If we in Asia want to speak credibly for Asian values, we must be prepared to also champion those ideals which belong to humanity as a whole…It is altogether shameful to cite ‘Asian values’ as an excuse for autocratic practices and the denial of basic rights.
– Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim
The appointment of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as the10th Prime Minister last Thursday (Nov 24) brought my memories back to thirty-two years ago. In 1990, at Alor Setar’s Continental Hotel lobby I and Donna Babel had a conversation with him as Minister of Education. He was then called Saudara Anwar Ibrahim.
Then Donna Babel, who was SMK Tun Abang Haji Openg principal – later became Kuching Resident and Samariang assemblywoman for one term – and I were in Alor Setar as Sarawak School Principals’ Association representatives attending the Malaysian School Principals Association Conference and Education Forum held in the hotel where we took lodge. Our conversation with Anwar was during the afternoon tea break. From the lobby where we held a short conversation, we could see Datuk Seri (now Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Seri Perdana Clinic just across the road. It must be run by other doctors as Dr Mahathir was then PM and residing in Kuala Lumpur.
Shortly after the tea break, I recall there was an educational talk by an official from the Education Ministry and Donna and I joined SMK Changlun school principal for a fun ride to the Thai-Malaysian border – passing his school but did not stop – at Bukit Kayu Hitam without having to use our passport.
At the border, we sampled the Musang King durian just for three Malaysian ringgit each. We also purchased 20kg of longan or mata kuching fruit each cheaply, just half the price in Kuching. This was properly packed and were still good the next day when we travelled back to Sarawak.
In the evening we were feted to a dinner attended by Anwar and the guest of honour then the Regent of Kedah. This was when Anwar made a fiery speech for he wasn’t happy about the late entry of so many school principals – by the time the Regent arrived and seated on Table One, only about half the hall was filled with guests. Donna and I were seated on Table Two and joined by the main committee and two Sabah representatives. Many principals arrived late and I could see the frustration and displeasure written on Anwar’s face.
Nevertheless, the music was good and returned smile to his face. I volunteered to go on stage and performed Old Blue Eyes’ MY WAY accompanied by the talented band in attendance. An original song by Frank Sinatra, I did it the Elvis Presley way and was given a thunderous applause. For my second number I did an EP original Blue Suede Shoes. Upon returning to my seat, I acknowledged the compliment, including a thumps-up from Anwar and the Regent.
On our afternoon conversation, we talked a bit on some Sarawak schools that needed repair, especially rural boarding schools. I recall Anwar, who was about my height, promising to look into the matter. By the time I returned to SMK Julau, I applied for some fund for repair from the Education Department and was allocated a substantial amount for repair and fencing of the school. I attributed the allocation to Anwar’s promises during our conversation because I remember him telling his private secretary – who joined our hotel conversation – to take note.
Earlier, before flying to Alor Setar, both Donna and I were using the same MAS flights from Kuching to Subang. She went on to see her hubby who was then attached to Post Office in Pahang whereas I went to the Genting Highlands to try my luck in the Casino De Genting. We promised to meet the next day in Subang Airport as we were on the same flight to Alor Setar. I brought a small luggage plus two pairs of lounge suits and presented her with a 1kg pack of dried shrimps, a special product of Sarikei costing RM40.
Upon reaching Uncle Lim’s casino – then Tan Sri Lim Goh Tung was still alive and we used to refer to Casino De Genting as Uncle Lim’s – I took a room and quickly proceeded to play my favourite Russian roulette. Choosing the RM25 table, I changed RM400 at a table for my starting capital. Lady luck was smiling on me as using the RM400 I managed to win about RM17k and stopped just after slightly over two hours. I returned to my room, showered and relaxed for a while before coming out for dinner. It was then that I took the most expensive coffee – known as Irish Coffee blended with Johnny Walker whiskey and cost RM32 for a small cup to go with my intake of spring chicken (one whole piece) and other items.
In the morning of the next day, I looked around the shops housed by the Genting Hotel and purchased a Durban Suit for about RM1k and bought a bigger bag in which I put the smaller one brought from Julau. Donna smiled upon seeing my bigger bag and knew my trip to Genting was a success.
The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.