset.

After BBGS, I did my STPM and then received a sponsorship from Subang Jaya Medical Center (SJMC) to study nursing at Klang College of Nursing. After graduating, I worked in SJMC and later in Sunway Medical Center. The lessons I learnt in BBGS like cleaning toilets and sweeping floors, has taught me that no job is beneath me. Nursing is not a glamourous profession, no matter where you are in the world. It is a profession of servanthood. It is physically and emotionally demanding, but with the right attitude, nursing is the best job in the world.

In 2006, when I received an opportunity to be sponsored for a green card and work as a Registered Nurse (RN) in the USA, I jumped at the chance. It has always been my dream to work as a RN in the USA.

I am now living in Sacramento, California. Many Americans have remarked that I did a very brave thing by jumping on a plane and flying halfway across the world to establish a new life here. The only thing I can tell them is that it was my dream to be living in the USA and I worked hard to achieve my dreams.

Looking back, being an RN, helped me develop my personality and chipped away all the insecurity that I once carried on my shoulders. Through my personal experience, I now can understand people a little better, see through the front many patients put up and help them with the core problems that they face.

I am really enjoying my life here in the USA and whenever I can, I plant the BBGS seed in the people here. Dream big dreams and work on achieving it.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Candle 29: Lucy Low (Leng Ah Mooi)

I was thrilled to hear from Lucy Low this week. She was the School Captain in 1962 and writes to us from Sydney. Lucy's a little shy about sharing a photo but we're still honoured to share her heart-felt memories.

They say time is never an issue when you retire. I am well into my first year of retirement and time is still an issue. God works in mysterious ways. It took a severe dust storm, brought in by strong winds from the Australian dessert, to restrict me to housebound activities in Sydney. What else was there to do except to wait for it to settle before one could start the clean up. This is one of those very rare moments that I found time to Google and stumbled on the BBGS blogs. What nostalgia and memories when I found myself listed in the Honour list of captains (1962)! Very nice and very satisfying ….. I wonder whether my adult sons and grand children can find me in the list ….

I started in BBGS Afternoon School and Mrs Siew was my teacher and companion then! Lucky for me, Mrs Siew was newly married then and she absolutely loved kids! She was only a few blocks away from me in busy KL city and shopping was her favourite past time. Guess that was the start of my passion for chocolates and ice creams as my mother could not have possibly afforded them. Then it was BBGS morning school followed by the secondary school. There were so many teachers; each moulding my humourous as well as my serious nature. Their dedication and determination in spite of their pidgin English (one Chinese educated Science/Maths teacher), their loud abusing voices, their threatening fingers/rulers, their softness, were so very inspiring and left such an impression on me. I am so sure my genetic make up must have taken such a bashing from that inspiration to remain even to this day albeit the energy level now is fast gaining speed. Thank you BBGS teachers and thank the Lord for exposing me to them.

Life in BBGS could not miss a mention to our beloved Miss Elena Cooke. She played a very important role in my younger days which contributed to a very significant part of adult me. Many knew Miss Cooke as determined, disciplined, detailed minded, and a no nonsense head mistress. But, she was a lot more and is best described in the crude poem (I was not known for my English language, let alone for my poetic skills!) I wrote in 2008 to amuse her when I discovered that she was sick. The ‘never give up’ attitude I learnt from her and her team of teachers rose onto my shoulders with the end result being a rough and tumble gathering of words:

BBGS, here we go …..

Our beloved school of old

History, geography, maths and all

But nothing beats the lessons from Gospel Hall.

Praise to the Lord, we sang and sang

Words never failing, our ears rang and rang

Eternal love and wisdom our Almighty Lord provides

Lessons from BBGS, we always carry on our sides.

Parents taught us home values and all

Life skills and success we proudly stand tall

Sources of such skills, not from books

Definitely from parents from Miss Cooke.

Our love, gratitude, and appreciation

To you, Miss Cooke, and to mention

Your lessons demonstrated in our ways

Our prayers to the Lord for you always.

I share a few incidents with you to bring home the true Miss Cooke with the intention to illustrate the life lessons we all learnt from her. Those ‘bee-hive’ hair styles in the 1960s sure kept me very busy and challenged as a school captain. They were a total ban from school and one of my responsibilities was to execute that ban! Most girls knew the consequences if they did not lower those bee-hives except for one student. Wow, that defiance was amazing and amusing too! She ended up with a self hair wash in Miss Cooke’s office basin! Mistake to take Miss Cooke on …… That was the Miss Cooke most of us could relate to.

Then, one day, I was abruptly called into her office and was told “I need you to come with me to translate”. We were off to a very sick student’s home to visit not the sick student (she was in hospital) but to see the grand mother who blatantly refused to give permission for the grand daughter to undergo surgery to save her life. There was this old Chinese thing about being cut up (surgery). The visit was very short, but boy, was it effectively and humanely executed! Miss Cooke was literally on her knees begging the grand mother to give that permission for surgery as that was the only slim chance her grand daughter could live. I still have not learnt tears control from that incident!

The last memorable gratifying incident I like to relate had to do with me personally. Miss Cooke signed for me as my ‘financial guarantor’ to the Australian Embassy when none of my poor relatives could do so, to enable me to pursue my tertiary education without any request from me as no one would have asked a head mistress to act as ‘financial guarantor’ (she had independently discovered my difficulty). There were endless stories to do her justice but that could fill the whole book. The words in the poem above were truly heart felt and expressed in the best way I could to reflect what BBGS and Miss Cooke and her team have done to contribute significantly in my life journey.

This tribute to BBGS and Miss Cooke is not complete without a mention of Mrs Simon (Miss Junie Lim). Her dedication to the Girl Guides is definitely unquestionable – I just found out that she is still currently the State Commissioner – she must be in her 70s? I take a humble bow with my hat off to you, Mrs Simon and if anyone reading this has her email address, I will certainly appreciate you forwarding it to me. Believe me, the Girl Guides principles were excellent foundation to build life skills. Go for it girls if you have daughters, grand daughters, and/or great grand daughters, especially when you still have Mrs Simon as the State Commissioner. There is absolutely nothing to lose but heaps to gain!

Lastly, just a brief mention about me as requested. I have finally thrown in the towel after a fairly successful and very busy work and home life both in KL and Sydney (mainly the latter since 1981). I managed to raise 3 independent boys (sometimes too independent, as one of them had escaped from me, and is working in Hong Kong) and blessed with 3 grandchildren. Thank you Lord and thank you Miss Cooke and her team of 1962 teachers from BBGS.