I have always admired the two latest model BMWs that are parked next to my car bays in Serai Suajana. They carry fancy number plates. I do exchange pleasantries with this BMW enthusiast whenever we run into each other in the car park. He is perhaps in this early 40s and spots a pair of earrings, which are quite unusual for a man of his age in Malaysia. However, when I came to know that he was in the jewellery business, I could understand.
Recently I saw that one of his BMWs had been fitted with a " Dato' Seri" emblem.
Oh, I don’t know that my neighbor is a Dato' Seri!
Many Chinese love honorifics! And Malaysia offers plenty of these opportunities. At the federal level, we have titles like Tun, Tan Sri and Datuk, and at the state level, we have Datuk (is also spelt variously as Dato or Dato', depending on the state that is bestowing the title) at the entry level, followed by amplifications like Seri, Wira, etc for the higher categories. The federal honorifics are bestowed by the King and those of the states', by their respective hierarchical rulers or governors.
Federal titles like Tun (SMN, SSM) and Tan Sri (PMN, PSM) are more coveted. The number of living recipients for each of the four categories used to be restricted years ago, but now I understand only the Tun's numbers are. Only top politicians, real captains of industries and benefactors of social and community causes are bestowed PSMs, which are the lower category of the two Tan Sri-ships. But now, I see that many minor league CEOs and businessmen also carry that title. I suppose the powers that be have their reasons to do so.
I understand at the federal level, the "power to recommend" lies with the prime minister and as for the states, that privilege lies with the respective chief ministers. While some states are stringent in handing out honorifics, others appear quite generous. Many would vouch that if you were prepared to spend a couple of millions or hundred Ks, procuring an honorific in front of your name is no big deal. I don't know how far it is true, though. But indeed there are so many titled people now. If you just shouted "Datuk" in any social function, many would say “I am”, so the joke goes.
Honorifics are meant for people who have contributed to the nation, or the state, or society. But on closer scrutiny, some of the recipients are really not that deserving. Some have committed crimes. Notwithstanding, they are largely coveted. I suppose if you can obtain the title without giving anything to the society, people will still hold you in some awe; after all, you must be a man who has means the spare millions or at least a couple of hundreds of Ks to flaunt.
But for those who have genuinely earned the honour, the idea of having pseudos as peers must be pretty discomforting.
Titles are largely scorned off in a country like Australia. Tony Abbott nearly lost his job recently, thanks to his decision to reintroduce knighthoods and award one to Prince Philip! What a nut Tony was. Sir Prince Philip? Or Prince Sir Philip? Does Prince Philip need that?
Some has-been royalties are selling titles for a living. I heard "datu-ship" can be had for a couple of Ks from a "sultan" in the Philippines. A lordship can also be had from one of the obscure princes in Europe. And I am sure North Korea would be able to gain a lot of forex if Kim Jong Un decides to declare himself as the emperor of North Korea. Chinese would queue up in droves to pay him or the country princely amounts just to have a title in front of their name!
It really doesn’t matter if it is from North Korea or Timbuktu. We Chinese love titles!