I was born in New Town, Ipoh. My brother was born in the Old Town. I left Ipoh when I was 19 and I’ve lived in KL ever since.
When I was growing up, my father operated an interstate taxi stand. The taxi stand was downstairs and we lived upstairs. Right in front of us there was a huge padang, all flat grass, with rickety swings and see-saws in one corner. My earliest memories of that padang are of the political rallies that were held there.
Even though as a kid I didn’t understand politics, I would look forward to elections because of the rallies in front of our house. I could see everything from my first floor bedroom. Before the ceramah and the talking, they would do things to attract people to come, like screen movies. They would have this makeshift bed sheet hung up on a frame and an old 16mm projector, showing Hollywood films. Tarzan. John Wayne. Those were the good days of political rallies.
When I was little, I never listened to the radio. I never bought records. I never wrote requests to DJs. I got into radio by accident. I had finished my Form 5 and wasn’t going to college, so I was just bumming around until my father said, “You’d better go and get a job.” I heard a job advertisement on the radio and that was it.
I applied to train as a priest. But I was never religious! I wanted to be a priest because I thought it was very cool.
At various times in my life I wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, a priest. I actually applied to a seminary to train as a priest. But I was never religious! I wanted to be a priest because I thought it was very cool. You can listen to confession, hear people’s secrets, help the community. But then I thought, celibacy is overrated.
I moved to KL in 1966 to work for Rediffusion, a cable radio station. KL back then was totally different. My office was along Jalan Pahang, opposite the General Hospital. Jalan Pahang back then was a beautiful tree lined avenue. It was like what you would see in Singapore today.
For my first radio job, I was paid a princely salary of 150 dollars per month, which was slightly below the average salary. So I could not rent an apartment. I rented a bed space. It was on the third floor of a shop house. Outside someone’s room, I had a bed. I slept in the corridor. Those were my first lodgings in KL.
I went to the cinema once a week. It was way cheaper then. But all the cinemas I used go to are no more already. The big cinemas were Federal and Capitol. I went to Federal more often because it was the closest one.
I remember seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey at Pavilion, screened on what was known as the Cinerama system. It was a ginormous wrap around screen, like a pre-cursor of IMAX. Pavilion was the only cinema in Malaysia that had Cinerama.
There was a period when for some reason the government decided to allow X Rated films. When that happened, there was a big explosion and every cinema showed X Rated films. They even went to the extent of showing childbirth movies – educational films about childbirth, just to show women’s anatomy! And these films would have long queues of people waiting outside. But after a while, because they allowed it, the craze just died a natural death.
Section 17 is where I started out. I rose quite fast in the company so my salary went up and I upgraded from my bed space. I came over here to Section 17 and rented one of the houses. Since then I have stayed in various places but three years ago I moved back to Damansara Perdana, not far from here. My recording studio office has been in Section 17 for the last 35 years.
This area is very convenient. It’s like a big Chinese village. It has not changed very much from 40 years ago, though the old cinema has gone and new shops have been built. But the feel of it is very similar. Because there’s a market, if you come early, it feels totally like a Chinese new village. The way people dress, the way people talk.
We didn’t have so many sensitivities back then; no religious or racial sensitivities. Things go in cycles, and eventually we will go back. But I think things have gone so far already that it won’t be my lifetime or your lifetime or even your children’s lifetime. Now it is just the tip of the iceberg.
If BN regains a two-thirds majority in the next direction, we are headed even more in the wrong direction. I’m not a great supporter of PR or BN, but that’s just the way it is.
People think I am controversial but I’m not controversial at all. I only ever write about what has been published. I comment like any other Malaysian citizen reading a newspaper: ‘Eh! How can? This one so stupid!”
I got polio when I was eight. Luckily, it has never really affected me.
I’ve always been what I am, I really don’t care. Why are people careful of what they say? Probably for two reasons: 1) they are a-political and they don’t want to say anything; 2) they are business people and feel they will be affected if they are too outspoken. I’ve never had this problem before. In my business I don’t deal with government. If I was a big time contractor with millions on the line, I might think about it. But thankfully I’m not.
I got polio when I was eight. Luckily, it has never really affected me. Maybe if you were a psychiatrist you’d tell me that it has. But in my life I never really thought about it. When I was in school, yes there was name-calling and I got into fights. But it didn’t leave a scar on me. As I was growing up, I could live a very normal life. I could play badminton, run, hike for miles. If you really paid attention, you might think “Eh. He walks differently.” But a lot of people who knew me for years never even realised.
Now it’s a bit different. In my 60s, polio affects me the most. I have a young son, Adam, who is nine years old. My only regret is that as a father I cannot do what a boy would expect his dad to do – play football and so on.
My eldest children, Melissa and Melanie, are all grown up. Adam and Laura are my kids from my second marriage. When I split with my first wife, my daughters were very young. Initially my ex-wife and I didn’t have a good relationship. So I didn’t get to see them very often and I missed a huge chunk of their life.
I feel very lucky. With my younger family, I’ll probably be dead when they are all grown up. But at least I have a chance to see that part of my children’s life that I missed. It’s very tiring. But it’s fun lah.
Patrick Teoh is a broadcaster and actor. He joined Rediffusion as a radio programme announcer in 1966 and quickly rose to become one of Malaysia’s most well known radio personalities. In the last three decades, he has also worked in TV, film and theatre. You can read Patrick’s blog here.
Interview by Ling Low; Photos by Stacy Liu