KUALA LUMPUR: Who would have thought that the man who dared to travel solo around the world in a single-engine Cessna 210 Silver Eagle aircraft at the age of 21, was once a victim of bullying.
Captain James Anthony Tan, 26, who was enrolled at a national-type Chinese primary school, recalled that he was scolded and caned by his teachers because of his poor performance. He was also made fun of by classmates.
He said he had difficulty following the learning process in the classroom, and could not read or write until he was about 9 years old.
“This caused me to have low self-confidence, and soon I became naughtier and more defiant.
“However, I always knew that the way my mind worked was different from other kids,” he said.
His mother, Olive Beverley Tan, noticed that Tan had difficulty speaking, had poor body movement and lacked hand-eye coordination.
Olive, who was puzzled by Tan’s condition, reached out to her sister, who was in the United Kingdom, for advice.
“At that time, it was very difficult to get information or help.
“There were limited reading materials on the topic (of learning disability) and the Internet was not available yet.
“Even the teachers were not aware of such a condition.
“Instead of trying to understand the situation, the teachers would blame the child for not paying attention.
“So, I spoke to my family in the UK.
“Then, my sister started sending me books on the relevant topics.
“That what started me on the road of education,” said Olive, who later pursued a Master’s Degree in Special Education.
James was diagnosed with dyslexia at 8, and was enrolled in a special course under the Dyslexia Malaysia Association (DMA) in the pioneer batch, for one year.
Tan also attended a one-to-one class under an American teacher, who was based in Singapore, for about two weeks.
“My problem was I couldn’t ‘see’ the alphabets.
“The only way that I could register the alphabets was by using all three senses — sight, hearing and touch.
“So, what we did was (during the class session) we used clay to make the alphabets, which helped me to imagine what an ‘A’ looked like and what it represented,” he said.
Tan said his mother used to ferry him to DMA in Titiwangsa from their home in Kajang daily, easily spending three to four hours on the road, just so he could attend the special course.
He then attended the Cempaka International School for O Level, before pursuing his studies at the Western Australia Aviation College in Perth.
He then attended the Bournemouth Commercial Flight Training and Oxford Aviation Academy in the UK.
Tan said he began his first professional job as a ferry pilot at 18 or 19, where he was given the responsibility of delivering junk planes to various countries, before becoming a private jet pilot.
Tan is also running several companies in various fields, including an alternative learning academy in Kajang that caters to children with learning difficulties.
“Because of my learning difficulties, I was very bad. I was a horrible pilot actually.
“I had bad hand-eye coordination and my learning difficulties still, in part, interfered with my studies.
“But, having a dream is vital to succeed in the face of life challenges.
“Thanks to help and guidance, I was able to learn the basics, and get better (in my studies in college).
“The most difficult part is always the starting point,” he said.