Hi all, this is an article that appeared in my column today.
The quiet Sunday afternoon in the French town of Bouzy, with its undulating hills and miles and miles of vineyards, was suddenly broken by the upbeat sound of Malay joget. Behind the closed gates, guests; French and Malaysians alike, were up on their feet doing the steps. The hostess, a pleasant French woman with her newly acquired Malaysian batik scarf around her waist, was already learning the routine, never before seen in this part of the world.
That she was already doing the steps, just minutes after serving freshly made strawberry tart to her Malaysian guests, was testimonial to the fact that she had had a good teacher. Taking her by the hand was Malaysia’s very own Tourism Minister, Dato Sri Dr Ng Yen Yen who does not believe in wasting any time when she said she wanted to bring Malaysia to the people of France. In fact, she said she wanted to bring Malaysia to the small towns of France, Holland and Britain. Bouzy, famous for its champagne, was a good start.
Dr Ng was on her last leg of promoting Malaysia across cities in the continent and Britain; twelve gruelling programme packed days that saw her reaching out to the local tour operators, singing Rasa Sayang during a boat ride along the canal of Amsterdam, luring the British to retire in luxury in exotic Malaysia and extolling the beauty of eco tourism to the French.
I work hard and I play hard, she admits, working people around her to a frenzy and at the same time, rewarding them with her gracious smile and compliments at the end of a trying day.
Being on the road with her, not once seeing her succumb to lethargy that we lesser beings are subjected to, reminded me of trips with Tun M when he was Prime Minister. At the end of a long exhausting official trip to Hungary, he turned to face the press pack which was beginning to look like the war injured, and asked: Aren’t you all tired?
Only a small lone voice at the end of the room managed to give a meek answer: If the prime minister is not tired, we can’t afford to be tired.
On the last night of her official stay in Paris, Dr Ng hosted a dinner to thank those who made her visit a success. Looking chic in a shimmering short, white jacket that would make any French couture leap out and exclaim Oooh la la, and not a strand of hair out of place, the 63 year old minister had all of us gasp in amazement. Sporting bags under my eyes and wilting under the unusually hot French sun, I couldn’t help but envy her boundless energy and relentless enthusiasm – be it at work or play.
Like Tun M, Dr Ng is a medical doctor and they both know how to look after themselves and without fail look fresh whatever the circumstances. And whatever it is that they have in their supplement box, is certainly missing from the supply of supplements that my other half usually wrap carefully in foils for my journey.
“A breath of fresh air” was the murmur around the room when she finished her off the cuff presentation on Malaysia, “unpredictable and unconventional” were the whispers when she interrupted traditional dance performance to explain further the finer points of the Malaysian songket but all in all, almost everyone was smitten by Malaysia’s new Tourism Minister.
The crowd of tour operators in the opulent surrounding of Hyatt Regency Churchill conference room fell silent as she strode in cutting an impressive and fine figure in her modern yellow silk batik kebaya; the same one that she wore in Amsterdam. That she would appear in the same kebaya didn’t faze her one bit because that was simply not important; a trivial matter for someone who was more concerned about what she was going to deliver and not what she was going to deliver it in.
Throughout the trip, it was evident that Dr Ng was at her elements when surrounded by flowers and plants in the gardens of Kuekenhof, the Chelsea Flower Show and Kew Gardens. It is her vision to make the gardens of Malaysia a tourism product.
“My husband said that I am like a child in a toy shop,” she said as we walked out of the tulip gardens that brought in 800,000 visitors from all over the world. Dr Chin Chee Sue, the unassuming albeit significant other half of the minister was always by her side; helping to carry her bag, taking her pictures and smoothing the crease of her jacket when the need arose. The strides she took are long and fast as she walked among the beautiful geraniums and lilies and tulips. And just when we thought we couldn’t catch up with her, she stopped to smell the flowers.