I attended a dinner last night at one of the nice hotels in the Klang Valley (OK, so it was the Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel). I was offered the (free) seat by my friend, whose boss' father had bought one table and needed some willing souls (and stomachs) to fill the gaps. So, I also asked my brother and he gladly said yes too.
Besides the prospect of a big dinner, the other "attraction" was that the event was the Tun Razak Lecture 2007 featuring a speech titled “Recipe for National Unity in a Changing World” by Tun Musa Hitam, former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia (many moons ago). You can read one reporter's perspective of the event in The Star.
Being a rather high profile event, the dress code was "lounge suit" or "batik" for men, and for the ladies, the invitation card said, "appropriate". Seriously. I have no idea what "appropriate" is supposed to mean.
We arrived on time. But of course, our stomachs had to endure some waiting, as the VIPs came fashionably late. While waiting in the lobby outside the ballroom, I browsed through a poster exhibition of Tun Abdul Razak's life and career as the second Prime Minister of Malaysia. I found out that he was the prime minister who launched the First Malaysia Plan in December 1965. We are now in the era of the Ninth Malaysia Plan. So that legacy continues.
Slowly more and more guests made their way in. I recognized a number of people, like the bowtie guy, Datuk Seri Abdul Kadir, the former Tourism Minister. I thought I saw a Chief Minister, or ex-Chief Minister but I couldn't recall which state he was from. Or maybe I was plain mistaken. Everyone looked quite important, in their suits and batiks. We went to take our seats. The big shots arrived.
Guess who walked in? None other than Datuk Seri Najib Razak, the current Deputy Prime Minister. Then it occurred to me... Oooh yeea, he is the son of Tun Abdul Razak, so that explains his presence here. The former former Inspector General of Police, Tun Hanif Omar gave the opening address and introduced Tun Musa, like, as if he needed it.
Then the dinner began. It started with satay, which was very tasty. It had an extra strong whiff of serai (lemongrass) that gave it a refreshing aroma. I've never had such sweet satay before. I was secretly hoping the waiter would give me more than the four sticks, but there was a limited supply per table. Oh well. I should be grateful, coz he started by giving only two per person, but since there were three empty seats at the table, there was some extra satay for seconds. Then there was seafood chowder. Then we had the main course(s) which was in "muhibbah" style, i.e. five main dishes served together on the platter. The chicken was good, and so was the beef kurma. While we dined a five-man one-woman Royal Malaysian Police band entertained us with a good repertoire of acoustic melodies. There was a double bass, two classical guitars and three percussionists. They actually sounded very good. I would have bought their CD if it were on sale.
While our forks and spoons were still clanging on the plates Tun Musa took the stage. I confess that I was having some trouble concentrating on his speech and the chicken on my plate at the same time. Tun Musa started off by telling stories about his early life as a young student leader overseas, and his first foray into public administration as assistant district officer in Kluang, where he witnessed the segregation of Malaysian society according to racial lines that defined occupation and geography -- Malays in the rural country, Chinese in the town and Indians in the estates. He then related his experiences with Tun Abdul Razak, and what a exemplary mentor and statesman that Tun Abdul Razak was.
But on the main topic of "National Unity in a Changing World", I'd say, in a nutshell, Tun Musa expressed that he is optimistic about where Malaysia is today and where we'll go in the future. He is confident that Malaysians of all races and walks of life can come together for a brighter future. (Hooray!) Compared to other developing countries, Malaysia has fared better. Our founding government did not squander our natural resources after independence, not like other newly independent countries of that same era. He said that the New Economic Policy (NEP) has done good for the country, and enabled the Malay community to rise up in the educational and economic arena, thus balancing the share of the socio-economic pie. However, he didn't touch on the weaknesses of the NEP, and so did not spice up his speech enough, which is why I found myself drifting away at times. Tun Musa also remarked that he didn't really care about the 30% target for Bumiputra equity ownership. He said "quality" matters more than "quantity" -- 10% high quality is better than 30% low quality. I thought to myself, quantity is an attribute of quality. It's not a simple case of either-or. But if it were, then why was the 30% target set in the first place? He also admitted that he's not a fan of statistics -- statistics can lie, can be manipulated. I rebutted in my mind, "But without statistics, how do we measure anything?" But anyway, I didn't want to pick a fight. :P
Towards the end Tun Musa emphasized on the role of the middle class who played a moderating effect on the socio-political landscape of Malaysia. (Although I was wondering about his definition of "middle class" -- KL middle class is not the same as Kota Baru or Kuala Lipis middle class, though there are similarities). In the end I didn't really get the "recipe" that the title of the lecture alluded to and seemed to promise. Perhaps I was looking for a sophisticated recipe for banana toffee cake with cream but missed the simple cupcake that was being presented. But Tun Musa did ask us to go back and start "cooking". (For another report see The Star.)
After Tun Musa Hitam delivered his speech/lecture, there was a time of question and answer. I was wracking my brain for an incisive question to ask, but other people beat me to it. Well, OK, no, I wasn't really gonna ask a question. I didn't want to create a stir by asking a "sensitive" question in public, what with all the press cameras** zooming in on whoever was holding the microphone. And when Khairy Jamaluddin (KJ @ SIL/son-in-law of our PM) stood up to ask a question, I realized that perhaps I would do the wiser thing and just listen. And finally Zaid Ibrahim of Zaid Ibrahim & Co. stood up to ask a question, which sounded more like a comment rather than a question.
Last night I got within 10 feet of the DPM and Mr. KJ. That's enough shoulder rubbing to last me a while.
** Mostly Canons with 70-200 f2.8 L lenses. And some TV cameras.
p/s Malaysian "Secret Service" agents wear batik. But they have those cool earphones with wires down the collar.
pp/s Datuk Seri Najib and his late dad share some striking similarities in their political careers. Both were Education Minister before. And both have held the concurrent posts of Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. Makes me wonder if the pattern will continue...