Encounters 50 Years Ago

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Remembering former MCA deputy president Lee Kim Sai who passed away yesterday.

In 1969, I worked as a service advisor in Tan Chong and Sons Motor Co Sdn Bhd. The workshop was just a large shed behind its head office-cum-showroom at Jalan Ipoh in Kuala Lumpur before it was relocated next to the newly completed Tan Chong assembly plant in Segambut.

Instead of renting a room nearby, I slept in the workshop on a canvas bed at night. One day after office hours, I noticed a man taking a good look at the structure of the workshop.

I approached him and he politely declined my help. I later learned that the man was one of the two brothers that founded the Tan Chong automobile business. He was none other than the late Tan Sri Datuk Tan Kim Hor, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 92.

Apart from hands-on in business, he was also an active member of the Kepong division of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA). He helped in the building of three Chinese schools in Kepong and Jinjang.

In 1969, one of my customers was the late Tan Sri Lee Kim Sai. He was then a sprightly 32-year-old young man and drove in a Nissan Cedric for servicing. The four-cylinder 2-litre engine of this car was incredibly silent and steady when idling, and one must step on the accelerator to know the engine was running as there was no tachometer.

He disclosed to me that Tan Chong supplied 100 Nissan Cedrics with registration plates from BL 1 to BL 100 for use during the formation of Malaysia celebration on 16 September 1963. The Nissan Cedric he drove in 1969 was one of these historic cars.

Five years later, he won the Rawang state seat on an MCA ticket and retained it in the 1978 election. Subsequently, he was elected a member of parliament in the 1982 general election and again in 1986 and 1990. He was appointed Minister of Labour in 1986, Minister of Housing and Local Government in 1989, and Minister of Health from 1990 until 1995.

Kim Sai in Hokkien means Golden Lion. While the late Karpal Singh from DAP was known as the Tiger of Jelutong, the late Lee Kim Sai was the Lion from MCA, as he was outspoken on several sensitive issues in 1986.

The views expressed here are those of The True Net reader YS Chan of Petaling Jaya.