Malaysia’s Queen is well-known internationally for her voluntary work with Girl Guides associations and the Women’s Institute.
A RECENT video of Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah having her car stop by a roadside stall so she could ask whether her favourite mee bandung was available caused quite a stir on social media. It’s not what you expect of royalty. But it is actually very typical of our Queen.
Those close to the Raja Permaisuri Agong will tell you that her spontaneity and down-to-earth personality have always been part of her charm. She resonates with the rakyat simply by being her true, authentic self.
Tunku Azizah is perhaps best known for establishing and working with the Tunku Azizah Fertility Foundation, which helps childless couples who face financial difficulties in seeking treatment or counselling. What is less known is the work she does with other charities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs)regionally and internationally.
In an exclusive interview at the Istana Negara recently with Star Media Group’s editorial advisor Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai, chief content officer Esther Ng and journalist Rahimy A. Rahim, the Queen shared a rare glimpse into the work that she does with these organisations. Famed for her culinary skills, Tunku Azizah also touched on cooking, her favourite dish, and plans for her next cookbook.
Besides the Tunku Azizah Fertility Foundation, what other charities are you involved in, Tuanku?
In Pahang, we have the Girl Guides and the Women’s Institute (the Pahang Women’s Institute or WI) as well. Those are the two NGOs that I work with.
But I was at the world level until I became the Queen. I was director of the Olave Baden-Powell Society (OBPS), which is the fund-raising arm for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS).
We go around the world getting people to become supporters of the society, and the money collected is used to develop and help Girl Guides associations all around the world. Whether it be in the Asia Pacific region – Vanuatu, Tonga, Kiribati – or Rwanda, Uganda, Nigeria and South America.
I was a director there and Princess Benedikte (of Denmark) is the patron.
The presidents and directors are elected. You have to be nominated, you have to go through an election and get elected. I served for two terms. I was going into my third term when I became the Queen and had to resign.
So they have given me a new title, benefactor. That’s together with Datuk Anne Eu, (chairman of health and wellness company Eu Yan Sang), who is the country’s ambassador. She took over from me as the director of the world board.
So with that one, I was truly involved internationally. We had meetings around the world, every year we went to different places and collected funds that went to the world board.
In the Asia Pacific region, I am the patron of the Friends of Asia Pacific World Association of Girl Guides. We are the fund-raising arm for the Asia Pacific region. We collect funds from members, and we also ask people to become members. We start from silver, and go on to gold, bronze, diamond categories for all who become major donors. The money collected in the Friends of Asia Pacific region is only spent in the region.
We set up Girl Guides associations in Myanmar, Vanuatu, Nepal, and Cambodia. We set them up everywhere. I refused to give this up because we have 27 countries under me!
Being in the OBPS and being in the Friends of Asia Pacific (World Association of Girl Guides) is like being in a big family. Through these two organisations, I have made connections all around the world, I’ve made friends with the whole world. This part nobody in Malaysia quite knows, but I’ve been involved there for more than 20 years.
Apart from that, the other one is WI Pahang, which is is affiliated with the Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW). The head office (of ACWW) is in London, so is WAGGGS.
Last year, I was nominated as world president of the ACWW. Because I was the deputy chairman of the United Nations committee (for International Rural Women’s Association) my name went up.
For one year, the lobbying goes around the world; we are not allowed to lobby, but the countries lobbied. Australia and Scotland, not Malaysia, nominated me for the post.
And I think I got about 80% of the votes. The election was supposed to be in April but in February I had to withdraw. If you ask me, that is the saddest part of my life today (laughs)!
With much regret I had to withdraw. Because there was no way I could be the world president of ACWW (as well as Queen), as it is a working presidential post. I would have had to travel, go to all parts of Africa, the interior, all the islands in the South Pacific, South America, everywhere. I would have been on the move all the time. There was no way I could do it.
So you could have been the first Malaysian to be the president of the ACWW?
Yes, and that’s why I accepted (the nomination). They asked me a few times, every time they asked me, I said, no, no, no. Finally, the last time they asked me again, I said OK. The reason I finally accepted it is because it was not Malaysia that nominated me. It was Australia.
I remember the letters they wrote to me, and I remember asking Tuanku (Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah), ‘What do you think’. Tuanku said, ‘Ya lah, do one term’.
This is all long before, he was not even the Sultan then. We were just Crown Prince and Tengku Puan.
And then I still had to withdraw (after she became Queen). But I went to Australia during the election and apologised, because I am so sorry.
In 2022, I will be hosting the World Conference of the ACWW in Kuala Lumpur. Not because I’m Queen, no, but because we won the bid three years ago, in the United Kingdom. Pahang bid to host it.
Tuanku, you have published two books on cooking and you are known to be a great cook. Are there any particular types of food that you enjoy cooking the most and what is the dish you like the most?
A la, sikit sikit (just a little bit)!
For Air Tangan Tengku Puan Pahang – Masakan Tradisional Pahang, we spent about a year travelling around Pahang, going to every village, every district. Say I am in Kuala Lipis, I would spend about four days there. During those four days, in the morning I would be in this mukim and in the afternoon I would cook here. Then I will be in another mukim, and cook there, and so on.
So we would cover the entire district, and at night, we start at 8pm and finish at 1am or 2am in the morning, and I will cook every single dish.
Every single dish, every picture that you see in the book, I cooked everything, I weighed the ingredients and I wrote the recipes myself.
And with Manisan (Air Tangan Tengku Puan Pahang – Manisan Tradisional Pahang), we took less time, twice a month. With manisan, you couldn’t go (travelling) because, you know, sometimes the agar agar has to set and the yeast has to work. So with Manisan we went just to the bandar (main towns).
I like to make kerabu (herb salads). I think Pahang food is very healthy because of the state itself, of how it goes from the river right into the interior, right up to Mat Daling Kampung Bantal where they can’t even get flour – flour is an imported thing (in the interior).
I find that all the food there is healthy because they do not use much oil, as they smoke fish and beef, and they use all the ulam ulam (salad herbs).
Which one do I like most – don’t ask me about tempoyak (she laughs).
I like the Masak Kayu dish (using leaves and herbs). They cook it using either budu or tempoyak and they add petai or ikan bilis. And either you cook it with santan or without. That, I like the most because I like vegetables. But actually, all Pahang food is very nice!
That is the last book that I will write. I told them that will be my last book containing all my recipes. I’ve collected them since I was eight or nine years old. I’ve got 500 istana recipes from Johor, Pahang and Kelantan that I have cooked.
I am still negotiating with my daughter, who thinks I shouldn’t share my recipes with anybody. She says ‘No mama, it’s top secret!’ I told my daughter, we have to share, it’s not right, but she kept saying ‘No, they’re mine’. So I’m still negotiating with her.
Tuanku, how did you learn to cook? When you were growing up in the palace in Pahang, obviously you did not have to cook, other people cooked for you, right?
Oh, no, no, no! Not with my mother. My mother was a cook. She would drag us into the kitchen to make us learn how to cook.
Although, sometimes, when I would stay in the kitchen, the cooks would chase me out. Because they said anak raja (daughter of the king), when they get married, cannot have scars, oil marks. But I stayed on.
My parents were quite strict about us learning how to cook. I remember my father telling me, if you don’t know how to cook, how are you going to tell the cook and chef there that he didn’t do it the right way?
You have to learn how to cook, at the end of the day, you are still a wife and you still have to cook for your family.
As I have mentioned, I think growing up as the children of the Raja Muda, and not Tengku Mahkota – it was 10 days before my grandfather died that my father was reinstalled as the crown prince – was different.
Because I see my children now, my children are growing up as anak Tengku Mahkota, it is a different lifestyle from what I had.
I saw my cousin growing up as the children of the Tengku Mahkota, but we grew up as the children of the Raja Muda. So there was not much demand, there weren’t bodyguards around us or police or anything.
So I had a normal upbringing, which my children do not have because they have bodyguards and everything.
That was what made me what I am today. Because I had a normal upbringing.Tuanku, many people have commented on how you used your phone to record parts of the National Day parade on Aug 31. What prompted you to do so?
Tuanku (Al-Sultan Abdullah) was next to me. He kept saying, take that picture. Tuanku is the one. He said you take that one, because he wants the pictures. Because you cannot see the Tuanku Agong as the one holding the phone all the time.
The day before (the National Day), we were at Floria Putrajaya when we saw (Putrajaya Corporation president) Datuk Dr Aminuddin Hassim. He said, ‘Tomorrow (on National Day), I am riding a horse’. So Tuanku said, ‘You are riding? Are you sure? I don’t want you to fall’. When he passed by on a horse (during the parade), Tuanku said, ‘Look, that is Datuk Aminuddin’. So we were waving and laughing.
Tuanku also loves YouTube. I love my Twitter because I love reading the news. I follow CNN, BBC, I follow everything.
I also love to follow the Indonesian poets – if you notice, I follow all sajak (poetry) accounts and sometimes I answer.
But please, I cheat there (laughs)! It is not me, I have my sajak writer, he is a Chinese man from Kuantan who is called Cikgu Teoh. He taught my daughters their tuition lessons.
Every time somebody sends me a sajak, I will copy and send it to Teoh. ‘Teoh, please answer the sajak for me.’ Within a minute, he will reply. Everybody thinks I am a poet, no (more laughter)! It is Teoh. So today, I want to share, I tipu all this while! I don’t know how to write sajak, I don’t know how to write pantun (verses).
I also like to follow the Islamic ones, like Rumi.
Those are the things that I like. Sometimes, I reply to the tweets, and what you read then is me.
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