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Idyll Fancy

   
Malaysia Tatler, July 2003

Tan Sri Francis Yeoh has the soul of Huckleberry Finn. Billie Ooi-Ng unearths the true nature of the über urbanite.

At mid-morning the BMW X5 delivers Tan Sri Francis Yeoh Sock Ping to the doorstep of The Maple, his own condominium creation in Sentul West. As he steps into the room, John Ding’s distinctive designs blur into oblivion. He chooses one of the comfortable settees and places himself among the creamy cushions. Feet stretched out and arms wide apart, resting on the shoulder of the low rise couch, he is anything but perturbed. Here is a man who has shaped much of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline, forest saviour and nature worshipper.

Avoiding the subject of himself he launches full steam ahead into his vision, plans in the past, present and future, quoting God before him all the time. “I grew up in a fishing village in Kuala Selangor, where my love of the suburban is deeply rooted. Nature is God’s glory and with my faith and soul in God, the forests are precious to me. To put it in a nutshell I belong to the World Conservancy Group, where a group of very important people get together to buy and save the forests around the world. This is a true reflection of my life, in a sense. Nostalgia and imagination keep the rural parts alive. My greatest joy was the Pangkor Laut project. I once promised the late Sultan of Perak Sultan Iskandar Shah that one day I’d make Pangkor island one of the best parts of the world.”

Sadly His Royal Highness did not live to see Pangkor Laut being quoted as one of the best spas in the world by Harpers and Queen this year. It was voted as the second best island in the world by Conde Nast Magazine, against competition such as Bali, Tahiti, the Bahamas and the Mediterranean.

Bintang Walk is another Francis Yeoh signature, which changed the lifestyle of throngs of city dwellers. “The PM was very supportive about this. For 10 years he has been lamenting that there’s no pedestrian-friendly walkway in the city. That was one item on his wish list. So one day I came to him with my plans and he said, ‘Let’s do it, after all we have been talking about it for 10 years.’”

Bintang Walk, under the navigation of the brilliant developer, became an instant hit and national pastime, buzzing with activities, crowded with people and cars even long after the witching hour. His formula? “I believe, to be successful you must either create a fantasy filled with special effects i.e. Disneyland, Hollywood, or do something completely natural, change nothing, go with nature and rely only on God’s artistry.”

   
When it comes to Sentul on the belt of KL city, Tan Sri Francis became the Peter Pan of the construction world. He is agog and in awe of the magic Mother Nature has sprinkled over this area. The power and wilderness of the rough backwoods so enchanted him that he simply flew without the pixie dust. His imagination ran wild and he was gripped with an incredible idea of preserving this 35-acre park in its pristine condition.

“I was walking around the golf course with my brother Victor and I chanced upon the park. I simply couldn’t believe the hidden beauty of this piece of land, with its pocket gardens, undulating grounds and surprising streams. With a little manicure but still preserving the wild and abandoned, this would be a perfect nature reserve for many to visit and admire. In UK and US, residences surrounding Hyde Park, Central Park and Gramercy Park are expensive and exclusive because residents have a key to their own secret garden.”

While Sentul East is more urbane and modern, Sentul West is dedicated to nature, wildlife and fairy tales. Fashioned after an 18th century English garden The Park at Sentul West contains mazes, bubbling brooks and park rangers on horseback. If this is unbelievable, one will be even more amazed by the real thing. Out of the blue or greenway, a dreamy marquee tent filled with silk cushions surprises the wanderer, an unexpected sofa set and sometimes a modern stainless steel or art deco chair is propped there for a little rest. Further down a hammock swinging above a pier by the river can be used for forty winks. Never Never Land, no? “What we promise, you will get,” Tan Sri Francis retorts.

He wards off probing into his personal life with one fell swoop. “I hate to talk about the human side of me. I am far from perfect and if I try to tell you about myself I am sure to sound boastful and arrogant whilst I certainly have plenty to be humble about.” He held his wife Puan Sri Rosaline through her chemotherapy. “I feared for her life. I spoke to God and He told me she would be safe. Then I started thinking about my own fears, one of them, my fear of flying. I decided to face it by learning how to fly helicopters. I discovered that a 40-minute journey by air seems like four hours to the passenger but only four minutes to the pilot.”

“I had a great time in VI but my best academic years were the four years in UK. Today I have a group of old friends whom I meet regularly, not for business dealings or anything but just for unbridled fun and God chat. I am inspired by people who are always re-inventing themselves. Look at the Swiss with their tradition in watches. Now they are moving forward with touch-screen technology and bagging the America’s Cup even. In life it is not how many years you live but how much you live in those years,” quotes the man whose friends include the PM, Nelson Mandela, Prince Charles and Pavarotti.



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