The Sultan and I | Blogging a dead horse

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The Sultan and I

Lawrence Gray meets the Sultan of Johor

Here in Johor the end of Ramadan is celebrated by “open houses”. Everyone lays on a buffet and visits each other’s homes. Dressed in traditional Malay clothes they eat, salem, pay homage, pay debts, and exchange gossip and scandal. Whether you are Muslim or not, it doesn’t matter as this is an open house and all are welcome. Everyone will visit their extended families, but they will also visit their friends and work colleagues, especially the important ones!

People will tell you that they used to visit a dozen households and eat a dozen meals when they were younger. Now they try to ration themselves to only one Johor Laksa and a token chicken leg. I, unfortunately, have not quite worked out the routine and so ate three meals thinking it only polite.

Speaking of visiting important people. There is no-one more important in Johor than the Sultan! And like everyone else he too has an open house. Though perhaps on a grander scale. He holds his in his helicopter port.


Anyone in Johor can visit his palace, and surprisingly you might actually meet the Sultan because he and his family will make a grand tour shaking hands and chatting with whoever happens to be around when they appear. Naturally, as honorary Johoreans, we were asked to pop along by our good friend Lekha.

Because my wife and I were rather exotic characters, as soon as we entered the Palace grounds, we were pounced upon by a reporter from The Star, a local newspaper, and asked what we were doing there. I told the reporter that I had come to shake hands with The Sultan and challenge him to a game of polo. This she dutifully noted down and I had to explain that I was joking. I was just visiting, like everyone else. And then I found myself shaking hands with the Sultan.

I had no idea what was going on, other than some rather fierce security guards were pushing people to stand behind a line and get their umbrellas out of the way. And then I noticed that the Sultan was standing right in front of me looking as bemused by my presence as I was by his. I shook his hand but didn’t mention polo. And he then went on to shake hands with others more familiar with protocol. There’s a set of formal greetings and one’s head has to be lower than the Sultans, which given his height and how tall I am, would have been a bit of a strain.

Having managed to blunder into a possible diplomatic incident, I carefully removed myself from the scene and joined my friends. And then we met the Queen…

Visiting the Palace

Of course, this is not quite as accidental as it sounds because we were heading to the VIP section. My wife had been taking promotional photos of some of the work the Red Crescent had been doing promoting eye health. In the photograph, Opthamologists are on the left, the Red Crescent are on the right, and the Queen, a strong supporter of the work of the Red Crescent, is in the middle. The grey haired geezer with squinty eyes and a few too many plates of chicken rice under his shirt, is yours truly.

Hari Raya