KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 15 — Asked to sum up Malaysia in one word, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad gave it as “multiracial” on radio show Hot.Fm this morning.
The 94-year-old prime minister who continues to be the centre of global attention after returning to power with a new political coalition last year was on air for about 1.5 hours, speaking on a diverse range of topics that covered his childhood during the Japanese Occupation during World War Two to his well-known love for cars, mobile phone usage and cash in his wallet.
While books have been written about Dr Mahathir’s humble beginnings from selling goreng pisang and his rise to the government’s highest office, the Kedahan opened up with less commonly-known tidbits today.
Here are some of them:
Dr Mahathir recalled being bullied by a schoolmate who was also a neighbour’s son when a child and helping his family make ends meet during war-time Malaya.
“My parents had no pension and at the time the Japanese were around, many people were out of jobs including government servants, so I had to work.
“I used to sell balloons too make ends meet. Two cents you get three one cent you get one. This guy Hussein who was a son of my neighbour would bully me and then I’d have to go to the canteen and buy him a meal because I was afraid of him.”
Cash he carries on his person
Fast forward to today and money is no longer an issue for Dr Mahathir. When asked by the radio presenters how much cash he has in his wallet, the PM smoothly said with a chuckle: “I have enough money”.
“My mother used to tell me even if it’s one cent, always have money in your pocket as you’ll never know when you need it.”
“Phone-wise, I have many as people come and give me new phones, but I only use one. The last time, I took pictures with it was when I visited America.
“Also, I was close with the Nelson Mandela but he has passed on. Nowadays, there aren’t many world leaders that are good examples so I’m not particularly close with anyone else.”
Like everyone else, Dr Mahathir loves a good song. His favourite are those sung by local talent Tan Sri Teuku Zakaria Teuku Nyak Puteh, better known as P. Ramlee.
The last movie he watched was M for Malaysia, which was directed by his granddaughter Ineza Roussille.
But what he really considers entertainment is driving.
“I’ve always loved to drive, even from back when I was studying. It’s the only thing I can think of that I do for entertainment,” said Dr Mahathir.
“I used to drive from Singapore to KL then KL to Alor Setar back in the day in an old rickety car which had a roof made of cloth. It was the only one I could afford as a student. Nowadays, they don’t make those anymore.
“Even now on weekends, I still like to drive but at night sometimes my feet hurt. I’ve driven many types of cars, including Proton which always sends me their new models to test out.”
Dr Mahathir said the fastest he’s driven was 180 km/h.
When he used to travel from Kedah to Penang in the past, he would make a stopover at roadside stalls to indulge in certain food, like nasi kandar, and beef dishes.
He recalled going to a shop called ‘Mira’ in Kedah and eating nasi kandar from a roadside stall, favouring the beefy dishes above others.
“When the Maju highway wasn’t open yet they let us test the road and I went a but fast maybe more than 180km/h. When my wife is in the car however I won’t drive so fast.
“During my travels to and from Kedah and Penang there was this shop on the roadside pavement selling nasi kandar and in the past it wasn’t easy to get beef. Maybe in a week we’d eat it once or twice and chicken much the same.
“In fact during the Japanese Occupation, we were only given the small prawns and not the big ones, so I’d usually just add the gravy with the rice and eat it like that.”
Friends he’s still in touch with
Pushing on 95, Dr Mahathir admitted most of his friends have long since passed on but he still has two friends of whom he tries to keep in touch with. Their names are Khalid Julong and Osman Kuda, both in their nineties as well.
Dr Mahathir also said he always had aspirations to be in politics.
Asked what he felt was important for the next prime minister of Malaysia to have, he said: “Honesty is important and focus on work and not yourself”.
“As leaders we have to work harder than those we’re leading. They must also be able to settle soft problems.”