Published by Bernama on June 18, 2003

A national hero no less

What better illustration of the Malaysia Boleh spirit than a lone Malaysian on a solo round-the-world mission in a Malaysian-made car? LENA LIEW interviews the man behind the wheels of the Jalur Gemilang II during his stopover in Qatar.



Sham with his Proton Satria

Postmark: Doha, Qatar. Twenty-one countries logged ... 97 to go.

By the time Shamsurijjal Abdul Jamil gets home in August next year, he would have created a Guiness World Record for the longest distance driven in a solo driving expedition across the largest number of countries in six continents. An unestimatable number of people - some of whom have never heard of Malaysia - would have been impressed or at least touched by the Malaysia Boleh spirit. "Malaysia - truly Asia" promotional CDs and pamphlets would have been found in the most unlikely corners of the Earth.

Sham's wife and four sons and the rest of his family would be so proud of him, too. It would have been the achievement of an ordinary man with the extraordinary drive to raise the nation's profile throughout the world - despite scant support.

In fact, the biggest challenge was not the journey itself.

"Fundraising was the biggest challenge. I'd say 80% of it," Sham said in an interview during his three-day stopover in Doha, Qatar, this week.  

"But I have learnt much and gained a great deal of personal satisfaction. I have been amply supported and rewarded in lots of non-monetary ways. I never imagined so much goodwill was possible from strangers who welcomed me to their country and their homes."

Sham has also found many warm-hearted Malaysians, mostly thanks to the excellent support from Wisma Putra.

Officials at the Foreign Affairs Ministry are not only putting him in touch with Malaysian missions the world over, but also helping him secure travel documents from the various countries on his route.

Sham is also sending home video despatches to RTM via Wisma Putra's diplomatic bag service.

Officials at Malaysian missions are in turn hosting Sham and introducing him to Malaysian expatriates abroad.

According to Sham, the initial budget for his Jalur Gemilang II solo driving expedition of 180,00km across 118 countries in six continents was RM750,000. That figure took into account petrol, car parts and servicing costs, shipping of his Satria GTI (10 sectors of which are being sponsored by MISC) and documentation.

Sham embarked on his epic journey with only a fraction of that sum. Since flagging off from Johor Baru on February 15, he has spent just RM20,000.

"I haven't spent a single sen on accommodation. I sleep in the car and spend the night in people's home. I eat local food provided by my hosts. I have kept healthy.

"The biggest expenditure has been, and will be, petrol and servicing and replacement parts for the car."

According to Sham, Proton sponsored him the first lot of Satria GTI parts which he carried with him when he left Malaysia. He has since had to pay for parts and discounted Malaysia Airlines air freight charges for the parts to be delivered to where his Satria GTI is due for a scheduled overhaul at the local Proton dealership.

Considering the magnitude of his endeavour, one might be surprised to know that Sham's Satria GTI is his own personal car.

The only modifictions have been the Jalur Gemilang paintwork, a heavy-duty suspension system and the installation of GPS navigation and telecommunication equipment to enable Sham to get on the Internet and be tracked along his route.

"I am still paying the monthly installments on the hire purchase," he said. "I had sought a waiver of interest or at least a deferment of the monthly installments, but Maybank Finance said my cause was not relevant to the company's policy objectives."

"Not relevant" was again the catchphrase when Sham approached the Ministry of Youth of Sports for financial support.

"They said my project is not 'sport' because it is a 'solo' expedition," he explained.

Sham is nevertheless grateful to the Minister of Youth and Sports Datuk Seri Hishammudin Hussein for his "goodwill letter" of support.

He recounted also his meeting Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed. "I asked the prime minister for a goodwill letter. He said 'I give you my full support'."

Among the few entities which responded positively to Sham's appeal for funds was the Johor state government. Menteri Besar ??? pledged RM160,000 to his cause.

"My family, friends and supporters back in Johor carried out some fund-raising projects. They are still trying to raise some more funds.

"Their latest campaign is called 'RM2 for 1km'. The target objective is to raise RM360,000 for the 180,000km that the Jalur Gemilang II expedition is aiming to cover," Sham explained.

Sham said the shortage of funds has taught him to make do with the most basic of necessities. "That's living skills that we should learn and not forget," he said.

"Having seen people in some countries living in harsh conditions and abject poverty, I am convinced that we in Malaysia are too fortunate, to the point that we take for granted what we have.

"If this continues, on a larger scale, we as a nation will lose out to other nations. And we will gradually lose sight of the good life that we have come to take for granted," Sham added.

How is Sham explaining the "Malaysian Boleh" spirit to strangers in various countries?

"It is not something people in other countries understand easily, especially when some in Central Asian countries have not even heard of Malaysia. So I tell them I am on a mission for international peace and goodwill.

"I tell them I am here to learn more about their countries and to tell them about a wonderful country called Malaysia.

"One of my objectives is to undo - by telling people the truth - the damage of the bad press that has plagued Malaysia since the September 11 tragedy."

Among the countries he has visited so far, Sham named Afghanistan as the most surprising.

"It's incredibly beautiful ... imagine mountains in various shades of blue, green, red, white. It was still winter when I passed through.

"There I saw the most handsome men and the most beautiful women I ever set eyes on.

"For a country that is recovering from a massive war that capped decades of civil war, the infrastructure and bureaucracy is surprisingly efficient. I had no problems obtaining travel papers and telecommunications was good, although the conditions were overall still bad."

In Turkmenistan, government officials mistook him for a spy.

"I was detained and interrogated for five hours before they believed my explanations and let me go."

In Bangladesh, he ran smack into an anti-government demonstration. "I reasoned with the protestors and they let me pass unscathed," he recounted.

Then there was the dog "the size of a calf" in Turkey which he ran into and damaged his headlights.

Sham has generally taken up to three days to traverse a country. The longest period he has spent in any one country is seven days - in tiny Kuwait - due to bureaucratic delays in renewing his visa into Saudi Arabia.

"But I had a wonderful time with Malaysian ambassador Husni Zai Yaacob, who let me stay at his residence and took me around," Sham said.

The longest stretch Sham has driven in a day is from Medina to Doha - 1,500km which he covered in 20 hours.

"Sometimes I drive as little as 200km a day. I make sure I am alert when I am driving - I can't afford to have a major accident or be held up in one place for too long."

He feels Malaysia has yet to adequately tap into the goodwill of Islamic brotherhood and the admiration that the people in the Arabian Gulf have for Malaysia.

"You know, people in Central Asia and the Arabian Gulf tell me Malaysia is a high-tech Second World country where professionals (rather than blue collar workers) come from. They admire Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed for his guts.

"They see Malaysia as a model of a moderate Islamic country that they aspire to be. Our pioneering Islamic banking systems is a reference for the banking systems here.

"We in Malaysia should take advantage of that," Sham said.

What if his funds run out before he completes his expedition?

"I'm too far gone to turn back. I will have to rough it out and work odd jobs to get by. I'm sure I can somehow survive until I get home."

The Institute Technology Mara graduate is also not worried about the quantity surveying job he gave up back home.

"I'm looking forward to conduct a 'Kempen Motivasi Ketahanan Anak Malaysia' throughout the nation to motivate students and youths via workshops, seminars and other projects to rise to the challenge of making our nation great."

His ground-breaking Satria GTI will go on display in the national museum.

"I can't use it on the road in Malaysia because the licence plate 'Jalur Gemilang II' was given to me by Transport Minister Ling Liong Sik specifically for this expedition."

Why Jalur Gemilang II?

"In the wake of Datuk Azahar Mansor's record breaking solo round-the-world sailing expedition, I wanted to set in motion a series of solo round-the-world challenges for other Malaysians. For example, the next Malaysian solo expedition round-the-world on, say, a motorcycle, could be tagged 'Jalur Gemilang III'. And so on.

"That way Malaysian youth can be inspired to continue fulfilling the 'Malaysia Boleh' spirit at the international level."

For Sham, "half the battle" is already won. Malaysia Boleh!

Note: The records for the first and fastest circumnavigation of the world by car - under the rules applicable in 1989 and 1991, and embracing more than an equator's length of driving (40,750 km or 24,901 road miles) - are held by Mohammed Salahuddin Choudhury and his wife Neena of Calcutta, India. (Source: www.guinnessworldrecords.com)