Being the only Malay female medical graduate from the NUS in 1955, the nonagenarian has also made history as the 1st woman to ever become the wife of a PM — twice
By P PREM KUMAR, ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN & DASHVEENJIT KAUR
Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali is certainly more than just the prime minister’s (PM) wife.
The faithful supporter of the nation’s leading man, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, can charm anyone with her wit, intellect and warmth, as well as her great sense of humour.
Being the only Malay female medical graduate from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 1955, the nonagenarian has also made history as the first woman to ever become the wife of a PM — twice.
The Malaysian Reserve was granted a 90-minute long exclusive interview opportunity with Dr Siti Hasmah at her office at the Perdana Leadership Foundation, Putrajaya, recently.
The following are some facts about Dr Mahathir and Dr Siti Hasmah, which could be lingering on the minds of Malaysians for a long time.
Sayang, Yang, Det, Oi!
Dr Mahathir and Dr Siti Hasmah have been married for nearly 63 years, a union that is a year older than the country that gained independence in 1957.
While many would view their partnership as extraordinary and perhaps a little formal, Dr Siti Hasmah would tell you otherwise, that they are just like any other couples.
For instance, they do address each other as “sayang” or “yang”!
Dr Mahathir’s pet name in the house is “Che Det”, a name he is also fondly referred to by millions of his admirers in the country.
“Sometimes, at home, I too call him Det. But people have mistakenly assumed that I’m calling him dad!
“But, I do use the word daddy when he goes with the children…or when I call him Det, and he didn’t hear me, I would call him ‘daddy’,” Dr Siti Hasmah said.
She also said that she would simply shout “Oi” to Dr Mahathir at times, especially when he spends too long in the washroom.
The 94-year-old PM would always respond with “yes, oi” — signalling that all is well.
“But frequently, especially when he is in the washroom…I don’t know if he’s still there, so I’ll say ‘oi!’,” she laughed.
The Anti-PDA Dr Mahathir
Dr Mahathir and Dr Siti Hasmah are known globally as a faithful, loving and inseparable couple.
But, did you know that Dr Mahathir is a very shy person? According to Dr Siti Hasmah, the PM dislikes public displays of affection (PDA).
She said he is even uneasy about holding hands.
“In the car, for example, on the armrest, he would put his hand over mine, but when we pass the toll gate, he would immediately remove his hand.
“I’d tell him that I don’t think anyone could see if we were holding hands in the car…but he is very shy, (so) he doesn’t.”
However, it does not mean that Dr Mahathir is not a romantic man.
“Sometimes, when he is tired and comes home, especially at night, I just hold his hand. You have to show, especially at our age…you have to show some expression of love for your husband or wife.
“Regardless of whether you are young, still in the first romance period, or second or in your 90s, you still have to show some expression of love and care for your spouse,” Dr Siti Hasmah said.
Who Buys the Groceries?
Apparently, Dr Mahathir and his family live a pretty “normal” life, according to Dr Siti Hasmah.
She said the family cook would buy the provisions for the couple’s daily meals at home, like any other households.
However, Dr Siti Hasmah revealed that her husband also enjoys buying groceries on special occasions.
“I would usually give our cook the money to go to the market for our basic things to cook for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“But other things, Dr Mahathir will buy whatever he likes…like suddenly if he feels like having Maggi Mee or Arabic food…he would go to the supermarket,” she said.
Dr Siti Hasmah has always been an advocate of healthy eating, which is perhaps the secret to the couple’s
“My late mother-in-law always told me that when the food tastes good, that’s the time you must stop eating,” she said.
Being a fan of local food, Dr Siti Hasmah said she is now restricted to fewer options, as her current condition does not allow her to have spicy food.
“But for the main menu, I like masak asam, daging or fish, and my favourite dessert would be tapai.
“Tapai is delicious…but don’t take too much yeah, otherwise you’d be groggy,” she said, referring to the traditional fermented rice, consumed largely in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Besides Berocca, What Else?
Shortly after Dr Mahathir returned as the country’s seventh PM, an old photo of the couple having dinner back in 2015 was circulated.
Sharp as a tack, netizens immediately spotted what looked like a canister of medical supplement, resembling Berocca Performance supplement tablets, next to Dr Mahathir.
Demand and interest for the supplement, which is rarely available even in the best of pharmacies in the country, had somehow increased.
What else does he take to stay active, one might ask.
“There’s this Berocca…and he also takes Redoxon as the main supplement. The others are prescribed medicines,” Dr Siti Hasmah said.
Redoxon is the brand name of the first artificially synthesised ascorbic acid (Vitamin C).
Having first marketed in 1934 and emerging as the first mass-manufactured synthetic vitamin in history, Redoxon is now owned by German pharmaceutical company Bayer AG and is sold in many countries
As for her own wellbeing, Dr Siti Hasmah said she’d take a glass of turmeric juice in the morning, followed by garlic capsules.
“And someone recently said cinnamon’s also good. So, by the time you reach your lunchtime, I am fully marinated, to be cooked well done!”
Choices of Footwear, Handbags
Fashion accessories of the PM’s wife have also caught the attention even globally, perhaps as comparison to other well-known dignitary wives.
Dr Siti Hasmah said she is not a fan of luxury handbags and footwear, even if she could afford them.
“I don’t use Hermes,” she said, when asked on her choice of handbags.
In fact, Dr Siti Hasmah said she doesn’t quite remember as to where she got the handbag that she has been using over the last 10 years.
As for footwear, it’s all bought in Japan, she said. The Japanese shoes are not by choice, but the design suits her as she likes footwears with wide front due to her feet structure — almost a case for most Asians.
“That is why the Japanese, if you say you are size 23, or 23½, below there will be an ‘E’, which means the width of the front.
“That is why I go to Japan, to get the correct shoes. Here, most are pointed sharply which cramps my toes,” she added.
The Journalist Within
Despite being a successful medical practitioner during her career, Dr Siti Hasmah’s ambition was not to be a doctor. She wanted to be a journalist.
“My first ambition was to become a journalist. Yes. Because I love reading and writing…back then I used to contribute to my school’s newspaper called the Young Malayans, and I used to do a lot of writing,” she said.
Dr Siti Hasmah said she also used to edit her sister’s articles for newspapers during the British occupation.
“But somehow that changed for me to become a doctor, though I am still fond of writing, until now.
“Even before I lost my eyesight, I have been writing articles also…and during my service with the government then, I was writing too,” she said.
Unfilled Travel Ambitions
Being a loyal wife and nation builder, Dr Siti Hasmah has travelled the world, accompanying her husband on official visits and holidays.
Their “adventure” started in 1961 with the couple’s first visit to Japan. Dr Siti Hasmah said she has travelled to almost all countries in the world, including various islands and the Antartica.
Despite the achievement, she still has an unrealised dream. Her ambition of witnessing the Aurora Borealis in the northern hemisphere is not fulfiled yet.
For the uninitiated, the Aurora Borealis is an incredible light show caused by collisions between electrically charged particles released from the Sun that enter the Earth’s atmosphere and collide with gases such as oxygen and nitrogen. The lights are seen around the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres.
Dr Siti Hasmah, who might have been in many parts of the world, could only name Afghanistan as the only country she had not yet visited.
Japan remains the favourite holiday destination for Dr Mahathir and Dr Siti Hasmah.
“There is an attachment to us, especially because Marina’s (Mahathir) daughter, our first grandchild, was born in Kobe, Japan, and I went to stay there for more than a month.
“And before that, Mukhriz and our other daughter Melinda, stayed in Japan for five years,” she explained.
The Star Wars Fans
As Dr Mahathir is always busy, simple pleasures like watching movies together is a luxury for the couple.
Dr Siti Hasmah remembers watching Star Wars with Dr Mahathir in Houston, US.
“Back then, in Alor Setar, there were no cinema and in Singapore, we rarely went to the movies…but we saw Star Wars in Houston!
“That was during a family holiday. After watching it, we brought a CD to be screened here during a fundraising event,” she said.
What’s the most recent movie Dr Siti Hasmah had watched with her husband?
It was obviously Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the latest in the movie franchise’s trilogy collection.