Sometimes you ask the question, “Who am I? Why am I here on earth?” And the universe sets up the stage to answer you.
If you are lucky, you experience a transformative change which leaves you largely unrecognisable, but not before you and your soul-team withstand the likes of a burning platform.
This time last year as my colleague S Nanthakumar (Malaysiakini technology executive) would put it, “Until and unless we were standing right here, no matter how well we tell this story, no one will ever know what it felt like…”
This is a dedication to the many heroes who made the new Malaysiakini building in Section 51, Petaling Jaya, a reality – exactly one year ago. To be more specific:
They say, when the right thing is happening, the universe will send its fullest support in ways you cannot imagine.
We attracted all the right people. They were Ambrose Poh the architect, Lee the contractor, Ashley John the brick guy, the billboard printing guy, the guy with an unforgettable soul all wrapped up in one.
Then we had the aircon guys, the menial task guys, the flooring guys, the bathroom suppliers, the furniture guys – they were all a perfect fit to the type of organisation that we are. There was no contradiction in values and hence a complete devotion to the task at hand.
Let me fast backward to nine days before today, this time last year.
Steven and all the heads of departments arrived at the new building at 2.30pm for a briefing. They were shell-shocked. I remember Steven repeating, “This is a race against the clock…”
I knew he was worried and justly so. Malaysiakini was to launch @Kini on Nov 22, 2014 and with a little over a week to go, the whole structure looked like a war-torn building.
Lighting fixtures were not completed, wood flooring not in, furniture non-existent, piping and toilets not ready, the paint jobs were incomplete, windows not in. The whole building was filled with cement bags, some rooms were in an epic mess, and it was inconceivable that we could get the place ready on time for the open house.
But it happened. Everything just fell beautifully into place with hardly a hiccup. The only exception was when our most treasured Bangladeshi worker cut his finger from breaking the sink. We rushed him to the clinic and he threw up all over Premesh, who walked around the rest of the day with the same clothes just to make sure we got what needs to be done on that day.
Forty grown men and women – our team and workers of various industries – were on their knees to get the place ready on time, in sweat, with relentless focus, with deep reverence for our organisation as most of them were Malaysiakini fans or supporters of some sort. Even the guys who provided the bricks for the brick wall inscribed with over 1,000 names, Beng Heng Timber – who also bought a brick – finally gave us the last 500 bricks we needed for free.
A few days ago, Prem and I were talking about the whole episode. We took five months to renovate this three-storey 10,000sf building. Five months of relentless hard work and focus with very little drama. Monday met Monday again in a blink of an eye. 7am became 11pm in a blink of an eye.
The team, which I am so, so proud to be a part of, was enormously giving. No one for one second hesitated and said “but this is not my job…” Not once.
Some things I remember profoundly. Ng Ling Fong (then Chinese editor, now deputy chief editor) showed up with two crates of 100Plus. It was lifesaving. Zakiah Koya came with 40-odd vases she bought on her own for flowers for the anniversary party. Prem was on his knees scrubbing and washing all the toilet floors just three hours before we opened our doors to our guests.
Prem did so much, like you would not believe. Please take a look up at the ceiling, he bought every single light fixture on his own and carried it to the building very many times, over and over again. That’s how he saved money so the building renovations stayed within the budget.
K Manohar, I really thank you. You were such a solid rock. Mano did so much in the final days, running around to get all the painting done and our appreciation plaques ready, and making sure I had all the last-minute money to buy whatever odds and ends. It was amazing – the complete efficiency how everyone just rose to the occasion.
But finally, S Subrahh saved the day when he took over the whole anniversary dinner execution one week before the event so that we could concentrate on getting the brick wall and all else and all the cement off our yard.
For some of us, this experience changed us indefinitely. Some of us were bonded by the experience indefinitely.
I would lay my life down for S Nanthakumar and Aizu Ikmal for all the sacrifices they made for me. Both are my quiet undemanding over-giving friends. Kenny Khoo and Josh George will always, always remain in my heart forever. They, I believe, were angels sent to help us, just when we really needed the support.
The subscription and advertising teams played their roles respectively for the ‘Buy a brick’ campaign. They acted like it was their very own projects. We truly had such fantastic people within our teams. Really, I am humbled by the support and the show of team spirit. For showing up when they did not have to.
Finally, all said and done, if our tech wizard Danny Hong did not make well and sure we were wired the right way and our unseen tech support was not efficiently ready and up and running, there would be no possibility of starting operations at the new building.
There are a few secrets hidden within the building:
There are perhaps other things that were done – I can’t quite remember them – but this whole space was really a tribute to the honour and integrity Malaysiakini has maintained over the past decade and a half.
I am so deeply indebted being a Malaysiakini fan since I was 19 years old and having the honour to make such a contribution. I love this organisation more than words. I just pray I can one day tell my granddaughter, perhaps 20 years from now, “Long ago, I used to work there… It’s a great company… a place where I grew up.”
The reward for me personally came from a quiet phone call from Steven the morning after our 15th anniversary dinner, which took off with a blast of balloons and lion dance. He said, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart…” and that made all the difference.
Happy 16th anniversary, Malaysiakini!