November 20, 1998. More than 180 heads of state and ambassadors
from all over the world had gathered for the United Nations
General Assembly to discuss technology issues. They'd just
been interrupted, and asked to bear witness to a new UN declaration.
man walks up the platform, representing the teenagers of the
world. He's their official voice. He seems a bit nervous,
but that fades away as soon he starts speaking. He proposes
the idea, others take up the call:
believe in ethics rather than laws ... trust, not fear,''
says another teenage delegate.
The establishment of Nation1 (see In.Tech, Dec 1, 1998), a
``country for children'' that exists in cyberspace as a forum
for young people to express ideas and fight for their rights.
young man who stood in the front of the world? He was 16-year-old
Gerald Tan Chuang Win.
that's right -- a Malaysian.
boy The declaration of Nation1 came after the week-long ``Junior
Summit'' hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's
Media Lab, attended by some 100 young people from all over
personally, it was a culmination of ideas he had been championing
since he got online in 1995, when his father first bought
him a modem.
13 years old then, the Penang Free School (PFS) student ventured
online with his trusty 486 PC, just when the Internet was
beginning to make its presence felt in Malaysia.
remember my Jaring membership number -- 4503,'' Gerald says.
at the start of the wave proved fortuitous. ``When I first
went online, I used to surf to kids and teenage websites looking
for other kids. But I found that most `teenage stuff' was
written by adults.''
wondering about this -- teenagers should be doing it! So I
started designing homepages for teenagers for free,'' he recalls.
speaks with a maturity seldom found among his peers. His father,
Cris Tan, says he's sometimes awed by his son.
amazed by some of the articles he has written. I sometimes
even wonder if the words he uses exist. This is my son?''
clearly proud of his son's achievements. Although he himself
is not a PC user or an Internet surfer, he wanted Gerald and
his sister to explore the Internet.
Internet was the latest thing then, and new things excite
me. I did not know how Gerald would gain from it, but that
was not important to me then,'' adds the managing director
of Tele-Link Sistem Sdn Bhd.
no regrets, and believes that parents who prevent their children
from gaining Internet access stand to lose out in the long
run. Rising phone bills should not be an excuse, he adds.
that responsible parents would understand their childrens'
character, capabilities and handicaps.
glad to know that my kids are at home in front of the PC,
instead of loafing at malls or video arcades,'' adds Gerald's
mother, Linda Cheoy.
confidence seem quite justified -- Gerald comes across as
a trustworthy and honest fellow.
as a kid, when I gave him RM10 to buy something, he'd return
the change, no matter how little,'' says Tan.
were thrilled when Gerald became the second Malaysian -- the
first was Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad --
to have a live broadcast via the Internet (In.Tech, Dec 13,
online neighbourhoods In 1995, Gerald set up the first public
website for teenagers, which he called Beverly Hills Internet
Teens 90210, to help kids and teenagers around the world create
their personal homepages, and to provide a platform to make
their ideas and creativity available to others on the Internet.
was named after the company which hosted the page. The BHI
(now known as GeoCities) site garnered 11 excellence awards
including Lycos' (then Point Communications) ``Top 5% of All
his worth, he followed a banner on Yahoo.com and submitted
his Wonders of the Web site (teenworld.com.my/gerald/wow)
as his entry to MIT's Junior Summit (see sidebar).
an e-mail saying my entry had been rejected. So I wrote back
to ask why, and the next thing I knew, they said they had
made a mistake and the entry was in ... I had won!''
Junior Summit attracted 2,000 people, although only 100 were
qualified to attend. Gerald was the only Malaysian who made
rosy Like any young man, Gerald's sights are set on the future.
Yet, for all his achievements, he sometimes has doubts. For
one, he is not sure of a career -- he says he's weak in Additional
Mathematics, which may not qualify him for a course in Computer
he's had fun meeting all types of people, the ``lowest points''
of his life, he says, have to do with dealing with people.
I end up doing everything myself, and people complain about
my efforts. I've been called a dictator before,'' he muses.
his relationship with his parents went through a strained
period when they couldn't understand why he was spending three
to 24 hours on the computer. They were worried that he was
not getting enough sleep and was going to do badly in school.
fears have proven unfounded. Right now, Gerald's priority
is the SPM exams.
to study in a college or university. What is important to
me is that I have the time and freedom to do my own stuff,''
was also thrilled to be interviewed by his favourite publication.
I think In.Tech is too technical -- you should humanise the
paper, and have more stories on people.''
Gerald, how's this for a start?