Malaysia’s 2019 achievements, and how the 2020 bar got set higher

Ida Lim
(From left) Chefs Patrick Siau, Loi Ming Ai, Tan Wei Loon and Otto Tay cheer after winning the World Pastry Cup in Lyon. — Picture courtesy of Diph Photography

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 31 ― The year 2019 has been a good year with Malaysians making the country proud yet again including with many firsts, setting the standard even higher as we enter 2020.

Here's a recap of Malaysia's and Malaysians' achievements in 2019 in virtually every field you can think of and all throughout the year.

(Remember to count how many were first-time achievements):


1. Pastry

On January 28, Team Malaysia won the biennial World Pastry Cup for the first time in the 30-year-old biennial contest that has been likened to the Olympics for pastry chefs.

Read on for a closer look at their award-winning creations that beat teams from 20 other countries for the prized win at the international finals, and also what the Malaysian chefs told Malay Mail about how they crafted their way to victory in only six months.

2. Restaurant

On March 26, the restaurant Dewakan in Shah Alam, Selangor became the first Malaysian restaurant to be listed in the annual Asia's 50 Best Restaurants by taking the 46th spot.  (That's like the “Oscars of the Asian Gastronomic World.) Read on to find out more about what the fine dining restaurant's chef Darren Teoh told Malay Mail about the creative and thoughtfully-made food served there.

3. Latte art

In November, Malaysian barista Irvine Quek Siew Lhek won the 2019 World Latte Art Battle with his “Bear N Fish” design that took almost three months to perfect, adding on to his previous 2018 haul of winning the World Latte Art Championship.

UK-based Malaysian scientist Dr Serena Nik-Zainal won the Dr Josef Steiner Cancer Research Prize 2019 in October. — Picture via Facebook

Science and tech

4. Cancer research

Topping off a great year for Malaysia in science is UK-based Malaysian scientist Dr Serena Nik-Zainal co-winning the Dr Josef Steiner Cancer Research Prize 2019 in October, with even the Yang di-Pertuan Agong taking note and congratulating her over the award originally named the “Nobel Prize for Cancer Research”.

(Read on for her interview with Malay Mail about her late father ― National Heart Institute (IJN) founder Datuk Dr Nik Zainal Abidin Nik Abdul ― being an inspiration and also her explanation of the cancer research work.)

5. Black hole imaging

After the April release of the first-ever image of a black hole that marked a breakthrough for astrophysics, Universiti Malaya was revealed to have had participated in the international collaboration while Penangite scientist Kevin Koay Jun Yi was among the group of 200 scientists that worked on the project.

6. Plastic alternative

Four nanotechnology researchers and PhD candidates ― Ivan Ling, Bao Lee Phoon, Chin Joo Tan and Chong Cheen Ong ― won an innovation award at the Greenpeace Global Challenge by using edible carrageenan and starch as packaging for food as an alternative to single-use plastics and to reduce plastic waste in supermarkets.

7. Sustainable future

Out of 800 applicants from 97 countries, scientists Andrew Ng Kay Lup and Lai Yee Qing became among 25 selected awardees in Germany's Green Talents Competition 2019 over their respective work involving a sustainable car battery alternative and improving industrial thermal energy efficiency.

8. Young inventors

Malaysia starts them young in this field with students winning at global invention challenges this year for a high-tech motorcycle parking lot solution and eco-friendly innovations using orange peels and coconut shells.

Two Penang schoolboys Melwin Cheng Choon Lei and Tham Yong Shiang won the opportunity to have an asteroid named after them after winning Intel's international science fair with their eco-friendly larvicide using crude cinnamon extract, following in the footsteps of Sarawakian teen Faye Jong Sow Fei who in 2015 had an asteroid named after her after becoming the first Malaysian to win at the same event with her eco-friendly dye project.

9. Coding

The city of Miri saw two schoolboys winning coding contests organised by US space agency NASA, namely 13-year-old Teng Wei Rui being among five winners out of around 10,000 contenders globally in a design challenge and 11-year-old Alvin Voon Sen Yu being among four out of 700 global participants who emerged winners for a storytelling challenge.

Saras Manickam was named the regional winner for Asia for this year’s edition that saw 5,081 entries sent in from 50 Commonwealth countries. — Picture courtesy of Saras Manickam

Arts and Humanities

10. Stories

Malaysians made it to the shortlist of the annual Commonwealth Short Story Prize for the first time, with one of the three shortlisted Malaysians ― Saras Manickam --- named the regional winner for Asia for this year’s edition that saw 5,081 entries sent in from 50 Commonwealth countries. (Read on for her interview with Malay Mail about the prize and her short story.)

Author Zen Cho added to her collection of awards by winning in August the Hugo Award for Best Novelette, the most prestigious award in the world for science fiction.

11. Design and craftsmanship

Jewellery designer Tina Winness Wong won the Iron A’Design Award for her jewellery piece that paid tribute to Malaysia’s traditional kite wau, a work that took six months for her to bring to life and to pit against 35,000 entries with only 10,000 award winners selected.

Kuala Lumpur native Tan Chin Seng won two gold medals at the 10th International Violin Making Competition for his handcrafted violin “Negaraku” and the viola “Jalur Gemilang”, after having picked up the trade years ago.

12. Film fest and awards

At the 56th Golden Horse Awards known as the Oscars-equivalent for Chinese-language films, Singapore-based Malaysian actress Yeo Yann-Yann won the best actress award, while Malaysian co-produced The Garden of Evening Mists won for best makeup and costume design.

Also at the Golden Horse Awards, Taiwan-based Sarawak-born director Tsai Ming Liang won best documentary for Your Face, while Malaysian co-produced film Nina Wu won for best sound effects.

Malaysian short film My Ba’s Radio won the Best Short Film award when pitted against 1,500 entries at an inaugural film fest in Italy, while fashion designer Ho Kok Loong won the "Outstanding Fashion Styling Award 2019" at the 72nd Cannes Short Film Festival for his “Gothic Oriental” collection.

13. Ballet

Teenager Julian Wen-Sheng Gan became the first Malaysian to both reach the finals of the prestigious Genée International Ballet Competition and to win a silver medal there.

The list of talented Malaysians scoring wins and making inroads in their fields seem endless, and we are not even finished yet in the compilation for this year.

Other international recognitions

A five-member fully female team of e-sports players won the Malaysian qualifier stage for the Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS: GO) category at the World Electronic Sports Games, South East Asia (WESG SEA), before placing third in the regional contest while representing Malaysia.

Although Malaysia fell short of its target of 70 gold medals by getting 55 such medals at the end of the SEA Games, history was made when academician Yew Weng Kean won Malaysia’s first gold medal for esports which made its SEA Games debut and when UK-based Yeoh Li Tian won Malaysia’s first gold-ever medal in chess.

The Guinness World Records recognised the Escape theme park in Penang as having the world’s longest tube water slide at 1,111 metres.

Teenager Yaashwin Sarawanan otherwise known as the "human calculator" finished in second place in Asia’s Got Talent 2019, while student Andrew Nge Jing Shuen was awarded “top in the world” for scoring the highest marks in both mathematics and additional mathematics in the Cambridge IGCSE secondary school qualifications.

Singer Mugen Rao won the reality TV show Bigg Boss Season Three in India, while Kokilam Kathirvailu won second runner-up in the Mrs World beauty pageant which marked the first time in 35 years that a Malaysian was ranked among the top three.

Malaysia-born journalist Fabian Dawson became the first Asian to winthe 2019 Jack Webster Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award, a top North American award in recognition of his journalism career.

Prof Datuk Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman will be the first Asian to lead the International AIDS Society next July after she was elected to be president of the world’s largest body of HIV professionals, while Malaysia’s medical charity pioneer Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahmood was awarded the Asean Prize.

The United Nations (UN) awarded the UN Award 2019 to Sisters in Islam co-founder and Musawah director Zainah Anwar (Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms), Dignity for Children Foundation (Leaving No One Behind), Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid (promoting biodiversity conservation and sustainability of environment).

Malaysia’s traditional martial arts silat received the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (Unesco) recognition as an intangible cultural heritage, the third such recognition on top of dondang sayang in 2018 and Mak Yong theatre in 2008.

Petaling Jaya was named one of 10 winners of the Unesco Learning City Award, while Taiping came third in the Best of Cities category during ITB Berlin.

Malaysia was ranked the number one country with the Best Healthcare in the World in the 2019 International Living Annual Global Retirement Index out of 25 countries evaluated by the International Living website.

Business magazine Forbes Asia included six Malaysian companies in its inaugural “Best Over A Billion” list of 200 companies in Asia with revenues over US$1 billion (RM4.1 billion), while three Malaysian companies  also made it to its “Best Under a Billion” list of 200 companies in Asia-Pacific that is mostly dominated by firms from China, Japan, South Korea, and Australia.

Moving forward

Continuing the trend from last year of the recognition of Malaysian women as leaders which was capped by Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail becoming the country’s first female deputy prime minister, this year saw history being made in a number of top positions as well.

Tan Sri Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat became the country’s first female Chief Justice in May, with Datuk Rohana Yusuf becoming the first female Court of Appeal president in December on top of three female judges being elevated to the Federal Court at the same time.

Following the latest appointments that also include Court of Appeal and High Court judges, six out of the current 13 judges at the Federal Court are women.

Latheefa Koya became the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) first female chief in June, while SAC Datuk Surina Saad and DCP Datuk Yong Lei Choo became the first women to assume the posts of Perlis police chief and Kuala Lumpur deputy police chief respectively in September and November.

What can we look forward to in 2020? Make us proud, Malaysians!