CATCH­ING UP WITH CAP­TAIN JAMES

Ka­jang boy talks about over­com­ing dyslexia to fly into record books

New Straits Times - - News -

ON April 27, 2013, I took the train to Southend Air­port, 72km from here, just in time to watch a 21-year-old Malaysian pi­lot taxi­ing his sin­gle en­gine Cessna 210 Sil­ver Ea­gle air­craft on the run­way.

The lad from Sun­gai Long, Ka­jang, was then only half­way in ac­com­plish­ing his solo mis­sion named “1Malaysia Round the World”.

When the 30-year-old air­craft, which he fondly called “Sheila”, came to a stand­still, he opened the cock­pit door and jumped out, flash­ing a wide smile as he did so, re­mind­ing me so much of a young Tom Cruise in the movie Top

Gun.

On May 14, he flew into The Guin­ness Book of Records, World

Record Academy and The

Malaysia Book of Records as the youngest pi­lot to have achieved this. He had flown to 21 coun­tries with 30 stops, cov­er­ing an area of 40,000km in 48 days. He had braved some of the harsh­est weather con­di­tions and seen the most beau­ti­ful scener­ies as he had the best seat from above in his cock­pit.

I had al­ways wanted to do a “catch­ing up” kind of se­ries; catch­ing up with peo­ple who had im­pacted my life and oth­ers with their feats and quests to carve a name for them­selves af­ter con­quer­ing chal­lenges — phys­i­cal and men­tal.

So, when I heard that the Ka­jang boy — for he prefers to be known as that — was back in town, I met up with him and snatched a few hours of his pre­cious time to find out what he had been up to.

James An­thony Tan is still the hum­ble, cheer­ful, funny and ac­com­mo­dat­ing guy that I met af­ter his six-hour flight to Southend across some of the most hos­tile land­scapes from Reyk­javik.

He had coped mar­vel­lously with his stut­ters and even joked about be­ing dyslexic. He had taken all these in his strides.

Tan, the youngest child of re­tired civil ser­vant Tan Ong Chin and Olive Bev­erly Tan, a spe­cial needs ed­u­ca­tor from Wales, has not had time to rest on his lau­rels in the four years since he hogged the front pages and air time of the me­dia — lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional.

When all the talk shows, spe­cial ap­pear­ances and award-giv­ing cer­e­monies had qui­etened down, he bus­ied him­self with what one might see as a dras­tic de­par­ture in his ca­reer path.

He is now a busi­ness­man with a few de­vel­op­ment projects to his name and a school for spe­cial needs chil­dren in his beloved town of Ka­jang.

And now with his feet planted firmly on the ground, he also has a girl­friend!

“I was given a rare op­por­tu­nity to learn from the best. And I thought it’s the right thing to do to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for work to peo­ple.

“And I have started a new school, and I am proud of this new ven­ture although I can­not take all the credit for it.”

Through­out the con­ver­sa­tion, his mother’s name was men­tioned fre­quently if not al­most in ev­ery sen­tence.

It was no doubt that since the dis­cov­ery that her youngest of four chil­dren was dyslexic, Olive took mat­ters into her own hands and saw to it that Tan was given the best at­ten­tion to cope with the prob­lem.

And she did it with fly­ing colours; in­still­ing in him the con­fi­dence to achieve what he had achieved in his young life, and yet, re­main hum­ble and grate­ful at what life threw at him.

Ac­cord­ing to Tan, his mother had taken cour­ses in spe­cial needs ed­u­ca­tion and with that qual­i­fi­ca­tion and ex­pe­ri­ence, is well equipped to open the school.

“Mother is the key to my suc­cess. This is a mother-and-son team­work and we cater to chil­dren with spe­cial needs be­cause such chil­dren are im­por­tant to me.

“I felt that the key things that I learned in life and with my mother in ed­u­ca­tion for twenty over years, it is ap­pro­pri­ate for us to do our part.

“Thus, Star Vista Ed­u­ca­tion was born, ‘the way to your star — an aero vi­sion to your dream’,” he said flash­ing that smile again.

But, of course, fly­ing still gives him the buzz.

“I am still a pi­lot at heart. I did some fly­ing projects. Flew to Alaska and learned to land on wa­ter, moun­tains and beaches.

“I flew across the Pa­cific Ocean, in a War­rior KE 24, from Malaysia to Aus­tralia, help­ing a 60-yearold friend to trans­port petrol to an is­land.”

Rem­i­nisc­ing on his feat four years ago, Tan re­mem­bered the time when he was fly­ing dur­ing a vol­canic erup­tion in eastern Rus­sia.

“It was scary be­cause I was us­ing a tur­bo­prop en­gine and if the ashes go into the tur­bines, the whole thing will ex­plode.”

When the vol­cano erupted, Tan was fly­ing through Siberia, all the way “pray­ing to heaven”.

“I was fly­ing through Siberia and right be­low me was an in­ver­sion layer where on top, the clouds and the dust could not travel up. So, I was pro­tected by a shield of ash un­der­neath me. It was ridicu­lous!”

Then there was the ty­phoon when he took off from Tai­wan; the beat­ing of heavy rain on his small air­craft as it swayed in the sky still vivid in his mind.

“It was crazy,” he said with that smile again. But he had Bruce the Bat­man for com­pany. His mum gave it to him to keep him com­pany.

With all these ex­pe­ri­ences, surely there was a book com­ing?

“There is. But it is a comic book about my first adventure, fly­ing from London to Bangkok and it is tar­geted at young chil­dren. There will be more soon.”

Tan is not on hol­i­day in the United Kingdom. He is be­ing fea­tured as one of six iconic Malaysians in a spe­cial pro­gramme called “Di Pun­cak Du­nia” on Astro Prima.

The pro­gramme also fea­tures racer Kip Khairul Id­ham Pawi, Ever­est climbers Datuk M. Ma­gen­dran and Datuk N. Mo­hanadas, as well as ac­tor and co­me­dian Harith Iskan­dar and squash cham­pion Datuk Ni­col David.

PIX COURTESY OF ZAHARAH OTH­MAN

James An­thony Tan (in­set) with his sin­gle en­gine Cessna 210 Sil­ver Ea­gle af­ter land­ing at Southend Air­port, near London, in April 2013.

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