SO, it has been quite a week, hasn’t it?
Over the past several days, many of my non-media friends kept asking: “Is it true?”
Based on reports that I’ve been seeing, it is. Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud is set to step down as Sarawak Chief Minister after over three decades, having expressed this during a PBB supreme council meeting last weekend.
Nevertheless, it’s still anyone’s guess as to when exactly he will call it a day and perhaps the most anticipated of all questions — who will succeed him?
I wouldn’t delve much into the matter though as there have been so much speculation as well as several educated guesses based on historical and ongoing circumstances.
And it’s all easily obtainable — just pick up a local newspaper or surf the Internet, you’ll be sure to get all the information, legit or otherwise, on who’s in the running to receive that baton from Taib.
My point today, however, is not about Taib’s retirement or his likeliest successor. I want to talk about my comrades, the dedicated media men and women who are a large part of this state’s history.
The first moment I found out about Taib’s intention of retiring from fellow journalists, I could already imagine the coming buzz not only at The Star newsroom but that of other media establishments as well.
“This is priority. Other news tandah first,” the editors-in-chief would say.
There you go, my word for the week. In Sarawak Malay, tandah means “to be put on hold”.
So the news about Taib commanded the headlines for a couple of days, although the initial reports didn’t actually quote the man himself.
Rather they were from those who were in the authority to comment on the subject, which I guess was the next best thing to not obtaining any remark at all.
Anyway, seeing the hype surrounding the outgoing chief minister took me back to a few anecdotes told by a few of my senior reporting buddies who have had their share of up close and personal encounters with Taib.
Of these stories, two are my all-time standouts. One is from my good pal, former columnist of Second Wind, Raynore Mering, whose most memorable moment with Taib years ago was indeed a poignant one, regardless of the circumstances they were both in then. I let his words relate that incident better.
“He was flagging off a joggerthon at Padang Merdeka; I was given the task of asking him what was to be expected at a coming DUN sitting. It was an early morning and after finding a parking space like a mile away, I got to the Padang to find that the other reporters had left and he was having his breakfast at the Resident’s Office opposite the Central police station.
“I waited with his security detail and protocol officers. I could hear them talking upstairs. I have covered him many times up to that point but never had I actually interviewed him alone.
“I didn’t have to wait long. I could hear footsteps upstairs and I made my way to the base of a narrow wooden staircase leading up to where they were. He came down first and he acknowledged that I was there with a smile. ‘Hello Tan Sri,’ I exclaimed.
“Then it happened — he missed a step. His arms flailing, the man tried to grab the railing but couldn’t. He landed on his behind. ‘Oh my God!’ I heard (the late) Puan Sri Laila say at the top of her voice. Next to her was the then State Secretary, Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Husain, his mouth wide open.
“And there I was, standing right in front of him like a jackass with my hands clutching my notebook.
“I could have caught him but I apparently missed that class on what to do when the Chief Minister falls down in front of you. If he choked on a meatball, I could have probably given him the Heimlich manoeuvre but I was just totally unprepared for that.
“I’m very sorry, Tan Sri. I didn’t mean to make you trip.
“He bounced up to his feet immediately after he landed. Dusting off his track pants, he smiled and said: ‘Don’t worry. We all trip and fall. What can I do for you?’ His security officers came to his aid, trying to push me aside. ‘It’s OK, I’m OK,’ he told them, waving them off.
“I was apologising profusely as I walked that few steps with him to the doorway of the office. We stood there for a couple of minutes. He gave me a reassuring pat on the shoulder, saying: ‘What is it you want to ask me?’ I asked my question. He answered.
“I thanked him and apologised again. When I got back to the office, I didn’t know how to write anymore. It was all so surreal. After that experience, I had other close encounters with him. Perhaps he remembered what happened, that special moment — if you can call it that — we both shared.”
Pretty amazing encounter, if you ask me.
Another statement that stuck to me is one recently made by Kuching Division Journalists Association chairman Sulok Tawie on his Facebook page: “I must cover CM Taib stepping down since I covered his swearing in on March 26, 1981. I may well be the only reporter still around and active — that itself is a history.”
History indeed, Uncle Sulok. A later posting by him shows a newspaper clipping with an image of a younger Taib, smartly dressed in suit and songkok, taking his oath as the fourth Sarawak Chief Minister. The report was headlined “A new man, a new era”.
I first met Uncle Sulok in 2010 during a media dinner with representatives from Dutch Lady Malaysia. As a greenhorn, I was intimidated by him during that time seeing his serious demeanour and his matter-of-fact way of talking.
But as I get to see him more after that first meet, I take to him like a wise uncle who is never stingy with knowledge and ever willing to share his experience to anyone. He is still serious, though — in fact, he’s not one to mince his words when giving out criticism, which I think how media veterans should be.
As a newsman, I aspire to be like Uncle Sulok, Raynore and all those respectable media practitioners whom I got to know throughout my still-young years in journalism.
It is also my hope that the juniors nowadays learn a thing or two from these remarkable people, rather than thinking the media line is all about glamour, free rides and sensationalism.
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