Hajeedar Abdul Majid

Edited Excerpts from his Autobiography


A City with No Old Buildings is Like a Man Without a Memory
-Konrad Smigleski

The above was quoted in my written thesis at Portsmouth Polytechnic in 1971. Life is short and you should live and have the opportunity reflect on your past experiences.

I am KL-born and KL-bred, so I knew where to find and enjoy the better peti merah rojak and cendol stalls, especially when football and cricket were played at the Selangor Padang. Maybe I am just being sentimental, but these are the memorable elements that make up and add colour to our lives.

In 1950, I started Pre-School at the Malay Boarding School in Kampong Bahru before enrolling at the Princes Road Malay School in 1951, then on to Pasar Road Primary English School (1952-58) and the Victoria Institution (1959-63). For the noble reason of helping 'making up the numbers' in the new classes, I left the V.I. to enrol for Sixth Form at Sultan Abu Bakar School in Kuantan, Pahang (1964-65).

Looking back, my school days were the most enjoyable, carefree and formative learning period of experience as a child going through adolescence and maturing into adulthood.

School was always fun with a variety of teachers and friends of diverse ethnicity, cultural and religious backgrounds. With the well programmed school curriculum, I enjoyed the social interactions. Notwithstanding some of the schools' civic and sports activities, our schools provided us with much subtle competition, knowledge, tolerance and mutual respect among our multi-racial peers.

Pasar Road English School

In Year One, I gained first place academically, followed by Lua Chong Kong, Kularajah and Roslani for Art. I achieved the same results in Year Two! However, in Year Three, I was relegated to third place for being too very 'cocky' and over-confident. Again, in the fourth year, for being even more 'cocky', I was banished to forty-second place in my class of forty-four!

Some of my neighbourhood friends were Farouk and Feisal Sheikh Hussein who went to Pasar Road English School and Vl with me. Hanif and Ghani (alias Attan) were our other friends and we would play football with other kids in the area. Sometimes we would disagree and quarrel and I would just pick my football and walk home leaving my pals to hang around and kicking their heels. But, inevitably, I would return the following day with the same football and we would resume playing as if nothing had happened. All disagreements were forgotten just like that!

Farouk's parents were friends of my parents and his mother would prepare kueh, cucur udang, goreng pisang and tea for all of us at the end of our matches. Sometimes, when it rained, we were all made to shower together before tea could be served.

So that was one big lesson in life for me with correspondingly big reprimands from my parents! I learnt that in order to excel one had to be consistent and be hard working. Nothing should be taken for granted with any self-assumptions.

In Standard 4, I took the bus to school. I would disembark and change to another at Foch Avenue, near the Central Market, where there were many hawkers along the road selling items such as wallets, pins and combs. I decided that I needed a wallet to hold the money I had saved and there was this wallet I took a fancy to.

Every time I was at the Central Market, I would ask the vendor how much the wallet cost and each time he would say "$1.10." One Saturday, after I had saved $1.40, I took a 5 cent bus ride, bought that wallet, spent 1O cent ais kacang and another 5 cent bus ride home. So now I had finally bought my dream wallet but I had no more money to put in it! That showed how naive, shallow and short-sighted I was for not having thought of the consequence of my action. It was, nevertheless, a very important lesson in life.

And imagine! When I was young, I used to insist that my school did not assign any homework. My mother doubted me by reminding that she was once a chikgu/school teacher. Who was I to tell her otherwise?

In reality, I disliked doing homework simply because I had other interests such as art which came to me out of natural curiosity and a sense of discovery. As a kid, I would doodle on any scrap of paper, on the wall and even on the floor using pencil, crayon and chalk. These experiments and explorations in colour shape and form were later formalised in primary school during art classes with the use of other media.

Our PRES art teachers, Mr Foo Thiam Win and Encik Aziz Bohari, were most encouraging. They gave me posters and thematic murals to design. I and other artistically inclined students always enjoyed our comradeship in those joint efforts. Encouraged by them, we were guided and taught to paint murals on various subjects, individually and in groups.

In Standard 6 in 1958, I won a Children's Art Competition organised by the United States Information Services (USIS) and was presented to then Education Minister, Khir Johari. That event was featured in the New Straits Times on 5th December 1958.

Our teachers were most passionate and inspirational. One teacher, Mr Joginder Singh (later an eminent lawyer), remarked that in school I was a little rascal, whose body was in the class but whose mind was elsewhere!!! He had once punished me by sending me out of the class for not paying attention and later even made me run around the empty school field as further punishment. But somehow I enjoyed it all as I liked the outdoors!

In Standard 6, I was surprisingly appointed as a prefect in order to forestall my mischief! It was a cunning reverse psychology strategy by teachers then for the so-called naughty boys! Our school motto was 'Work Hard and Play Hard' and I suppose I was literally living that motto!

The Victoria Institution - My Alma Mater

In 1959, after a special entry examination taken by all aspiring students, I was admitted to the Victoria Institution where I remained until 1963. Its motto (actually that of the school newspaper) was 'Be Yet Wiser'. Hence, I am supposed to be much wiser today!

The Victoria Institution is a premier school in Malaysia with a proud past and an equally glorious history. It is a memorial school named after the British monarch Queen Victoria. Established in 1893, it was then one of the older English schools in the Federated Malay States providing academic instruction for boys aged between 6 and 19 years.

When Kuala Lumpur was established as the capital of the Federated Malay States after 1880, the residents realised the need for proper and better educational facilities for local children in the state of Selangor. Among those concerned were the fifth Kapitan Cina Yap Kwan Seng, Towkay Loke Yew and Thamboosamy Pillay, who approached the then British Resident W. H. Treacher with the hope that the excess funds of $3,188 raised during the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887 be used for this purpose. The Resident General, Sir Frank Swettenham supported the idea and encouraged a further public appeal for funds. The Selangor State Government contributed $7,000, Sultan Abdul Samad $1,100 and, together with others, a total of $21,291 was collected.

On 14th August 1893, Lady Treacher laid the foundation stone of the Victoria Institution. On 15th January 1894, the VI started with 8 students and 4 teachers including a temporary headmaster, Reverend Haines. Students were taught in a government bungalow and other temporary buildings while waiting for the completion of the school. The school building and headmaster's residence were eventually completed in July 1894, located within an acre of land off High Street (Jalan Tun H S Lee) beside the Klang River.

Constant flooding and noise from nearby workshops induced the VI Trustees to look for a more suitable site for the school. In 1929, the V.I. moved to its present site on Petaling Hill and became the first purely secondary school to be built in Kuala Lumpur. Its students came from its two feeder schools, Batu Road School and Pasar Road School.

In 2009, the Victoria Institution was gazetted as a Heritage Building under the National Heritage Act of 2005.

Over the past 125 years, more than 15,000 boys, and later girls, have been educated at the VI. Many students have subsequently established themselves in Malaysian society as eminent and prominent professionals, academics, administrators, educators and sports personalities, while others of humbler personalities became exemplary citizens. I am proud to be a VI product of 1959-1963 vintage during the period when Dr G E D Lewis and Mr Alan Baker were Headmasters.

At the Victoria Institution, the art classes were more organised with real artists such Patrick Ng Kah Onn as our art teacher who encouraged the use of other art media of charcoal, powder paints, oil paints and other techniques. Beyond the school curriculum, we were encouraged to join the Wednesday Art Group (WAG) consisting of established local and foreign artists such as Peter Harris, Cheong Laitong, Yeoh Jeng Leng, Syed Ahmad Jamal and some younger artists such as Long Thein Shih, Rene Krall, Siti Majidah and Ismail Mustam, my senior from VI. At such meetings we did our sketches and critical discussion on some completed works of the artists.

When an exhibition was officiated at the National Art Gallery in Dewan Tunku Abdul Rahman in 1960 by the first Prime Minister, YAB Tunku Abdul Rahman, four of my works were bought by the gallery for their permanent collection. Being the youngest artist to have his works selected, I was honoured to be introduced to the PM, who was accompanied by Frank Sullivan and Ghazali Shafie.

Later that year my submission won a Book Prize for a national art poster competition sponsored by the United Nations entitled 'World Refugees Need Help'. It was a 'lazy entry' in which the design was drawn in white paint over a light blue paper incorporating the UN official colours. I assumed the judges must have thought that it was a 'witty' entry!!! Aminuddin Baki, the then director of education, gave away the prize.

Concurrent and busy with other school activities of sports I found time to indulge in an annual enterprise of designing simple single colour Hari Raya greeting cards which I sold to relatives, friends in the open market via a few willing Mamak hole-in-wall stalls in KL and one established Malay owned bookshop, Pustaka Antara in Chow Kit Road.

My business model was simple. First, design the cards. Then get the cards printed for 20 cents each, leave them at outlets for 30 cents so they can sell for 40 cents and distribute them during Ramadan. So there was a difference of 10 cents per card. Sales at Pustaka Antara was brisk and the owner had a beautiful daughter as an attraction (or distraction) for me. Nearing Hari Raya, I would humbly request for payment from the boss. When I told him how much he owed me, he gave me instead his total sales amount. I corrected him for the overpayment. However, he insisted that it was his 'reward' and rezeki for my effort! I have not forgotten that gesture. Later I found out that his name was Aziz and the daughter was Asmahan and that they lived in the elite area of Kenny Hills.

I was so embarrassed that I refused to go that shop again, since it was such a good deal and I did not want to misbehave. Trust, I learnt, was a two-way thing. The one who cultivates your trust not only becomes your friend but also your promoter who provides the inspiration to extend the same to others.

My artistic talent was now acknowledged and, in 1960, I got a commission to design and paint a backdrop of five panels for a seminar on 'New Youth for New Asia' at the University of Malaya. It was officiated by Tun (Omar) Ong Yoke Lin. Again this effort was featured in the media.

With that little reputation and the bringing in of some glory to the school, I was challenged by our headmaster, Dr G E D Lewis, to do a large mural outside the art studio facing the basketball court. It was a kind of little punishment for me after being caught scrawling some graffiti on the school wall!

The Victoria Institution was very good for me because it provided a fantastic opportunity to explore my personal interests within the realms of the strict school discipline, interactions and respect for other students and the incredible class regime for Arts, Science and Commerce guided by exceptional selected and dedicated teachers.

Of course, in school we had a range of nicknames for our friends and even for our teachers. However, on reflection, they all did help mould our characters, our sense of humour and our careers. We are all, indeed, indebted to them.

In the VI, I participated in almost all sports, albeit with no exceptional performance. We were encouraged to do competitive games and I played football, rugby, hockey, cricket, swimming, and athletics, including the annual cross-country run.

Among my friends in 1962 were older boys enrolled at the Technical College at Gurney Road (now Jalan Semarak). With the scholarship money they received, we would join them on little escapades to paint the town red.

On one such occasion, it was decided to visit the matinee show of Rose Chan, the famous stripper. A burly Punjabi guard had to check our ages before admitting us. When it came to me, he asked, "Berapa umur?!" I replied "18!" and he said "Mana...18? Budak kechik tak boleh masuk!!!" As a result, I was left outside with my other VI friend, Tengku Din, while the others enjoyed themselves in the cabaret.

Fast forward to 1974, after being away in UK for several years, I was informed that Rose Chan was performing at a club in Wisma Central. It was suggested that we pop in there. Of course I had to decline the invitation to attend her show. My rationale was - when I first wanted to watch her show I was too young, but now that I was older, Rose Chan was by then too old for me to watch! Such is the irony in life!

Sultan Abu Bakar School, Kuantan

In 1964, the Sultan Abu Bakar School (SABS) in Kuantan had just started Sixth Form classes but did not have full enrollment. The Chief Education Officer (CEO) of Pahang spoke to my father to convince me and my friends, Hamzah Kassim, Ali Kamaruddin and others, to enrol in Kuantan. It was an exciting opportunity to be away from KL and to be in the East Coast of Malaya, exposing us to new cultural and environmental experience. Among them were the pristine South China Sea beaches and quaint Malay fishing villages and fishing family lifestyles, as captured in one of my oil paintings entitled Teluk Cempedak in 1964.

Teluk Cempedak

At SABS, and being away from home, I developed an interest in writing, and was editor for the Sixth Form newsletter and school magazine. Molly Koe helped me type the cyclostyle stencils. I was also the elocution competition winner; I even sang with a band. With guidance from one of our expatriate teachers we were also encouraged to explore our respective and perceived careers in life.

Singing in the "No Name" band; delivering winning JFK speech

In the Sixth Form, I and a partner, who was also from the PRES, sang in the "No Name" band. I also won an elocution contest organised by the Kuantan Rotary Club, delivering the 1960 speech by John F Kennedy which dealt with the issue of his religion.

Career Options

My first career consideration was that of a psychiatrist. I was motivated by the shocking experience of seeing a fully naked woman who had escaped from the nearby mental ward of the KL General Hospital and had fled into our house compound. It was an unforgettable experience. I felt very sorry for her and I was inspired to help. I was deterred, however, after learning that psychiatry was a post-graduate medical studies specialization and that it would therefore take a long time to qualify!

My second choice was accountancy because I was good with mathematics, but this option was also torpedoed after a brief stint as an article clerk trainee at Hanafiah Raslan Ong (HRO) at the Bangkok Bank Building, Kuala Lumpur in 1966. However, I was inspired by the partner, Raslan Abdullah, who was a professional chartered accountant and who later became the first Malay Accountant-General in government.

Based on the Sixth Form Results, I had two scholarship offers to study at Universiti Malaya (UM) for Foreign Affairs and the Civil Service. These I rejected in favour of pursuing architecture which, unfortunately, was not available at UM.

I was reprimanded by my parents for my unilateral decision and was forced to fend for myself. I found work as an Assistant Traffic Officer (ATO) at Jabatan Telekom.

Fate had it that a MARA ad now appeared for a scholarship offer in Naval Architecture. I applied for it but brashly cancelled the word 'Naval' before submitting my application form.

Lo and behold, I was invited for an interview and was mercilessly ridiculed by the panel of interviewers consisting of Dato' Mansor Othman, Arshad Ayub and Amnah, for being so insolent and disrespectful of the offer. I walked out in disgust after the tensed interview. However, a scholarship officer ran after me in the street, urging me to return to resume the interview. I reluctantly agreed.

Against all odds, I was eventually granted a scholarship to study architecture in the UK, as I had aspired for!

This was the beginning of my career in architecture in which I was able to combine all three earlier career interests into one field of study - dealing with human behaviour and relationships, the environment, the sciences, history and the fine arts!

The Dam

As the younger among the boys, I could command some friends from school to build a dam in the Sungai Bunus which was behind my house. We would strip to our underwear and go into the river to put up tree trunks and stones to build a dam. Of course, a dam was created but it did not last, since the water pressure was greater than our ability. However it was a glorious moment when we could see the difference in the water level on one side being higher than the other and we were able to swim in it. That experience taught me the hidden power of water pressure and to never underestimate the force of nature.

This fact became very evident during my involvement in the investigations on the cause for the Highland Towers collapse in 1993 arising from the unseen build-up of natural underground water flow and pressure as a possible contributor to the slope stability failure and eventual collapse of Tower A.

Yet, another lesson in life for all on the need to respect the eco-balance in our natural environment especially against the rampant encroachment into our gazetted Forest Reserves and water catchment area. It appears that we never learn the lessons from such disasters.

Sports and Other Interests

After returning from UK, I was introduced to golf and initially played at Kuala Kubu Baru, Fraser's Hill before joining the Kelab Golf Negeri Selangor (KGNS). At the height of the obsession for golf, our group would arrange for games at overseas golf resorts in Bali, Jakarta, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket. A series of slipped disc recurrences between vertebrae four and five caused deferment of my games for a decade. However, occasionally, bila rindu I appear at the golf course! Golf is a challenging and healthy game because you are always playing outdoor and against yourself, but it is very time consuming.

Healthwise, I have had several instances of medical setbacks including four recurrences of slipped discs with one hospitalization at George Washington Memorial Hospital in Washington in 1996. I once collapsed during a project site visit, and count the removal of my appendix and diverticulitis surgery among other health hiccups. Notwithstanding, I am most grateful for Allah SWT blessings.

My other distractions (and attractions) are cars! Over the years, I have acquired several brands ranging from Morris Mini, Volkswagen, Alfa Romeo, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Maserati, Porsche and Audi. Of course the obsession was kept to only a maximum of four cars or less at a time, and often regarded as a good excuse for not having other "vices."

However for the record, I even participated in jet skiing. I once owned a Mistral surfboard and a Sea-Doo jet ski and used them at Port Dickson and Tasik Biru, Kuang.

My interest in speed and motor racing started during the 1970's Batu Tiga Grand Prix events with local racers from Rothman's Racing Team of Sony Rajah, Kenny Lee, Yoong Ying Fah, Harvey Yap and my childhood motorcycle racer friend, Sonny Soh. Formula 1 was introduced at the Sepang Circuit and brought international motor racing to Malaysia. Today, I am quite comfortable with live TV coverage.

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Reminiscences by Ar Koh Beng Teck, Associate Director of HAS

I am honoured to write a few words about Haj, my friend. Hajeedar and I have been long-time friends since our schooldays in VI. His sister, Siti Majhar, was my classmate some 50 years ago. Our families are close and, as architects, we have worked together in some manner or other.

Haj, as most people call him, is writing his autobiography - commonly known "as a book about me by myself." Most biographies, whether "auto" or otherwise - are written when there is enough to write about and worthwhile recording. Haj has indeed lived, done and achieved much worth recording. As a young boy he was a child art prodigy. A large mural that adorned a wall in VI was by him. So, progression from Art to Architecture was therefore a natural transition for Haj.

Architects communicate by drawings and with drawings. Haj has done this with alacrity as in the "Thinking Hands" and employs his voice whenever permitted or needed. Incidentally, Haj's firm was the very first, in 1983, in Malaysia to use computer-aided design and drafting or CADD!

The Petronas Twin Towers is famous for its architecture, tourist attraction and national symbol. Other architectural twins I know are the Bank Pembangunan Twins, the MNI Twins and even the Dataran Maybank Triplets, all built in KL. And yes, you guessed it - Haj was responsible for their birth!

Haj is a deeply religious Muslim . His faith has combined with his creativity to produce several mosques and suraus throughout the land. Examples of these are richly illustrated in this autobiography.

Haj was President of PAM from 1985 to 1987. For his contributions, he was awarded the PAM Gold Medal in 2012 and the LAM President's Medal in 2017 for services rendered to the Malaysian architectural community. Awards of the title of Datoship from the state of Selangor and Negeri Sembilan were a natural and almost foregone conclusion.

In "civilian" life, Haj was advisor to DBKL for some years and did a stint in the corporate world as Chairman of Pernas Construction (a GLC) which he guided and turned it around to success. Married to Manja, they have two daughters and a son and are blessed with nine grandchildren.

Thank you.

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Reminiscences by Ismail Mustam, Schoolmate at the V.I.

It was in early 60's when I first met Hajeedar at the Victoria Institution. Our art teacher, Patrick Ng Kah Onn, had noticed our interest and ability in Art. Hajeedar was unique, in that he could draw and write well with both his right and left hands!

With the encouragement of Patrick, we joined the Wednesday Art Group, founded by Peter Harris with other art luminaries like Cheong Lai Tong, Grace Selvanayagam, Syed Ahmad Jamal, and Patrick Ng as members. Weekly get-togethers were held at the National Art Gallery barracks for art classes with life models and we learned how to draw using various art medium guided by the more established and experienced members.

At one point, Hajeedar and I were so tired of drawing clothed models, that we decided to invite a female friend to pose nude for us! She gladly agreed and we spent a Saturday afternoon drawing the female anatomy!

Ismail and Hajeedar

As students, we would participate in design and art competitions. When the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka held a competition for a large mural, we discussed submitting a joint entry. Somehow, due to the school work and examinations we could only submit individual entries. Mine won.

After leaving school, we went our separate ways. Hajeedar pursued Architecture, and I worked as an illustrator, book designer, and in advertising.

Our paths crossed again in late 70's when my father wanted to build a family home on a piece of sloping land. I thought it would be unique to have the structure built into the hillside. Hajeedar cautioned me about possible soil erosion and landslides. His ingenious solution was to build a multi-split level structure, connected by a series of steps with the main entrance landing that led to separate self-contained units ideal for three families. The uppermost level is reachable by 68 steps and is perfect for those desiring exercise for stronger legs!

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Message from Victor Foo Yeow Leong, Schoolmate at the V.I.

Hajeedar and I were schoolmates in VI for several years. He showed his precocious artistic talent very early in school and was the talk of the school artistic circles. Amongst his non-artistic friends, I could not quite 'understand' his paintings, but indeed they won him several accolades... and deservingly so!

We caught up later in life and, of course, by then Hajeedar had made a name for himself designing and renovating several beautiful mosques and other buildings in addition to directing the ICOMOS Malaysia.

When we meet up, especially at gatherings of old schoolmates, I am always delighted and amused to listen to his engaging but true stories (and Hajeedar IS a good story-teller!) but what struck me most about Hajeedar are his passion in pursuing his 'professional calling', his disarming honesty and his charisma ... (exceeded only by his courage!) ... in dealing with people, situations and issues.

I am sure all his former schoolmates and teachers are proud of him and indeed, his autobiography will be a pleasure to read.

Well done, Jeedar!

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Also see:   'I am an old-fashioned individual'

Hajeedar - Journey in Architecture

Direct Purchase: Hajeedar and Associates, 8-1 Jalan Telawi 3, Bangsar Baru, 59100, KL
Online Order: Email order to ar_hajeedar@yahoo.com
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