“Can I please use the toilet?”

cake1

Our graduation/birthday party cake. My name was spelled wrong.

I’ve just finished reading ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’, a book by a guy named Malcom Gladwell.

He claims that talent alone is not enough to ensure a successful life. You need to have the right opportunities such as your parents encouragement, your environment, even the month and the year you were born in!

He cited the case of a guy with an exceptionally high-IQ named Cristopher Langan. Apparently he started talking when he was six months old, and taught himself to read at four years of age. He has an IQ of one ninety-five (Einstein was one fifty.) So he won a scholarship to go to university, but you know what happened? His mother neglected to fill up his financial statement, and after the first semester, he’d lost his scholarship. Just like that. Langan never finished college, and ended up doing odd jobs here and there.  Although he had so many great ideas in his head, they never got published. He currently lives in Missouri on a horse farm.

The author, Gladwell illustrated the story of Bill Gates. His parents sent him to Lakewill when he was in seventh grade. That school happened to have a time-sharing terminal where he learned how to program. When the money ran out for that terminal, one of the parents at the school who worked at this one company called C-Cubed got him a job to check their code… and the list of opportunities kept growing.  When he dropped out of Harvard to start his own infamous company, Microsoft, he’d been programming for seven years!

I consider myself as someone who also had so many opportunities. I come from a small town in Malaysia and English language was practically unheard of. In first grade, we were taught English in our native language, Malay. I still remember my English teacher, Puan Zaidah saying, “Ini apple.” (This is apple.”) When I was in fifth grade, we had a new student in school, coming from the big city. Her name was Helena and she spoke very good English. She instantly became my best friend, and… my working dictionary! I think I must have annoyed her with my constant quizzes such as , “Helena, timun dalam Bahasa Inggeris apa?” (“What is cucumber in English?”)

The following year, we had four new students from the big city. I quickly became very attached to Ai Ling. She played the piano, and of course, spoke perfect English. During the school holidays, I would practise my English by writing her letters in broken English. She was very patient, and replied to all my letters. I consider Helena and Ai Ling as my first opportunity in Elementary school.

In Junior High, I received an offer to go to a boarding school. We were placed in a dormitory, and I was sent to an English school in the city. My English was very poor, and I was constantly humiliated by my new friends in the school. One day, I said, “Can I go to the toilet?” They actually laughed at me, and told me I should have said, “May I” instead of “Can I.” As painful as it was, I took it as an opportunity for me to learn English. In eight grade, I got an awesome English teacher, Mrs Nathan who would proof-read all my letters to a crush I had back then. And then as a junior in high school, I met another awesome English teacher, Mrs Singh who even though like to bully me, she did make me cut an article in the newspaper every Monday, and learned all the new words.

The opportunities kept coming. In the end, I got the biggest opportunity when I went to study in America. I stayed there for almost six years, and I learned so much more. The Americans made fun of me of my English of course. 😉 I said watermelon the British way, and they wanted me to say watermelon with a light ‘t’. Eventually I adapted to the American English, but still enjoy the British English from time to time.

My English is far from perfect. But I have gone a long way from that girl in first grade learning to say ‘apple’ instead of ‘epal.’ All because of the series of opportunities presented to me. For that, I’m truly grateful.

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