Throughout my working life, I have spent time to serve three voluntary institutions.
The first and of course my fondest was the Penang Chess Association (PCA) of which I am a founding and life member. I don't having any records with me but if I remember correctly - and readers are welcomed to correct me - I became the association's honorary secretary in 1978. It was a voluntary post that I held until 1982 when I was replaced suddenly at the general meeting.
I must admit that I was caught totally off-guard. I didn't see it coming and I was pretty much affected by that turn of events. I thought the world would somehow revolve around me and I was wrong. Totally, absolutely, dead wrong! Anyway after persuasion, I agreed eventually to continue serving in the association as a committee member.
Then, the PCA went into a deep decline from about 1986 onwards. Activities grounded almost to a halt and yet, nothing was being done to save the association. Every year, we simply went through the motions of an annual general meeting for the sake of keeping our relationship with the Registrar of Societies alive.
It reached a stage where a few members decided that enough was enough. To revive the PCA, the only way was to change the whole committee. That was in 1990. I was roped in to break the news gently to the incumbent president. It was a most difficult task to tell him that he was no longer wanted. But eventually, I succeeded and from then on, Dr Choong Sim Poey became only the second president of the Penang Chess Association. Unfortunately, I found myself thrust into the honorary secretary's position once again to support him. But in 1998, I decided that it was time for me to step down...this time happily and voluntarily. I had learnt a valuable lesson from some 16 years earlier: volunteer to go, don't wait to be kicked out.
I continued to serve as a committee member under Dr Toh Kin Woon, and I did so until 2002 when I decided again to step aside totally from all active participation in the association's management. But I did tell the PCA that at any time should they require my assistance outside the committee, all they needed was to ask. Until they do, I'll just remain a simple, happy life member. I'm quite contented with that.
In the mid 1990s, Dr Choong suggested that I play an active role in the Old Frees' Association (OFA). As I had a good relationship with him, I agreed to come into the OFA's management committee and was appointed to be in charge of the library. After four years, I decided that it was also time to relinquish the post. Nevertheless, I rejoined the OFA management committee two years later after much persuasion by a new OFA management committee.
This time, I was put in charge of the computer and photography section. An organised trip to Gua Kelam in Perlis for OFA members and PFS students was one of the highlights of my tenure. The other was the opportunity to be part of an OFA contingent that paid a visit on the Raja of Perlis in Kuala Lumpur when he became the Agung. But after a while, I found the demands of attending the OFA's monthly management committee meetings too heavy. So I decided to leave again after two years in the committee.
My final brush with volunteer work started in the mid-1980s when my father nominated me into the committee of the Swee Cheok Tong or the Quah Kongsi. This is a clansman association open to only people of the Quah surname whose descendants arrived from a village or district in the Fukien Province of China a long time ago. I am the fourth generation from my lineage living in Penang.
As a new committee member, I remained much in the background and left it to the elders to decide how they wanted to run the Kongsi. But I could see that almost everyone in the Kongsi were firmly entrenched in the old world. They could only look at the world with old eyes. Despite the 21st Century knocking on the door, they ran the Kongsi as if the time was the early 20th Century. They were living in a time warp.
In 1998 (again dates are approximate), I suddenly found myself thrust forward as the Kongsi's new president. I had been persuaded by the Kongsi's eldest member to accept this post because he said that my late grandfather and my father before me had been the presidents at one time or another too. It was one of the most ridiculous reasons at the time but I couldn't refuse him.
I resolved to take the Kongsi into the 21st Century by attempting to change the way it was run. For a while, things ran smoothly but gradually, I realised that there were under-current resistance to change. As much as I wanted, progress was very slow. I felt hemmed in, yet I continued. My biggest achievement was to resolve the Kongsi's biggest and longest-standing worry: the illegal occupation of a Kongsi property by a Tow Boo Keong temple. Evicting the temple which had been operating of the land for more than 30 years was not a viable option but we brought them to the negotiating table where we concluded a sale at a very fair price to us.
For a long time too, we had been very concerned about the physical condition of the main building which we called the Kongsi House. The interior flooded every time it rained. Moreover, the upper floor boards were infested with termites. We decided for renovation and called for tenders. The secretary and I recognised that we had to tread carefully because of the large sum of money involved. We went strictly by the rule because we recognised that those people who resisted change were willing to trip us up and sabotage our work for their own personal motives.
Well, by June last year, it had come to a head. I reached a point where I could no longer tolerate such nonsense any more. If the Kongsi committee wanted to abrogate the agreement with the appointed renovation contractor, it was up to them. I no longer wished to participate in their decision-making process. At the Kongsi's general meeting that month, I stood down as president. There's now a new team helming the committee but to my mind and several other level-headed ones, they have decided to retreat back into the 19th Century. I wish them well. The die's been cast and the cloth's been cut.
But I must reiterate that I left the president's post the same way that I had accepted it: according to the wishes of the members. But I'm totally relieved. A huge burden has been lifted from my shoulders. The lessons that I had learnt from leaving the PCA and then the OFA have served me well. I have learnt to let go willingly. If you loved something, you should let it go. There's nothing to be sad about leaving a position but there's a lot to be happy about.
Penang Chess Association, Old Frees' Association, Swee Cheok Tong. Thank you for allowing me to get involved with your affairs through all these years. It had been a wonderful experience and journey. Would I want to be actively involved again in any committee in any society or association? Right now, I will say "no". I am enjoying a new-found freedom away from the responsibilities of holding voluntary office.
(Again, I wish to make it clear that the years mentioned in this post are all approximates because I cannot remember them clearly. I have never remembered most dates clearly all my life.)