Author Archives: wcw

A touch of class

Classy: The Islamic Arts Museum certainly fits the world class tag. Not only is the building beautifully designed, the exhibits are of the highest quality.

Class and culture can’t be bought at online malls or picked up from the nearest grocer, unfortunately. You either have it or you don’t. 

TAN Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary is probably one of the most reclusive tycoons in Malaysia. He rarely makes public appearances or gives press statements.

Those lucky enough to have met him will tell you that his favourite rendezvous point is either the meeting room of a hotel or the Islamic Arts Museum in Kuala Lumpur.

His meetings, which start late in the evening, are usually lined up until the wee hours of the morning, and while they involve government leaders, businessmen and his closest executives, he is just as at home entertaining them sitting in an ordinary coffee shop, sipping tea.

Most times, he is seen in long-sleeved batik shirts, simple pants and sandals.

Last week, he turned up at the museum – which he takes great pride in – to mark the institution’s 20th anniversary, an event graced by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Unknown to most guests, the timing couldn’t have been better, as the billionaire had celebrated his 67th birthday just days earlier.

The museum is the businessman, entrepreneur and philanthropist’s pride and joy. Even after all that he’s achieved, he still never tires of sharing his humble beginnings.

Born on Dec 12, 1951, in Kampung Hutan Keriang, Alor Setar, the third child of Syed Nor and Sharifah Rokiah became involved in his father’s cattle business while in school.

But an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease hit the family business hard, forcing Syed Mokhtar to abandon his studies a few months prior to completing Form Five, as his family couldn’t afford the examination fees.

Undaunted, and with money saved from working with his father, Syed Mokhtar ventured into business on his own.

While most Malaysians know him as a businessman, less is known about his philanthropic work. When Syed Mokhtar brought home his first salary of RM1,500 as a rice trader in 1974, his mother reminded him that while they lived a humble life, there were others in the community who were poorer. She encouraged him to keep half for the family and distribute the remaining RM750 to 15 needy families in their community.

Two decades later, in 1996, he founded the Albukhary Foundation and today, the museum remains its primary beneficiary.

I haven’t met a Malaysian businessman who would invest in a museum with so much gusto. Syed Mokhtar is truly an exception.

Most politicians use the phrase “world class” flippantly to describe a variety of things. They probably like the word, or would like to think of themselves as important in setting standards. Or worse, they just have unimaginative speech writers.

The words barely ring true in the end. Many so-called world class facilities, in the realm of politicians, have ended up disgraceful endeavours ailed by poor maintenance, either due to funding shortages or corruption.

Some institutions have only remained world class structures because those entrusted with overseeing them fail to realise that content matters, not just the buildings.

But the Islamic Arts Museum certainly fits the world class tag. Not only is the building beautifully designed, the exhibits are also of the highest quality.

Funded by the Albukhary Foundation, the Islamic Arts Museum earned the title of being the top museum in Malaysia and the 10th in Asia in 2014 in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice awards for museums around the globe.

The awards honour top travel spots worldwide based on the number of reviews received from TripAdvisor travellers to Asia, Europe, South America, South Pacific, Britain, the United States and Malaysia.

Award winners are determined using an algorithm that evaluates the quantity and quality of reviews for museums worldwide, collated over a 12-month period.

“Some of the world’s most significant cultural institutions are represented in the Travellers’ Choice museums, thanks to the feedback shared by millions of travellers around the world,” said TripAdvisor chief marketing officer, Barbara Messing, in a statement.

Featuring some of the world’s finest art, scientific discoveries and historical events, these world-class attractions offer both educational and enriching experiences, Messing said.

The Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses, Shaanxi, China; Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia; and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Hiroshima, Japan, were the top three museums in Asia.

Curiously, in all my visits to the Islamic Arts Museum, I have seen more Western visitors than Malaysians, many of whom are drawn to the information about the exhibits. The museum houses 7,000 artefacts, so reading everything is clearly a painstaking and time-consuming process.

It was opened on Dec 12, 1998 – on Syed Mokhtar’s birthday.

It’s a high point, not just for the museum, but also for Malaysia. The Albukhary Foundation is currently financially supporting a gallery of the Islamic world at the prestigious British Museum in London and is finding itself a permanent feature there.

A large inscribed panel at the entrance of the exhibition relays how the foundation has been promoting goodwill through education and cultural heritage for the past 40 years.

True to the foundation’s spirit, it has always stressed that it has been “promoting scholarships for Muslims and non-Muslims alike” and aspires to “bridge further understanding between cultures and faiths”.

At the museum’s anniversary celebrations on Friday, the tone of moderation and understanding permeated the venue, and certainly, it is reflections like these that Malaysia desperately needs at this point.

It was a joy to see a multiracial crowd of Malaysians thronging the place and feeling comfortable in an Islamic museum.

While the most popular portion of the museum is where the famous mosques of the world are presented in miniature form, the section on Islam in China is surely one of the highlights of any visit.

This area shows how Chinese and Islamic influences merged to produce some exquisite artworks, including cloisonne wares and calligraphic scrolls.

Donating is always the easier option, but to put up a truly world class Islamic museum, with thousands of artefacts, and maintaining regular publications on the arts takes some doing.

Add the emphasis on multiethnic influences of Islam and not merely Arabic, now that’s a remarkable feat.

In search of… durians in Australia!

Very few compelling reasons exist for Malaysians to visit Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory. Most of the time, it’s hot … and I mean blazing hot and dry. And coming from where we do, there is barely a need to holiday in a destination that has worse weather than ours.

Even AirAsia, which used to fly there, has completely given up on that destination. Darwin isn’t on Malaysia Airlines’ radar either.

China’s Donghai Airlines, which began its direct flight from Shenzhen to Darwin in August, now records disappointingly low numbers.

Four months after the direct link began, the flights are often less than half full. In September, apparently only 382 passengers flew there, or 44% capacity, while 237 passengers flew outbound, equating to just 27% capacity.

The biggest, closest tourist attraction is Ayers Rock at Alice Springs, and that’s 1,496km away – equal to a 16-hour drive or a two-hour flight.

My Australian friends who live in Melbourne thought I had lost the plot when I told them I was going to Darwin, and worse, in December, when the weather is at its most unforgiving – scorching sun in the day and thunderstorms and rain in the evenings.

“Why are you going to Darwin? I know you have announced your retirement as the CEO, but for heaven’s sake, Darwin is smaller than Kajang,” said my friend.

He isn’t wrong. Darwin City is quite deserted at any time of day, and I arrived on a weekday.

No wonder my Aussie friends who have never visited Darwin, had no intention of joining me, except for two Melbourne-based Malaysians who were drawn by a truly valid reason – Darwin durians!

Durian hunting in Darwin, Australia.

Like me, they are durian fanatics, too, and were keen to find out if our Musang King can hold a candle to or trump the Kangaroo King!

Australia’s largest durian farm can be found in Darwin and is run by the Siah family, who owns Tropical Primary Products.

The Siahs, who moved to Australia from Semenyih, Selangor, more than 30 years ago, have earned national attention – if not international recognition – for their huge durian farm.

They already have more than 2,500 mature durian trees – averaging over 20 years – on 24 ha of land. At least 35 tons of the produce is available in many parts of Australia.

The orchard itself is a sprawling 202 ha, with jackfruit, cempedak, pomelo, mango and jambu air trees, and the Siahs are now trying their luck with langsat trees.

According to Siah Han Shiong, who runs the farm, I was a little late for durian season as it starts in October and ends in November.

My heart sank when he told me that but fortunately, he stored some durians – the whole fruit, and some packages – in the refrigerator. So, we got to sample their HEW1, a Malaysian variety which the family had grown in Semenyih. It looks like Thai durian but its taste and texture are very much of a Malaysian variety.

The durians were creamy, sweet and tasty, and richly yellow in colour.

Sweet and juicy cempedak.

I’d like to think that our Musang King, black thorn or red prawn varieties are more outstanding but then, the comparison may be unfair because I only tasted the few available fruits. So, it would be more appropriate for me to make comparisons during peak season in Darwin.

It was an enriching experience nonetheless, since most Malaysians would never fathom durians to be growing healthily Down Under.

According to Siah, their main customers are Asians, especially Malaysians, Singaporeans, Indonesians, Filipinos and Vietnamese, who live in the main Australian cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Pleasingly, the family knew where to locate retailers who could sell the durians from their farm.

“I think we’ve perfected the growing of durian in a non-tropical environment, which has been challenging in a place like the Northern Territory,” Siah said.

“We’ve worked out what nutrition is required and how to make sure the trees survive the dry season here. The colder weather hammers the tree and you sometimes think, ‘Why am I trying to grow durian here?,’ but when the season arrives, it’s a good reward,” he said, in an interview on the radio show, ABC Rural Country Hour recently.

Siah said that while his family would harvest several more tonnes of durian this year compared to 2017, it would still be very easy to sell the bumper crop.

“At the moment, we’re really only competing against frozen imports, so to produce fresh durian, which actually has a smell about it, we know that once consumers find it, there’s a real market for it.”

The HEW1 variety of durian is currently selling at A$27 (RM81.50) a kilogram, with the average durian weighing between 2kg and 4kg.

There is a growing demand for the King of Fruits in Australia, but the supply is limited because of a relatively smaller number of commercial growers, mostly from Queensland.

But Siah’s Lambell’s Lagoon farm has been getting the most exposure because of his clever use of social media, including a video he made which has garnered much traction. Regular updates by ABC Rural Country Hour has kept the fruit in the forefront of the minds of Australians, too.

His durians are still not ready for export, but don’t underestimate farmers like the Siahs in Australia.

Likewise, who would have thought that the Aussies could be selling mangoes by the truckloads, and better ones from what we get here, too?

The whacky hunt for the Australian durians was certainly worth this excursion, and certainly an eye-opening one. Unlike Malaysia, there are huge tracts of readily available land for farmers to grow these spiky fruits there.

I would hate to see the Kangaroo King “out run” the Musang King in the future, but hey, everything’s fair in the fight for the ultimate title of the King of Fruits.

Calling the kettle black

PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang addressing the crowd at the Icerd rally in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.

MALAYSIANS are a very strange lot. Not all of us, mind you, but a big portion of us seem to find it easy to contradict our own behaviour and thoughts.

It’s like some form of dissociative identity disorder. While that is exaggerating a little, it’s at least a milder version of the condition, which, scarily, slips in without us even knowing it.

It’s like we suffer from a multiple personality disorder because of complex psychological conditions, which disconnects us from our thoughts, memories, actions, feelings or sense of identity.

Those of us who outright reject blame on mental health reasons accuse us of hypocrisy.

Take, for example, how when Malaysians travel overseas, we proudly declare our nationality, even when damning news about the nation has us cringing in embarrassment.

By now, most foreigners also think there is no retirement age in Malaysia.

We must explain that the rules don’t apply to legislators since they make the laws, and that there will only be one 93-year-old who can be a Prime Minister – twice.

We fill up immigration forms without a second thought. Nationality – Malaysian. That’s it! And when we bump into fellow citizens overseas, we break into smiles because we feel a sense of camaraderie among us as fellow Malaysians.

From our conversations, be they in Bahasa Malaysia, English or some Chinese dialect, we can quickly suss out the Malaysians in the crowd, and we feel pleased that we are together in a foreign land.

But the minute we are back in Malaysia, there are those of us who seem to transform, as if possessed and controlled by a demon. Suddenly, we are no longer Malaysian first.

We are Malay, Chinese or Indian first, or Muslim, Buddhist, Christian or Hindu first.

It doesn’t help in Malaysia – strangely, nowadays, even more than six decades after independence – we are asked to state our race and religion when filling up forms.

In most developed countries, it’s an offence for any employer or government to ask a potential employee or a citizen to state his or her race, religion or even gender, as it’s regarded as an intrusion into a person’s privacy.

But no, not in Malaysia. We are still required to state our religion and race because these statistics apparently assist the government in carrying out various programmes.

Of course, we can all agree on being devout and pure Malaysians during National Day celebrations, and especially during sports events.

When our national football team or badminton hero Datuk Lee Chong Wei plays, we’re all swept up by the hysteria of patriotism.

And, honestly, why do we put up with politicians who have pretty much looted the country and incited racial hatred to save their own skins, and who now have the audacity to put on straight faces and claim they are doing so in the name of the race and religion?

None of them gave a second thought to race and religion when they stole the people’s money, so it must be shocking that huge numbers of people still actually believe in this political/religious propaganda.

But despite our racist and religious biases, we barely complain when enjoying public holidays on the auspicious days of various faiths in this country.

That glut of off days earns us the reputation for being one of the countries with the most public holidays.

For the first time now, we heard Kelantan declared today a public holiday to boost attendance at the protest against the implementation of the Inter-national Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd) in the federal capital yesterday.

We have heard of cuti sakit (medical leave), cuti kahwin (marriage leave), cuti bersalin (maternity leave), and we now have cuti protes (leave to protest).

I’m sure many of us are curious how the state government could have reached this decision.

The question that begs to be asked is, does a person’s race, religion or gender matter if the person is competent, able and carries out his or her responsibilities with integrity? The answer is “no”.

What we have seen in Malaysia is that those who have created the loudest racket about race and religion are the ones who have been charged with draining the country’s wealth, which is ironic. And the size of the anti-Icred rally yesterday proves that race and religion still make handy weapons.

It also doesn’t stop those who whip out the race and religion cards from targeting their fellow Malaysians, from instilling fear that the Malays are in danger of losing their rightful and privileged places.

While this is all pure fiction, it is necessary that moderate and rational Malay leaders convince their community about what the Icerd is all about, particularly since other Muslim countries have ratified it.

The federal government’s booboo was announcing its intention to ratify it before gathering consensus and building confidence was done.

This allowed the government’s political opponents – Umno and PAS – to attack Pakatan Harapan. And whether we like it or not, these two parties are doing what they ought to as the Opposition.

It is also their right to stage a protest rally, an entitlement in any form of democracy.

And the organisers of the anti-Icerd protest must be commended for the orderly and peaceful gathering.

It was a huge and impressive turn out, and they exercised their democratic rights.

And lo and behold, those in the government who asked them to stop the rally, were themselves embroiled in illegal street protests previously.

And, of course, these former ministers now on the Opposition bench, used to criticise street protests, saying it disrupted businesses and contributed to millions of ringgit lost, and that such demonstrations should be confined to stadiums.

All this reasoning is now conveniently forgotten.

Many PH supporters, who used to take part in Bersih protests, have also questioned the need for demonstrations, saying they trigger fear and public disruption.

So there you go. In Malaysia, we suffer from many health concerns, not just diabetes and obesity, which is among the highest in the world, but also, mental disorders.

Political amnesia must rank highly for many of us, and we must be wondering how in an increasingly religious Malaysia, up until last year, corruption was running riot.

Surely a country that is so fearful of God, would not be so sinful.

Many things make little sense in Malaysia, but we still love this place because there is never a dull day.

Standing tall together

IF we were to believe the hype whipped up by some politicians following the formation of the new government, the Malays in our country are in danger of losing everything.

Planting fear and, using race and religion, has always been an effective emotional political weapon.

Throw in threats of racial riots and soon, the temperature shoots up. It doesn’t help when counter arguments come in the form of equally distasteful racist remarks.

These shenanigans usually only involve a handful of desperate politicians, likely the ones who lost in the general election, or are being investigated for corruption. Then there are some very loud co-operatives – presumably paid – who amplify their voices through social media.

Only the ignorant would believe the incredible claims made up by these politicians.

In Malaysia, almost all the institutions are dominated by Malays, including the civil service, police, army and the government. Just take a cursory look at the racial makeup of the Members of Parliament and senators at the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara.

Of the country’s 30 million-plus population, more than 60% are Malays, and those numbers will continue to grow while that of the Chinese and Indians keep shrinking.

The Chinese population in Malaysia has consistently been declining from the early days of independence, from 37.6 % in 1957 to 24.6% in 2010, and 21.4% in 2015, due to a lower birth rate as well as a high level of emigration in recent decades.

According to a news report in 2016, by 2030, the number of Chinese – the second largest ethnic group after the Malays – in Malaysia will drop to third place after the bumiputra and foreign migrant workers.

A huge dip in the birth rate of the Chinese to 1.4 babies per family in 2015 from 7.4 in 1957 and a sharp rise in the numbers of foreign workers, are now threatening the Chinese’ position as the second largest grouping in Malaysia.

The report, quoting projected data from the Department of Statistics, said the population percentage of local ethnic Chinese will shrink to 19.6% in 2030, from 24.6% in 2010 and 21.4% in 2015.

The Chinese percentage is also projected to fall further to 18.9% in 2035.

In the report, Chief Statistician Datuk Dr Hasan Abdul Rahman said that although the Chinese population will increase to 7.1 million people in 2040 from 6.6 million now, the percentage compared to the Malays and Indians might decline to 18.4% in 2040.

In terms of numbers, the other two ethnic groups are projected to rise, with the bumiputra outdoing everyone else.

The bumiputra population is anticipated to increase from 19.2 million in 2015 to 26 million by 2040, and Indians from two million to 2.3 million.

The bumiputra population is anticipated to increase from 61.8% to 67.5%, and Indians from 5.5% to 6.4%.

This huge Malay demographic simply means that the Malay electorate will be significantly broad.

Looking at the country’s 1.6 million-strong civil service, Bernama reported in 2016 of then Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Shahidan Kassim saying that as of December 2014, the ethnic composition of the civil service was as follows: 78.8% Malays, Bumiputera Sabah (6.1%), Bumiputera Sarawak (4.8 %), Chinese (5.2 %), Indians (4.1 %), Other Bumiputera (0.3%) and Others (0.7%).

In the case of the powerful police force, then Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said in 2016 that the police needed more non-Malays to enlist as they currently make up only 5% of the 133,212-strong force.

“Of the total, 80.23% (106,871) are Malays, while Chinese make up only 1.96% (2,615), Indians 3.16% (4,209), Punjabis 0.21% (275) and others 14.44% (19,242),” he told Parliament.

The Malaysian Army, Royal Malaysian Navy and Royal Malaysian Air Force are also overwhelmingly populated by Malays. According to a news report, the Malaysian army comprises 98.3% Malays and 0.2% Chinese with officers making up 96.2%, out of which 1.4% are Chinese.

That’s a far cry from the pre-independence days when the police, especially, had a decent number of Chinese, which was instrumental in our successful thwarting of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) insurgents and urban terrorists.

It was the infiltration of these Chinese policemen into the CPM, with the many dangerous and highly classified covert operations of the police Special Branch and military intelligence, which defeated the CPM.

From the 1960s to the late 1970s, non-Malay armed forces personnel comprised about 30% of the total manpower while the navy and air force, excluding the army, had a higher percentage. Over the years, this figure gradually dropped to the current 5%.

Certainly, no one is blaming the government for this situation since it has openly encouraged non-Malays to join.

The responsibility of defending the country and the people should be shared by all Malaysians, so, it would be terribly unfair if this mammoth burden is only shouldered by the Malays. However, a combination of factors, including perceived low chances of promotion, has deterred many non-Malays from joining the ranks.

Despite the tiny representation of the non-Malays in the services, especially the police, the men and women in uniform have performed professionally.

Non-Malays feel secure and protected, even in the wake of incidents involving Malay attackers, and this must be remembered.

And in the case of the economy, despite the large number of Chinese businessmen who continue to be listed among Malaysia’s richest, it has long been acknowledged that the Malays are now firmly in control of major banks, government-linked companies (GLCs) and top posts in the private sector.

According to Prof Dr Terence Gomez, the GLCs hold sway over some RM1 trillion ($333 billion) worth of investments. According to his research, the seven GLCs control 35 of the top 100 listed companies in Malaysia, whose combined market capitalisation accounts for 42% of the market cap of all the listed companies on Bursa Malaysia.

Many of these companies operate in key sectors of the economy, such as utilities, infrastructure, property and telecommunications. For example, some of MoF Inc’s key assets and investments include Petroliam Nasional Bhd, Khazanah Nasional, UDA Holdings Bhd, Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd, MRT Corp Sdn Bhd, Syarikat Prasarana Negara Bhd, SRC International Sdn Bhd as well as several development financial institutions. Khazanah Nasional’s investments include CIMB Group Bhd, UEM Group Bhd, PLUS Malaysia Bhd, Iskandar Investment Bhd, Tenaga Nasional Bhd, Axiata Group Bhd, Telekom Malaysia Bhd, TIME dotCom Bhd, IHH Healthcare Bhd, Astro Malaysia Holdings Bhd, Malaysia Airports Holdings and Malaysia Airlines Bhd.

But while these Malays, on the surface at least, seem to be enjoying power and high income from government-linked companies, many ordinary Malays in the rural and urban areas, sadly, still struggle daily.

The years of affirmative action have created a broad base of the middle class, which is crucial and essential for a stable Malaysia, but many of the effects have not fully trickled down to the destitute.

It’s these Malays who need help the most, and surely, they are the most deserving, too, but wealth has been plundered and looted by corrupt politicians who are now preaching the politics of hatred to their audience.

Cut off from the access of rational and sound arguments in Bahasa Malaysia, the rhetoric of race and religion has found faithful listeners who buy into their bluff of Malays being threatened and in danger of losing their rights in the country, a privilege belonging to them solely, and no other Malaysians.

Having a Finance Minister of Chinese ethnicity and an Attorney General of Indian origin are enough to trigger fears, never mind the fact that the government machinery is entirely Malay. And suddenly, ICERD has taken over 1MDB as the prime issue of the country.

Never mind if their listeners can’t even pronounce the acronym and are largely clueless to what it’s all about, but for some reason, they seem convinced it takes away Malay rights and Islam.

Politicians in this country, including those in power now, are no angels, although they would like to be viewed as the new breed of Malaysian politicians supposedly blind to race.

Many have used the race and religion card themselves, even staging massive protests, but are now criticising the opposition for the same thing. It’s a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

In some ways, some of our new ministers have also failed to handle the civil service well, given the crass way they have dealt with the more experienced and knowledgeable senior government officers.

Instead of winning them over – as they, too, settle into the new political dynamic and culture – some inexperienced ministers, with their new-found power and authority, ignore their advice.

Malaysia has been drained of copious amounts of money as a result of looting, so, we really have no time for any hysterics, as we need to get back to the economy race and lift our heads high again.

Up close with the Rafflesia, the largest and smelliest flower on Earth

You’d have to be like Indiana Jones and hack your way through a thick jungle if you want to find the rafflesia – and even then, this beautiful flower doesn’t just grow on trees, because it literally sprouts from the ground.

There is no such thing as a blooming season for the rafflesia, or even a designated area where you would find the flower. And even if you’re lucky enough to stumble upon one, it would probably disappear in a week!

In theory, this giant flower is said to be found in abundance in the rainforests of South-East Asia, but in reality, it can be quite elusive.

I have heard that rafflesias can be found at the Belum-Temenggor Forest Reserve in Perak, a 117,000ha park on the northern shore of Temenggor Lake, one of the world’s oldest rainforests. But no one can tell me exactly where its location is because it is a tightly-guarded secret to keep away unwanted intruders.

Word has it that the flower can be found at the Tambunan Rafflesia Reserve in Sabah, but again there’s no guarantee you’ll actually see one if you visit.

Although challenging, it is not however, impossible to find the flower in bloom.

Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai at a farm in Sabah. Photo: Florence Teh

Rafflesias are parasites which grow on only one type of vine, and despite their beauty, they emit the smell of rotting meat to attract insects which pollinate the plant. The flower’s life span is short – it only stays alive for a week. That means anyone hoping to see the flower has to reach it quickly once they hear news of it flowering.

Poring, a tourist area in Sabah, located 40km away from the Kinabalu Park Office in the Ranau district, has earned a reputation for being the best place to view these flowers.

There are a few lucky land owners who have had rafflesias bloom in their backyard. Whenever these flowers start to bloom, the locals place announcement banners on the roadside to attract tourists.

Not too long ago, my colleague Muguntan Vanar, from Star Media Group’s Sabah bureau, gave me a call late one evening.

“If you want to see the rafflesia, I think you’d better fly over here immediately. It’s already Day Three and it will be gone soon. Go to Ranau or Kundasang, and look for Poring, you will be able to find them there. Good luck!” he said pretty dramatically.

Kundasang, located about 6km away from Kinabalu National Park and 12km from Ranau town, is renowned for its vegetable market which is open seven days a week. It offers the best views of majestic Mount Kinabalu, and is certainly one of the most beautiful places in Malaysia; its cool weather is similar to that of Cameron Highlands.

I’m 57 and I still hadn’t seen a rafflesia, which grows in our country’s own backyard. It has always been on my bucket list and I was eager to tick it off, so I decided to fly to Kota Kinabalu immediately, and began a three-hour adventure driving up the hilly route to Ranau at the break of dawn.

It was not difficult finding the farm in Poring as there was already a banner erected to announce the flower, and a small group of tourists was queuing up to pay the RM20 entrance fee, and to register themselves in a logbook.

Yes, for these lucky villagers, each time a flower blooms, this spells a little extra income!

Rafflesia is the biggest tropical flower in the world. Photo: Wong Chun Wai

We walked through what looked like a trail going to someone’s backyard orchard. It was a nice walk, and along the way, I saw fruit trees including durian and rambutan but there were no fruits as it was not the season.

Then up ahead, sheltered by tall trees and protected by a small fence, the rafflesia greeted us.

It was smaller than I had expected but nevertheless, it was not a disappointment, and we took turns taking photographs.

I could not tell if it was three days old or already dying, as my wife claimed, but I wasn’t going to let that spoil the occasion. I had come all the way to look at it, smell it and yes, take a selfie with this legendary flower of the Bornean jungles.

It didn’t look at all like the world’s heaviest flower. It can, after all, reach up to 10kg, and even 100cm in diameter, according to reports.

The rafflesia can reach up to 10kg, and even 100cm in diameter

Nonetheless, I was grateful and thankful that I had joined the ranks of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles – founder of Singapore, and the man who discovered the flower during an expedition in 1818.

It is said that rafflesia is one of the world’s rarest flowers for good reason: nearly perfect conditions must exist for a rafflesia to bloom.

“To make matters more difficult, rafflesia flowers are unisex and are usually found within range of the same sex. Insects not only have to carry pollen to another rafflesia, they must take it to the opposite sex and do so within the brief flowering window of three to five days,” according to travel writer Gregory Rodgers on online travel guide Trip Savvy.

The rafflesia takes six to nine months to go from bud to bloom, and then it dies in a week! So it is not just elusive, the rafflesia’s story is quite tragic, really.

Not satisfied with just one visit to that farm, I decided to look for another villager, who had also put up a banner to announce the arrival of the rafflesia. I showed him the pictures on my phone, and asked if his flower was as big, but the honest farmer said his could not match the one I had seen, and asked me to return in next few days.

He did not have the heart to rip me off, and I thought that was pretty decent of him.

All said, my trip had been worth it, as I can now say that I have seen this elusive flower. It is a pity if you, my fellow Malaysians, have not yet stepped foot in Sabah, which happens to be my favourite destination, next to my hometown of Penang. When you do go, I hope you get a chance to see the rare rafflesia for yourself.

Treading the path of moderation

Bridging cultures: Walking through the gallery, the writer saw mostly non-Muslims, including Chinese and Japanese, who seemed genuinely interested to learn more about the beauty and diversity of Islam.

An eye-opening exhibition in London is cluing visitors in to the accepting and harmonious ways of Islam. 

AT a time when our narrow-minded politicians are thumping their chests proclaiming themselves champions of Malay rights and Islam by threatening others, it was refreshing to visit the Islamic World exhibition in London and view the religion in a positive light.

It was a proud moment to see Malaysia’s Albukhary Foundation financially supporting a gallery of the Islamic world at the prestigious British Museum and finding itself a permanent feature there.

A large inscribed panel on the entrance of the exhibition relays how the foundation has been promoting goodwill through education and cultural heritage for the past 40 years. The foundation has also been “promoting scholarship amongst Muslims and non-Muslims alike” and aspires to “bridge further understanding between cultures and faiths.”

And certainly, the exhibits at the gallery fit the bill – in numerous parts, it sets to emphasise how Islam values “compassion, tolerance and co-existence”, which the foundation reminds visitors of at the two-room gallery.

Staging these exhibits in London is appropriate, especially when Islam is perceived negatively, no thanks to reports of beheadings, suicide bombers and the seclusion of women, all in the name of the religion.

Well, that’s not very different from some in our own backyard who wield their racial and religious intolerance like a weapon. 

This exhibition has been an enriching experience for me as a student of Islam.  I saw an incense burner and Torah Pointer (a pen-like accessory used by the Jews when they read their Holy Book), but they were made by Turkmen silversmiths.

But it was the accompanying card which read “recognised in Islam as People of the Book, are Jews and Christians, who were granted special status” that caught my attention. For non-Muslims, it’s lessons like these, even if small, which help us develop a deeper appreciation for the religion.

Of course, this is a far cry from hysterical Muslim individuals calling for the blood of Indians, Chinese and Christians, with images of silat exponents holding keris, and intimidating antics on social media.

And in this frenzy of piety, they forget that “in the name of God, the Most Generous and the Most Merciful” is the phrase recited before each chapter of the Quran.

It’s always in the name of the Most Compassionate, and certainly not the propagation of violence in the name of religion – that’s the genuine Islam.

At the gallery, I learnt how Muslim and Christian noblemen in Syria enjoyed the past time of hunting, depicted on a earthenware bowl and fragmentary flask.

It was common to see people of the two great faiths across the Middle East coming together to celebrate.

And of course, Islam spread because of the trade routes, which brought people from all around together. So, had Muslims been reclusive then, or kept to themselves by refusing to interact with people of other races and faiths, Islam would never have flourished.

The global trade took luxury items as well as raw materials from Middle Eastern cities, as far as those bordering China, all the way to the west. These included incense and spices such as “the cinnamon and sandalwood of India, incense of Arabia, star anise of Southeast Asia and date molasses of Iraq”.

The gallery has many pots which were discovered in Iraq, and though native to that country, is in the shape of imported Chinese jars, evidence of the crossing of cultures along the trade routes. And we all know that Islam was introduced to Melaka, especially in the 15th century, through the influx of foreign traders.

At the gallery, I read about how the markets in the cities of Cairo and Damascus, between 1250-1517, sold almost anything and everything. And that extended to glassmakers designing flasks of different influences, including warrior saints from Christian imagery, replete with their Crusader-style garments and head dress, and even turbaned men in medieval Islamic societies.

There was even a dish with the image of Mary, as she was the most prominent female figure in the Quran and the only one identified by name. Both the annunciation and virgin birth are mentioned in sura 19, surat Maryam, which is named after her.

Interestingly, the dish, depicting the Virgin and Child framed by sprays of tulips and carnations, is believed to be made in Ottoman Turkey.

I had come to the gallery expecting only works of the Islamic World, so, I was surprised to see so many exhibits with intricate elements of Christianity and Islam.

With Muslim and Christian extremists remaining at loggerheads, who would have thought that at one time, believers of these two great faiths lived side by side and respected each other.

The exhibition has received acclaimed reviews from major British media, with The Standard reporting “you get games, amulets and charms, astrolabes, costumes (fabulous) and shadow puppets, as well as the tiles and calligraphy you would expect.

“Obviously the British Museum already had a gallery devoted to the Islamic world, but this is a reordering and expansion of it thanks to a large donation from the Malaysian Albukhary Foundation.”

The Guardian wrote that “the cliche that Islam forbids all representation is demolished: there are human as well as animal portraits throughout this gallery.

“This gallery is a kind of miracle. It sees beyond individual objects to grasp and communicate the principles and intellectual power that give Islamic art its infectious harmony and abundance. Yet it does that without oversimplifying. “

And indeed, visitors can experience a chronological journey of the Islamic world through artefacts, tiles, sculptures, paintings, textile, engravings, art, music and literature.

For the first time, I could see the works of all schools – Sufism, Sunni and Shiites sects were all acknowledged as are the mix of influences that accompany the spread of Islam through both war and trade.

Walking through the gallery, Britons apart, I thought I saw mostly non-Muslims, including Chinese and Japanese, who seemed genuinely interested to learn more about Islam in greater detail, especially the beauty and diversity of the religion.

Non-Muslims should learn more about Islam, and likewise, Muslims should not fear knowing more about other religions. There are plenty of commonalities, especially positive values, in all religions.

Certainly, no religion teaches its faithful to be corrupt, or use race and religion to stoke the fires of controversy when they have lost their moral standing. I simply can’t imagine any religion teaching such values.

Service with a smile

CHINESE tourists aren’t exactly shining examples of well-mannered and law-abiding visitors in any country, and because China is so big, we’re forced to deal with everything from the high-heeled rich tourists down to the peasant types making their first overseas trips.

But every nation wants a piece of the Chinese tourist pie, despite the occasional bad press involving host countries and these mainlanders.

The number of Chinese making their way abroad will more than double to 259 million in 2030 from 97.5 million this year, said a study by Euromonitor International. This was revealed at the World Travel Market in London. The number will far outweigh second-placed US with 159 million outbound trips and Germany with 138.6 million. So, the attention is surely on cash-loaded Chinese tourists with the appetite for branded luxury goods and fine dining.

Thailand made headlines for introducing special immigration lanes dedicated to them to extend goodwill. Chinese passport holders are now able to utilise any of 18 Chinese-only lanes at Suvarnabhumi. Don Mueang, Chiang Mai, Phuket, and Hat Yai airports will soon have dedicated lines for Chinese tourists as well. The pursuit of Chinese wealth has made things that competitive.

Our government must understand that they are our customers. We are selling Malaysia as a product. They are here to spend, meaning they should be treated as customers, and shouldn’t be made to feel unwelcome. In my years travelling overseas, I’ve found most immigration officers can never put on a smile, and they look as if they are doing visitors a favour by stamping their passports.

Deputy Tourist Police chief Pol. Maj Gen Surachet Hakpal said the VIP lanes, staffed by Chinese-speaking immigration officers, were meant to display Thailand’s “hospitality and sincerity” towards Chinese tourists. In the past six years, China has become Thailand’s top tourist provider. In 2017, more than a quarter of Thailand’s 35 million tourists were from there. The swift action by the Thai authorities was taken after a boat mishap off Phuket in July, which saw 47 Chinese nationals killed. It led to 600,000 Chinese tourists cancelling their trips there, setting Thailand back US$1.11bil (RM4.65bil) in revenue lost.

In September, Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha ordered concerned agencies to speed up restoring the confidence of Chinese tourists after a mainland visitor was assaulted by a security guard at Don Mueang International Airport. Prayut’s instruction came after a video clip showing the guard briefly scuffling with and then hitting a Chinese man received wide coverage in the Chinese media.

Getting to the point, Malaysia should be worried, or more appropriately, alarmed!

Tourist arrivals from mainland China to Malaysia dropped by an estimated 30% to 35% during their National Day break in October, compared to last year. Industry players said this was the first time Malaysia posted a dip in tourist arrivals from China during their “golden week”, or peak tourism season in the Middle Kingdom. China’s “golden week” last year, from Oct 1 to 7, saw about 180,000 Chinese tourists coming to Malaysia.

“Inbound tourism from China was very weak this time. The special feature I noticed this time around was that local tour guides went overseas for holidays during this golden week,” said Datuk Keith Li, who owns the GTC Group travel agency jointly with the Chinese government and is also president of the China Entrepreneurs Association in Malaysia.

For Chinese tourists, the first consideration when choosing destinations is whether the host nation is friendly to China. The others are security, attractions and shopping.

Although Chinese tourists love Malaysia’s beaches, culture and food, Li said he is “not optimistic” about Malaysia getting three million arrivals from China this year, saying his sentiments are echoed by Mint Leong, deputy president of the Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association.

Remarks made by Malaysian leaders are crucial to how Chinese tourists perceive our country as a destination choice. If seemingly anti-China remarks are made, whether real or otherwise, that won’t help the cause. But there’s more, obviously.

According to a research by ForwardKeys, countries need to remember four important factors if they are to secure a larger share of the Chinese outbound tourism pie.

They include the development of direct flights, visa convenience, sensitivity to the Chinese holiday calendar and a reputation for being a safe place to visit. ForwardKeys predicts future travel patterns by analysing 17 million flight booking transactions a day. According to its report, the increase in Chinese travel to Ireland during May to August this year illustrates the value of new direct flights. Ireland experienced a negative 2017 and a decrease of 7.8% in the number of Chinese arrivals during January to April 2018.

“However, three new routes reversed the downward trend and resulted in a 4.1% uplift in Chinese visitor arrivals during the May to August period. Other examples include Belgium and Greece, where new direct routes led to growth in Chinese visitors during May to August 2018. The benefits of visa reform were particularly notable in Serbia, which experienced a 173% increase in flight arrivals from China in 2017, after the country waived visas for Chinese tourists.

“Serbia also saw triple-digit growth in Chinese arrivals during the first eight months of 2018. ForwardKeys previously reported other substantial increases in Chinese tourism due to visa relaxation policies, most notably to Morocco and the UAE.

“Sensitivity to the Chinese calendar is important because holidays such as the Chinese New Year and National Day Golden Week see very large numbers of people seeking overseas trips. A good understanding of the subtleties of Chinese holidays will greatly help the industry to plan, anticipate and capitalise on demand. Destination marketeers can better time their campaigns, hotel managers can better prepare to make Chinese visitors feel welcome and retailers can stock items more likely to appeal to the Chinese tourist.”

The report states that security concerns are crucial too as “after a wave of terror attacks afflicted Continental Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean in 2015 and 2016, Chinese visitors stayed away.

“However, as those destinations have been seen to be safer, the Chinese market has recovered. For example, Turkey, which is benefiting from the China-Turkey Tourism Year 2018 and an improved security image, has seen a 69% year-on-year spike in arrivals between January and August this year.”

As a seasoned traveller, I have concluded that we have lagged behind other Asean countries like Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam in wooing tourists, and as more Chinese tourists travel, they will make comparisons of the best service provided.

Sabah has become a favourite destination for younger Chinese tourists, who have better income, because of the direct flights and crystal-clear seawater. They like Sipadan, but look at Semporna, the gateway to the best islands in the world. Let’s be honest, Semporna is a gigantic rubbish dump and the huge presence of foreigners, presumably illegals, hardly makes visitors (Malaysians included) feel safe. It’s pathetic that such deplorable situations can remain unchanged despite a deluge of complaints.

Hopefully, our Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister, Sabahan Datuk Mohammadin Ketapi, will order a clean-up. Despite the fatalities involved, I’m not sure if we have learnt from boat mishaps that we, too, have experienced in Sabah.

Last January, a tourist boat ferrying 28 Chinese tourists and three crewmen from Kota Kinabalu to Mengalum island capsized. Malaysians have always taken safety lightly and we’re no different from the Thais. And if we aren’t careful, we will have to deal with the same issues again unless there is constant enforcement by the authorities.

Malaysia has declared 2020 Visit Malaysia Year and that means the Tourism Ministry, as a revenue earning body, must get its act together to hit its projected target. The question is, how much has been done so far?

And certainly, the ministry should seek the help of stakeholders to make 2020 a hugely successful event.

And for a start, let’s send the message down – tourists are pelanggan (customers) and not merely pelawat (visitors), and those using our airlines aren’t just penumpang (passengers), so paying customers must be treated like royalty, and that service is the best advertisement for our country.

Beaming bright star

Eye on oil revenue: Petronas has proven it is world class because it has adopted global standards.— AFP

If there’s one brand that has kept Malaysia gleaming in the spotlight, then it must surely be Petronas. 

AT a time when some of our institutions have been tainted with suspicion, if not investigated for discrepancies, there is still a hero that can be counted upon to deliver – not once, but over and again.

We must rely on Petroliam Nasional Bhd’s reserves to settle some of our government’s outstanding tax refunds amounting to RM37bil via a special dividend next year.

It would be a one-off payment from Petronas to nullify the debt to improve cash flow of businesses and households, thus helping stimulate economic activities.

However, it’s important to note that while Petronas is subjected to such periodic financial SOS calls as part of its national service, it’s also a reflection of its solid financial position. This simply re-emphasises the need for ownership control by the government.

In many ways, despite the pessimism for the country’s economic outlook for the next two years, Malaysia is lucky.

Just four years ago, the nation was grappling with the declining price of oil, but now, we are expecting higher prices.

In 2016, when Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was tabling the Budget, he shared that crude oil prices had fallen more than 50% from US$100 per barrel in 2014.

Justifying the need to implement GST, he said Petronas contributed to part of the dividend to Treasury each year, the amount depending on global crude oil prices.

For example, when crude oil averaged US$100 per barrel, revenue from Petronas dividends and petroleum tax totalled RM61.5bil.

However, the scenario changed when crude dipped to around US$50 per barrel. The contribution from Petronas and oil-related sectors was RM41.9bil in 2015.

As oil prices were expected to remain low in 2016, oil-related revenue was estimated at RM29.4bil.

Fast forward 2018 – the price of oil has gone up, with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in explaining the support given by Petronas, saying, “You must remember the price of oil has gone up quite high.

“Of course, if it is at US$40 per barrel, it is not possible to give that kind of money, but now, it is almost US$80,” he told reporters after the tabling of Pakatan Harapan’s first budget in the Dewan Rakyat recently.

While a bulk of us don’t expect the price to hit US$100, it could well shoot for the skies if the embargo on Iran by the United States is fully enforced soon, with no waiver for selected oil importing countries. Political events in the Middle East have serious implications on the price of oil.

While the RM30bil amount is bandied, the precise figure Petronas must fork out next year to cover the acute shortage in the Government’s revenue is RM54bil. These are big bucks, but without them, Malaysia could risk its current credit rating because of the national debt and insufficient revenue collection to finance the Government’s operations.

The dividends from Petronas were surely a better option than an earlier proposal for the government to issue the RM2bil Treasury bills to provide additional liquidity with financing costs higher.

Ratings agency S&P said it is maintaining Malaysia’s credit risk ratings at A, given the country’s stable outlook based on steady economic growth and the new government’s emphasis on strengthening its fiscal position.

It also commended Petronas for how its “solid balance sheet, sizeable net cash position and ample liquidity provided ample buffer against the payment.”

“The financial impact of a one-off dividend of this size is moderate for Petronas’ cash position and balance sheet quality, in our view,” the agency reported.

It’s a welcome change, really. By now, Malaysians have become immune to reading embarrassing news articles about the 1MDB.

We have become international fodder for the wrong reasons. So, trickles of good news, like this, help lift our confidence when we go abroad.

I was in Hong Kong last week to attend a media conference, and when an Australian journalist began querying me about Malaysia, I was prepared to shoot from the hip with my views on the two trending issues – 1MDB and the new government.

Instead, though, I was asked about Petronas, as he proceeded to commend the national oil and gas company for being an efficiently run institution.

Indeed, as Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng rightly pointed out in his Budget 2019 speech,

“Petronas, as a company, has been run in an extremely prudent fashion and has been able to accumulate the reserves which can be shared with the Government, without jeopardising its ability to invest for its future growth.”

Credit must go to its president and chief executive officer Tan Sri Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin and his leadership team.

Wan Zulkiflee’s is not a household name here. The chemical engineering graduate is unassuming and keeps a low profile, but he gets the job done efficiently.

Through his stewardship and prudent management, the company can contribute to the Government’s efforts in managing the nation’s budget.

He took over Petronas’ reins in 2015 following a severe downturn in the oil and gas industry caused by the collapse in crude oil prices.

It wasn’t the best time to take over the top job, but he dared do it. I remember having lunch with him and speaking about the volatile oil price.

But he then instituted successful measures to achieve better cost efficiency in a harsh operating landscape. His transformation efforts led to the company’s strong fundamentals and liquidity position. It rallied staff in the areas of operational excellence, cost reduction and portfolio optimisation, all of which will secure the company’s ability to service its debts, fund its ongoing operations and invest in future growth.

The Petronas CEO’s job has always been tough with having to ensure results to keep a tight control of finances as the custodian of Malaysia’s wealth, while at the same time, be expected to play the rescue role.

In 2011, Petronas was requested to even shoulder part of Tenaga Nasional Bhd’s (TNB) higher operational costs caused by gas shortage. Petronas, TNB and the government had to evenly share the reported sum of RM3.07bil the utility company incurred in cost overruns from Jan 1, 2010 to Oct 31, 2011.

A lifeline was cast to TNB, which posted a net loss of RM453.9mil for 4QFY11 ending Aug 31. If there is a lesson to be learnt here, it’s that Petronas is listed among the top 500 companies in the world, and it has worked well because it adopts global standards.

Politicians like to use phrases like world class and world standards to a point it becomes meaningless, but Petronas has proven it is and has remained in the global rankings for good reason.

Same ol’ song and dance

OUR people generally have short memories. There was a time when many of us were outraged at elected representatives from any one of DAP, PKR, PAS and PBS for defecting to the Barisan Nasional.

All kinds of nasty names were hurled at them, with insinuations that these unprincipled and dishonourable politicians were paid to be political frogs, all of whom contributed greatly to the collapse of two state governments.

In 1994, the Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) – which pulled out from the Barisan in 1990 – won the state elections with a slim majority of 25 seats against Barisan’s 23.

But the fourth-term PBS government lasted only about two weeks before it was ousted following defections of some of its state assemblymen.

Some of these former PBS leaders went on to set up their own political parties, while Joseph Pairin Kitingan had to resign as chief minister on March 17, 1994, before a shocked Malaysian public.

This was unprecedented in Malaysia, and it swung the doors wide open for Umno to set up shop in Sabah, taking with it its race and religious-style politics.

Then, in 2009, when the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) formed the state government, three of its state assemblymen defected to Barisan, causing the PR government to collapse. Naturally, there was plenty of resentment at what was viewed as classic treachery and immorality.

Prior to the defections, PR had 32 representatives while Barisan 27.

The ship-hopping meant that the state then had 28 PR representatives, Barisan likewise, and three independent representatives who pledged confidence with Barisan.

But the movement began with PR because Barisan’s Nasarudin Hashim decided to cross the floor to join PR. Its leaders then jubilantly claimed more Barisan lawmakers would join in an exodus.

Instead, Nasarudin returned to Barisan, accompanied by Deputy Speaker Hee Yit Foong of the DAP, and senior state executive councillors Jamaluddin Mohd Radzi and Osman Jailu of the PKR.

A year later, Malim Nawar assemblyman Keshwinder Singh quit the DAP to become a Barisan-friendly independent assemblyman.

Many political leaders, who are now Pakatan Harapan figureheads, mouthed off angrily then, but now, have seemingly gone mum at the latest round of camp-switching involving Barisan politicians to PH. Just Google if you want a quick history of who these politicians are and what they said then, and importantly, when they were at the receiving end.

That probably explains how although many of us felt cheated and demanded an anti-hopping law be enacted, everything invariably died under a deluge of excuses.

Is it surprising that nothing happened?

Of course not, because politicians have always known that defections make for handy tools.

For them, it’s all about power, and how the end justifies the means, so the people’s mandate counts for little. It could seem a betrayal of our trust, but defections will likely be justified as freedom of association, and something perfectly natural.

In 1978, DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang attempted to move a motion in the Dewan Rakyat to introduce a Private Member’s Bill, the Members of Parliament (Prevention of Defection) Act, which would require an MP to vacate his seat within 30 days and have a by-election upon his resignation or expulsion from the party on whose ticket he was originally elected.

When Lim was queried by readers of a newspaper about the effective measures that could be taken to prevent such opportunistic political betrayal of the people’s confidence, he replied saying the best way was for the enactment of such a law.

Following Datuk Mustapa Mohamed’s defection to Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), DAP chairman Tan Kok Wai voiced the party’s discontent, saying it was “unhealthy” for PH component parties, including his own, to accept former Umno MPs.

Tan’s comment came two days after Umno veteran and Jeli MP, Mustapa Mohamed, joined the party.

Now, talk is rife of a massive switch over of Umno MPs and members into Bersatu, with the party’s supreme council member, Datuk A. Kadir Jasin, conceding to a possibility of up to 40 MPs being involved in the mass exodus.

He revealed that the 40 Umno MPs met with Bersatu chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

What happens next could well see PKR and Bersatu competing for the entry of elected representatives to alter the equation in PH.

With Tok Pa now in Bersatu, its numbers have gone up to 13 while PKR has 48, DAP 42, Amanah 11 and Warisan 8. If indeed 40 MPs were to join Bersatu, the total could swell to 53, making it the biggest component party in PH.

And assuming there are disgruntled PKR MPs who leave the party after its internal elections, it could put Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in an uncomfortable position, even if these turncoats don’t join Bersatu and remain independents.

It doesn’t help that the Setiawangsa Bersatu division is rooting for Dr Mahathir to complete his five-year term as Prime Minister, ending next general election. The Setiawangsa division, headed by Dr Mahathir’s political secretary Zahid Md Arip, passed the proposal unanimously last week.

The remarks by Kadir and the motion by Setiawangsa Bersatu have spooked many supporters of Anwar and PKR, and they don’t find this funny at all, especially during the Halloween.

Certainly, supporters of Anwar now expect him to make a similar move to get Umno MPs, or those from Gabungan Bersatu Sabah, to join PKR to “neutralise” Bersatu. The names of several Sabahan MPs have been bandied.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly said he would pass the baton to Anwar, with the latter insisting the PM should be given time and space to govern effectively to steer the country back on track. The PKR leader said this was the reason he refuses to specify a time frame for him to succeed Dr Mahathir as the next prime minister.

“Some people see this transition as fragile, but I don’t. The fragility will come about only if there are major battles waged between me and Mahathir, but I have made it very clear. Number one, he is the Prime Minister, and number two, I refuse to give a time frame,” Anwar said.

It’s obvious Anwar doesn’t want to appear a man in a hurry, while repeating the same assurances. However, without a time frame and being the president of the biggest component party in PH (so far), the partnership in PH will be tested.

No one can deny that the three leaders – Dr Mahathir, Anwar and Lim Kit Siang, and to some extent, Mohamed Sabu, came together with a single aim – to topple Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and the Barisan.

However, none of them had any real love for Dr Mahathir, but they knew he was key to winning the general election.

Let’s not forget that at one point, Dr Mahathir came close to walking out of the electoral pact, and Nurul Izzah Anwar flew to London to convince him to stay on amid tensions over PH’s hierarchy.

Dr Mahathir and Anwar may have their interpretation of succession, but as with all parties, there will always be over-zealous leaders with their self-interests of ensuring their masters remain in power to allow them to continue enjoying the powers and privileges of being in government.

And on the flipside, others can’t wait for their masters to be installed.

The two must now manage the push and pull because once the floodgates open, they won’t be able to stop the one-upmanship for more members, especially elected representatives who could boost their standing.

It’s beside the point whether Dr Mahathir or Anwar genuinely trust each other, the reality is, only either of them can hold the coalition together.

But the new government shouldn’t forget the people who put them there for a New Malaysia.

If PH leaders can’t respect and uphold this democratic right of the people, then what’s the point in holding elections when all we see is more of the Old Politics?

Getting spooked in Shibuya, Japan

The Japanese take their Halloween seriously – no, dead seriously! The world’s biggest Halloween celebration isn’t in the United States but in Tokyo, where the world converges in Shibuya for the annual street party.

Through four nights, Oct 25 to 31, Shibuya, a major commercial and business centre, turns into Zombie Land as thousands of revellers spook the narrow streets.

More and more people are descending upon the city each year and this time, it was by far the most chaotic and, well, demonic. Last week, five people were arrested for offences including fighting, groping, taking up-skirt photos and even flipping over a truck.

Three men, in their 20s to 50s, were arrested near the train station on suspicion of assault, including one man who allegedly kicked another on the street, a report quoted the Metropolitan Police Department.

Two others were detained for causing a public disturbance, including one man in his 30s for taking up-skirt photos of a woman and another in his 20s for touching a woman’s breasts.

The past Saturday, the devils literally took over Udagawacho’s popular entertainment hub of Shibuya Center-gai street, where several people climbed onto a light truck which got stuck in the crowds.

Halloween in Japan is a fun and spooky affair. Photo: The Japan Times

Scenes of individuals dancing on the vehicle and then overturning it have gone viral. Fortunately, the driver wasn’t hurt because he had fled the scene to seek police help.

All these devilish acts are very un-Japanese because they are, by nature, a very civil society. For two nights, Oct 25 and 26, I joined in the street parties, which surprisingly, were free of cigarette smoke. No matter how “wild” these parties seemed, with the outlandish and garish Halloween dressing, smoking is strictly banned.

I didn’t notice anyone holding liquor bottles either, unlike in Europe or the US, where drunks can turn unruly.

From my hotel room, I could hear the merry-making and look down to see it too, as I wanted the convenience of being close to the action.

I heard a siren at around 1am, but this uncle, who was already in dreamland (or experiencing a nightmare), could never imagine those super-polite Japanese going on a rampage. I can only conclude that they must have been possessed! Honestly, what the hell were they doing?

A sporting family dressed up as The Incredibles at a Halloween party in Kawasaki, Japan.

Halloween in Tokyo isn’t just about dressing up grotesquely, though – it is also an occasion for cosplay, which has become a Japanese sub-culture.

So, it’s common to see people dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow, Batman, Sailor Moon, Spider-Man, Samurai and all kinds of comic characters. But this is tame stuff compared to some of the other things that went on.

I saw three men dressed up as dinosaurs, along with spooky Nuns, and even two Chinese “hopping” vampires, all competing to see who would be the most photographed. If that wasn’t enough of a spectacle, imagine the dinosaurs rushing across the Shibuya interchange, said to be the busiest intersection in the world.

The Shibuya Crossing is described as a giant beating heart, with people heading in their desired directions according to the pulse of the light changes. Apparently, at peak times, more than a 1,000 people cross the interchange without running into each other.

But unlike normal days, during Halloween, you get to see young adults (some even with their pets) in all kinds of costumes and makeup running across the busy street.

This year, the most haunting theme must be the demonic nuns, clearly inspired by the horror movie The Nun. It is, without doubt, the most popular Halloween dress theme at the minute.

What happens when The Nun meets a witch?

But the celebration isn’t confined to just Shibuya. Kawasaki, in the south of Tokyo, has a Halloween parade which has run for years.

Although it is tailored to families and children, this one has a different dimension – the LGBT component.

The Kawasaki Halloween event is the most famous of its kind in Japan, and the inclusion of the Pride Parade barely raises contention, or eyebrows.

Families (their children included) sportingly join LGBT participants in the parade which runs along a 1.5km course in the JR Kawasaki Station locale and the nearby La Citadella shopping centre.

I intended for this trip to coincide with Halloween after watching videos of this macabre celebration on YouTube. There was no way this was going to wriggle out of my “off the beat” bucket list.

It was as bizarre, grisly, ghastly and loathsome as I expected, but in a fun way, and it certainly lived up to my expectations.

This was Halloween beyond the realms of kiddie trick or treats. This was a purely adult, bonkers Halloween street party for four nights.

It was an incredible experience to see the narrow streets around Shibuya filled with people in strange costumes and makeup, having the biggest and craziest party. It completely altered my perception of the Japanese being traditional and conventional.

They certainly know how to party and do it in the manner they know best – combining their passion for cosplay and the Halloween theme. I have never seen that many “nuns” (in their traditional frocks, no less) in my life!

Shibuya, at its decadent and morbid best, is not recommended for the family or those with a serious disposition. It is preposterous and wacky, but then, that’s what Halloween should be about.

For those who still want a dash of Halloween, but in a more conventional and predictable way, there’s always Disneyland, with Mickey Mouse and the many villain characters. And if that fails to excite, there’s even the Hello Kitty theme park, both of which sit just outside Tokyo.

But I recommend trying something devilishly impulsive and reckless, just for one night. All right, that’s a lie – it’s in fact, four nights. So, for a walk on the wild side, Shibuya is the answer.