by Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz. first published in The Malay Mail 5 June 2015

Putrajaya has put on a gobsmacking show of fantasy. The presentation is flawless, the colours are dazzling, the fragrance is uplifting and there are enough varieties of beauty across the halls and spaces to leave you pleasantly distracted from the many shenanigans of the outside world. I nearly believed that I was in some kind of paradise, where only optimism and goodness emanated from the roots, branches and petals whose arrangements were innovatively conceived and painstakingly executed with a passionate labour.

No, this fantasy world was not the Ministry of Finance, not even Seri Perdana. This was at Anjung Floria, where the Royal Floria Putrajaya 2015 was taking place between 30 May and 3 June. Now in the eighth edition, I was confidently told that the nine-day festival is the premier and biggest floral event in the region.

The event is organised by Putrajaya Corporation but enjoys much private sector support, and on Wednesday its President Tan Sri Aseh Che Mat personally drove a buggy taking guests around the various plots and structures each highlighting a particular type of flower or concept. There was a cool glasshouse featuring imported temperate flowers cultivated in Cameron Highlands, a maze based on kufic calligraphy (although the walls were so low it is impossible to get lost, which I felt was self-defeating), an entire hall devoted to orchids (where I learnt of the amazing hybrids created by cross-breeding), another devoted to stunning installations by international and local exhibitors (whose names suggested that Malaysian flower enthusiasts are truly multi-ethnic), and two suitably air-conditioned domes with immersive multimedia effects to simulate the experience of spring and winter (an umbrella was opened when the ‘snow’ started falling).

Although many states were represented – Malacca’s clock tower, Johor’s crown commemorating the recent coronation, Terengganu’s sea-themed garden – the centrepiece for this nine-day festival was Negeri Sembilan-focused, provided by a mini replica of the Istana Lama Seri Menanti (complete with the ukiran featuring the mystical birds I mentioned last week) surrounded by a similarly downsized Panca Persada and Takhta Rencana all introduced by an archway of buffalo horns and a Changgai Puteri fountain: I suggested to the organisers that they put up information panels so visitors know what these historical artefacts are and what traditions they represent. Certainly, the flower arrangements surrounding them was worthy of life-sized emulation in the royal town.

It was quite a contrast to the hike I joined last weekend up Gunung Angsi, near where Yamtuan Antah led forces against the British in 1875 and where Tuanku Muhammad built a secluded retreat and stables in the 1920s, naming a specific spot Ulu Bendul, supposedly because it was located upstream (ulu) near a barrier (bendul). There, I saw various types of trees like the Kelat, Meranti Tembaga and the curiously named Rambutan Pacat, but no flowers. I looked for a particular plant that botanist Datuk Seri Lim Chong Keat told me about: in Folia malaysiana he says of Pinanga sembilan: “The infructescence with nine rachillae was clearly distinctive, and the chosen epithet became relevant also for the state in which it is endemic.” I wonder if the early Minangkabau migrants found this plant and decided that their new settlement should have nine districts.

Back in Putrajaya the flora was happily interrupted at the cat pavilion, where I saw the most exotic concentration of felines including Maine Coons, Persians and Siamese and their proud owners happily showing them off. There is such a thing as the Kelab Kuching Malaysia, established in 1971, whose Facebook page shockingly has fewer ‘likes’ than Kementerian Kewangan Malaysia.

Despite these welcome attractions, visitors to the festival will no doubt notice the strange bridge in the middle of the lake seemingly unconnected to anything on the land on either side. Needless to say there is no information panel for this ‘exhibit’, which is a legacy of an incomplete public transport system: back in 2003 the bridge was built to carry a monorail track but the project was cancelled soon after Pak Lah became Prime Minister. Thus it’s not just the crooked/scenic bridge between Johor and Singapore that was affected by a change of national leadership.

Today there is another failure of successive Prime Ministers in bridging their differences, and I could not help but notice that either side of this fantasy land were two notable institutions: further ahead was the Ministry of Finance headed by Dato’ Seri Najib Razak, while across the water was the Perdana Leadership Foundation whose Honorary President is Tun Dr Mahathir. If they met halfway they might stop and smell the roses. Or is the idiom wake up and smell the roses? One of them, anyway.

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Tunku ’Abidin Muhriz is President of IDEAS

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