Tuesday, November 21, 2006


I have always been nervous about the proper salutations to make when giving a speech at official functions in this country, especially as to whom one addresses first in the correct and proper pecking order of things. The Tan Sris first followed by the Datuk Datuk etc., with each and every individual dignitary identified and which is actually a bit of a lengthy and tiresome protocol. A manifestation of a feudal system we have inherited from the British perhaps?

While leading a delegation of senior port officers on a study cum goodwill visit to an Indonesian port some years ago, I remember then that the Indonesians, being republicans or whatever, were less formal and very sparing with their salutations. Divisional heads, for example, were simply addressed as "Kepala kepala" and everyone else just "Bapak bapak".

So a speech there will simply begin with "Kepala-kepala dan bapak-bapak sekalian" etc.

When it came to my turn to give a speech in reply, I remember then that I had to fight an almost overpowering urge by the 'little boy' or the 'juvenile delinquent' in me to just 'buat bodoh', simply smile and say, "Kepala bapak, kepala bapak sekelian!"

Looking back, given the differences in syntax between our two languages, perhaps even that wouldn't have been construed as extremely rude on my part by my gracious hosts. Maybe a trifle confused (?) and the audience would have been left wondering why I was referring to their "fathers' heads" instead...

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