KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Thirteen may be considered an unlucky number by many people, but there is one man for whom it is lucky, and, what is more, his name is Tiga Belas, which in Malay means the number 13.
Now he is known only as D13.
This is because when Mahathir Mohamad became prime minister in July, 1981, he ordered that all government officials wear a tag bearing their names, as short as possible. He settled on D13. The D is short for Datu, a family title for boys.
Now he has two boys and two girls and their formal names carry the word 13. They are: Dayang Norlin Irdiawati 13, who is 10 years old; Datuk Mohamad Fareesh 13, who is 8 years old; Datuk Mohamad Nazaruddin 13, who is 6 years old and Dayang Noor Faressa 13, who is 3 years old.
"I guess it (having 13) is our way of keeping our identity. But it is going to be interesting to know how their children react when they find out that their grandfather is a number," D13 said.
Just a Number
The English and Malay digits are the same in print but differently pronounced; the numeral 13 is the same for both languages, but it is said as tiga belas in Malay and thirteen in English.
D13 works as assistant director at the State Development Office in the Sabah chief minister's department in Kota Kinabalu, 910 miles east of here. Contacted by telephone at his office, D13 confirmed that the report was correct.
D13 said his father, Datu Zainal Abidin, had not named him Tiga Belas or 13 because he was born on the 13th of any month. He was born on Sept. 18, "just five days too late."
Born 13th in a family of eight brothers and seven sisters, D13 is the only survivor. All the others died before reaching the age of 4.
Soon after his birth 35 years ago, a doctor at the hospital where he was born in Kota Belud, 950 miles east of here, said there was a "jinx." To break the jinx he should be named for a number.
His father and the doctor then agreed that Tiga Belas, or 13, should be his name as he was the 13th child. The suggestion worked. Two more children born to his parents died, but he lived on.
To further break the jinx it was suggested he live with another family for a few years and so he grew up with a Chinese family for seven years before returning to his parents. Now he gets along fine with his real and foster parents.
"Personally, I feel any event in my life connected with this number 13 is coincidental," says D13, who speaks fluent English. "Perhaps they seem significant because I am always conscious that there is one day in a month 12 times a year that connotes my name."
But, despite that, there are many coincidences. He joined the Kota Belud district office in 1974, receiving the good news of being accepted in government on Jan. 13.
In 1976 he was transferred to Kota Kinabalu as state training officer and took up his new post on Jan. 13. He met his wife on Jan. 13, 1971, when both were students in Kota Belud.
When he went for a one-year training course here in 1978, the letter came on July 13. When he joined the Sabah education office in 1982, the letter came July 13 also.
He was posted to the state development office on Aug. 13, 1984. When he was promoted as assistant director the letter came on Sept. 13, 1985. He was nominated vice president of the Sabah United Bajau Assn. on Sept. 13, 1986.
He also remembers Feb. 13, 1981, when he bought a second-hand car with the license plate D13. He still has the car.
What do friends and colleagues call him? Some call him Datu, but others just yell the number 13. Some foreigners call him Mr. 13. Others call him D13. He say he does not mind what people call him.