Amir was three-and-a-half when he travelled with complete strangers all the way from Malaysia to the US. My husband Samad’s ex-BBC colleague took him to London, and an airline stewardess accompanied him to Detroit. We were overjoyed to see our adored and brave little boy whom I had left in Malaysia for a year to pursue my studies. We drove from Detroit to Spartan Village in East Lansing where we lived in married housing as we were both students at Michigan State.
I was amazed to discover that Amir could read quite well. We had enrolled him in a kindergarten on his second birthday. He adjusted easily to life at the Spartan Village School and did his teachers there proud. I’d walk him to school every day until he was able to go with our neighbor’s older children.
We were poor, if not impoverished, students. My sponsor, MARA, paid for my studies. Having abandoned his job with Shell Malaysia, Samad used his savings for his studies and other expenses. He bought a Ford Fairlane for USD100. He responded to a bicycle-for-sale ad in the campus paper and bought it for only USD8. It took him all over MSU’s 40-acre campus. Our son Aris who lives in California has acquired a bicycle for USD1,000. I’m reminded of Bob Dylan’s song, The times they are a-changin’.
One day Samad broke his glasses. He couldn’t afford US prices so he asked my father to help him get a new pair from the Star Optical in Kuala Lumpur. He spent two months groping around in semi-darkness before the glasses arrived.
Despite our impecunious position, we were able to indulge in simple pleasures with our friends, Hashim Noor, the Agriculturalist, Chong, the banker, his brother, and Hashim Hassan and Beng and their spouses. We had dinner get-togethers and went picnicking at nearby places. I recall Beng was a meditation enthusiast and he strongly urged us to take it up but we gently declined.
Samad’s sister and her husband, an Indonesian diplomat, came from Washington for a visit and we had a great time with them. We holidayed at Lake Michigan with Dr Elyas, who would later become Kuala Lumpur’s Mayor, and his family.
A long drive with Hashim Hassan and his wife took us to Disney World in Florida. What a splendid entertainment complex! I think I attacked the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, theme parks and many rides with infinitely more enthusiasm than did little Amir.
We returned to find Samad’s savings were fast depleting. He applied for a MARA study loan and was immensely relieved to receive the money during his final semester.
My studies were almost over when I discovered a baby was on the way! I wanted to have it delivered in the US but my sponsor insisted I return to set up the Institute’s new School of Mass Communications. So Amir and I made our way home.
Samad returned four months later to meet the new arrival, a lovely baby girl we named Aida.
Sadly our dear MSU friends, Chong and Hashim Noor, have now passed on.
8 dollars! C’mon now. Is that for real? haha yes times they are a-changin’.
About the $8 bicycle, it’s true. It was the end of the summer semester of 1971. The seller was a PhD graduate returning home to Africa. He had advertised his very old, but still functional, bicycle in the campus paper for $10. When I contacted him I learned his flight home was the following day. Sensing his urgency to dispose of the bicycle (he needed it till his last day to move around MSU’s 40-acre campus), I offered him $8. On hindsight, I was rather mean. He immediately accepted my offer and told me to get it the following day, just before he left for the airport.
I sold the bike for $10 and bought a fifteen-year-old Ford Fairlane for $100 and kept it till I returned home in 1973. I managed to sell my Ford for $120!