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From Strawberry Generation to Musang King

Updated: Jun 3, 2021

Photo by James Wong

Introductory Speech for The PETRONAS School of Life

by Shaun Hoon

As the curator of the PETRONAS School of Life program, I will also be the main speaker for most of the classes conducted over the next 5 months, along with 20 other distinguished guests to share their industry experiences both from Brunei and abroad.

I would like to spend a few minutes sharing with you the thinking behind this community initiative to engage the youth.

What Inspired the PETRONAS School of Life?

The PETRONAS School of life teaches the essential Soft Skills needed to succeed in life when students step into the workforce. Most of the lessons we will cover in the next 5 months like Self-Discipline and Work ethics; Leadership and Negotiation; Grit, Emotional Intelligence, Loyalty and Resilience are nothing new to our education system. In fact, these are the skills deeply embedded in the lessons taught in schools throughout the students’ life; when they do their group projects with their classmates, participate in school plays and sports competitions, and burn the midnight oil studying for their final exam.

As the editor of Inspire magazine in my previous life, I have interviewed countless numbers of Successful people in Brunei and in different parts of the world. If you look at anyone who has accomplished anything of significance, you would notice that those are the exact skills that set them apart, not necessarily how well they scored in their final exams.

As such, we feel that these lessons are too important to be discovered by chance in the “embedded” education system.

Having been in the workforce for the past two decades, I have employed a number of young graduates and exchanged notes with many corporate leaders to come to this conclusion; just because you hold a degree doesn’t mean that you are fully prepared for the demands expected of you in the workforce.

One of the biggest issues that employers have with the young graduates today, even though they are much more intelligent and knowledgeable than their previous generations, is their inability to take the heat, to persevere through pressure and remain loyal within an organization for an extended period of time. This generation is being labeled as the Strawberry Generation, because they get bruised too easily, largely due to the protective nature of their upbringing. But that’s for another conversation.

Beyond getting an “A” in Math and Chemistry, what the young people need is an entirely different kind of intelligence to navigate in the workforce and their careers.

And that is exactly what the PETRONAS School of Life sets out to provide; a blueprint to navigate life beyond what has already been taught in the classroom.

In preparing for the program, we asked ourselves some fundamental questions:

1. Why is it so often that A Students end up working for the B Students?

2. What would happen to our country’s future, if we can level up everyone’s tolerance for Adversities and Grit?

3. How can we prepare our youth to face the Inevitable Setbacks and Obstacles that the world will throw at them; like having their Heart Broken in a relationship or Losing a family member, getting Rejected in their job applications or even getting Fired?

4. And how should they deal with some of the obstacles that are not so Inevitable; like adapting for the Global Pandemics and the many more catastrophes in the pipelines that are still unknown to us.

5. What about those Practical skills they need in the real world? Like, just how exactly are they supposed to navigate the landmines of office politics that they are about to encounter, no matter which organization that they are setting foot into?

6. We also aim to use this course to help the youth to hold themselves to a Higher Standard by helping them to expand their definition of Success beyond personal acquisitions and glory by challenging them to think about their bigger contribution in impacting the community and the world at large.

7. Most importantly, we ask ourselves, how can we turn those Strawberries into Musang King. Externally Untouchable; So Strong and Powerful on the Inside that they are Impossible to Ignore, regardless if you like the taste of the durian, or not.

Instead of following the trend and buzz of teaching the youth fourth industrial revolution, coding or data analytics, The PETRONAS School of Life returns back to the basics; focusing on the small things, the trivials and the fundamentals. The seemingly insignificant details so very often neglected by even the brightest students, which cumulatively makes up the difference between one’s Success or Failure in their life’s trajectory.


Let me close by sharing with you a personal story that happened to me 20 years ago in Coffee Zone, (one of the earliest Café establishments in Brunei) where my ex-girl friend at the time (now my wife) and I met two Spanish travelers, David and Isaac. I can still vividly remember how both of them were dressed in their long and heavy capes proudly displaying the badges of the flags and emblems from the countries they have traveled to, sweltering inside in this tropical heat. In their hands were two sets of Spanish guitars, as they were hopping from one café to another busking for money with their deep and mesmerizing voices.

As a musician, my wife was much intrigued by their passion and skills. So, we started talking to them and ended up being their free managers for the next few days helping them to arrange singing gigs at Fratinis, Portview Cafe and various hip places that are no longer around today, in return for some generous tips and free meals for David and Isaac.

As we got to know each other, we learned that they were no ordinary buskers. As a matter of fact, both of them were accomplished lawyers from Ivy League colleges back in Spain.

Photo: Brunei Emblem proudly displayed on the top of David's Cape. This photo was taken in my Dad's shop, Hoon Chin 20 years ago!

And why are the two lawyers hustling on the street on the other side of the world?

They told us that they are taking a year off traveling around the world intentionally not bringing much money with them, with the goal of making enough through their artistry to feed themselves and find shelters throughout their world expedition.

I will never forget the “WHY” when David explained himself to me.

They did this because they wanted to have the Certainty that they will not be held hostage by their professions. That one-day, even if they lost everything, they will have the Confidence that they can survive under any circumstances, drawing from the experience from this journey.

YB Dato, Ladies and Gentlemen, one very important lesson I learned from these two extraordinary gentlemen is that you can’t learn how to build self confidence within the four walls of the classroom. Not even the finest law school teaches you that.

You can only acquire Confidence by being intentional. By putting yourself in unfamiliar territories, embracing the lessons from the school of life, through conquering your deepest fears, making mistakes and solving problems while figuring out what’s on your plate for your next dinner.

We call our project the PETRONAS School of Life with the objective of teaching those lessons beyond the classrooms, knowing full well that the real lessons, the real gems may never be adequately transpired in our classrooms neither.

But I, along with the 20 distinguished guest speakers, many seated amongst you today will do our best in sharing whatever we have learned from our very own School of Life; to be their best guitar and voice coaches, in giving them the tools to discover the answers for themselves when they take on the world.

I will spare you from my hour-long presentation on the details of our modules. You can read all about them on our website,

However, allow me to take this opportunity to convey our special thanks to PETRONAS for your strong support for this initiative. Allow me to convey my sincere thanks and appreciation to our guest speakers for your generosity of spirit in sharing your wisdom, thank you also the schools and the youth community for bestowing your trust in us. Last but not least, to our esteemed and honorable Guest of Honour YB Dato, your team from the MOE, the valued representatives from His Majesty’s government and all of you here today, thank you, and let’s work together in raising our very own Musang King out of the youth of Brunei.

Watch full Video of the speech here!

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