THE SULTAN AND
The deep respect shown to rulers by their subjects is heart-warming
WHAT sounds like the title of a new Disney movie is, of course, not a blockbuster that will hit a theatre near you anytime soon.
Instead, it is the tale of an outsider’s view on one of Malaysia’s most unique features — its sultanates.
“What type of government does Malaysia have?” I am often asked while on home leave.
Not one of a few words, I happily embark on a lengthy explanation of what I understand to be the Malaysian government structures. My friends are usually sorry they asked!
What does catch their attention, however, is the fact that the country can have one prime minister for 22 years, while selecting a new king every five years.
This fact amazes my British audiences more than anybody else. I admit that I build up to this revelation in my narrative, as I so enjoy the look of disbelief on their faces.
To the uninitiated Westerner, a sultan hails from the land of legends, wears a turban and sports a long white beard. Thus, my need for extensive elaboration on the subject.
Not only do Malaysian sultans dress and look like their royal counterparts in other countries of the world. They do, in my experience, bring out the best in their subjects to an extent that many a crowned head should envy.
I think it is safe to say that Malaysians can be, at times, a little impatient.
This is especially visible during rush-hour traffic. Drivers will move aside to let police cars, fire engines and ambulances pass them at high speed with quite a bit of reluctance.
While the term “ambulance chasers” is, otherwise, a pejorative phrase reserved for low-life lawyers in search of clientele, many local drivers will gladly tail the emergency services to get ahead of the queue on their way home from work.
But, not so with a sultan’s motorcade. While other police-led convoys are endured with gnashing teeth, the sultan’s limousine is greeted with smiling faces in the front and waving children in the back seats.
The reverence shown to the passing ruler is heart-warming, especially in the cynical times we live in.
If Malaysians have a reputation to be edgy on the roads, they can be equally eager to get served their food in record times. Fast food is not an American invention, only the unhealthy connotation is.
I, therefore, like to tell the tale of one Chinese New Year many moons ago. A car breakdown in Cameron Highlands forced my family and I to stay in this lovely hilltop station over the holiday for much longer than planned.
We decided to make the most of the unfortunate situation and called in to one of the highestrated restaurants in town.
The dining room featured a lovely Victorian décor and the glowing embers in the fireplace rounded up the cosy atmosphere beautifully.
Despite the waiting staff ’s best efforts, however, no food was served. A quick look around confirmed our worries — none of the other guests were served any dishes either. I was getting a little restless, hungry women can become nasty that way.
More than a little puzzled, I realised that I was the only impatient patron in the establishment.
Eventually, the maître d’ approached our table to apologise for the delay because of a technical problem in the kitchen.
He discreetly pointed out that the large party in the back of the room comprised the sultan of Pahang and his entourage.
Unlike me, he very graciously waited in front of an empty plate. And, in his presence, every other guest happily endured the otherwise unacceptable occurrence of a growling stomach. I learned a lesson in genuine approbation that day.
I always keep my favourite story for last — we are very fortunate to live within a golf resort on the outskirts of the capital.
The golf course is of such beauty that it is regularly visited by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
And so, it happened that one day, in childish nonchalance, my then 10-year-old daughter and her friend held out their little hands in hopes of catching a high-five from one of the motorbike-riding police personnel accompanying the royal golfer.
Imagine their glee, as not only every single rider reciprocated with a smile, but the ruler’s limousine slowed down, the back window lowered and a visibly amused king high-fived both the little rascals.
Needless to say that these two had no intention of washing their hands before dinner that night.
The sultans, although privileged by birth, kings for half a decade each, are truly venerated by their subjects for all the right reasons.
No small feat, in the opinion of this expatriate, hailing from a country of longstanding royaltyfree tradition.
People admiring a regalia at the Special Collections of Malay Rulers Exhibition in the Royal Museum, Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia’s most unique feature is that a king is selected every five years.