Where champions were born

Members of Ah Kong's Companion badminton club
on the court at 154 Jalan Ngee Heng

TODAY if you go looking for No 154, Jalan Ngee Heng, you will never find it.  That’s because the bungalow was torn down in 1977. 

The site opposite Wisma Maria where the bungalow once sat is now part of a highway with a huge advertising billboard. A hawker stall stands on the former driveway.  Looking at that tiny wedge of land, who would have guessed that it was once occupied by a double-storey house with an adjacent badminton court?


The ground floor was made of brick while the staircase and upper floor were wooden. It had a formidable set of double wooden doors at the main entrance that glowed in a glossy shade of red paint.  I called it “Ah kong’s house” or grandpa’s house. It held memories of a bygone era when sports was our family’s pride and passion.

Ah Kong and his badminton trophies

For a few years when our parents were based in other districts due to work, my sisters, brother and I, along with a few cousins, lived with our grandparents. 

Grandma ran a tight ship and we were assigned chores ranging from washing, dusting and sweeping to polishing hundreds of silver trophies.  After dinner and when the dishes were done, it was time to do our homework and study. Sometimes during the weekends, our youngest aunt would tell us stories.

Our favourite time of day was the evenings when we would go outdoors to play. The badminton court was our playground until nightfall, when serious training would start and it was off-limits to us children. 

Rajan and Bonzo, our pet dogs, used a corner of the court for their toilet, so the first task was to remove doggie poo. We called the poo “golf” because grandpa had devised a poo-pan which the boys used to playfully “putt” the poo into!


Uncle Boon with Rajen [Foreground] and Bonzo [Right]

When it rained, we had fun drying the court. One person would squat on a gunny sack which another would drag around to “mop up” the puddles of water.  Then with an old net secured, we were ready to play badminton.  Grandpa had modified special kiddy rackets with reduced shaft lengths to match shorter heights so that we could swing the rackets without hitting the ground.

Two of our cousins were often pitted against each other and grandpa would be on the umpire’s chair to keep score. Sometimes, grandpa would partner one of us to play doubles against an adult who partnered another youngster. Grandpa would tease us with his tricky strokes and challenge us, saying that he could beat us even with one hand tied behind his back.



Chasing soap bubbles on the court during Chinese New Year
To warm up, our uncles and aunts would sometimes play catch with us or a thrilling team game called “masuk belon”. 

I did not know it then but that very court was the training ground for several world champions. Almost every night, the lighted court would see regulars joining my uncles and aunts for training.

Here, grandpa and his older sons would hone young players’ skills to improve their game.  Sometimes, the cheers and claps from the court would draw us from our study table and we would watch the exciting matches from the windows upstairs until someone noticed us and sent us back to our books. 

At that time, occupants and patrons of an adjacent row of double-storey shophouses would watch the games from the windows or crowd the driveway.  One night, we had a surprise spectator. The Sultan of Johor, Sultan Iskandar, frequently drove along Jalan Ngee Heng and it was an unforgettable night when the sultan dropped by to observe the training at No 154.


Grandpa's birthday party at 154 Jalan Ngee Heng
When grandpa passed away in 1980, an obituary in the newspaper said Ng Ngoh Tee was the “Maker of Champions”.  Besides training his own children to achieve state, national and international titles, many other successful players had also trained with grandpa in his badminton club since the 1930s.

When the government acquired the land for development, it was painful to part with No 154. I remember helping with the mammoth task of packing up mementos collected over more than 40 years. 

Besides badminton, there were memories of weddings, birthdays, births and funerals. In fact, my parents had their wedding banquet at the badminton court.


So, the next time you are in Jalan Ngee Heng, take a closer look at the site across the road from Wisma Maria.  Even though nothing remains of its former grandeur, you know that there once was a No 154 in Jalan Ngee Heng, Johor Baru.

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 17 September 2008

1 comment:

  1. I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your stories. JB was the first place I lived when I was in Malaysia and I love reading your memories. Thanks you!

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