Make Way People, OTAI Passing Through

Its official. I am now officially been classified as OTAI and in truth, I am not sure whether to laugh or to cry.

My journey to OTAI-hood began when I was talking to a younger colleague recently. You see, after a few years sojourn due to illness and my not-so-little legal squabble with my ex-employer, I started to work for somebody again a few months back.

richard gere

Richard Gere

Granted, it’s not easy, taking instructions, meeting deadlines etc etc etc again after all these years. But economic necessity does play a big part in our lives and on most occasions, tend to make the decisions for all of us. Well, for most of us anyway.

Anyway, here I was, the new kid on the block, so to speak, sitting there satisfying the curiosity of this younger colleague, answering this and that, over a really, really cold drink. It was a hot day that day anyway and for hot days, there can only be one drink to quench your thirst. A really, really cold one. But I digress.

It was to a question related to my work and career experience that my younger colleague remarked, ‘ You must know most of the big shots in the industry (huh? what industry?) nowadays. With all that experience and connections (again, huh?), you must know quite a few of them Datuks and Tan Sris (titles bestowed either by The King or The Sultan). After all, you are (wait for it) an OTAI.’

dato' jalaluddin hassan

Dato’ Jalaluddin Hassan (source :

That’s when the ‘huh?’ became ‘HUH?’. What the hell was that word? OTAI? As far as I know, that word is not in any of the many dictionaries that I have bought for my sons nor for myself. I racked my brains, trying to figure out what the word meant and where it originated from.

But curiosity got the better of me and since I was getting nowhere fast, I ate humble pie and asked my younger colleague to enlighten me, please. So he began to explain to poor old me just what the hell is an OTAI?

As my younger colleague began to explain to me,  complete with examples, it dawned on me that that out-of-the-blue word (well, for me anyway) is slang to describe people who have matured (gracefully or otherwise is another issue!) with the passing years, accumulating a wide, varied and rich experience (presumably), both in career and in life.

In short, an OLD TIMER. Experienced in career? A resounding yes (me think!). Experienced in life? I’d like to think so. Made it big? I may be “big” nowadays but nope, I don’t think I have made it ‘big’. Not yet anyway. As they say, when there is still life, there is still hope.

But OLD nevertheless, or ANCIENT as my wife would say whenever she thinks I’m getting a bit too big for my breeches.

As I reflected on the years that have passed me by, and the many challenges that I overcame, I realised that the word is a word, slang that it may be, used by the young to describe us old ‘uns who have seen it, done it and are still around to tell the tale, battle scars and all, physically and emotionally, with respect, grudgingly though it may be.

richard burton

The late Richard Burton (source :

In other words, nice one that. So I guess, I am an OTAI. Not in the mould of a Richard Gere or a Richard Burton or even a Richard Marx maybe. And definitely not as intoxicating as that other OTAI found in Polynesia. But an OTAI nevertheless, Malaysian-style that is. Better start getting used to being called that, I guess.

So the next time, I’m trying to make my way through a crowd of young people, I’ll just say,’hey, make way people. OTAI passing through’.


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