By Chloe Tiffany Lee Mei Tchuin
SMB: Have you ever thought of becoming a minister at a young age?
MM: Well, sometimes when we plan something, but another thing happens. This is what the favourite cliche is that, “man plans, but God determines”. In the old days, the highest that you can ever dream in those days is to work for the government. So, it is reasonable that every person would want to work with the government simply because to work with the government means a secured job and of course, predictability of income.
SMB: What would you say is your proudest achievement as tourism minister.
MM: First and foremost I think any achievement is not only my achievement. I think every success is a result of teamwork. The proudest achievement is probably the fact that Kota Kinabalu is now one of the most popular destinations in this part of the world. We can justify this by looking at the number of flights that come in to Kota Kinabalu every week. That speaks boldly of what we have done right.
SMB: What was the most memorable event that you have encountered?
MM: To be honest, every part of my life is memorable. The reason is simple – time doesn’t go back. It is just like taking a photograph. When you take a photograph, you’re not just taking an image. It is the moment in time where an image can be taken at the same location, but it will not be of the same memories. Among my memorable experiences, to name a few, is when tourists that I have never met before, come over to me and ask if they can take a picture with me. It is quite memorable and does make you happy that there are people that you have never met, that actually recognise you. Another example which happened quite recently when I was in Singapore. A security guard greeted me “Hi Sabah Tourism Minister!” as I was heading for dinner. The Singaporeans who were with me were very surprised. I feel happy, not because somebody knows me. It was because I must have done something right in my life that made him remember me.
SMB: Tell us what it was like growing up in Ranau.
MM: Oh, it was tough during my time. In those days, there were hardly any roads. So most of the time, you have to be a marathon man – because you have to walk a lot. Climbathon, 10K runs, and many more, are actually things that we have done long before when it was not a competition. That was hard. That was a way of surviving in those days.
In the early 60s after completing primary six education, there was no secondary school in Ranau. The nearest schools were in Kota Belud and Kota Kinabalu. If we choose to go Kota Kinabalu, that will be 3 days 3 nights of walking to reach Tamparuli to catch a bus to Kota Kinabalu. If we choose to go to Kota Belud, we would have to endure traveling for 4 days and 4 nights. To this date, my childhood memories make me appreciate little luxury in life because we had none or very little when we were growing up.
SMB: Out of curiousity, when you go trekking in the olden days, where do you sleep?
MM: We rest and sleep at the sulap (like a pondok), with a place to cook at the roadside during the journey. So, you have to bring you own cooking pot and cook with firewoods! I still remember the accommodation fees in those days were 10 cents for adults and 5 cents for children. No one comes to collect the payment. The level of trust among the local people were very high. The owner would hang an old sardin tin, where you can just put the money in there before you leave.
SMB: Why did you decide to be a lawyer?
MM: Well, that is the only course that does not require to pass mathematics! I was weak in Mathematics. When I was in form 5, I scored only single digits in my exams! However, it was a requirement to pass my Accounting paper when I was taking my degree. So, I think it was all about interest back then because I passed and graduated with flying colours!
SMB: Who is your idol?
MM: To be honest with you, I really don’t have an idol. My idol is not a person nor people that I know. My idol is the state of Sabah. I have an unconditional and unlimited love for my state. In the sense that before I even became a tourism minister, I have already travelled to a lot of countries. I even lived in other places other than Sabah. But I would say, in all humility, Sabah is still the best place to live. And for that reason, ‘Sabah’ will always be mentioned in every occasion.
We are very lucky; Sabah is not your modern state or place, but it’s the quality of life that is incomparable to others. In fact, minus all the little challenges from time to time, but I do believe that if ever there’s a place that is next to heaven and earth, Sabah will be the candidate. Just consider this, we are blessed with magnificent flora and fauna!
Of course, Sabahans are full of love, friendly, not judgemental, and helpful. Most importantly, Sabahans make everyone feel like they are part of the family. And that makes us great. How can we not idolise a state like Sabah?
SMB: What was your most challenging experience as a Minister.
MM: The most challenging experiences will be crisis managements. For the past decade, we faced kidnapping and earthquakes, certain issues that are not faced by other states. We had to face it in Sabah, hence this made us better problem solvers. I believe we managed them well. Look at the statistics now… it is better than before. To me as I said, it is a reason to be apprehensive with all the crisis, but it is also an opportunity for us to rebuild the industry.
Let me give you an example of Mount Kinabalu. After the earthquake, a lot of people lost their income, as there were no economic activities can be done at the mountain. But look at how we have helped them. We look into this issue as an opportunity for us to rebuild from the beginning. Now, we have created two routes instead of maintaining one route to climb the mountain. This allow us to add value to the climbing experience to climb Mount Kinabalu.
To me, if you look at the problem as a problem, it will remain a problem. But if you look at a problem as an opportunity and part of your learning curve and learning experience, then you can come back better and probably bigger. You see, if life has no trials, I don’t think we will grow. I strongly believe that if we continuously face trials, we will be a better person. It is not the problem that is the issue; it is how we manage it.
SMB: What would be a Ministry portfolio you would fear the most?
MM: I am a good learner. To say that, there are portfolio that I fear, but it is not exactly something that I fear. Because I know I can learn to do it. For instance, initially I told you that I fear and failed my Mathematics in my younger age. But when I took my final bar in the United Kingdom, one of the non-examinations subjects that we have to take is Accountancy. By building interest in the topic, I eventually passed the subject. Therefore, I would say, just take over the fear. The feeling of fear is only in the mind.
SMB: What are the changes of Sabah tourism then and now?
MM: What we have done right is that we continuously reinvent ourselves and we need to experiment new ideas. This is the biggest change in STB. We have new people, new ideas, we embrace technology, think outside the box, and do things that people have never done before. That is the biggest change – to adapt and embrace changes that makes us better out there! I am not saying that we are the best, but if we compare ourselves with other tourism body in other states, I believe that we are slightly ahead than many of them. The reason is simply because we dare to challenge ourselves with new ideas and we are not afraid to change. The result of new creativity and new invention can be seen from the number of visitor arrivals to Sabah.
SMB: What is your hope for the future of tourism in Sabah?
MM: My hope is to continuously upgrade ourselves, our ability and the quality of the products. The beginning of our downfall happens once you make a simple thing complex. I believe we have to continue to show that Sabahans are in full control of the industry. When you see the statistics at the moment, our tourism industry is the only industry that is in control by Sabahans. I think we should continue to do that.
I believe that Sabahans should do whatever is possible to ensure that they will be the master of their own destiny. Don’t do things out of greed and learn from the mistakes of other countries. One of the most serious mistakes that some have done and committed is they have sacrificed their environment in the name of dollars. I think we shouldn’t do that. To me, the environment is a crucial component of the industry. So, it should not be sacrificed in the name of money. If I may say in a single sentence, I think we need to show that we grow in the most sustainable manner.
Wanna know more about him? Catch “60s with YB DSP Masidi” on Sabah Tourism’s YouTube Channel! [YouTube icon] Sabah Tourism