Ko Htay Aung (Victor, EC80) is a nephew of Saya U Sein Hlaing (Professor of Electrical Engineering). He is the son-in-law of Saya Dr. Freddie Ba Hli (GBNF, son of Sayagyi U Ba Hli, First native Dean of Engineering, Rangoon University) and Daw Myint Thwe (sister of Saya U Tin U, Saya U Ba Than, Dr. Daw Win Hlaing, Dr. Myo Tint, U Tin Htoon [A60], Saya U Myo Min (UCC), U Thaung Lwin [EC66] and Daw Cho Cho Hlaing.) His spouse is Ma Tin Tin Hlaing (ex-UCC). They have a son and a daughter. They live in Sydney, Australia.
Ko Htay Aung volunteered as an interpreter for the meditation courses conducted in Sydney Australia and Sasana Yeik Thar in Yangon.
I was born without knowing that I would have to live my early life next to the big BIT facade and that I would also become an engineer.
I had played inside, outside, and on top of the BIT roof, but I was unaware of what the engineering students were learning inside.
Then, one day, I made a long hard decision to become an engineer instead of a medical doctor, because I like the noise, the smell, and the science of the machinery better than having to face the sobs, the sighs and the anguish of the sick and dying people at the hospital. (Over the years I’ve learnt that sickness, aging and death are part and parcel of life; so I don’t have much objection now.)
Besides, I had met too many engineers and had seen so many role models as I grew up in the BIT/RIT compound in Gyogon.
My late father is the elder brother of late Prof. U Sein Hlaing (Elec). My family moved to Gyogon and lived together with him in BIT compound when BIT was opened in 1961. My first neighbour in BIT was late Saya U Kyaw Tun and family.
When my family moved in to live in BIT compound, I was studying KG at St. Paul’s High School opposite the Secretariat Building. (SPHS later become No. 6 Botataung State High School). I survived the traveling between Gyogon and Botataung for the next decade to come until I finished the 10th standard. Catching the No.8 Hino bus to go to high school in the city became a daily routine.
Gyogon is about 9 miles (14.4 km) away from the Rangoon city center. It is rather very close to Insein town. BIT compound is surrounded by some living quarters and the Veterinary Institute in North, a huge suburb from Kyike-Kala (Aung-Theikdi) to Thamaing College (where other engineering student hostels were established from the 1969 SEAP Games Village) with the Shwedagon pagoda above the skyline in South, a vast open bush land with “9th mile” Chinese cemetery towards the Prome Road in the East, and the Insein Road, a small Agricultural Research Institute, the BPI factory, the Gyogon train station on the West.
The Rangoon Airport is not too far away in the North East corner so the entire air space above the compound is also occupied 24 hours a day. I got so much used to the roar of the turbo jet engines that they didn’t wake me up in the middle of the night. Fortunately, the planes never hit the huge BIT facade or the tall concrete water tank tower. The big sharp “thunder-bypass” discharge spikes on the roof top might have scared them away.
BIT to RIT
I remembered one day that a few people were working on the BIT facade. Then I realized they were removing the “Burma” stone scriptures from the facade and replacing with “Rangoon” so it became RIT from then on.
During the summer holidays and any other holidays (if not raining), I used to play tennis in the RIT compound. There are several tennis courts (one provided for staff) in the compound. At night time, the Sayas tennis court would light up to play a few matches among Sayas and family members. Some Sayas who I remembered playing there regularly were Dr. Aung Gyi (Civil), U Aung Khin (Mech), U Myo Myint Sein (Arch), U Kyin Soe (Mech), U Tin Hlaing (Mech), Dr. Tin Hlaing (Mech), U Aung Than (Mining), U San Hla Aung (Civil), Dr. Aung Soe (Civil), Dr. Khin Maung Win (Petroleum), Dr. Saw Pyu (Metallurgy), U Win Kyine (Petroleum), Dr. Thaung Lay (Metallurgy), U Thein Lwin (Elec), U Tin Htut (Mech), Dr. Tin Win (Mech), U Tu Myint (Mech), etc. The tennis court was next to Saya Dr. Aung Gyi’s family house so we got all necessary supplies with their compliments. A Russian Saya who played there sometimes would also bring a nice Russian tea for every player to enjoy.
I also enjoyed riding bicycle inside the RIT compound as there were long and hard concrete roads connecting the staff residences and the main class room buildings. Some open big water drains (Myaung) ran along those roads too so it wasn’t very nice to fell into the drain and dragged the bicycle along the drain.
There were other sporting venues provided in the compound for all students and staff and family to play, including a weight-lifting room (next to the student dinning hall), a huge indoor badminton room with 2 courts, fields for basketball, volleyball, football, hockey, and also a 400 meter track and field ground. We would also use the hill top unoccupied Rector’s (green) residence as a Kids’ Karate Club. The main assembly hall in front of the RIT facade would be used to conduct indoor boxing, judo, karate, weight lifting competitions too. Sometimes, Burmese and English movies would be showed regularly in the hall too so the whole neighborhood could come along to watch the movies. I also enjoyed watching other arts events (A-Nyeint & Lu-Pyet shows) conducted by elder engineering students.
I had learned to swim at the very early age not because the RIT swimming pool was there (well almost) but because our family friend took us to the Inya lake for swimming lessons. Later on, I continued to swim at the Universities’ Swimming Pool at Thaton Road near University Ave. I still remembered one university student (might be from RIT) who brought along a “live” frog and put it in the swimming pool water just to learn “How to swim a frog swim (breaststroke)” from the real master! (The pool supervisor had to pour more chlorine immediately into the filter just to make sure no disease would spread from the frog.)
When it rains, it pours in Rangoon. So the lower land in the RIT compound would sometimes become a flooded paddy field. It was a blessing in disguise for Agricultural Engineering students; they have a chance to drive a tractor and cultivate the land. The land was so wild that I would easily find lots of leeches (or vice versa). Frogs and snails came out of nowhere. The bush would also grow very tall if not cleared up quickly. Of course, the snakes were there too all the year round. Snakes would find quiet dark places around (and even inside) the houses to shed their skin every year. Some people who lived around the RIT compound loved to eat them too.
There were some food shops available in the compound. One can enjoy Burmese, Chinese, and Indian food. For students, the shops were there to spend their time sitting and chatting around the tea pot. For staff and families, they were very handy while living remotely inside the compound away from the usual amenities.
Another interesting landmark in the RIT compound was the septic tank system where almost every medical student in Rangoon had to come to look at the system as part of their public health study. They were also told about the air pollution over the RIT compound, especially in the evenings, when the gas from the fermented-rice was released into the air from the BPI factory in order to produce methylated spirit (that’s what we were told anyway).
First twist of fate
It was in 1974 when I had to make that big and painful decision to become an engineer while many of my high school class mates went on to study medicine.
The first day of the first year at RIT was quite exciting for me although there’s nothing new for me to see the surrounding. I was very anxious to find out what it would take me to become an engineer in the next 6 years to come.
Second twist of fate
Since there were about 500 fresher students who came to RIT from all over the country, the students were grouped into 4 sections according to their alphabetically sorted names.
That was the second twist of fate for me as it determined who I would meet and make new friends in the section with similar sounding names, e.g. lining up with 3 other Htay Aung’s but luckily we didn’t look the same!
These 4 sections were maintained during the 1st and 2nd years while we learned basic engineering and related disciplines. The class rooms in which we took lectures were either inside the main building or in the extended bamboo-palm sheds on the West or in smaller buildings along the Eastern side of the main building.
My friends would sometimes pick me up at home before the class began to save me from walking to the class room. I was ridiculed sometimes that I couldn’t even take a bus or hire a taxi from my home to go to the class. During the lunch hours or longer breaks during the day or in the exam seasons, friends would follow me home to have a rest or finish assignments or go through together the “last minute what ever it means” memory juggling before the many exams.
Third twist of fate
The third twist of fate happened in the 3rd year when I needed to decide what kind of engineer I’d really like to become. I had decided to take the electrical engineering major (with obvious influence) and learned more specific disciplines for the next two years.
Fourth twist of fate
Another twist of fate was waiting for me in the 5th year to choose whether to specialize in Electronic or Electrical Power engineering fields. I had chosen the Electronic Engineering and finished the study by 1980.
The subjects taught in RIT to make someone with a high school science background to become an Electronic Engineer in the 1970s were listed below. Not that I remembered all of it but for the sake of recollection. There was one industrial training session during the summer in the 5th year and a 6 months thesis work in the final year.
The subjects include English, Burmese, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Political Science, Workshop Practice, Engineering Drawing, Engineering Mechanics, Electrical Circuits, Strength of Materials, Fields & Materials, Electrical Measurements, Engineering Thermodynamics, Electronics, Electromechanics, Computer Programming, Electrical Machines, Industrial Electronics, Networks, Lines & Antennas, Linear Systems, Control Systems, Microwave Techniques, Electrical Communications Systems, … and Thesis.
Those who made it through these 6 long years or more were eventually commemorated in person or remotely (A-Way-Yauk) in the 16th RIT Convocation held on the Saturday, the 16th of January, 1982, in the Rangoon Arts & Science University (RASU) Convocation Hall. We missed a chance to proudly walk down the infamous “graduation” center lane right behind the RIT facade to be cheered. (Usually, at any other time, you’d be jeered if you braved to walk down that graduation lane!)
According to the 16th RIT Convocation Program, the number of graduates were:
- 1 M.E. (Civil, Water Resources & Development Engg)
- 1 M.E. (Civil, Applied Surveying & Photogrammetry)
- 8 B.E. (Textile)
- 9 Dip (Food Technology)
- 14 B.E. (Metallurgy)
- 16 B. Arch.
- 29 B.E. (Petroleum)
- 34 B.E. (Mining)
- 39 B.E. (Electrical Power)
- 40 B.E. (Electronic)
- 53 B.E. (Chemical)
- 138 B.E. (Civil)
- 169 B.E. (Mechanical)
Looking back now over these years at RIT, after twisting my fate at least four times, I always wondered whether I’d really changed my fate or it’s just my fate that had guided me to make sure that I’d be an engineer. I didn’t get much chance to apply most of the engineering knowledge except the Computer Programming and the industrial training at the Universities Computer Centre (UCC) from my 5th year study.
It spun me off to learn more Computer Science subjects at UCC in Hlaing Campus during the mid 1980s.
I’ve re-wired myself as a Master of Software Engineering engineer at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).
Do I need to re-wire or un-wire once more when I finally get retired? May be back in RIT? Only time will tell.
With this, I pay my respect and tribute to all Sayas and friends as well as neighbors from BIT/RIT, near and far, living or gone.
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