It has been a crazy few weeks in Malaysian politics. All sorts of things have happened that I never thought would happen. Honestly, fact is stranger than fiction. If it were a book, it would be worthy of a Shakespearean play. People would not believe that the events were from real life.
As a Malaysian living overseas, I can understand why non-Malaysians may be puzzled by what’s going on in Malaysia. Malaysia held elections on the 9th of May, and for the first time in its 60 year history, there is a change of government in Malaysia. There is a new old prime minister in Malaysia. He is Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, old because at 92 years old (turning 93 on the 10th of July), he is the world’s oldest elected leader of a country. And ‘old’ also because he was the former prime minister of Malaysia, from 1981 – 2003, serving under a different party.
What has this all got to do with shoes? Tun Mahathir was photographed recently wearing a pair of Bata slippers. The photo went viral. The Bata Company then posted on social media calling these slippers the hottest accessory this Ramadan (Muslim month), making the Malaysian prime minister an unlikely fashion icon.
These Bata slippers retail for RM11.99 (about US$3). I call them ‘Ah Pek’ style slippers, or ‘grandfather slippers’ because to me, it is a style common among old men in Malaysia. To me, Bata is a brand associated with school shoes. I can almost guarantee that anyone who has ever been to school in Malaysia will have worn a pair of white Bata school shoes.
As a child, I thought that Bata was a Malaysian brand, because ‘bata’ means ‘stone’ or ‘brick’ in Malay. Bata is a very old shoe brand, but it is not a Malaysian brand. The Bat’a Shoe Company was started in 1894 by 3 siblings – Tomáš, Anna and Antonín Bat’a, in Zlín, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). The Bat’a siblings were the eighth generation of a family of shoemakers and cobblers. Today, the Bata company is based in Switzerland.
It is currently the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It is a time of worship, reflection and self-restraint where Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. The photo of the prime minister of Malaysia wearing a simple and inexpensive pair of slippers shows a man who is frugal and humble. Additionally, the pair of slippers that Tun Mahathir was wearing had an insole design from 4 years ago, so his slippers are not new either. It goes down well with the people, as it is in stark contrast to the excesses of the old government. Ramadan will end in mid-June when the new moon will usher in the month of Syawal, and Muslims celebrate Aidilfitri.
Some have called this time a new dawn for Malaysia. I agree. I am optimistic for the future of Malaysia. And I can’t remember the last time that I was so happy and proud to be Malaysian.