Gold is not the only thing that glitters

Cheong and Pandelela display their medals during a photo call in Rio. — Bernama photo

Cheong and Pandelela display their medals during a photo call in Rio. — Bernama photo

I WAS still in the twilight zone between sleep and awareness when I saw a notification on my phone showing a picture of two beaming girls holding silver medals. The caption read, “Divers Pandelela Rinong and Cheong Jun Hoong deliver a silver medal for Malaysia”.

“Nah, it’s a dream,” said my groggy mind and I pulled the blanket up and went back to sleep. I woke up a couple of hours later and saw a missed call from my old friend, Gerald Green. Gerald is from Penang, why the heck would he call me this early? So, I just messaged. “Whatsapp Gerald? Zzzz.” And he replied, “Congratulations!”

Still somewhat sleepy, I was hallucinating that perhaps Lim Guan Eng had conferred some sort of honorary title on me. Then I remembered Penang is not into this ‘Datukship’ thing. So I called Gerald, “What’s with the congratulations thing?”

“Oh, I called because the Sarawak girl Pandelela (together with Perak’s Cheong Jun Hoong) have won the Olympics silver.”

“Huh?” then fully awake I said, “You mean it is true, not just my dream?”

“Yes, my grandson Gavin Kyle Green, who represents Malaysia at golf in Rio was by the poolside cheering them on. It’s all real.”

By the time I showered and checked Facebook, there were dozens of postings broadcasting the fantastic news. Okay, if it is on Facebook, it must be true. Congratulations were flying left, right and centre and of course, it didn’t take long for the politicians to join in. One proposed that Pandelela be given the title ‘Datuk’. Well, as if we don’t have enough of them, and personally I would have difficulty in addressing a baby-faced 23-year-old by that title. I always associate a ‘Datuk’ as someone wise and more mature. Okay, my personal peeve and perhaps I am going off on a tangent here.

Of course, Pandelela and Cheong did us proud. As Sarawakians, and more so for the Bidayuh, we can be excused for being parochially ecstatic. Our diving queen Pandelela comes from a small village in Bau and from such humble beginnings to rise to the pinnacle of the sports world is nothing less than miraculous and is infinitely inspirational. She has put paid to the inferiority complex that some of us are suffering from – that we are not good enough, that we will always play second fiddle to the world. She has dealt a blow to the complacent attitude, the ‘jaguh kampung’ syndrome and has transformed ‘Malaysia Boleh’ from mere jargon to reality.

Yes, to win an Olympics medal is a fantastic feat. They have indeed done us proud. It was William Shakespeare who made famous the saying, “All that glitters is not gold” in his play ‘The Merchant of Venice’. We take it to mean that not all shiny things are necessarily precious things. Let me turn the expression on its head. That gold is not the only metaphor for value and preciousness. Many acts deserve our admiration – acts can do a nation proud.

In the last football world cup, the Japanese football fans astounded the world when after watching their national team defeated by the Ivory Coast, stayed behind after the match to help clean up the stadium. They might not have won the world cup, but they certainly won the hearts of all decent people. They deserve a gold medal. They certainly did their nation proud.

Last week, a Malaysian who had just returned after a long spell travelling abroad complained about the dirty state of our ‘international’ airport. He took to venting his frustration on the Internet. “Malaysia public toilets are the worst, dirtiest, wet with paper all over the place. The people are to be blamed too. We are not civic-minded enough to keep the place clean. There are workers, but they aren’t doing their job. Sad to say maybe it is our culture.”

I do agree that the state of the public toilets could be a good indication of the level of civic-mindedness and development of a country. However, I don’t necessarily want to condemn our people wholesale and say, “It is our culture”.

Some years ago I drove from Kuching to Sibu. One of the favourite pit stops along the route is Lachau, a small town (just of a row of shophouses) along the Kuching to Sri Aman road. There I was pleasantly surprised to find that the public toilet was very clean – neatly designed and carefully maintained. I stopped to congratulate the old man who manned the place.

“Yes, we wash and clean many times a day. We have many passing through visitors. I hate to have them think badly of our community,” he replied. I understand that he came from the nearby community. I really want to raise my hat to the Aki. He certainly did us proud. Someone should give that man a medal.

Talking about world class. There is a government department here in Malaysia that has the system and performance to knock spots off similar departments of all the countries in the world. This is the immigration department, the one dealing with the issuance and renewal of passports. Where else in the world can one get one’s passport done in a matter of just 60 minutes? In fact, I didn’t quite believe when I was told that. Having filled in all the paperwork, provided the necessary documents and paid my fee I was told by the counter staff, “Why don’t you just go down and have your breakfast and we will have your passport ready when you finish.”

I thought she was joking but lo and behold my brand new passport was waiting for me when I came back an hour later. If that is not a gold medal performance, I don’t know what is.

(Postscript: I was told that while the system and process of the department is still of the same sterling standard, unfortunately, someone has messed it up for them when he contracted out the production of the passport booklets to some less than efficient suppliers. There is now a shortage of the passport books, and that is holding up the operation).

A leader who displays honour and integrity like the former Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari is deserving of a gold medal. In January this year, he resigned his post because of allegations of bribery. A tearful Amari apologised for the scandal, saying it had caused embarrassment. He added any cash received by his office was a political donation, but he had to take responsibility for what happened on his watch. He said his secretary had also resigned.

“I decided to resign my cabinet position today in consideration of my responsibility to oversee my secretary as a national lawmaker, my duty as a minister, and my pride as a politician,” he told reporters in Tokyo.

There is a saying “Many roads lead to Rome” and I say, “Many deeds deserve gold medals.” Pendelela brings honour to our nation through her excellent attitude and performance. We admire and love her for that. We too, whatever our station in life, can also go for the gold by living our lives with honour, integrity and responsibility. Make Malaysia proud!

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