Event to honor
Tun Dr. Mahathir
Mark in your calendar the 12. – 16. September when Pulau Langkawi will be playing host to
LIMPAHAN KASIH LANGKAWI,
an extraordinary event organized to
honor the legacy of
TUN DR. MAHATHIR BIN MOHAMAD.
With the former Prime Minister considered by local residents ‘The Father of Langkawi’, the choice of location is truly symbolic!
For detailed information regarding the upcoming event, go to: www.pesonared.com
Read the narrative of our Editor, Kamila Delart, who had the privilege to interview Tun. Dr. Mahathir, tracing back the special bond between the visionary man and our tiny magical island…
THE FATHER OF LANGKAWI
By Kamila Delart
Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad… The longest serving Prime Minister of Malaysia. For 22 years one of the most influential leaders in Asia. A national icon and a personal hero of the people of Langkawi.
How does one get ready for an interview with a man who is used to sit on a table with the most powerful people in the world, a man who steered the course of history?!
If I hadn’t had the honor of a personal audience on two earlier occasions, I would be frantically checking my notes, trying to fight the growing tension as the time of our meeting approaches. But having experienced the warm, approachable nature of this brilliant man, I’m simply trying to clear my mind and focus.
Determined not to allow a single word to escape my attention. For Tun Dr. Mahathir has a way of sharing the deepest insights in a calm, gentle way – without emphasizing his standpoint, without getting emotional, regardless how strongly he may feel about a topic. So much so, you may only realize the significance of certain statements a couple of days later when sitting on your own in a quiet room, re-tracing the words that have been said. And those that remained unspoken although an important part of the conversation…
Barely seated, Tun Dr. Mahathir asks about the progress of my projects, concerned whether the challenges I was facing when we met last are meanwhile resolved. As though we spoke only a couple of days back. As if my personal story was of a global importance. A mindset that made him one of the most loved politicians in history! Always ready to listen, genuinely striving to understand the needs of people he spoke for, he not only transformed Malaysia into one of the most prosperous and dynamic economies in Southeast Asia but touched along the way millions of hearts.
A fact obvious even eleven years after he stepped down as the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia. To truly understand, you would need to see how people’s faces light up, feel the admiration and gratitude that fills the space as he walks across a room. A sentiment that is nowhere as strong as among Langkawians! Which is exactly why I am here. To trace back the special bond between this visionary man and the once unknown island…
Having conducted a thorough research, I am armed with plenty of background information. But as I pose the first few questions from my list – I quickly realize that the story that began to take shape in my mind during the preparation time has little to do with the reality: With a grandfather from mother’s side serving as a Magistrate of Langkawi, I pictured Che Det (as Tun was lovingly called by his family) spending long school holidays on the island, exploring with his grandpa the rainforest, catching fish on hidden idyllic beaches. Falling in love with the island while he was still a child. I imagined that his dream to turn Langkawi into a sought after travel destination was born during the time he was working on the island as a physician. Interested in politics from early on, and considering his medical education a stepping stone on his journey to changing the world, I thought, deep down he knew that one day he will have the power to turn his vision into reality. An emotional story that would surely strike a chord with the readers!
But utterly honest, with nothing left to prove, Tun Dr. Mahathir sets the record straight – dismissing with a forgiving smile the slightly naive ideas of a starry-eyed European writer: He first visited the island at the age of 25. Studying at the King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore at that time, he came with a fellow student for a short weekend break. His face lights up as he recalls cycling from Kuah that used to be a sleepy village back then all the way to Padang Matsirat, pushing his bike to catch his breath as the road got hilly. Lost in memories, he mentions idyllic paddy fields, dreamy beaches, the shade-giving canopy of cashew nut trees, the refreshing sea breeze…
And yet, it took another six years and a directive from the head of the State Medical Services for him to come back. With no airport or jetty on the island, he boarded a sampan, wadding through mud to get to the shore after the boat reached the shallow waters. A hardship assignment?! Shaking his head, Tun Dr. Mahathir confesses that more than anything else, it felt like an adventure.
Serving in Langkawi for six months, Tun Dr. Mahathir got to know the island quite intimately. Not censoring his memories, he recalls families happily gathering around a sumptuous evening meal with juicy fruits, abundant rice, freshly caught fish and mouse deer prepared on a charcoal grill. But he also remembers remote kampungs cut off from the rest of the island during a high tide, and rickety shacks built from tree bark that would fall apart in a strong wind, and get flooded during a rainy season. There was no airport or jetty, and the few potholed roads connecting the main villages made traveling across the island a challenge. And yet, his sisters and aunties couldn’t wait to visit, dreaming about fresh seafood delicacies and a leisurely time spent on a beach…
On some level, Tun Dr. Mahathir felt that there is something unique about Langkawi. But it took another decade and many trips abroad for him to truly realize the enormous potential of the island. Admiring the architecture of historical European cities, the state-of-the art sky scrapers in the United States, the unique culture of Japan – he recognized that to those living in other parts of the world, the tropical paradise of Langkawi has as much appeal as the foreign landscapes he got enchanted by. Sometimes, one needs to step back to see the big picture, and look from the distance to appreciate the beauty, we tend to take for granted…
While the vision of travelers falling in love with the natural beauty of Langkawi began to take shape in Tun Dr. Mahathir’s mind, it was merely a dream. Humble and modest, he never imagined to become a Prime Minister with the means to shape the future of the island. Even now, after all these years, he lowers his voice in deep respect, confessing that the position seemed far too high to be a realistic goal. – A frame of mind that gives away the secret of his unsurpassed tenure. Grounded and immune to temptations that come with power, he never lost touch with the real world – dedicating his life to serving his people!
When appointed Prime Minister of Malaysia in 1981, Tun Dr. Mahathir first focused on urgent political matters. But the future of Langkawi was on the very top of his priority list. Declaring Langkawi a Free Port, he encouraged trade. Highlighting the importance of the tourism industry, he granted autonomy to a small tourism-related division of Ministry of Trade and Industry, establishing a dedicated Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism. As a result, the number of Langkawi visitors quadrupled within only one year!
With a convenient access to the island being a key to attracting travelers, among the next projects was an upgrade of the existing jetty, and the small landing strip for planes capable of handling about 20 passengers a day was replaced by a modern international airport.
Having established the Langkawi Development Authority (LADA) that reported directly to the Ministry of Finance, the island was no longer competing for funds with other projects in the state of Kedah. With the support of federal government, Langkawi experienced a rapid development of infrastructure. In a climate conducive to local and foreign investment, the first resorts began to emerge. – Quickly running at peak capacity due to major events Langkawi hosted:
Prime Ministers and Presidents from all over the world came to sign the ‘Langkawi Declaration of Environment’ at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). And the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA) attracted leading manufacturers, eager to showcase in front of a global audience their groundbreaking technology.
The Telaga Harbour, designed in the style of French Riviera with a boardwalk flanked by upscale restaurants, made Langkawi an appealing destination for luxury yacht owners. Domestic and international travelers came in flocks to visit the newly built Underwater World Langkawi, one of the largest marine and fresh water aquarium in Southeast Asia, and to enjoy the spectacular ride with the world’s steepest cable car, exploring at a close-range the unique geological formations of the Machinchang Geoforest Park and the breathtaking panoramic view from the mountain’s summit. Those eager to explore local culture were delighted by the opening of Langkawi Craft Complex, the Ayer Hangat Hot Spring Village and the Rice Garden Museum, Laman Padi.
To make the island even more appealing to tourists, Tun Dr. Mahathir opened the Galeria Perdana that displays exquisite porcelain, crystal, silver, musical instruments, Islamic art and paintings he received from statesmen and political leaders in the course of his tenure. His decision to make this unique collection accessible to the public reflects his firm belief that while in office, he accepted these gifts on behalf of all Malaysians. But choosing to build the gallery in Langkawi rather than in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya or in Alor Setar where he grew up, speaks volumes about his special relationship to our island.
Langkawi came a long way under the leadership of Tun Dr. Mahathir! The number of arrivals in 2013 reached 3.4 million, nearly 80 % of the population is involved in tourism related businesses, and the living standards are higher than in most other parts of Malaysia. A dream that wouldn’t have come true if it wasn’t for the vision of an extraordinary man, and the clarity and determination with which he followed his path.
Retired, Tun Dr. Mahathir could simply enjoy the pleasures the life has to offer. And he does find the time to board a yacht and savor the magnificent sunset over the Langkawi Archipelago, or visit the Perdana Stables at Seven Wells Waterfalls to tousle the mane of his beloved Lady Alyssa, a gorgeous snow-white mare.
But just as any good father will always hold a protective hand over his children – no matter how mature or successful they are – Tun Dr. Mahathir never stopped looking after Langkawi and its people.
Serving as an advisor to LADA, and offering his opinion regarding new projects proposed by outsiders, he is a strong opponent of connecting Langkawi with the mainland by a bridge, which would encourage mass tourism and present a threat to the island’s pristine nature. And while supportive of ambitious development ventures currently underway, he is also an advocate of the organic growth of small, family-run businesses that provide Langkawi with an authentic flair that makes the island so unique.
When I mention the term ‘Father of Langkawi’, Tun Dr. Mahathir looks at me with a shy, hesitant smile. As though he weren’t sure he earned the loving words of endearment. For the first time in 33 years, the Langkawians will disagree with this visionary man…