The deep re­spect shown to rulers by their sub­jects is heart-warm­ing

New Straits Times - - Opinion -

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.

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