Happy 80th Birthday, Kak Ina


In late October, I received a text message from Emma Suki, a former classmate in the Johor Baru Convent who has relocated to live with her daughters in Kuala Lumpur.

It started with, “Good Morning Pegz! Can I pick your brain for a minute please?”

Lighting the candles on the birthday cake
She went on to tell me that her family was planning a birthday celebration in JB for their eldest sister’s 80th birthday and asked if I could recommend a suitable place.

The family would need an overnight stay with a buffet dinner spread that should include local and western specialties because in her advanced age, the birthday girl can no longer enjoy spicy food.

From her research, Emma could share her thoughts with me and quizzed me thoroughly about the possible hotels and its buffet spreads in and around JB.

It was a challenge for her to coordinate the family who were coming to JB from KL and Singapore as well as those in JB, for this surprise birthday celebration.

While she did not have the final numbers yet, she wanted to finalise it by that week.

She bounced off ideas with me and after exchanging a bunch of messages, Emma ended our phone chat with: “Thanks, Pegz! Now I’m spoilt for choice and salivating as well!”

Happy 80th Birthday, Kak Ina
It was my pleasure to contribute constructive comments and ideas to let Emma consider the various possibilities, especially when they wanted to have a family reunion back in JB, the city where they grew up but not quite familiar to them now.

I got acquainted with Emma since Primary School and our friendship continued through Secondary School. After going our separate ways to develop our careers and family, we reunited at our class-form reunion in JB several years ago.

Through modern technology and the use of social media, we connected with former class-school mates and stayed in regular touch even though many lived outside of JB.

One of my fondest memories of Emma must be the taste of the Laksa Johor – made in her mother’s special recipe – that we used to enjoy during Hari Raya visits to their family home at Jalan Mariamah.

Emma’s sister, Rahmah Suki, fondly known as Kak Ina, inherited their mother’s recipe and had passed her Laksa Johor cooking skills to her youngest daughter.

Born in JB on Nov 7 in 1939, the 80-year old Kak Ina would be celebrated in a special family gathering (secretly!) coordinated among Emma, Hamidah (Lin) her niece and Mustapha (Pasha) her nephew, the son and daughter of Kak Ina.

The weekend of Nov 9 to 10 was planned for the celebration in JB and just ahead of that Saturday, Emma messaged me to ask if I’ve got any “connections” with Hotel Ramada Meridin Johor Baru.

Her grand-kids helping Kak Ina to blow out the candles! 
This was because they had eight rooms booked for the family who were arriving in JB for the celebration to be held there and wanted to get an earlier check-in time than their stipulated 3pm.

“I was about to call them but thought I’d ask you first,” texted Emma. I couldn’t help smiling when I read her message.

Driving in with the family for the weekend celebration, I could understand why they wished to have an earlier check-in to settle in and prepare for the birthday party.

I remember the privilege to taste a preview of the Ramadan buffet at Hotel Ramada Meridin JB earlier this year, where I met with the hotel General Manager, Jac Khoo.

This was when she also introduced herself as the sister-in-law of artist Grace Lim, whom I had featured in my Book Two under Portraits in My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Place and Inspirational People!

What a small world indeed!

So it took a few phone messages between Jac and myself to get the situation sorted out for Emma and her family.

The hotel graciously agreed to accommodate their early check-in and all that was needed was to provide the Front Office with their Reservation Numbers for easy reference.

Emma Suki [Seated Centre] with Hamidah [Seated Right]
and other family members at the celebration
After the event, Emma told me everything went smoothly for their hotel stay and birthday celebration with 32 family members including the latest addition, Kak Ina’s great-grandson who turned one last month.

It had been a while since the family got together and Emma was pleased that all her siblings with their spouses, nephews and nieces, Kak Ina’s children and spouses, along with her grandchildren and the only great-grandson, were present.

“The rooms were spacious and comfy!” said Emma when told me about the good accommodation and went on with sharing details about the pre-party set-up in a section of the Delish restaurant.

At about 5pm on Saturday afternoon, Emma and Hamidah, her niece and Adi, her nephew, went to the restaurant to arrange the tables at the section cordoned off in Delish.

Kak Ina with her family members
They already had an idea of how to arrange the tables and a restaurant staff, Azrai, was quick to understand what they had in mind, and was extremely helpful and accommodating.

He did such a commendable job in helping to arrange the tables, tie the helium balloons to the backs of the chairs and finally, even got the area swept and mopped.

Emma was more than satisfied with his positive attitude and practical help, and concluded with: “…all in all, the best employee any hotel would be proud to have!”

Then it was time for the much-anticipated birthday celebration…

To ensure that Kak Ina would enjoy her birthday celebration and not be overwhelmed by the surprise, they decided against springing a typical surprise on her.

To prepare Kak Ina for the outing, she was told that Pasha and his family of four adult children, daughter-in-law and great-grandson would be taking her out for dinner.

It was then arranged for one of her grandsons and Hamidah to pick Kak Ina from where she lives in Larkin Jaya and bring her to the hotel.

And when they arrived, Kak Ina would be comfortably seated at the party section of the restaurant.

When these guests in Kak Ina’s immediate family sat down, Pasha casually commented that there were too many chairs…

Emma [Standing behind Kak Ina] and other family members
This was the cue to send in the family members (who were out of sight!) – a few at a time, starting with Kak Ina’s siblings and their spouses – who greeted her and sat down.

Once they were seated, the next few family members came to greet Kak Ina and this continued – a few at a time – until all of them took their seats in the party!

This gentle trickle-in of family members was to ensure that Kak Ina was not crowded by too many people and risk being overwhelmed by well-wishes.

When all the family had joined the gathering, Kak Ina did start to get a bit anxious and it was then a good time for some to go help themselves from the sumptuous spread in the buffet.

A special memento for Kak Ina's 80th birthday;
A bottle of honey is packed within the mug!
With family members moving around her, very soon Kak Ina adjusted to the situation and was back to her old self, ready to enjoy the celebration for her 80th birthday.

Emma was glad everyone enjoyed the celebration along with the buffet dinner that featured a mix of local and western dishes.

She was particularly impressed with the Assam Pedas Fish where guests could pick from a choice of fish or opt for Oxtail in the Assam Pedas.

I’m sure everyone made more memories from this celebration and each took home a meaningful and memorable family experience, in addition to the door gift, a special memento prepared by Hamidah and her daughter, Nadea, who’s based in Hawaii.

Happy 80th Birthday Kak Ina, and many more to come!

Hotel Ramada Meridin Johor Baru is located at No. 5 Jalan Legoland, Bandar Medini Iskandar, 79250 Iskandar Puteri, Johor. Tel: +607 – 531 8888.

For more info, visit website: www.ramadameridinjohor.com