Malaysian Queen recalls Chinese roots, childhood stories

Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah and Tunku Azizah, with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad behind. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah and Tunku Azizah, with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad behind. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

KUALA LUMPUR • Tunku Azizah, Malaysia's Raja Permaisuri Agong, took the opportunity to explain her Chinese heritage in an interview days before tomorrow's ceremony installing her husband, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, as the 16th Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

"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 Sin Chew Daily, adding that her roots go back to Guangdong in China.

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, which goes back to 1885, she said the late Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor had married the daughter of a Chinese merchant, Wong Ah Gew, and 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 state's royal family.

She also said Malaysian tycoon Robert Kuok, whom she met six years ago, had borrowed 3,000 dollars from Johor's royal family to start his business when he was young. The currency used at the time in Malaya was referred to as dollars.

"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 believe he has already returned the money. At that time, 3,000 dollars was a large amount."

Tunku Azizah also recalled a joke her late father made. "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 her spectacles made her look like Hong Kong songstress Jenny Tseng, prompting her family to give her a Chinese nickname, "Ling Ling from Tong Sua". Many in the Chinese community also called her Jenny Tseng.

Tunku Azizah also shared that she was mischievous and that she would be punished by her teacher for forgetting to do her schoolwork.

Recalling her dislike for mathematics and science in school, Tunku Azizah said she signed her report card on her father's behalf after getting bad grades for the two subjects. She would tell her father that he had already signed it but forgotten.

She also spoke about how her approachable way won hearts. "Just call me kakak, or call me nenek, popo, or nana also can. Everyone calls me that, it is no problem."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2019, with the headline Malaysian Queen recalls Chinese roots, childhood stories. Subscribe