My Johor Stories Heritage Walk, last Sunday

 

“An awesome Sunday morning spent with Peggy Loh, author of My Johor Stories at a Heritage Walk around downtown Johor Baru, our old city center.

 

All set for the start of Heritage Walk
with My Johor Stories in February 2024

Despite having lived in Johor Baru for 37 years, this was my first experience to really immerse myself into Johor’s culture and heritage.

 

Peggy brought the history of Johor Baru alive with her passionate and excellent commentaries and storytelling.

 

Many “firsts” for me today in discovering:

 

One: Johor’s early industry of a steam sawmill from which Jalan Sawmill got its name!!

 

Two: The historical Soo Peng Hang Press located just a stone’s throw away from my office in Johor Baru City Square.

 

Walking along the promenade
next to Sungai Segget

Three: Johor Baru’s renowned Foon Yew School was established in 1913 on the site where Galleria Kotaraya stands today.

 

Four: Visited the Johore Heng Photo Studio which was well patronized by Johor Baru folks in the yesteryears for any form of photographs, from family portraits, graduation, weddings etc. Sadly, this old photo studio will be shutting its doors come April.

 

Five: Visited the enriching Johor Baru Chinese Heritage Museum, the Museum of the 24 Festive Drums and the Indian Heritage Centre.

 

Looking forward to join the energetic and enthusiastic Peggy again for another Walk soon to discover more aspects of Johor culture and heritage.

 

But before that, to finish reading her trilogy of My Johor Stories, to better understand the history behind each landmark!”

 

In the lobby of the Johor Baru 
Chinese Heritage Museum

The above was quoted verbatim from a Facebook post by Maggie Ng, one of the participants in my Heritage Walk on Feb 18, who clearly had a very positive experience with me.

 

Flashback to January 16 when I had the pleasure to attend a preview of the Chinese New Year menu served at Hop Sing, the Chinese restaurant at Ponderosa Golf and Country Club.

 

Since I was writing food and hotel reviews for the Travel Times, a pull-out section of The New Straits Times newspaper, I regularly participated in food previews here.

 

My relationship with Ponderosa Golf and Country Club took a step closer in 2018 when the resort graciously placed copies of my 2017 MPH Non-Fiction Bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, in their hotel rooms for the guests’ reading pleasure.

 

Inside the Johore Heng Photo Studio

This recent pre-Chinese New Year banquet was hosted with corporate guests and after the traditional Yee Sang prosperity toss, the lunch menu proceeded course by course. As I was enjoying the meal, Maggie came over to my table to say, “Hello.”

 

And when she asked me what I was up to recently, I told her about my Heritage Walks last December and in January, that happened upon request.

 

I explained that my Heritage Walks and Book Reading sessions kicked off in 2023 under the My Johor Stories in Downtown Johor Baru project, an initiative under the Downtown Johor Baru Grants Programme: Arts, Heritage and Culture, a collaboration between Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) and Think City, supported by Majlis Bandaraya Johor Baru (MBJB).

 

With Elwin Law [Standing Centre] in the
Museum of the 24 Festive Drums

Focusing on the heritage core of Johor Baru, the grants programme aimed to support community-based initiatives to reactivate Downtown Johor Baru.

 

Under this project, my Heritage Walks were held once a month from January to April 2023, each designed according to a specific theme based on My Johor Stories with the Walks personally conducted by me.

 

As Maggie listened, her interest was piqued and without hesitation, she booked six slots for the next walk in February!

 

Elwin Law, a drum instructor with JB Drums,
explaining the rationale for the logo of
the Museum of the 24 Festive Drums

The group who joined my Walk with Maggie included Irene Tan, Goh Mey Foon, Michele Tan, Cheah Bong Hou and his wife, Swee Lian.

 

Meanwhile, Lai Hon Kit, better known as Kit, who joined my final Walk in the original series of Walks in 2023, enjoyed it so much that she regretted that she failed to participate in the earlier Walks and Book Reading sessions under the Downtown Johor Baru project.

 

Later that year, when Kit and I met again at an event, she recounted her Walk experience with me and looked forward to join my next Walk. She so keen to join that she even offered to be a “helper” and not just a participant.

 

When I told Kit about the Walk planned for Feb 18, she signed up to join along with her friend, Evelyn. She also asked, “BTW what do I need to do as a “helper?” It’s my first attempt and am pretty excited.”

 

One for the album, with the Sultan Ibrahim building
as a majestic backdrop

I gave her the job brief and on the day of the Walk, Kit did her part to help me with managing the group on the Walk and also helped to capture some good photographs.

 

After the Walk, she said: “Thanks for the great day and experience in exploring JB town,” and continued, “Shall share the pics in a short while.”

 

As I read their messages and looked at the photos, I thought that sharing the encouraging comments and feedback from the participants was the best way to showcase how everyone felt about their Walk experience with me.

 

With Yeoh, the mattress-maker at
Sin Keng Wah Kedai Tilam

Goh Mey Foon said: “Thank you for organizing such an informative and interesting Heritage Walk, with many facts unknown to me, even though I was born and raised in Johor Baru.

 

Didn’t realise about the arches until you mentioned them – I can be so blind at times.

 

I was not aware of the existence of the Museum of the 24 Festive Drums and the Indian Heritage Centre.

 

Overall, it was a fun day with recalled memories. Your explanation was short and sweet, with enough information for us to explore further if we wanted.

 

After this Walk, I have more stories to tell my friends about JB. Well done and thank you.”

 

An ancient arch along Jalan Trus,
gets a facelift with modern art

When we walked along the promenade on Jalan Wong Ah Fook that bordered the Segget River, we paused to look at the façade of the shop that used to house the Soo Peng Hang Press, one of the early printers who operated using moveable type printing.

 

I shared briefly about the Soo family’s proud legacy in the print industry because I had the privilege to work with them on the English version of a book project on the Soo Peng Hang Press.

 

When our group was in the Johor Baru Chinese Heritage Museum, there was a copy of this book on the coffee table for visitors to turn its pages and get an idea of the work and skills involved to run a business in moveable type printing.

 

In the Johor Baru Chinese Heritage Museum, we saw a collection of artefacts and read the information to understand the basis of the strong relationship between the Johor royal family and the Chinese community here.

 

Our group had the privilege of a live show
by the JB Drums at Galleria Kotaraya

Proof of this strong relationship continued at the Johor Old Temple which bears the name of the State, “Johor” in honour of the Johor Ruler who gifted the land to the Chinese to build the temple.

 

In his wisdom, the Johor Ruler united the five main Chinese dialect groups, with a common place of worship where the five deities revered by the five dialects, are uniquely housed under one roof in this temple.

 

One of the participants, Karen Aw, told me that she was deeply moved to learn about how the Johor Ruler united the Chinese dialect groups with this “Temple of Unity.”

 

Our group with the JB Drums drummers
outside Galleria Kotaraya

Karen marveled at his wisdom when I said that the Johor Ruler respected the Chinese tradition of ancestor worship, where he not only presented land for their temple but also for their cemetery or burial ground.

 

Karen brought our mutual friend, Leila Nordgren from Finland, to join my Walk because Leila was familiar with My Johor Stories and wanted to know more about Johor Baru, where she now lives during the winter months in her homeland.

 

While Leila was President of the Johor Baru chapter of the International Women’s Association (IWA), I had the pleasure to work with her for many events including exploring Malay culture and heritage with the Yayasan Warisan Johor or Johor Heritage Foundation and covering reports on the charity bazaars hosted by the IWA.

 

Joss-sticks burning in urn at
forecourt of Johor Old Temple

I also had the privilege to be guest speaker at the IWA meeting to present to them, my 2017 MPH Non-Fiction Bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, and at the IWA Women’s Day celebration in 2020, I had the pleasure to speak on the subject, Building Bridges with My Johor Stories.

 

Leila and the IWA ladies have visited some downtown destinations but it was clearly a different experience with me. As we walked along, Leila asked me about my latest book projects and I was pleased to share with her about my recent experience in helping the Tan family produce a book as a meaningly tribute to their father.

 

I was pleased to include the Museum of the 24 Festive Drums into the Walk itinerary to remind the group that this art of drumming was proudly born in Johor Baru, then spread across the nation and have even exported abroad.

 

A fun pose in the Indian Heritage
Centre with Maggie and Irene

Last year, I had the pleasure of partnering with JB Drums to set up a pop-up store at the lobby of the Permaisuri Zarith Sofia Opera House during the series of “Drum Up JB” shows for fans of the 24 Festive Drums to buy My Johor Stories books that also featured the story of the 24 Festive Drums as well as its co-founder, Tan Chai Puan.

 

Last year, the JB Drums troop proudly presented a performance at the main stage during the Johor Chingay parade, witnessed by His Majesty the Johor Sultan and other VIPs.

 

This Chinese New Year festive season, I was aware that the JB Drums troop had a schedule of engagements to perform at various venues including shopping malls in and around the city.

 

That morning, when our group left Sin Keng Wah Kedai Tilam (mattress-makers) and was walking along Jalan Trus towards the Johor Old Temple, we heard drum beats which sounded like the Chinese drum for lion dances, common during this season to usher in good fortune.

 

As I listened, I recognised the rhythm of the familiar drum beats as that of the 24 Festive Drums and was delighted to see a crowd gathered in the outdoor section of Galleria Kotaraya to enjoy the performance of a small drum troop.

 

Not only did I recognize the drum beats but also my friends, the JB Drum drummers, who gave an engaging performance to thrill and delight our group with such a bonus of a live show, soon after our visit to the Museum of the 24 Festive Drums! Yay!

 

[I told the group that this was definitely unplanned and NOT part of our itinerary but so perfectly timed and clearly a gift to them during this festive season.]

 

Kongxi! Kongxi! to everyone from all of us!

Incidentally, the last participant to join this Walk was Magadia Bettina Dielle from The Philippines, an under-graduate with Raffles University at Iskandar Puteri.

 

A few days ago, Bettina reached out to me because she needed to complete her thesis on, The Exploration of Adaptive Reuse Application in Heritage Buildings: Case Study of Shophouses at Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, and wanted some useful input from my experience in the heritage quarter of Johor Baru.

 

After we discussed arrangements for an interview, it occurred to me that Bettina should join this Heritage Walk for a first-hand experience with me. She was keen to join and there she was, bright and early at our meeting point that morning.  

 

Our group with Elton Ho [Standing Right] in
Mee Ho Seng Kee, Johor Baru City Square

Our Walk that day ended at Mee Ho Seng Kee, located on Level Six of Johor Baru City Square, where I introduced the group to Elton Ho, the third-generation operator who brought their family’s business literally from a pushcart to a cool café.

 

Seated in air-conditioned comfort, participants had the opportunity to ask questions and to share their thoughts, comments and feedback on their Walk experience.

 

In the course of our chit-chat, I was pleased to learn that participants wanted to have the complete trilogy of My Johor Stories, autographed for their own and to present as gifts.

 

Note: My Johor Stories books are available from MPH bookstores nationwide and online from mphonline. In Johor Baru, my books are available from JARO and YSpace.

 

Photo Credits: Maggie Ng, Irene Tan, Cheah BH, Kit and Florence Liew