Friday, July 23, 2010

Honouring 34 Years of Loyal Service

Ah Lin has been working as Head Cook in the Residence of the British High Commissioner for 34 years. When she retires at the end of July, she will have worked with eight High Commissioners and their wives.

he has served HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh (twice!), HRH The Earl and Countess of Wessex, HRH The Duke of York, countless members of the Malaysian royal families, Malaysian Ministers and literally tens of thousands of other guests.

I recently had the honour to present Ah Lin with an Honorary MBE (Member of the British Empire) in recognition of this loyal service. Let me quote what some of my predecessors have said about this remarkable lady:
• She is an excellent and efficient cook, who gets a meal to the table at the appointed time whatever the circumstances

• Her human qualities are as superlative as her professional ones

• She has a wide repertoire of international cuisine; we never reached the end of her store of recipes

• her kitchen is the real heart of the household and the Residence staff are lucky to have such a warm heart and stout champion to turn to in times of stress or trouble

• Ah Lin is quite the best cook in Kuala Lumpur…I will miss her very much indeed; she is irreplaceable.

My wife and I agree wholeheartedly with this final comment. We too will be leaving Kuala Lumpur soon and will miss not only Ah Lin’s cooking, but also the friendliness of her smile and the warmth of her heart.

We wish her all the best for the future and trust she will have a long and happy retirement. She certainly deserves it!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Engaging With Civil Society

One of the great things about my job as High Commissioner is that I get to meet people from all walks of life. Not only in government and the business sector, though both are very important, but also with civil society, or what are often known as Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). We in the High Commission work with a wide range of NGOs dealing with everything from human rights through wildlife protection to climate change. Engagement takes a variety of forms, but it often involves some sort of inter-action with British entities such as the sharing of relevant experience, collaborating with the High Commission for an event and/or capacity building.

This week a group of about 25 people from 15 NGOs came to my residence to thank me for the support we have been able to offer over the last four years. I was happy to tell our guests that we had been delighted with what we had been able to do and hoped they had also derived benefit. We wanted to maintain our engagement and to build on what had been achieved so far. It was encouraging that civil society appeared to be making an increasingly important contribution in Malaysia, as had been the case for many years in the UK.

Some of the collaborative projects I and my guests highlighted were:

• a project with the Centre for Independent Journalism to produce a draft legislation framework on Freedom of Information, which may soon be reflected in state law in Selangor

• assistance with the establishment of Reef Check Malaysia and the Responsible Tourism Initiative/Annual Award show (both now a sustainable annual effort)

• development with WWF Malaysia of Malaysia's first High Conservation Value Forest national toolkit

• support for British and Malaysian scientists working to improve the understanding of tropical forest ecology in Danum Valley, Sabah, under the auspices of the Royal Society

• organization of annual climate change forums in conjunction with the Chevening Alumni Association, and panelists from broad sectors of society.

• contribution towards the establishment of the ASEAN Regional Action Plan on Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora (2005-2010) and ASEAN-Wildlife Enforcement Network

• support for Transparency International’s national conference on political financing and recent work on reforms in political financing

• work with Sisters In Islam (SIS) in organising a visit to the UK of a Malaysian delegation consist of a Syariah Court Judge, syariah lawyer, state mufti and imam to forge a greater understanding of Islamic law and practices in the UK.

• support for the Chevening Alumni Malaysia, which is one of the most active such groups of Chevening scholars anywhere in the world

• organization with KOMAS (communications centre for Human Rights) of a training workshop on lobbying.

A common theme in many of these projects is good governance. I was delighted to hear from our guests that they much appreciated our support. Even though the sums of money involved were modest, they had often helped to achieve something that would not otherwise have been possible. Reef Check said expressly that:” if it had not been for the British High Commission’s assistance, we would not be active in Malaysia today!”

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Bearskins, Bagpipe and British Weather

In the second week of June each year British High Commissions and Embassies around the world celebrate the official birthday of HM Queen Elizabeth II. I say official birthday because The Queen’s real birthday is in April! But June is usually nicer weather! This year she was 84 and still going strong!

These celebrations are universally known as the Queen’s Birthday Party, or QBP for short, and is effectively our National Day. There is no set format for the party, except that it is required to mark the occasion in an appropriate way and to toast the good health of Her Majesty. In Kuala Lumpur, the High Commissioner has traditionally held a large reception in his official Residence, attended by all the main contacts of the High Commission. This is an opportunity to say thank you to all our Malaysian friends for their help and support during the year.

This year, we decided to combine the QBP with UK Armed Forces Day, which also falls in June and to bring in a touch more military flavour than is normal. A local airline kindly agreed to fly out two Grenadier Guardsmen, who looked splendid in their bright red uniforms and black bearskin hats (they really are made of bear’s skin!), as they mounted guard outside the house. Many of the ladies attending the party were happy to have their photographs taken alongside these two hunky young men! We also had the services of two Gurkha bagpipers, who are currently serving in Brunei with the Sultan.

Guest of honour for the evening – and proposer of the toast to The Queen - was Dato’, Mustapa Mohamed Minister of Trade and Industry, a good friend and someone I have very much enjoyed working with during my time in Malaysia. In response I was delighted to propose a reciprocal toast to HM The Yang di-Pertuan Agong. All 750+ guests raised their glasses, and we were entertained to the singing of the British and Malaysian national anthems by a local schoolgirl with a beautiful voice. Traditional fish and chips and a selection of delicious British cheeses were also served. A Liverpudlian member of my staff was particularly pleased to see that one of these was “Creamy Lancashire”!

Among the guests were Ministers and senior officials, MPs, captains of Malaysian industry, representatives of civil society, British businessmen and other members of the large British community. No-one seemed too put off by the fact that it rained throughout the party, prompting me to remind everyone of a saying in my home country of Northern Ireland: “If you can’t see the hills, it’s raining…If you can see the hills, it’s going to rain!” Typical British weather!!!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

God's Little Acre

Col. Jacques Lemay, UK Defence Advisor and WO Chris Hardman, Assistant
Defence Advisor at the plaque to commemorate the fallen in "God's Little Acre"

Each year for the last four years, I have spent the second week-end in June in Perak. Why? To attend a memorial service held in Batu Gajah to commemorate those who lost their lives during the Malayan Emergency. Why Batu Gajah? Because it is there, in a small cemetery near the Church of the Holy Trinity that are to be found the graves of first three planters to be killed in June 1948. That cemetery is known as “God’s Little Acre”.

For me this has become a very special week-end. It is an opportunity to remember not only the planters who died, but also the miners, policemen and soldiers who fell to defend Malaya. Many of these men were British, Australian or New Zealanders. And increasing numbers of Commonwealth servicemen and their families come each year to participate in the ceremonies. But it was neither the Brits, nor the Aussies, nor the Kiwis who are responsible for organising these memorial services. They were initiated by Malaysians who wanted to honour the dead and protect their memory.                                                      I lay a wreath at "God's Little Acre" memorial

So the week-end is also a chance to say thank you to those Malaysians: to the Malaysian Palm Oil Association - Perak, who have a special Little Acre Sub-Committee and to Dato’ Thambipillay, former Chief Police Officer Perak, who has been a prime mover in Batu Gajah for thirty years.

Gurkha bagpipers and buglers with standard bearer from the
Royal British Legion in Thailand

Services are also held over the week-end to mark other events when Commonwealth forces came to the aid of Malaya/Malaysia:

- at the Cenotaph in Ipoh outside the main railway station, which was re-dedicated three years ago, which commemorates those lost in the First and Second World Wards, the Emergency and the Indonesian Confrontation;

- at the Malaysian Rangers regiment camp at Suvla Lines, which contains the graves of 28 Gurkha soldiers who died during the Emergency and Confrontation; and

- at the Sikh Community Centre, which commemorates the Battle of Kampar in 1942, when British and Indian Army soldiers fought a valiant holding action against the attacking Japanese Army.

My week-end was made this year by meeting Arthur, a former British serviceman, who fought with the Royal Marines in Crete and the Western Front. On being de-mobbed after the end of the Second World War, Arthur joined the police in Palestine, where he saw further action. In 1948, like many of his colleagues, he moved pretty much straight from the Middle East to Malaya, at the outbreak of the Emergency. I found Arthur chatting away animatedly to Dato’ Sri Yuen Yuet Leng, former Chief Police Officer Perak, author of “Nation before Self” and one of Malaysia’s heroes from that period. They were both looking at photos from another mate from those days, who had with him an album with lovely sepia photographs of the three of them in the days when they fought the “CTs” (Communist Terrorists). It was a privilege listening to their memories.

Col.Jacques Lemay giving speech at the Sikh Community memorial service
to honour in particular those who fell in the Battle of Kampar.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Emergency in 1960. It is good to know that these memories are still being preserved. To quote the words read at British memorial services across the world:
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn;

At the going down of the sun and in the morning;                                                             
We will remember them. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Writer's Cramp and Chevening Scholarships

I signed my name about fifty times today!  Why?  Because I was signing the certificates for the many Malaysian recipients of Chevening Scholarships and Fellowships. “What is Chevening?”, you might ask.  Well, it is the name we have given to the range of opportunities the British Government offers to young Malaysians to go to the UK to study.  A scholarship is normally for a one year taught Masters programme for Malaysians below 35.  A fellowship is usually to support a 3-4 month stint for those in their mid career, who see benefit in gaining new insights from an academic experience in the UK.  Candidates are chosen not only for their excellence in their field, but also for their leadership qualities.  More details are given on our website:

I am a great believer in Chevening.  It demonstrates our commitment to Malaysia in a unique way, seeking out young people at an early age who are going to be leaders of this country in the future, in a wide range of disciplines.  And we have a strong track record in selection: Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar, Head of Khazanah is a Chevening scholar.  But so too is Bernard Chaudry, one of Malaysia’s brightest young film makers.  And Dina Zaman, author of the influential book “I am Muslim”. And Nithi Nesadurai, a well-established environmental commentator, who also heads the Chevening Alumni Malaysia group (website: There is also Rafidah Abdullah, a scriptwriter, TV host, actress, columnist and lyricist and Edmund Bon, a lawyer and the Chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the Malaysian Bar Council.

To date, a total of 1200 Malaysians have studied in the UK under the Chevening programme.  I must say there is a rich crop of talent!
One way in which we keep the scheme running is by taking partners, from British business and academia, who co-fund the scholarships.  My final two signatures today were on new partnership agreements with Cranfield and Queen’s University Belfast (my own alma mater).  These universities  see this scheme as one of the ways in which they can underpin their growing engagement with Malaysia.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

World's No.1 Badminton Player Comes to Tea!

Today Lee Chong Wei, World No 1 in badminton came to tea.  I invited him to congratulate him on his recent victory in the Gentlemen’s Singles Champion at the All England Badminton Championship, the world’s oldest and still one of the most prestigious tournaments on the circuit.  It predates by decades the World Championships.  So it is a good title to win.

I am a former badminton player and a real fan.  So it was a great pleasure to meet Chong Wei.  His coach of many years, Misbun Sidek, himself a former All England Runner-up , also came.  And it was a marvellous opportunity for me to talk through the final at Birmingham and the qualities of Chong Wei’s exciting young Japanese opponent, whose net play and composure were remarkable.  I even got to hit a few rallies with Chong Wei in the garden of the Residence, as did a number of colleagues from the High Commission, who had come to meet their hero.

Chong Wei obviously has to be very careful with his diet, but tucked in nevertheless to cucumber sandwiches, fruit cake and curry puffs (a specialty of the house!).   He also took the time to answer questions and to sign autographs on racket covers brought along by one of the High Commission staff for his badminton-playing friends.  (We will hopefully be able to auction one of these off for charity!).  

When the time came to break up the party, I was delighted to be able to wish Chong Wei all the best for the Thomas Cup (to be played in Kuala Lumpur in May), the World Badminton Championships (to be hosted by England next year) and of course the 2012 Olympics in London, where I sincerely hope he will be Malaysia’s first ever gold medal winner!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Trade and Investment: A Win-Win for the UK and Malaysia

I read with interest the reports in this week's press about a seminar in Birmingham featuring Malaysia's energetic Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed.  The aim was to persuade British companies of the benefits of investing in Malaysia.  The last time Datuk Seri Mustapa did an event like this was last April in London.  And I was there to support his message. 

Malaysia is an excellent country for British companies to consider when they are looking to move into the dynamic Asia-Pacific region, the real power-house of today's global economy.  We already have several hundred firms here, operating in fields as diverse as financial services (eg HSBC, Standard Chartered, RBS and Prudential), oil and gas (Shell, Petrofac, AMEC), petrochemicals (BP), pharmaceuticals (Astra-Zeneca, Glaxo) and retail services (Giant, Tesco, Guardian).  But the Minister is right to focus on new areas like advanced engineering and life sciences. 

Dyson is one UK manufacturer which has made a new home in Malaysia.  They now make all their modernistic (and highly successful) vacuum cleaners in Johore and are looking to locate further operations in the Iskandar region.   A recently launched new product is the "air multiplier", a revolutionary bladeless fan (see photo).  One of the things Dyson have found since being here is that they have been able to move to Malaysia not only manufacturing, but also design, thanks to the quality of local design engineers.

Lotus (see separate Blog entry) is also an example of a UK high-performance engineering company which can bring valuable expertise to Malaysia, thus helping to strengthen the country's engineering base.  Aerospace is another, with one major company already established in Subang and doing very well.   We also see real opportunities in green technology and biotechnology, where the UK is a world leader.  I have a large team at the High Commission working on the trade and investment agenda.  As Malaysia's New Economic Model is unveiled,  We will be continuing to work with Datuk Seri Mustapa and his colleagues to identify further opportunities for UK-Malaysian co-operation.  I am convinced that this is a win-win for both sides.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

LOTUS Returns to F1

Another big sports event this week-end was the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Bahrain, the opening race of the new season and the first outing for the brand new Lotus.  Lotus were of course no match for the Ferraris and McLarens.  But these are teams that have huge amounts of money and vast experience stretching over many years.  Lotus has done a fantastic job putting a team onto the grid at all in only six months, starting from scratch.  And for both cars to finish the race was a terrific result.  Speeds and performance are bound to improve as the season goes on.

I am not actually a great fan of F1.  So the reason why I am excited by Lotus is that it is a true UK-Malaysian joint venture.  The colour of the car is British racing green, the engine is a Cosworth and the construction and testing were done in Norfolk.  But the team principal is Malaysia's own Tony Fernandes, there are Malaysians in all key management roles and the car proudly bear the "One Malaysia" slogan in its side.  A perfect example of the best of British teaming up with the best this country has to offer.  As Tony said in his comments to the press after the race: "This is a British-Malaysian collaboration that is working very well.  But it is a Malaysian team.  When we do win, Negaraku will be played."  Well done to all involved!

*Photos adapted from Google Images.

Malaysia BOLEH!!

Like many millions of Malasians I sat up late last night to watch the final of the All-England Badminton finals.  The major event was of course the Men's Singles.  Surely this time, at his seventh attempt, Chong Wei could take the coveted title.  And he did: 21-19 21-19.  Today's papers show a delighted Penangite holding aloft the silver cup.  And the record books will say that Lee Chong Wei won the 100th All England, the oldest and most prestigious tournament in the badminton calendar.  And there could not be a more popular or a more worthy winner. 

Chong Wei has been a tremendous Ambassador for Malaysia.  The crowd in Birmingham gave him a fantastic reception: not just the Malaysians present, but everyone in the stadium.  He has won so many titles over the years.  But this was "the big one", the one that had eluded him so far.  His opponent was not after all Lin Dan, his nemesis, but a young qualifier from Japan, Kenichi Tago, who "fought with the spirit of a Bushido warrier" (NST) and will, I am sure be a future star of the game.  

My interest in badminton goes back to my own playing days, when I represented Northern Ireland.  Rudi Hartono was All England champion then and the great Malaysian names were Ng Boon Bee, Tan Aik Huan and the Sidek brothers.  Early on in my time here, I got a call from someone who had heard about this interest and invited me to come along and "hit with a visiting English player", who was currently training in Malaysia.  I turned up at the KL Rackets Club to find myself lined up with Andrew Smith, England's top singles player (knocked out in one of the early rounds of the All England) and playing against a number of Malaysian team players including several Commonwealth Games medallists and other tournament winners.   Needless to say, my game was not quite up to their standard.  But I really enjoyed the experience, which gave me a sense of the importance of the sport to Malaysia and the sheer talent available in this country.

At future sessions I got the chance to meet Hafiz (All England Single's champion in 2003) and even appeared on court - albeit briefly - with Chong Wei himself.  The pace of his smash (unreturnable!!) and his sheer alll-round athleticism were amazing.  But he also impressed with his modesty and commitment to the game.  A true Malaysian champion!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Scottish Veterans Return

One of the first events I attended when I arrived in Malaysia in 2006 was a ceremony, at which over thirty veterans from the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) were awarded the Pinggat Jaya Malaysia (PJM) medal by the Malaysian Government for services during the Emergency.  I was delighted to be invited back to meet another group of KOSB veterans this week at the Shangri-La Hotel.  Waiting in the foyer was a kilted warrior with the bagpipes, waiting to play me into the hall with a Scottish reel.

This time there were sixty veterans and thirty-seven wives and supporters, all celebrating the 55th anniversary of the KOSB’s arrival in Malaya in 1955. Major General Dato’ Zulkiflee bin Mazlan, head of Director General for Veterans’ Affairs in the Malaysian Ministry of National Defence (who was one of the many Malaysians who attended Sandhurst Military Academy in the UK) was there to present a beautiful enamel badge to commemorate the occasion.  The badge, designed by tour organiser Ogilvie Dickson, proudly bears the arms of the KOSB and also the hibiscus.

I was pleased to say a few words to welcome the veterans.  For some it was their first visit back to Malaysia.  Then they had come out in their teens and twenties to a country of jungles and rivers 8,000 miles from home, which faced a Communist insurgency.  Most of them were national servicemen rather than professional soldiers.  For many the experience had been life-changing.   Returning now, in their seventies and eighties, they found a modern, bustling city which was scarcely recognisable as the Kuala Lumpur they had known.  The only things they said they could recognise were the Royal Selangor Club and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building down on Dataran Merdeka.   The Twin Towers were a complete revelation!

It was wonderful chatting to the veterans and their families.  They told lovely stories of Batu Pahat and Kluang , where they were stationed, and Kota Tinggi, where they trained.  They were off to Cameron Highlands the next day to savour something of Malaysia’s tourist pleasures.   I doubt if there will be another tour in five years time, as many will simply be too old to travel.  But it was lovely to meet them and hear them say how their contribution to defeating the Insurgency all those years ago had been worthwhile.