Friday, October 31, 2003

Last night, instead of our usual YAMs meeting, my small group had a little get-together at Borders to mark my successful thesis defense. David Kendall put the whole thing together, and we had a really good celebration cake (for lack of a better term). I am also now the proud owner of a Masked and Anonymous Soundtrack CD. Yay!

It's now *Tun* Dr Mahathir, Thank You Very Much

Now that Dr M has retired from the post of PM, I see now he's being addressed as 'Tun' in newspapers. I'm wondering if the title changes automatically or it needs to be conferred... In any case it'll take a little getting used to. 'Datuk Seri' always had a nice ring to it.

I've met Dr M twice in my short history. Once at an open house at his old residence for Hari Raya Puasa (a mulsim holiday, also called Hari Raya Aidilfitri), and the second time at the Sumur City Aerospace Adventure exhibition in Shah Alam. The open house affair is a yearly tradition (I think). During Hari Raya, pretty much anyone and everyone is invited to eat at his place. I recall the food was set out in the garden, and it was very, very crowded, which is what you'd expect if literally everyone in the country (excluding prisoners, I guess) was invited to your place for the day. Despite the thousands of people who came to visit and mooch, Dr M and his wife would stand at the entrance and shake everybody's hand. They made us stand in a queue, of course. It would've been fun to rush him like it was a free chicken giveaway, but he might've been annoyed.

The second time I met Dr M was at the Sumur City Aerospace Adventure. I've long forgotten the etymology of the term 'Sumur City'. What's a Sumur and why is there a city full of them? I do remember it was named after a housing development project that the organizer of the exhibition was doing. The exhibition itself was pretty cool. It showcased a assortment of Russian space technology, including satellites, spacesuits, re-entry modules, as well as a life-size recreation of the Mir space-station. It was cramped as a pink Bas Mini in the Mir, apparently, but it was cool nonetheless. Towards the end of all these cool space-travel gadgets was a rather conspicuous model of said housing development project, which always made me go hmmmmmmm, okaaay.

The year this exhibition was held was 1995, which was the year I graduated from secondary school. I had a lot of free time on my hands between then and college, so I got a job as an exhibition assistant. They gave us these blue and white and oh-so-shiny uniforms that made me look somewhat like a 1960s version of a busboy from the future. Our jobs was to explain the functions and history of the exhibits we had to the visitors. I was mostly in charge of talking about the Orlan space suit, which is what cosmonauts used on the Mir and International space stations. It was in this capacity that I met Dr M for the second time, as well as the then-deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim (who's in jail right now after being convicted of buggery... that's another story).

I also got to shake his hand, after my presentation, and this time I remember how relaxed his handshake was. This is what you'd expect when someone as big and important and Dr M shakes the hand of some guy who'd just gotten out of secondary school... hey it's no big deal, but it's a fine courtesy nonetheless. Anwar on the other hand, was far more aggressive, and just about took my hand off. He gripped it like it was a stress ball and made like he wanted to take it home and put it on a display shelf, because I'd just given him the best darn presentation on the Orlan spacesuit he'd ever heard, and he wanted some piece of me as a souvenir. That man had enthusiasm, which I thought was nice at the time. Later, my dad saw a picture in the newspaper they had taken of me talking to the PM, the DPM, and their entourage, and that clipping remains framed on our living room wall to this day.

So those are the two times I met Dr M, and shook his hand. Most likely, he doesn't remember me, and I'd rather he not, especially since the second time I was dressed like Buck Rogers. But I will remember him, and remember him well, as will many other Malaysians for decades to come.

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