When I was an undergraduate (civil engineering, UTM, mid 1980s), I worked as a waiter at A & W during the semester holidays. It was the A & W outlet at Jalan Raja Laut opposite the Federal cinema (I don’t know if both are still there today). It was my first job ever and I worked for about three months. I was paid RM 1.25 per hour. A full shift of 8 hours earned me RM 10 and a meal. Every month I earned about RM 250 – RM 300.
Although the job was officially “waiter”, waiters had to do everything. Mixing the rootbeer syrup, grilling burgers, mopping the floor, washing the toilet, cleaning the tables, waiting at the door and yelling “Welcome” and “Thank you”. It was a tough job, especially mixing the rootbeer syrup. Those days, the sugar and the rootbeer concentrate had to be diluted and mixed manually (nowadays they have machines to do it). Dissolving 50 kg of sugar in just a little water using a big wooden stirrer and a huge drum was very tough. It used to take me more than 1 hour just to stir and stir so that the sugar was completely dissolved in the water. Simply exhausting.
I learnt many things at A & W then. I learnt how to wipe tables. You just don’t wipe the top. You have to wipe the sides and underneath as well. I learnt the proper way to mop the floor and how to squeeze the dirty water from the mop. I learnt how to mix rootbeer. I learnt how to grill the beef patties and make the Coney dog. I learnt how to make the waffle. I learnt how to clean the toilet – they have standard operating procedures, you know. I was taught how to greet customers and how to take orders. June, the petite manager of the outlet at that time, also taught me how to remember and talk to regular customers. Kak Pah, a veteran at the outlet then, taught me how to cut onions. I learnt so many things.
There were several other more important lessons that the job at A & W taught me.
First it taught me to appreciate my parents. Working hard to earn a salary for the first time, taught me to appreciate how hard it must be for my father to earn his salary and manage the family. Before this job, I had no notion of “earning”. I lived off my parents. Suddenly the visions of my father coming back after his work, looking tired, grumbling whenever we kids asked for this and that became vivid. For the first time, I understood what it meant to “earn a living”. Suddenly, my father’s grumpiness and penny-pinching ways made a lot of sense.
Second, it taught me a lot about the real world (as opposed to campus life). How businesses operate. How the business at that particular outlet was completely reliant on the delivery truck delivering the goods punctually every morning. How the daily cash collection is tallied and deposited at the bank. How salaries are paid and what EPF was. It taught me the importance of taking care of customers and why regular customers are crucial to business. It taught me about the “behind the scenes” of selling burgers, hotdogs and rootbeers. It taught me a lot of things that my professors could never have.
Third, it taught me how majority of Malaysians live. You see majority of Malaysians don’t have a college degree or comfy jobs. The other waiters at A & W then were full-time waiters. It was a regular job for them. They were not part-timers like me. These were people having families and school-going children yet earning less than RM 500 a month in KL. Every single one of the regular staff at that A & W outlet told me that how envious (in a nice way) they were of me, being able to go to a university. Those 3 months taught me a whole lot of things about life that my university could not have.
Fourth, it taught me how people treat other people who they perceive are “lesser” than themselves. When you are a waiter, many people treat you like shit. They scold you, they abuse you, they curse you. When you greet customers, most won’t even bother responding or even smile at you. I learnt that many customers will assume that you are dumb just because you are a waiter. Many will make fun of you. I also learnt how many of my colleagues then coped with all this crap. Of course there were good customers but they were few.
Finally, it taught me, that as student, there is a way for you to afford luxuries without having to burden your parents (or the taxpayers). Well, the way is called “work”. It taught me that grumbling and whining about not having enough money or “biasiswa tak cukup” was not going to be solution. If you work, you get money. I could afford to go to movies, parties, buy nice shoes, eat satay kajang (a luxury back then), and heck, I even bought a calculator using my A & W salary. Although the salary was not much, I could do and buy things that my fellow students could not. And the best part is I did not have to burden my parents.
The three months that I worked at A & W during my undergraduate days taught me so many things that my university, my professors or even my parents could not have taught me. It definitely made me a better person.
So, I would like to make a suggestion. Parents, if your kids are in college, ask them to work at A & W (or KFC or McDonalds or Pizza Hut or any other restaurants) for 3 months. It teaches humility. It builds character. And you kids will know how to make great burgers if you have a party at home.
To undergrads, this is what I have got to say. Students all over the world work while they are in college. Why can’t or shouldn’t Malaysian students do to the same? Learn not to depend totally on your parents or the government. Working is fun. It teaches you so many things and best of all, earns you money. And you can do a lot of things with your money. With your own money, you don't have to whine at Dataran Merdeka. [I also know there are many Malaysian students who are working while in college. Good on you].
To all the goats and cows that are refusing to pay their PTPTN loans or those who are demanding that university education be made free, what can I say? Go and get a life. While you are at it, get a root beer as well - compliments of Monyet King.
If goats are enteprising, they too can drink as much root beer as they want. No need to whine at Dataran Merdeka.
Monyet King says
BTW, the job at A & W was my first job while at college. Later I took on another job at a private college in PJ - translating lecture notes from Engish to BM. and after that, a job as law book salesman. Well, these are stories for another day.