The Royal Museum, formerly known as the Istana Negara (National Palace), is located along Jalan Istana in Kuala Lumpur and was the official residence of Their Majesties, the King and Queen of Malaysia.
My wife and I had made plans to visit the Royal Museum in the past but always had to defer them (despite it being nearby in Kuala Lumpur), for one reason or another, with the main culprit being yours truly.
Well, the day of reckoning had to come, and since I nor my wife had nothing of importance on our respective and combined plates for the day, we placed ourselves into our trusty ‘old car’ and made our way to the Royal Museum.
We got to the Royal Museum in good time, thanks to the good highway connectivity linking Cyberjaya and Kuala Lumpur.
Personally, I have never been to the then Istana Negara and now the Royal Museum. So this visit is of great significance to me for it presented me with the first opportunity to step foot within its grounds.
But not so for my wife. She had been here before so many years ago, when it was known as the Istana Negara, at a tender age of seven.
As it happens, my late father-in-law was a member of the protection detail assigned to the 7th DYMM SPB Yang Di Pertuan Agong, as His Majesty The King is officially known, with my late father-in-law essentially based at the then Istana Negara.
So where else would a little girl look for her father if not at his place of work. Being seven years old does have its advantages, I dare say, and one of them is being looked at as not a security threat but rather, one to be ‘pampered’.
But I digress. As usual.
We paid the entrance fee at the entrance gates and finally, at long last, for me at least, stepped onto the grounds of what used to be the Istana Negara and as we make our entrance, the sight of the two yellow domes greeted us from atop the hill.
A driveway, lined with tall palm trees, up what looked like a ‘slight’ incline led us to the Royal Museum. As we made our way up the driveway, under the shades offered by the palm trees naturally, we passed by the spacious grounds of the Royal Museum to our right, where garden tea parties were held during the occasion of His Majesty’s The King’s birthday.
We have heard many stories about the garden tea parties. Attended by members of the Royalty, the whose who of Malaysian politics, invited dignitaries and of course, the newly minted Tuns, Tan Sris and Datuks, bestowed by the King with Federal awards and honours on the auspicious day, the atmosphere must have been really something.
It would be nice to have the opportunity to attend such a garden party. Maybe one day, if such an opportunity arises.
But garden tea parties were not the only events held there. Another memorable event and one that was eagerly awaited by all and sundry was the annual ‘Hari Raya Aidil Fitri Open House’, held in conjunction with what is known world-wide as the Eid celebrations.
In Malaysia, it is customary for parents, during the Eid celebrations, to give their children money packets, the quantum of which is never as important as the act of giving it itself.
But a money packet from His Majesty The King is of great significance, especially to the young ones. It is therefore understandable that, during these ‘Open Houses’, to witness long queues of children waiting in line for their turn to shake His Majesty’s hand and receive a money packet from His Majesty.
Kids being kids, some will say that to receive two money packets from His Majesty, is better than one. And in pursuit, they would queue back in line for a second handshake from His Majesty, including one seven-year old whom I shall not dare to mention.
Not that His Majesty did not notice but then again, its ‘Hari Raya Aidil Fitri’, a joyous occasion and one for celebration.
All these memories come flooding back for my wife as she narrated her mischievous Istana Negara adventures and soon, without realising it, we realised that we had reached the top of the incline, to be greeted by the sight of a spacious courtyard.
Pausing at the courtyard, we took in the view and at the same time, caught our collective breaths.
It may be ‘slight’ incline, but it is not to be scoffed at, especially when your physical fitness is highly questionable.
Upon entering the Royal Museum, we were greeted with a signboard outlining the etiquette to be observed, one of which is ‘No Photography’.
Unfortunate but understandable.
The Royal Museum was after all, the official residence of Their Majesties, The King and Queen of Malaysia. There is dignity and prestige attached to the place and protocol is never far away.
I mean, if a 1000-year old horse exhibit cannot remain safe from the army of camera holding hordes, despite the many signboards reminding to the contrary, what more a building built-in the early part of the last century. Or a 2,000 year old terracotta thumb, for that matter.
Not that visitors to the Royal Museum are at all disrespectful. But there is always the exception to the rule.
I must admit, it was rather exciting to be walking along the very same corridors as did past Heads of State. There is a certain buzz to it, which could be attributed to the fact that these are not ordinary men.
Royalty, political leaders, community leaders, diplomats etc etc. They are still human but for the weight of responsibility, the authority and the power and the influence they wield, and the privileged lives they live.
All heady stuff, I must admit. Quite seductive too. After all, they did say that power is a powerful aphrodisiac, if not the ultimate.
The Royal Museum began life as a rich man’s mansion. Built in 1928 and originally called the ‘Big House’, it was owned by a local Chinese millionaire, Chan Wing.
Bearing in mind that this was in 1928, Chan Wing must have been pretty rich by today’s standards, never mind 1928’s.
During the Japanese occupation from 1942-1945, during World War II, the mansion was converted into the official residence of the Japanese governor.
The military connection continued after the defeat of the Japanese Imperial forces, when British Military Administration (BMA) used the mansion as a senior military commanders’ mess.
Brigadier and above only, Old Chap.
With the formation of the Federation of Malaya in 1950, the Selangor state government rented the mansion, and renovated it for the use of His Majesty The Sultan of Selangor.
Prior to Independence in 1957, the owners of the mansion (and the 13 acres of land upon which the mansion sits) sold the property to the Federal government for a tidy sum of 1.4 Million Straits Dollars, who then converted the mansion into the Istana Negara, the official residence of His Majesty The King, the Supreme Head of State of (the then) Malaya.
How much is 1.4 Million Straits Dollars in today’s currency, I have absolutely no idea. But I dare say, it must be quite a princely sum and even that may be a gross understatement.
And how much is it worth today? One can only venture a guess but it must be very costly.
The visit to the Royal Museum, for me, was quite educational whilst for my wife, emotionally uplifting as she re-lived some of her fondest childhood memories of the former Istana Negara.
However, being the royal residence of His Majesties the 1st thru to the 13th Kings of the country, it would have thought that the Royal Museum had more to offer to the visiting public.
After all, with all the history connected to what was the Istana Negara, it is without doubt a building of national and historical importance.
That by itself makes a visit to the Royal Museum an educational one and as far as education goes, it’s never a wasted trip.
Date : 6 March 2018