Happy Birthday, Tunku Shahariah!

I’ve admired Her Royal Highness Tunku Shahariah Tuanku Abdul Rahman from afar since schooldays and when I was invited to join her 84th birthday celebration, I quickly accepted.

Friends with Tunku Shahariah, celebrating 84 years young!
In recent years, when I covered events happening in the city, I had the privilege to meet Tunku Shahariah quite often.  And when we were introduced, the first thing she said to me was how she enjoyed reading My Johor Stories!

Since then, we have been meeting frequently at annual events as well as at private celebrations hosted by the Johor Baru Speakers Club and the JB chapter of Ikebana International (IIJB). 

Tunku, as she is fondly called, is a gracious lady who clearly appreciates the friendship that developed with these club members over the years.  And it was very special that she chose to celebrate her birthday with these friends on the exact date of her birthday.

[L to R] Juliette Lai, Soraya Alkaff Gilmour and Tunku 
Tunku is Life President of the JB Speakers Club, a small group of ladies keen on cultivating the art of public speaking, formed on 18 August 1976 and is also Charter President of IIJB, the club’s first president from 1990 to 1992.

The all-ladies gathering, made up of club members and her friends, enjoyed taking photos with Tunku, clicking what is now known as “we-fies” and sharing them around.  Tunku was also armed with her own smart phone and she showed me the phone cover – a specially designed piece with a flower motif – that was presented to her by IIJB members.

Selfie time!
It was a joy to see how Tunku was such a good sport, ready to learn new techniques from apps that she just discovered from the other ladies.  Someone taught her how to snap a selfie and it was good to see Tunku trying to take her own shot!

Needless to say, photos was a big part of the event, besides the barbecue dinner and a lovely birthday cake.  At the start of the celebration, we toasted Tunku by raising our glasses and wishing her Happy Birthday with many more birthdays to come!

The poolside gathering at Tosca in DoubleTree by Hilton JB, was an informal and leisurely affair with a buffet spread where staff helped to barbecue our meat and seafood choices at a live cooking station.

Outlet Manager, Jai, serving salads to Tunku
I first heard Tunku’s name when I was a school-going kid, then staying with our grandparents at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng.  Her name was mentioned at home because Aunty Sylvia used to play with Tunku’s badminton club, Kelab Badminton Tunku Shahariah (KBTS) whenever she could.  Imagine, we used to live just down this road!

I had a sudden flashback of Tunku as she looked when she graced our school events and here we were, chatting.  In the course of our conversation, Tunku divulged that KBTS was founded on the same day as her birthday, April 8, in 1976.  This club is clearly very close to her heart because she searched in her phone and found an old photo of herself with KBTS club members to show me – and she looked just as I remembered her.

It was uncanny that we were sitting together talking about badminton in a building opposite our grandfather’s house, where I grew up playing on the badminton court next to our house.  We talked about how Aunty used to occasionally play with her and the club members.  At that time, Aunty was still actively involved with the sport and often went away for centralized training or to participate in tournaments.

Singing the Birthday Song to Tunku
A section of the birthday dinner at Tosca, DoubleTree by Hilton JB
Happy faces gathered to wish Tunku a Happy Birthday!
More happy faces to wish Tunku a Happy Birthday!
One more photo together before it was time to leave
While there was much conversation and photo-taking around us throughout the evening, it was a pleasure for me to chat with Tunku, an elegant lady who speaks with wit and grace.

When her birthday cake was bought out, we sang the Birthday Song to Tunku – repeatedly and somewhat tunelessly – in English, Malay and Chinese, and some ladies even tried to sing it in Tamil and Punjabi!  Happy Birthday, Tunku – and many more to come!

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