KOTA KINABALU: From tucking into her favourite Malaysian dishes to visiting her old school, Sabah-born Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong revelled in her nostalgic “homecoming”.
She spent her first day in the state, part of her three-day official visit to Malaysia, engaging with the local community – but not before savouring her breakfast favourites of congee, fishball noodle soup and Chinese tea with her younger brother James, at Kuo Man Restaurant in Sunny Garden here.
Penny told reporters yesterday that the restaurant brought back nostalgic memories of her years as a child in Sabah with her father Datuk Francis Wong, who often took her and her siblings to the restaurant.
She spent part of the morning meeting the people at a local Chinese hotspot in Luyang.
Dubbed “Kota Kinabalu’s Chinatown”, Foh Sang was filled with locals who had come to see Penny, who frequented the place during her younger days growing up in the state capital.
Earlier, she visited the Kinabalu International School, the place she used to study at before she emigrated to Australia.
Asked by students about her time in their school, the 53-year-old promptly replied that she “was not much of the studying type and preferred sports and swimming”.
She also told them she had climbed Mount Kinabalu seven times over the years, whenever she came home during the holidays to visit her dad and relatives.
Penny told the youngsters that she would love to spend more time in Sabah and visit Tanjung Aru beach as well as areas like Kundasang.
She also visited the grave of her grandmother Lai Fung Shim at the cemetery in Mile 5, Jalan Tuaran.
Later, to a question, the minister said Australia was making attempts to remedy the delay issues plaguing visa approval for Malaysians wanting to travel there.
Magazine vendor Chris Chu, whose daughter drew a painting of Penny and presented it to the minister, said she was inspired by the leader.
“I have been sharing about the Sabah-born Australian Foreign Minister with my family members and my daughter made a painting of her,” he said.
The 55-year-old Chu said his daughter Tania was so inspired by Penny’s life story and achievements that the nine-year-old quickly sketched a portrait of the Australian senator the night before.
“We have never met Penny but she is my daughter’s hero. It is really outstanding for a Sabah-born person to be a senator in the Australian parliament.
“It’s very special as she could even be helming a higher position (one day). Everything is possible,” he said after presenting the drawing to Penny during her visit to Foh Sang.
Chu pointed out that Tania, the youngest of four siblings, did not want to be a politician like Penny but a scientist.
“And she’s hoping, through her painting, Penny could one day help set up an Australian university in Sabah so she could realise her dream when she is ready to enrol in seven or eight years’ time.
“I told Penny the meaning of the painting and how quickly my daughter had done it and the minister gave an indication she would look into it.
“Penny appreciated the drawing and wrote a thank-you note on a piece of newspaper for my daughter,” Chu said.