JB is now my home

Shafina Hamid has made Johor Baru her home
SAP consultant Shafina Abdul Hamid, is now a part-time entrepreneur, a devoted wife and mother in Johor Baru. 

I was born in Kuala Lumpur, the eldest of three daughters.  My father, an orthopedic surgeon, retired as Lieutenant Colonel and head of the hospital while my mother was a home-maker. 

My father’s work took our family to live in England and Malacca before returning to Kuala Lumpur.  We had a strict upbringing, probably as a fall-out of dad’s army discipline, and we were supposed to be “seen but not heard” and how can I forget that our parents did not spare the rod?

I studied in Bukit Bintang Girls School (BBGS) and was further moulded by the strict discipline that BBGS, the oldest school in Kuala Lumpur, is reputed for.  For obvious reasons, the Principal at that time, Ms Yeap Gaik Khoon, earned the nickname, “dragon.”  She set the tone for the school and made students toe the line in all aspects of discipline including dressing.  I remember there was a specific length for our skirts, the height of our socks and even the width of ribbons used to tie up our hair!

After going to pre-university at St John’s Institution, I studied in the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and graduated with a degree in Accountancy.  While I was living in Melbourne, I was introduced to Mohamed Fairoz Elyas Majeed and we got to know each other by telephone for six months before we finally met.  As a Systems Analysis and Program development (SAP) specialist with product focus on Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), I started my career as a SAP Consultant.  Over the years, I had the opportunity to work with the Big Five, five of the largest international accountancy and professional services firms – Price Waterhouse, KPMG Peat Marwick, Arthur Anderson, Ernst & Young and Deloitte Touche in Australia and Kuala Lumpur.

Shafina and Fairoz with their daugther, Farah,
in The Village Briyani Cafe, Johor Baru
Then my mother, the home-maker, started a small business in importing tea sets, cushion covers and linen from England.  I can still remember the pretty English rose designs on this range of items.  As my relationship with Fairoz blossomed, I knew that I would move from KL after our wedding because Fairoz was involved in his family’s law practice in Johor Baru.  While marriage is a major decision, my mother’s sound advice helped me, not only in my choice to leave KL but also my career.

After our wedding in January 2000, I moved to Johor Baru.  But when Fairoz and I wanted to entertain friends to a special meal, we were disappointed with the dearth of authentic Indian food in the city.  This sparked off a desire to open a little café to serve cuisine that we would be proud to share with others.  Around this time, we were on holiday in India and ate a most delectable briyani meal in Bangalore, and decided that this was just what Johor Baru needed – a good briyani house! 

After we handpicked six chefs from the finest restaurants in Chennai and Calcutta, we found a location within our budget and opened Village Briyani Café in September 2007.  Now there’s a place in Johor Baru that serves an authentic menu of North and South Indian specialties from Calcutta, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chettinad, Mysore and Kashmir.  I help to manage the back end of the business and lend a hand in the operations when necessary.  I guess it’s quite a culture shock for the Indian team in the kitchen when I go to speak to them and work alongside with them! 

Shafina with her series of children's books
When I read newspaper reports about missing children who were never found, I’m deeply concerned because I have a daughter, Farah.  While on holiday in Melbourne, we were in Victoria Market when my friend’s 3-year old son wandered off in pursuit of a dog and was found after a frantic search. 

This gave me the focus to write and my first book, Farah Gets Lost in the Pasar Malam was inspired by this experience.  I noticed that children are not learning social skills easily and as I teach my daughter, I also want to help make a difference to others by sharing my own experience in the second book, Farah Learns the Joy of Sharing.   

In an event held at the Johor Baru Library at Jalan Yahya Awal in December 2009, I launched my first two books in a series of books that aims to teach “life lessons” to children.  The stories in my books are set in Malaysia and based on the Malaysian way of life so that local children can easily relate to them.  And when foreign readers read these books, they can get a glimpse of life in Malaysia.  

Earlier this year, I was thrilled to hear our relatives in Singapore express their excitement that Johor Baru has its own arts festival.  What the organizers are doing is commendable but the Johor arts scene clearly needs more support in every aspect.  I’m keen on seeing more popular artistes and shows in the city but am disappointed that interest in the month-long arts fest cannot be sustained.  I look forward to the next arts fest which I believe, will be much better than the last.

Johor Baru has its special charm.  I’m glad I can still drive anywhere in the city and reach my destination within a few minutes.  It’s interesting living in Johor Baru now when it’s going through so many changes and on the cusp of many more. 

This interview was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets in October 2010

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