Wherever you go, have respect!
Walter François is the most famous tourist in Malaysia. Many Malaysian like him and many of them, including former Prime Minister DR TUN MAHATHIR's and Prime Minister DATO' SERI MOHD NAJIB appreciate his attempts to promote Malaysia. Last month, his 4th book - "MALAYSIA, WALTER'S SECOND HOME" - has been launched in Concorde Hotel. Here is our interview with him about the way he got through and the works he has done in Malaysia. (Alireza Rezaei)

As the first question, I should ask how you moved from financial field to writing, photography and tourism promotion?

Since I started my financial career, I was already interested in the Southeast Asian region, and never had hidden that from my employer, colleagues or clients. I seized each and every opportunity to let them know my interest in that region. Most of all, the spectacular economic growth, was the fact that interested me most, because I was an adviser for private investment and of course, after having visited some countries of Southeast Asia, I was more than convinced that the pupil surpassed the teacher and that the Southeast Asian tigers, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, Hong Kong became the places to be. So, in many speeches I advised people why it could be good to invest in that region, but at the same time I also warned them that even Southeast Asian trees cannot grow forever. And so, after a couple of years, with the financial and economic crisis of Southeast Asia, I came back to the stage to explain WHY that happened.

But after 32 years cowering in a corporate world, I longed for other challenges and I spent the last years already much of my time with or on Malaysia, so I decided to dedicate my full attention, not to tourism but to introduce the practically unknown Malaysia, compared to the other countries of Southeast Asia such as Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, to my country Belgium.

Why Malaysia? Did you find something very different and more attractive in this country comparing to the other countries you mentioned?

Just the fact that Malaysia was not nearly as well known as the touristic Thailand and Indonesia, nor as the commercial hubs of Singapore and Hong Kong, which was for me beyond my understanding, and since I had already some touristic experience from a couple of trips to Malaysia; was for me the signal to do something on that country. Pictures say much more than 10,000 words... So, the idea to produce a coffee-table book on Malaysia was born. Friends told me that Little Walter, as they nicknamed me, was daydreaming and that my objective was unattainable... that was for me the reason to show it was not unattainable.

You got some the sense of duty to do something for Malaysia, but you did not feel this for other countries of this region. Are we missing any other reason?

The most attractive point is that Malaysia is a multi-ethnic country, where people live in harmony together. "Malaysia has it all", this is indeed true and indeed if you want to see Southeast Asia, you only have to visit one country. You can see a mosque, a Chinese temple, an Indian temple, a Christian church at a few hundreds of meter from each other. The variety of food cannot be described. The kindness of Malaysian people is another very important advantage. Also the fact that practically everybody speaks English and the written language is not at all a mystery for most of the tourists.

What do you name your works? Are they some kinds of ethnology or promoting an attractive region?

What I try to show is all facets of life in Malaysia; not only the most well known touristic spots. So you will see many pictures of places where tourist guides do not normally make a stop. If you show only touristic spots, you give not an exact picture of the country.

The most important property of your work is the way you look at this country. If you don't mind, I can say your photos are not very professionally artistic, but your feeling behind them is obviously effective. How do you assess your works personally?

My photos are indeed not the professionally artistic, just because I'm not a professional photographer, but a passionate photographer. My intention is also not to produce photos of high artistic level which long for an award, but to show Malaysia in a simple way and in all its aspects. My passion for Malaysia must be accessible for everyone who could be interested in the country, and this does not need pictures of the highest level you can imagine. Pictures tell their own story, in a very simple way, my way.

The way you looked at Malaysia and your works in promoting this country, can be a taken as a model of tourism. How do you feel about this?

Since many of the photos have been taken off-beaten tracks and not only at the most famous touristic spots, I do not consider my books as model of tourism. It is much more than a touristic visit to the country; tourism is only one aspect of a country. But I hope my love and respect to the country I visited as a tourist may be a model of tourism behaviour.

You have been appreciated for promoting Malaysia. You have done this individually and by your own. That is not so common and I think you are the first one who achieved this kind of tourism promotion. Please explain the way you got through.

The way I promote or try to promote Malaysia through coffee-table books, (this is my 4th) is indeed 100% my own initiative and also 100% self funded, which indeed is not common at all. I'm not becoming a millionaire with that project, not at all, but appreciation is sometimes much more than dollars or Euros. The greatest appreciation for me and my family is former Prime Minister DR TUN MAHATHIR's gesture to launch my book "MALAYSIA, WALTER'S SECOND HOME" on December 14, 2010 in Concorde Hotel Kuala Lumpur and Prime Minister DATO' SERI MOHD NAJIB's gesture with his preface for that book. This is for me an achievement on which I'm very proud. At the same time I can tell you that sometimes I had and still have the feeling that I'm alone...; a lonesome crusader who promotes a country, which is in fact his second home...

Finally I like to have your advice to Iranian tourists in Malaysia.

My advice to everyone, wherever you go: have respect!

Source: Tourist Magazine (Iranian magazine in Malaysia)
Date: 30/12/2010
Author: Alireza Rezaei

Other articles:

•  2011/01/28 Former PM launches Book
•  2011/01/19 For the love of Malaysia
•  2011/01/17 Malaysia 'kekasih' Walter (Malay)
•  2011/01/07 Belgian writer launches his fourth book on Malaysia
•  2010/12/30 Wherever you go, have respect!
•  2008/09/19 Walter François: "MaleisiŽ is echt geen apenland" (Dutch)
•  2008/08 Ghent in Kuala Lumpur, a photographic exhibition by Walter François
•  2008/08 Ghent in Kuala Lumpur
•  2008/06/18 Bonding two nations via photographs
•  2007/09/19 From banking to writing
•  2006/11/17 Gemeente Lochristi: Exotische sfeer in gemeentehuis (Dutch)
•  2005/12/27 Walter François's new book on Langkawi
•  2005/12/27 Penulis Belgium hasilkan buku tentang Langkawi (Malay)
•  2005/12/14 Belgian writer's new book On Langkawi out next week
•  2005/11/02 Belgian Banker-turned-author promotes Malaysia through books
•  2002/02 Walter François presents Malaysia
•  2001/06/11 Belgian banker to publish picture book on Malaysia
•  2001/06 Kekaguman warga Belgium terhadap Malaysia (Malay)
•  1999/07/03 Borneo anders bekeken (Dutch)
•  1999/04/28 Pictorial book on two States being compiled
•  1998/06/26 Dok Mungki Walter
•  1997/07 Tentoonstelling 'Borneo 2000' (Dutch)
Preview Gallery
Below a small selection of pictures which are featured in Walter's latest coffee table book. Click on the pictures to see the larger version.