Friday, December 20, 2002

Half an hour's drive to life's pleasures

SINGAPORE - "Half an hour's drive is all it takes for Singaporeans to enjoy life's pleasures: makan and more makan. Where else can you enjoy 70 percent discount on a wide array of Asia's scrumptious and delectable food but in neighbouring Malaysia."

This may sound like an advertisement to woo Singaporeans, but the only difference is that the sales pitch comes right out of Malaysia's very own goodwill ambassador, Datuk Paduka Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir.

"Just half an hour's drive for Singaporeans to enhance their quality of life. You need to get away from that stressful job and spend your vacation in Malaysia. We have a variety of fruits like rambutans, mangosteens, langsat, duku, dokong and durians," Abdul Kadir, the Culture, Arts and Tourism Minister, said at the 'Malaysia Nite' dinner organised by the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board (Tourism Malaysia) here last night.

"And, you can get 200 percent discount on durians too!", he said in jest, drawing applause and laughter from the audience who among others were tour agents, operators and the media. Also present was Malaysian High Commissioner to Singapore Datuk Hamidon Ali and his wife, Datin Amy Hamidon.

Abdul Kadir, who spoke off the cuff, was his normal diplomatic self. His repertoire and yet simple approach, switching from simple English to bazaar Malay, had the audience in stitches.

Even his opening remarks were simple, yet ice-breaking: "This afternoon when I ran through the figures (tourist arrivals)...obviously Singaporeans do love us," said the minister.

The Malaysian government, he said, had declared six celebrations as national or Malaysian celebrations - Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Deepavali, Chinese New Year, Christmas, Tadau Kaamatan (Sabah) and Gawai Dayak (Sarawak) - with national-level 'open house' being the highlight of each festive season.

This year's Hari Raya 'open house' would be held on Saturday in Jitra, in the parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, he said.

"This means makan, makan, makan (eat, eat, eat). We Malaysians always look for an excuse to makan. Even in the solemn holy month of Ramadan, we've found a way to enjoy it, that is through our 'Ramadan Bazaar'," he said.

Last year, 30,000 people attended the Hari Raya gathering in Johor Bahru. Among those who attended was Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who "enjoyed it so much that he decided to visit Malaysia", after not having done so for almost 10 years, said Abdul Kadir.

More than 200,000 people were expected to attend the 'open house' in Jitra, with top on the list of its ASEAN guests coming from Malaysia's closest neighbour, Thailand, he said, noting that Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his entire Cabinet Ministers would be attending the function.

The following day (Sunday), he said, Malaysian leaders would follow up with a picnic lunch with their Thai counterparts in Haadyai for an informal meeting, "discussing the business affairs of the government" which he hoped would set a trend among ASEAN leaders.

Abdul Kadir, in his half an hour speech, recalled the time when Malaysia took Singapore for granted by launching its tourism promotion blitz in New York and not in Singapore, its closest neighbour, resulting in heavy expenditure on advertisements.

"One page ad (in New York) would cost a hefty RM400,000, and while costly, it is not effective as it would not have attracted attention unless we have a photo of Marilyn Monroe!," said Abdul Kadir, injecting more humour.

Malaysia, he said, did not advertise in Singapore then. But in May 1999, within the first week of assuming the tourism portfolio, Abdul Kadir decided this had to change. So, he visited Singapore, and started promoting Malaysia in Singapore, and helped to enhance the quality of life in Singapore.

On Malaysia's success in being awarded rightful claim to Sipadan and Ligitan, the diplomatic Kadir has this to say: "We were prepared to lose but we won. But Indonesia does not lose anything as both islands belong to ASEAN. ASEAN is borderless."

And similarly with Malaysia's claim to Pulau Batu Puteh, which has been disputed by Singapore since 1966, Abdul Kadir said: "Pulau Batu Puteh belongs to ASEAN. The ICJ (International Court of Justice) will decide, never mind if you (Singapore) lose, it belongs to ASEAN."

On the contentious water dispute and Singapore's recycled NeWater, Abdul Kadir said: "Ultimately, we also have to telan (swallow) NeWater. It's a question of fair and equitable price," said Abdul Kadir.

"What's important is goodwill and good heart. I hope 2003 will be a beautiful year for ASEAN, Malaysia and Singapore."

On his recent meeting with Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong to invite Singapore companies to invest in the Universal Studios' theme park project in Johor, he said that the premier, who welcomed the idea, said that the Singapore side was already discussing the matter.

In his last message, the minister called on Singaporeans to "flush out" the petty talk and look at the bright side, as they have "just half an hour's drive to enjoy life in Malaysia." - Bernama

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