When I approached Eric and asked him whether he wanted a drink from the bar, he asked for a glass of tonic water instead. He did not want to eat either.
My first impression of this gentleman was positive. He was a "Datok" at that time.
"Datok" is a title bestowed upon a man by the King of Malaysia for some noble deeds he has contributed to his nation. It's equivalent to the title of "Lord" in England.
Therefore Eric was to be addressed as Datok Eric Chia (years later he was awarded the "Tan Sri" title which is more prestigious than the former).
When Eric disembarked at Penang Airport, he gave me a warm smile but did not say anything to me. I bade him farewell.
I had the opportunity to serve Eric a few times travelling from Singapore to other parts of Malaysia v v. He never once ate on the flight nor drank alcohol. He loved his tonic water. Eric was a very quiet pax.
A year later, I met Eric again. This time it was from Singapore to Tokyo. Again, Eric turned down the offer of the first class meals.
He sat at first class B707 Sky Lounge most of the time during the 7 hr flight.
My curiosity got the better of me and I took the courage to ask Eric why he kept refusing to eat on his flights.
He looked up at me and replied " I do not like aircraft food but I will eat once I arrive at Tokyo". " How about you, young man?" he asked me. I told him we crew did not have much of a choice because food was expensive in the Marounochi Hotel and besides it was winter and we coudn't go out to eat.
Without hesitation, Eric invited me and all my crew to dinner that night at the Copacabana Night Club and Restaurant which one of the most posh night spots in Tokyo.
When we checked in at the Marounochi, 2 limos were waiting for us. Eric had instructed him Japanese limo drivers to fetch us to the Copacabana.
We met Eric at the Copa and had dinner with him and his Japanese manager.
We were being served and entertained by gorgeous Japanese hostesses. Eric told we guys could bring the Japanese hostesses back to our hotel for the night.
Needless to say, 2 of my crew had a nice time with their hostesses that night.
The next time I happened to meet Eric was on a flight from HNL to HKG. He flew in from LA and I took over the flight from HNL to HKG.
On that flight I was surprised he wanted to eat on board.
My first class crew dressed his table for the meal.
The next thing I saw, Eric folded up the table cloth and asked the crew to take it away. Now he didn't wanna eat. His body language showed he was displeased with my stewardess.
Eric wore his eye shade, reclined his seat and went off to sleep without saying a word to me or my crew.
Half way through the long flight, Eric got up from his seat and went to the toilet. It was then he realised I was working on the flight.
I brought Eric up to the upper deck Biz class "cove" and asked him what happened earlier. He told he was very hungry and decided to eat his supper. However, the bread rolls the stewardess served him was not hot. He was not so much upset because the rolls were not hot but rather the excuses the stewardess gave him.
Although Eric complained to me about the stewardess's attitude towards him, he cautioned me not to write a bad report about her. "Give her another chance"..he said to me.
For breakfast, my chief steward Muthusamy ( Eric once bought Muthu and his crew a very expensive seafood dinner in HKG) prepared a nice and hot bowl of porridge for Eric ( he was famished otherwise he won't eat aircraft food)
You see, Eric was a kind man. He was good to us without any motive. Many paxs tried to be nice to us because they had their own agendas or motives if I may call them. Most were "chee ko peks" and wanna try on the stewardesses but not Eric.
He was a class above many millionaire or even billionaire paxs whom I have served in my 35 years of flying.
I had served many multi-millionaires as well as billionaires. One would be considered lucky if these wealthy paxs did not give trouble on board, let alone be given tips or dinner treats.
Even well known politicians were not gracious to the crew who served them.
Some of these first class paxs made use of us because they were "after" our stewardesses. Some were nice because they wanted upgrading or something else. But not Eric. He simply wanted us to be happy when we had him on the flights.
It was not unusual for Eric to buy us expensive meals if we meet him overseas. He was not only generous to the crew but sided the crew when other paxs abused us.
He once told a Caucasian first class pax to "F*** off " for abusing the crew. He shouted at that pax and told him he (Eric) would buy over that seat if he wasn't happy about it (that idiotic pax abused the crew because the seat could not be reclined fully).
At HKG airport, I was told Eric almost punched a pax for shouting at the poor airport staff who had worked so hard to ease the pain of the paxs over a delayed flight.
A favourite IFS ( Supervisor) of Eric's was given $300k to settle his debts when Eric came to know of his problem.
I read about how the immigration detained Eric in the US because of his attitude towards the whites. He once told me he didn't like the whites.
A minister or if I am not wrong the PM of Malaysia intervened and got Eric out of detention.
I felt sorry and deeply saddened when I heard Eric passed away a few years ago.
To us, he was more than a good first class pax. Eric was a friend and one whose presence never failed to brighten us on the flight.
Thank you Tan Sri Eric Chia......may you R.I.P