KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Tunku Azizah, the Malaysian Raja Permaisuri Agong, spoke to Chinese media days before the July 30 installation ceremony of her husband, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, as the 16th Yang di-Pertuan Agong and took the opportunity to explain her Chinese heritage.
“I am Cantonese. I can speak a bit of the dialect and also some Hokkien. I am a Raja Permaisuri Agong with Chinese parentage,” she told the Sin Chew daily, adding that her roots go back to Guangdong.
Tunku Azizah is the daughter of the late Johor Ruler Sultan Iskandar and the sister of current Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar.
Her late mother, Enche’ Besar Hajah Khalsom binti Abdullah, was a British woman who was born Josephine Ruby Trevorrow.
Recounting her family history going back to 1885, she said the late Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor married the daughter of a Chinese merchant, Wong Ah Gew and added that this daughter became Sultanah Fatimah.
“That’s where I got my Chinese lineage from,” she said, adding that Sultanah Fatimah was from a very rich merchant family in Singapore.
Tunku Azizah said that although Sultanah Fatimah had no sons, she ensured her Chinese heritage remained in the Johor royal family by arranging for her two daughters to be married to members of the royal family in the state.
She also revealed that Malaysian tycoon Robert Kuok, whom she met six years ago, had borrowed 3,000 dollars from the Johor royal family to start his business when he was young. (The currency used at that time in Malaya was referred to as dollars.)
She said the Johor royal family was close to Mr Kuok, whose parents supplied daily necessities to the army at that time.
Tunku Azizah added that this was after World War II, and said that Mr Kuok came and asked to borrow the money to let him start a business.
“I don’t remember the details, but I know my grandmother took my father’s – Sultan Iskandar’s – savings and gave it to him,” she said. “I believed he has already returned the money. At that time, 3,000 dollars was a large amount.”
“As a child, I think it was quite amazing for my father to have that much in his savings,” she said, adding that she mentioned the incident to Mr Kuok when they met in Hong Kong after he became successful.
“He still remembers, but he told me frankly that he had no idea the money was from Sultan Iskandar’s savings.
“This is what I want the Chinese community to know. It is regrettable that he did not include this incident in his autobiography,” she said, referring to Mr Kuok’s memoir published two years ago.
Tunku Azizah also revealed that the late Sultan Iskandar had offered to award Mr Kuok the honorary title of Tan Sri when he was the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, but Mr Kuok turned down the offer and insisted he was not to be given any title.
“He is a filial son,” she said. “He would consult his mother, regardless of any business decision he made and his mother’s residence is still in Johor. I really respect Robert Kuok and I also want to invite him to the installation ceremony. I really hope he could make it.”
Tunku Azizah also recalled a joke her late father made when she was a child.
“This happened when my birth certificate went missing. So my father joked that I was actually picked up from a dumpster in China and since my birth certificate was missing, I had to be cut up in pieces and cooked in curry,” she said.
“He then said that I had to be eaten in order to be reborn. As a child, that was scary to hear.”
She also shared a story about the spectacles she wore as a child.
“I had amblyopia (lazy eye) when I was small. When wearing wingtip spectacles like those used by Lydia Sum, I really looked like a Chinese person,” she said referring to the late Hong Kong actress.
Tunku Azizah said the spectacles she wore made her look like Hong Kong songstress Jenny Tseng and this prompted her family to give her a Chinese nickname.
“They called me Ling Ling from Tong Sua,” she said, adding that many in the Chinese community also called her Jenny Tseng due to her strong resemblance to the singer.
Tunku Azizah also shared that she was mischievous and added that she would be punished by her teacher for forgetting to do her schoolwork.
“I dared not tell my parents about it, because my father was fierce like a lion and would cane me,” she quipped.
Recalling her dislike for Mathematics and Science at school, Tunku Azizah said she resorted to signing her report card on behalf of her father after getting bad grades for the two subjects.
“I was scared and ashamed every time I failed my Maths and Science. As I was worried that I would be punished, I signed the report card myself,” she said.
She added that she would tell her father that he had already signed it and forgot that he did when he asked her about it.
Tunku Azizah also said that she still remembers her teachers, including former Deputy Internal Security Minister Datuk Fu Ah Kiow, who is now the Star Media Group chairman.
Tunku Azizah recalled that she addressed Mr Fu loudly as “cikgu” (teacher).
Aside from this, Tunku Azizah also spoke about how her approachable way won hearts.
“Maybe this is to do with my upbringing. I grew up in a normal family like others,” she said, adding that her stern father liked to crack jokes.
“I also like to talk, while the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is more of a reticent person. He would listen to me talking most of the time,” she added.
She recalled a heart-warming friendship with a cellphone shop assistant from years ago who referred to her as ‘kakak’ (sister). Tunku Azizah said she was comfortable with terms of endearment like nenek, popo, or nana (grandmother).
“Just call me kakak, or call me nenek, popo, or nana also can. Everyone also calls me that, it is no problem,” she said.
She noted that the shop assistant has since migrated to Australia and only found out she is now the Raja Permaisuri Agong after reading the papers.
“He called to congratulate me and said that he must give me a present. He still called me kakak on the phone,” she said.