5,000 nights and counting
Yeoh Siew Hoon meets inspirational globetrotter Wilma Budke.
I am convinced travellers fall into two basic types – the first constantly seek new places and experiences, while the second stick to something good once they find it. I fit somewhere in the middle – I like to try new things, but if I find a gem, I’ll return every now and then.
Wilma Budke definitely belongs in the latter category. Meet an amazing traveller who’s made Penang and Shangri-La her second home. She first came to Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa, Penang with her husband on 9 November 1978 and marked her 5,000th room night on 9 May 2013.
The 85-year-old Osnabruck, Germany native had an unforgettable day celebrating the occasion with visits from shoe icon Dato Jimmy Choo and Malaysia's first female orchestra conductor, Datuk Ooi Chean. Penang Global Tourism hosted a tea reception in her honour at Suffolk House, the former residence of Sir Francis Light, Penang’s founder, where she had the opportunity to meet Chief Minister of Penang Lim Guan Eng.
Other guests included the Honorary Consul for the Federal Republic of Germany in Penang, Herbert Weiler, Malaysian German Society representatives and members of the Penang travel and hospitality industry. Shangri-La’s Golden Sands Resort, Penang feted Wilma with a private dinner later the same evening.
Wilma recalls her first visit to Penang during the fifth anniversary of Shangri-La’s first resort, which she called “a very pleasant place with genuinely nice people who were helpful and friendly. This was not the case with other countries, where locals speak less to tourists.”
Ultimately, the reason Wilma returned every six months for the next 35 years was the people, especially the staff, at both hotels. She said, “I also return because I made very good friends with fellow returnees. Some of them send me cards and, sometimes, a present when I am in Germany.”
Naturally, Wilma feels Penang has changed over the years and prefers the island as it was in the 1970s.“Now, there are too many high-rise buildings with no occupants. They have also cut down too many trees, which is not good for the island,” she said.
To make Penang more accessible for senior travellers, Wilma suggested discounted flights with good service and more cabin space. “This will help to ease the stress of long-haul flights. I travel via Etihad Airways and the only gripe I have is the six-hour wait in Dubai, but this is offset by a sumptuous buffet and amazing amenities and services,” she said.
Well-travelled Wilma’s first holiday was to Italy with her late husband Frederic in the 1950s. This was followed by a trip to Tenerife and Greece in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as Kenya and Tanzania, where they took photos with Masai warriors who asked for money after posing with the couple. In the 1970s, they spread their wings and visited the Bahamas, the Caribbean Islands, the Maldives and Cuba in the 1980s.
However, Wilma said, “Penang feels like my second home.” Her daily routine there consists of 5am laps in the pool each morning, golf putting competitions and petanque with fellow guests in the afternoon. Wilma hopes to return for the hotel’s 40th anniversary on 9 November 2013.