Meet-up with Le Figaro, Asia correspondent

 

As June turned into July, I was in the thick of completing the manuscript for a book project and hardly had time to look at all my emails.

 

Sebastien Falletti in the lobby of the
Johor Bahru Chinese Heritage Museum
Then Grace Chiam sent me a WhatsApp message which read, “Hi #FFIJB, hope you also received this email,” and quoted the entire email received from Sebastien Falletti, the Asia Correspondent of Le Figaro.

 

When Grace expressed her delight that My Johor Stories was connecting Johor with journalists abroad, I could not help but recall that in January 2020, Johor and My Johor Stories were featured in the South China Morning Post after I met with a couple who visited Johor Bahru in search of, literally, her grandfather’s road!

 

In recent years, I had the privilege to meet with media guests of Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas to share with them, more insights into Johor culture and heritage to help them flesh out their write-ups with more content.

 

Online info on Sebastien Falletti

In October 2023, I had the pleasure to meet media from German-speaking nations like Austria, Switzerland and Germany, and in March 2024, I met a group of media from the Middle-East, based in Dubai.

 

When I opened the email in my In-box, I read that the email from Sebastien was copied to Grace at BrandCulture PR Communications, who supported My Johor Stories in past PR activations.

 

In his email, Sebastien wrote:

 

“Dear Peggy Loh, I hope this message finds you well in Johor Bahru. I read with great interest, some of your articles about the history of Johor as I am preparing a story about the fast development of the city.

 

I am contacting you to inquire if you would have a moment for an interview later down this week.

 

For your information, I am the Seoul-based correspondent for Le Figaro, a leading daily newspaper in France. Thank you for your kind consideration.”

 

His name cared with the 
Korean version on its reverse side

Grace, the PR Professional was quick to do her research and provided me with some background information on Le Figaro and Sebastien:

 

“Founded in 1826 as a satirical weekly before becoming a daily newspaper in 1866, this publication is regarded as one of the oldest and most prominent daily newspapers in France, renowned for its comprehensive coverage of news and its conservative editorial stance.”

 

In response to my reply to his email, Sebastien wrote:

 

“Thank you for your kind and positive reply. I am indeed planning to visit Johor and I will be delighted to meet you in person to hear your stories about old and new Johor.”

 

Signing the guest book 

If he was travelling from Seoul to Johor Bahru for this appointment, I believe he had done his research and was keen to see more of Johor. In fact, he did suggest to meet at the Royal Abu Bakar Museum but I had to tell him the disappointing news that this museum was currently, still not open to the public.

 

As I read his questions provided to help me prepare for the interview, I thought it was best to arrange our meet-up at the lobby of the Johor Bahru Chinese Heritage Museum where I could make reference to the relevant visuals on display there and show him various places-of-interest in the morning light.

 

When there was a delay in reply to my message, I guessed that he must be in-flight travelling from Seoul to Singapore and waited to hear from him.

 

Later that night, he replied to confirm the details of our appointment in Johor Bahru and I smiled when I read what he said, “Hi Peggy, Greetings from Singapore. Sorry I was in the plane.”

 

We discussed about his border-crossing from Singapore to Johor and was glad that he was prepared to encounter human and vehicular congestion at the check-points.

 

That morning was bright and sunny when we (finally!) met at the lobby of the Johor Bahru Chinese Heritage Museum.

 

In a brief intro, Sebastien reiterated that he was based in Seoul, Korea, as the Asia Correspondent for Le Figaro and presented me with his name card. [The reverse side of his name card was printed in Korean language!]

 

Starting with the proud legacy of the Johor Rulers, I was pleased to share with Sebastien a brief history of how Johor Bahru transformed from a colonial outpost to what it is now.

 

I was ready to discuss what was so special about Johor with a sprinkle of human anecdotes to give him a clearer picture of how the Johor Ruler established a strong bond with the people who came to settle here.

 

Johor Bahru’s Street of Harmony bears witness to how the Johor Ruler welcomed the people to practice their own culture as they worked hard to develop the state’s economy.

 

At the main entrance to Istana Bukit Serene

From this, Sebastien could see that throughout history, the Johor Rulers played an important role and they continue to be respected for their contribution to the peace and harmony in our multi-cultural community.

 

When he saw the photograph captured of His Highness and Permaisuri Johor seated in his car during the drive-about on his coronation day, Sebastian admired that classic car and was aware that the Johor Sultan has a valuable collection of cars.

 

After an informative walk through the Museum, I invited Sebastien to sign their guest book as a record of Le Figaro’s visit to Johor Bahru.

 

We left the Museum and took a drive to let him see how the pepper and gambier motif was adopted as a Johor icon and used throughout the city, on arches, lamp-posts and the pillars of the fence around the Istana Besar or Grand Palace.

 

Admiring the Jubilee Arch at the entrance
to the Istana Besar or Grand Palace

When we drove pass the greenery that bordered the ancient “rock gardens,” I pointed out that the Johor Ruler also presented the Chinese community with land for their burial ground because he respected the Chinese tradition of ancestor worship.

 

I had the pleasure to show him the Coronation Arch and the main entrance to the palace at Bukit Serene as well as the Jubilee Arch at the entrance to the Istana Besar, and explained that the Grand Palace was used mainly for ceremonial events.

 

While our time together was not long, it was good that I had the privilege to clarify some of his queries and helped him understand a little more about the proud legacy that is being preserved for future generations in museums and galleries and also documented in books.

 

Sebastien said that his article on Johor will be published in Le Figaro in French, scheduled for August and assured me that he would share the online link with me.

 

After our meet-up, Sebastien went on to his next appointment in Johor before he left for Singapore. Later I received his message which read like this:

 

“Thank you, Peggy for your kindness and insights into Johor. It was a wonderful discovery and you were the best guide.

 

I just hit back to Singapore after an excellent day. I wish you all the best for your next book! And for now, a good night.”

 

It was my pleasure and privilege to help you with the relevant content, Sebastien. Welcome back to Johor Bahru when you are visiting this part of Asia again.